“You received my missive,” came a smooth masculine voice behind Lady Purity Diamond, making a shiver race down her silk-clad spine.
Purity knew beyond a doubt she ought not to have strayed from the well-lit and crowded ballroom at the Marquess of Lansdowne’s house on the south end of Berkeley Square. It was unlike her to do anything out of the acceptable and customary. Anyone who knew her would agree.
However, her entire day had been a little off-kilter, and she blamed her odd, restless mood upon its earlier events. She had slept poorly, awakened late, and lost a favorite glove by noon. When getting ready for the ball, she’d had a mishap with the hair curler.
Or rather, her maid, Alice, had the mishap, but it was Purity who suffered the disastrous effects of a too-hot papillote iron with a dreadfully singed curl that smelled of burned hair and pomade.
When someone else’s rickety-wheeled carriage blocked passage along Berkeley Street, causing her and her mother to be later than was fashionable, she knew she would welcome the next day’s dawn. Before that, however, she wanted to enjoy everything the evening offered.
Thus, it had been a great disappointment when her friend Harriet told her she’d missed the unveiling of a costly new painting in the marquess’s drawing room.
Determined not to leave without seeing it since there would not be another ball at Lansdowne House that Season, Purity left her mother chatting with one of her fondest acquaintances. While knowing she ought to wait for Harriet, who was upon the dance floor, as it was the last dance and the ball would end along with the music, Purity went alone.
Despite having seen the drawing room once the year before, she paused in the entrance, admiring the robin’s egg blue walls and the bold mauve band of color under the chair rail. Shining gilded accents were everywhere, amplifying the Etruscan design, right up to the patterns on the cream-and-pale pink ceiling, which, if studied long enough, would give one a neck ache.
The painting she sought was over the fireplace. Everyone that night was cheering it as a triumph. For a closer look, Purity crossed the polished floor onto the thick carpet, which muffled her steps as she approached the west wall and the marble mantle.
With two lamps still lit, she admired the masterpiece first from a few feet away and then moved closer to examine its detail. While glad she had managed to view the acquisition, she couldn’t say she was particularly taken with it. Another large work in a dark palette with very pale people reenacting some tragedy.
Maybe the painting would have seemed more interesting if Lord Lansdowne was presenting it.
And that’s when it happened.
Interrupting her musing came the deep-timbered male voice and whomever it belonged to, speaking of a missive.
Taking a deep breath, standing as straight as possible to make herself a wee bit taller, Purity turned.
The attractiveness of the man observing her stole her breath as well as her senses. A rum duke if ever she saw one.
Who was he? How did she not know him?
“Good evening,” she replied, keeping her tone calm, although in truth, she was a little afraid. This was the first time she’d ever been alone with a man who wasn’t her father, brother, or one of their trusted family friends.
Although one of her brother’s friends had kissed her, so perhaps he wasn’t so trustworthy after all. Regardless, she’d never been on her own with an absolute stranger.
Impeccably dressed in black tails, slate gray trousers, and a vivid blue waistcoat, he approached her without responding, his eyes taking her in. He came to a stop beside her, turning his attention to the marquess’s recent purchase.
Purity stared up at him, about to dart away now that he was no longer blocking her exit from the room. He was a head taller as most men were, since she and her older sister, Clarity, were both slightly below average. From the close proximity, she could tell his thick, coffee-colored hair was soft, and he had a little crimp in his earlobe. How odd!
Then he turned and looked down at her, and she nearly gasped aloud.
His eyes were amber, the color of golden toffee or a medium sherry. It might be a trick of the lighting, but their beauty mesmerized her, rendering her motionless. Moreover, the little shiver had become a sizable quiver.
“I was worried you would not receive my note in time to meet tonight or wouldn’t be allowed entrance.”
At these puzzling words from him, she shook her head. “I do not understand, my lord.”
For the first time, he appeared uncertain, but he offered her a winsome smile. “You can read, can you not? Don’t be ashamed if you can’t. After all, I understand you do other things extraordinarily well.”
With that, he reached out and lightly wrapped a gloved hand around each of her upper arms, drawing her closer.
Purity ought to be terrified, but he exuded charm and warmth, and was not the least bit threatening in manner. Moreover, the door was open, and his grip was loose. She could break away and be in the wide hallway in seconds.
So why wasn’t she running?
“Of course I can read,” she said, still captured by his amber gaze and wondering what else he thought she might do well.
He nodded. “How else would you know when to meet me?”
