About the book
“I will keep your list. I will be the only man you allow close to you. Every one of your desires will be fulfilled by me.”
Lady Eloise has always felt left out. Oblivious as to the extent of her sister’s scandal, she can’t even defend herself against the lashing tongues that scorn her. And while she vyes for the attention of the worst rake in London, one thing ruins her plans: her sister is about to sacrifice herself to his lecherous father.
The rumors following the Marquess of Hanvey’s name merely scrape the surface of his depravity. And with mystery shrouding his past, all the Ton knows about him is that he is a dangerous rake who owns three gaming hells and the air of any room he enters.
Despite his aversion to high-born ladies, James will not be satiated until he fulfills Eloise’s List of Desires with her. Even if that means pretending to court her and help stop his father’s ridiculous marriage...
“Tonight will surely be one of the most unforgettable nights of your lives, ladies, but you must endeavor to keep away from the gentlemen.”
Lady Eloise Summers looked up at her sister, her eyes narrowing. “How are we to make matches if we keep away from the gentlemen, Martha?” She had not waited an additional year to make her bow into society, so her sister could advise her to keep away from gentlemen.
“And how will the night be unforgettable if we do not interact with any gentleman?” Miss Lizzie Clayton, Eloise’s dearest friend, asked with a slight tilt of her head and a mischievous gleam in her brown eyes. They were on their way to their first ball of the season.
“You must be cautious,” Martha responded, her anxious gaze darting between Eloise and Lizzie. “Many gentlemen might have ill intentions toward you.”
Eloise fought the urge to roll her eyes, for that was the fifth time she heard ill intentions this evening. She glanced out the carriage window, eager to arrive at the ball, so she could truly feel like a debutante. She also wanted Martha to trust her. She knew not to get herself ruined by a gentleman. Well, not to be caught anyway. After all, getting caught was what caused one to be declared ruined.
She was not a child, and she very well knew the consequences of being reckless. Recklessness was the reason she’d had to come out at nineteen instead of eighteen, and her family was still heavily paying the price.
“We exist in an unfair world,” Martha continued, and Eloise turned, once more, to look at her. “No one can be trusted, especially not a rake.”
“I agree with Martha that you should be cautious,” said Viscountess Clayton from her seat beside Lizzie, “but you may dance with a gentleman or two.” She gave Eloise a wink, and Eloise immediately knew she was permitting her to dance with as many gentlemen as she could. Josephine Clayton had stepped into the role of a mother after Eloise and Martha’s mother was lost to a fever five years ago.
Martha noticed this exchange and threw a scowl in their direction. “Oh, come now, Martha,” Josephine said. “We will have our eyes on Eloise and Lizzie the entire evening.”
“I would not mind a tamed rake for a husband,” Lizzie giggled, snapping her fan shut and peering out the window. Her excitement matched Eloise’s. They had talked about this day since they were sixteen. “I hear they make perfect husbands,” Lizzie added eagerly.
“All myth, dear Lizzie,” Martha warned quickly.
Lizzie turned to Martha with a grin, ignoring her warning as she asked, “Do you think the Marquess of Hanvey will be at the ball?”
“Lizzie!” Martha admonished. “He is the worst of them all!” Martha’s face paled as she spoke, and her eyes appeared terrified. Eloise understood why she was reacting very strongly at that instant. Martha carried a great burden and dearly wished to save what was left of their family’s reputation.
“Good heavens, Martha!” Lizzie’s eyes enlarged with surprise. “You speak of Hanvey as though he was the devil himself.”
“From what I heard about him, he might be or worse,” Martha responded.
Intrigued, Eloise leaned back in her seat and wondered how bad Hanvey was. “He must be interesting,” she murmured to herself. The danger her sister’s words had made her imagine sent a thrill through her.
“He is elusive,” Josephine said, and when Eloise glanced at her, she realized that Eloise had heard her. “He is rarely seen in society, but there are grand tales of his depravity. Do not expect to see him at the ball.” Josephine smiled at Martha to reassure her, but her pallor was still sickly.
“I am sure there will be other rakes at the ball,” Lizzie said excitedly while Eloise swallowed her disappointment. Her curiosity had been piqued, and she wished to know who Hanvey was.
“Elizabeth!” Josephine warned. “You and Eloise shall make respectable matches this season, and I will not have you talking about rakes anymore.”
“But they are fascinating, Mama!” Lizzie protested.
“They are, to be sure, but they should not be married,” Josephine returned. Society had an opinion about mothers like her who were not shy and spoke about subjects that were deemed inappropriate without fear. Of course, she had raised Lizzie to be a well-mannered young lady, but she had also afforded her the freedom of thought and expression.
“Do not forget the promise you made your father, Lizzie,” Josephine reminded Lizzie.
“What promise?” Lizzie asked, and Eloise knew that her friend was only being coy.
“Your promise to give Lord Edgecombe a dance tonight,” Josephine replied. Lizzie nodded but grumbled while Eloise laughed. She had the liberty to dance with whomever she wished, and she was glad. She only wished she could meet the elusive and mysterious Hanvey.
Anticipation tightened her chest when they finally arrived at the ball, and they made their way through the manor and the crush of guests to the ballroom which was the most scintillating ballroom she had ever seen.
“Now, my dears, do not get lost,” Josephine said after introducing them to their hosts. She was going to remain there whilst allowing Eloise and Lizzie to go deeper into the ballroom.
“Where is Martha?” Lizzie asked as she pushed her way through a very tight crowd near the dance floor.
