Despite her misgivings, Eloise enjoyed herself immensely. The opportunity didn't present itself often for her to dance, nor would she likely admit she enjoyed the activity. As the music died, his hand lay on hers to escort her off the floor and the whole of her body tingled. To her dismay, she felt her face flush with a sudden warmth.
“Let us retire to the drawing room. I will attend to your refreshment, if you promise not to disappear on me. I would hate to search the house such as this one for you.” He smiled. The shape of his mouth caught her attention. A slight smile formed on his lips, an arrogant smile much as if he realized the effect he had upon her. Then he added, “But I would.”
Once more, she felt herself at a distinct disadvantage. She eyed him cautiously and then dismissed her apprehension. It would matter little in the morning, she told herself. What harm could come from an innocent flirtation with a handsome man? In all likelihood, she would never see him again.
She nodded politely and allowed him to lead her to a seat near the large vaulted window, which gave her a full view of the crowded room of unfamiliar faces. She gave little thought to the guests. Without question, Lord Lenister held her interest. She watched him walk out the door, wondering for the moment why he was dispensing attention upon her. She quickly dismissed flattery…that his attraction to her lay with her appearance.
She had long ago comprehended her birth presented a large obstacle to overcome in the eyes of the ton, even with the title of Lady Eloise D’Arcy Granville, second daughter of the late His Grace, the fifth Duke of Rotheward. She glanced around the large room while she waited. Then suddenly a strange feeling surged through her, as if someone were watching her.
She turned her head abruptly and met the avid eyes of a man standing in the far doorway. He was a short, middle-aged man, dowdy, in fact, with red, pudgy cheeks, but without question he eyed her intently. He had a familiar look. Then to her horror, his face brightened and gave her a weak smile.
Panic welled within her with the comprehension of why he seemed familiar. Calm. Stay calm. Surely he would not acknowledge me. Eloise maintained her composure as she sat rigid without a hint of emotion, while desperately trying to assess the situation. Her gaze held firm upon the man. Then he made a step forward toward her, halting only when Lord Lenister entered back into the room.
The stranger nodded to the earl. Eloise straightaway recognized a look between acquaintances. Although for the life of her she didn’t understand the stranger’s presence, she understood the need to withdraw…and quickly.
She rose and gathered up her skirt. With great effort, she exited in a dignified manner out the open side door to the veranda. The warm night gave pause to more than a few guests clustered about the terrace. Ignoring the beauty of the decorative scene, she scurried down the steps into the garden. She escaped only to the far entrance where she collapsed upon a bench.
“Why are you running?”
Her head lowered. She chose not to answer. What good would an explanation do when the words would go unheeded? And what did she owe this man…this stranger?
Lord Lenister stalked up to her and pulled her to her feet. “I asked you a question, Lady Eloise.”
“I needed fresh air, my lord. Nothing more. Pray, release me. You are hurting my arm. I wish nothing more than to retire.”
“And run again? There is to be no more running. I suspected such before my appearance here tonight. Confirmed by the vicomte’s identification. Did you not think that you might be recognized eventually, my dear?”
“I have only a few months more to contend with these functions, and then…”
“Then what? What exactly do you have in mind?” Both his hands gripped tightly her shoulders. She had no choice but to look him straight in his eyes.
“Why is it a concern of yours, Monsieur? Why do my actions concern you?” Frazzled, she broke into her native French.
He answered her back the same. “Because I need your help, Mademoiselle. I need your help.”
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