“I didn’t—” she began.
He swooped down and claimed her mouth before she could finish. Firm, smooth lips pressed to hers, and all her senses narrowed down to what was directly before her.
The man tasted like brandy and smelled of a heady combination of orange blossom and something smoky and sensual, reminding her of the wooded vales near her family’s country home in Derbyshire. She had never smelled the like.
More shocking, she’d never felt anything so sizzling as the sensations radiating from where his mouth and his fingers touched her. Scorching, simmering, sensual feelings.
When his kiss deepened, warming her and filling her head with his fragrance, Purity began to tremble. Her entire body seemed to be molten, especially low between her hips where she would vow she was turning to liquid.
His hands slid from her arms, where he’d undoubtedly crumpled the tops of her sleeves, to encircle her slender waist. Her belly tightened with a tingling sensation.
Then his strong fingers pressed into the small of her back, urging her against him. She tensed at this new impropriety, alarm bells clanging in her head like church chimes on a Sunday.
At her sudden stiffness, he raised his head, breaking the kiss and gazing down at her with a sultry smile.
Without thinking, she slapped him, wishing her soft satin evening glove hadn’t slipped from his face without making any sort of resounding thwack that would make clear her indignation.
For despite having enjoyed his kiss—because obviously, he was experienced and the kiss itself was masterful—she knew it for a licentious liberty.
His golden eyes widened, and he released her, although he didn’t step back.
“Now, now, kitten. That wasn’t very nice. If you want to be my flogging-cully, you’ll have to wait until I’ve stripped you bare. The most we can do here is enjoy a flyer, and if you can’t wait until I take you home, then I will gladly oblige.”
Looking around, he added, “Against that wall, I suppose, not against the Lansdowne’s new prize painting.”
Purity’s mouth dropped as she understood he was suggesting an act of copulation.
“It’ll have to be a flourish, my blue-eyed kitten,” the stranger continued, “as quick as two goats for the ball is nearly over.”
Ignoring the words she didn’t understand, Purity locked on to the one she did.
“Kitten!” she exclaimed. “Did you truly call me kitten? Twice!”
He nodded, a wicked grin spreading over his ridiculously handsome face, displaying dimples. Pity she wanted to punch him in the nose if it were at all the ladylike thing to do. Perhaps a knee to his gut would suit better, if her gown allowed her such movement.
Or she would give him the cut direct next time they met. That would teach him.
“I shall have you know I am Lady Purity Diamond, and I—”
Before she could continue, he broke out in raucous laughter.
She clamped her mouth closed and crossed her arms, waiting for his amusement to reach its conclusion.
When it did, he shook his head. “Is that the name you’re going by? That is a mouthful of deliciousness if ever I heard it.”
Purity tilted her chin. “You are extremely impudent. There is nothing wrong with my name.”
“Tell me, do you have a sister named Rare or Expensive?”
“That is not funny in the least. My sisters are Clarity—” She had to pause as he sniggered.
“And Brilliance—” She broke off again when he started to chuckle.
“And Radiance,” she finished while he dissolved again into peals of laughter.
“No, stop please,” he begged. “My sides are hurting. Is there, by any chance, a sister name Luster? For she will be the one for me. Lusty Diamond would be my ideal wench.”
With those incorrigible words hanging in the air, Purity turned upon her heel and walked toward the door, the man’s chortles still ringing in her ears.
In the doorway, another woman appeared, out of breath, wearing a gaudy scarlet satin gown and too much color upon her cheeks and lips. Knowing the frippery female to be a woman of easy virtue, Purity didn’t acknowledge her, merely brushing past and out the open door.
Evidently, the scarlet woman was the one he’d intended to meet and to kiss. And what was the other thing he said? Have a flyer?
“Wretched rake!” Purity muttered under her breath, hurrying back to the ballroom.
Matthew was sorry to see the spitfire leave. Lady Purity was a passionate, gorgeous female without the savvy to know she ought not to have given him her name, not under any circumstances. She was lucky he was a gentleman. But what a dreadful mistake he’d made in thinking her a light-skirt.
When the actual high-flier with whom his friend had suggested an assignation sidled up, he sighed. She was a caricature of the desirable, petite woman he’d just kissed. Just like that, he decided not to take what she was offering, not for any price. Instead, he apologized and strode out.
Perhaps he would catch Lady Purity still in the ballroom and... and what?
