Georgiana smoothed the front of her dress in an attempt to calm her nerves while she waited for her next dance partner to make an appearance. The whole Darcy/Matlock clan attended Lady Dalrymple’s Ball along with what seemed like most of London’s beau monde. If success was rated on how crowded, on how uncomfortably hot, or on how loud a room could become, then Lady Dalrymple would be very pleased indeed.
However, it wasn’t the press of bodies that had her nerves stretched tighter than a violin string, it was the ever-present Sir Reginald who’d sniffed her out like a basset hound almost as soon as she’d entered the house. Now that she was aware of his dire need of an heiress, she had no intention of giving him encouragement of any kind. Fortunately, she’d been able to stay one step ahead of him, but it seemed her luck had finally run out.
Darcy and Lizzy were dancing. Aunt and Uncle Matlock had been waylaid by Lord Patrick Grayson, who had some news of Cousin Richard and her other cousin, Viscount Waverly had made a bee line for the card room, bypassing the ball room completely. She was stranded on the edge of the dance floor and noted Sir Reginald beginning to skirt the edges toward her.
Carefully, she eased back and made to turn. If nothing else she could retire to the lady’s room and pretend to fix something on her gown. What she hadn’t counted on was Sir Reginald to cut directly across the floor and step into her path.
“Miss Darcy,” he simpered with a low bow in front of her.
“Sir Reginald, you surprised me.”
“I hope you mean that in a good way, Miss Darcy.” He reached for her gloved hand but she flicked open her fan and used it too cool her face. He had no choice but to drop his arm. “I have stopped by your home to pay my respects, but you have been one busy young woman. I did leave my card.”
His voice held censure as well as a touch of disappointment.
“I have been busy indeed, Sir Reginald. My aunt has a great many friends and wishes me to make their acquaintance. I’m sure you understand.”
Where was her family? She stopped herself from glancing around. It would not do to let Sir Reginald know she was uncomfortable in his presence. It would also not be wise for Sir Reginald to discover that one time, when he’d come by Darcy House, she was home and heard Hutchins outright lie and inform him the family was out. What amazed her even more was that Sir Reginald had the audacity to query their loyal butler as to where she and Lizzy had gone.
“May I have the next dance, Miss Darcy?”
“Thank you, Sir Reginald, but my card is full.”
She spoke a partial truth. Between family members, close friends, the Marquis of Trevayne, The Earl of Litchfield and the Earl of Dunleavy she has a surfeit of dance partners. The only exception being the very next dance and the supper set. She’d deliberately left those blank with the hope Maxwell would request a dance.
“May I see?”
She gasped. A gentleman never demanded to see a lady’s dance card.
“Excuse me, Sir Reginald. Miss Darcy promised this next dance to me.”
“Your Grace!” A flood of relief washed through her body at the sound of Max’s deep voice. She turned and gave him a proper curtsy. Max returned with a slight nod and held out his hand.
“Are you ready, Miss Darcy?”
“Oh yes, thank you.” She placed her gloved hand in Max’s and moved closer to him. “Good evening, Sir Reginald”
As they strolled to the dance floor, she noticed that the color of Max’s vest was the same soft green as the trim of her gown and the ribbon in her hair. What a strange coincidence. First, his blue vest matched her embroidered flowers and now her ribbons. If he weren’t careful, people would begin to think they were a couple. Not that she’d mind, but as he’d never given any indication that he thought of her in ‘that way’ she didn’t want any rumors to float around.
“I am sorry that I was late, Miss Darcy,” the Duke began.
“No need to apologize, Your Grace. The musicians hadn’t even begun to warm up for the next set.”
“I meant in the fact I was not there to forestall Sir Reginald imposing himself upon you.”
She glanced up and saw a look of anger chase across Max’s handsome face. She couldn’t help herself, she blushed and stammered, “Th… thank you. I appreciate your concern for my well-being. You are a dear friend.”
“I’m more than a friend, Miss Darcy.”