The last dance had concluded, and people were leaving. He could hardly go up to her without a formal introduction, nor was anyone likely to perform the necessary greeting when there were no more dances to enjoy.
Matthew would have to wait until the next event, glad he’d returned to London from two years on the Continent in time for the social Season. While he had put off finding a wife, for the first time, he had need of one. In his townhouse, tucked in bed in the makeshift nursery was a little girl for whom he now had sole responsibility.
A nanny was giving her all the necessary daily care, but a wife would be a proper mother to her, as long as he found the right one.
First, he had to win the heart of a decent lady who could see past his rather rakish reputation, and then he had to overcome any resistance she might have to raising someone else’s child.
Matthew took another look around for Lady Purity but saw no lovely, dark-haired female wearing lapis blue silk that matched her eyes. He shouldn’t pin his hopes upon her. But despite having caught an unpleasant sulfuric aroma in her hair, the rest of her had smelled heavenly, like roses. She was as good a lady as any with whom to start his hunt. Not only had he felt an instant attraction, she had been interested in him, too, if her heated response was any indication.
The slap was a warning, a chastisement, but not an absolute sign of disinclination.
Humming to himself, Matthew went in search of a hackney to take him to his club. Usually assured of a friend most any time of the afternoon or evening at Boodle’s, since it was after midnight, there would be only the bachelors.
“What, or rather who, has put that grin on your mug?” asked Lord Jasper Quinn, whom he’d known since his years at Cambridge.
Why not tell him? He was in such a good mood at having met a vision of a woman.
“Lady Purity,” he began.
“The Diamond daughter?” His friend sounded incredulous.
When Matthew nodded, Quinn’s shout of laughter elicited scowls from the less rambunctious gentlemen across the dining room.
“You have to be pulling my leg,” he declared.
“Why?” Matthew asked. “You have eyes, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course. She is a stunning wench, make no mistake. But you haven’t been in London for nearly two years. She’s our generation’s answer to Mrs. Princum-Prancum, I dare say.”
Not by their fiery kiss she wasn’t, but Matthew would never disclose such a thing, except a few words to shut his friend’s mouth.
“After all, you’re the Fox, and you’ll be hard put to gain any sport from her,” Quinn continued.
Matthew did not care for that silly moniker.
“I found her to be an amusing female,” he countered. “Not at all a prude.”
Quinn’s dark eyebrows shot up, and his eyes lit with interest. “Really? Do tell.”
Now his friend was too curious.
“Mind your business. And I’ll mind mine,” he said.
His friend chuckled again. “I’ll mind it, but I’ll be on the watch for yours, too. And not only me, but The Times seems very interested in what the Bachelor Baron, recently returned from France, is up to.”
“I noticed.” It seemed someone was telling his every move. Before he had left for the Continent, he behaved similarly, enjoying willing widows and canary birds and occasionally an appealing married lady who begged for some companionship. Always discreet, he hadn’t been written about any more than any other buck. Now however, he was in the paper every week.
“They will be even more interested if they hear you’ve set your scurrilous sights upon that Diamond girl,” Quinn added. “Her elder sister snagged a viscount about a year ago. Just as pretty, but more given to laughter and merriment than the one currently circulating.”
Matthew took a long sip of brandy. Purity Diamond’s temperament had suited him fine, but he didn’t want her name associated with his in The Times. For her sake! He didn’t give a damn what they printed about him, especially since it was mostly true. He was a beard-splitter, and why not?
What else was a man to do before marriage?
However, seeing how her name was Purity, he thought it a great shame if she were smeared merely to sell papers. Sadly, he had no control—people tattled and whispered, and some even got paid for juicy stories.
“Don’t say anything,” he told Quinn, giving him a stern look.
Catching on instantly, his friend looked hurt. “As if I would. I shall leave it to you to keep me apprised of your fascinating love life.”
They’d nearly always seen eye-to-eye on which females were the gimcrack ewes. Once or twice, they’d even gone after the same one, without hard feelings no matter who walked away with the coveted prize.
Matthew downed his brandy and rose from the table. “I’m off. Can’t stay out all night like the old days.”
“Certainly not if you get hitched to an earl’s prim daughter.” Quinn saluted him with his glass.
Matthew ignored him, turning to leave. More and more, he liked to be home before dawn to look in on his daughter, as he thought of Diana.
How could he not think of her that way? He had slept with her mother, after all.
He’d taken only a few steps when he was nearly knocked on his arse.
Order your copy - https://books2read.com/u/mBz1jN