Eloise looked about, noticing her sister’s absence for the first time. She recalled Martha’s pale face and hoped she was somewhere in the ballroom and not in a retiring room casting up her accounts. “I do not know,” she murmured.
Lizzie looped her arm through Eloise’s. “Let us endeavor to not get lost, then.” They moved to the fringes of the ballroom where there were fewer people and stood. They would likely not be found there, but they needed to find their breaths after a journey through a crowd like that.
Martha appeared just then. “I have been looking for you!” she scolded.
“We are fine,” Eloise replied, disliking her sister’s tone.
“We should move to another part of the ballroom. There are too many gentlemen about here who cannot be trusted,” Martha said, taking Eloise’s arm.
Eloise drew her arm away. “No, Martha, I would prefer to stay here. This is my first ball in London, and I wish to be free. I am not going to do anything inappropriate. I promise.” Eloise was angry, but she did not allow it to show. She needed her sister to trust her instead of treating her like a child.
“I will not be blamed if you—” Martha caught herself before she finished, but Eloise knew what Martha had been about to say, and Eloise’s gut twisted. She would never bring her family shame, but Martha seemed to believe that Eloise would the instant she was left alone.
“Your faith in me is remarkable, sister,” Eloise said, unable to hide what she felt.
“Eloise, I did not mean…” Martha paused and breathed. “Forgive me. You may stay here if that is your wish.” With that, Martha turned on her heel and left. She had changed in the past year, allowing her grief to blind her to everyone’s love.
“Are you well?” Lizzie asked after a moment, gently touching Eloise’s arm.
“I will not allow anything to ruin this evening for me, Lizzie,” Eloise said, glancing down at her with a smile. It was time to forget Martha’s scandal and look forward to her future.
Her eyes traveled across the ballroom, and her heart stopped beating when she saw the most intense gray eyes staring at her. The face they belonged to was equally impressive: dark brown hair, a strong jaw, a mouth that made her imagine kissing, impossibly broad shoulders… Eloise was frozen, but when the corner of the gentleman’s mouth tilted to form the most roguish smile, her heart began to beat again, sending blood to the most intimate regions of her body. She thought she saw him coming toward her, but at that same moment, Lizzie’s fan appeared in front of her face, obstructing her view. Eloise snatched the fan away but could not find him again.
“What have you done?” Eloise moaned, her eyes frantically searching the faces.
“You weren’t listening to me,” Lizzie answered. “What were you staring at?”
Eloise responded without looking at her, “The gentleman that will certainly ruin me if I see him again.”
“Where?” Lizzie searched the faces with her, and Eloise sighed ruefully.
“I saw him just now. He looks like an ancient god, Lizzie,” Eloise breathed and turned to look at her friend.
“Oh, I wish I saw him!” Lizzie pouted.
“You would have if you had not interrupted me with your stupid fan. I think he was coming toward us.” Eloise bit her lip as she recalled his smile. He might have already ruined her with just one look.
“Oh, dear!” Lizzie’s brows furrowed. “Come.” She took Eloise’s hand and drew her near the doors that opened into the garden. “I will help you find him.”
Eloise smiled. “What if I had imagined him?”
“Oh, you cannot have imagined him and still blush like you are doing now.”
Eloise pressed her palms to her cheeks. “I hope you are right.”
“I am sure I am.” Lizzie grinned. “I have something to show you.” She drew Eloise toward the doors that opened into the garden then Lizzie reached into her reticule to retrieve a folded sheet. Eloise immediately recognized the paper, for she had one just like it, even folded in the same fashion.
“I added three more actions to my list. Now it is complete.” Lizzie unfolded the paper and gave it to Eloise. “Well, I might think of something later and change it. This is not final.”
Eloise grinned as she read. “You are quite thorough, Lizzie,” she said, thinking of the contents of her own list.
“I do not intend to waste my first ball. Once I find a handsome and willing gentleman, I shall have the first item fulfilled.” Lizzie’s brown eyes gleamed. “Now, where is yours?” Eloise reached into her reticule and pulled it out, feeling a blush creep into her cheeks. “Why is your tenth slot empty?” Lizzie asked after a glance at the paper.
Eloise had written the number ten and left the place blank, choosing to keep that particular desire to herself.
“I have not thought of it yet,” she murmured with a convincing smile.
“We have more balls to attend and a lot of time to think,” Lizzie said excitedly.
“Elizabeth!” Eloise and Lizzie gasped and quickly folded their sheets when they heard Josephine’s voice. “I had my gaze on the two of you then you suddenly disappeared.” Josephine took Lizzie’s arm. “You promised your father that you would dance with Lord Edgecombe and encourage his suit.”
“Mama…” Lizzie started to protest, but her mother was already pulling her away.
“Forgive me, Eloise, but I must take her away for a while.” Josephine smiled, and Eloise nodded.
“Pray I do not perish!” Lizzie said to Eloise, quickly exchanging back their lists as Josephine pulled her away.
Now by herself, Eloise craned her neck to search for her silver-eyed gentleman. Yes, she thought of him as hers, and she was determined to find him. She moved deeper into the ballroom, praying to fate to reveal him to her. Just then, she felt a hand at her elbow and turned quickly. A handsome gentleman stood before her, but he was not her gentleman. He smiled and bowed slightly.
“May I have the next dance?” he asked.
“Me?” Eloise looked about, unsure he was speaking to her.
He laughed. “Of course, Lady Eloise.”
“You know my name?” She had been introduced to several people since the start of the season, but she had never seen this gentleman.
“I have heard of you and seen you,” he said, and her heart clenched. She thought of her family’s scandal and fear began to rise in her. “Forgive my manners. I am Viscount Moore, and it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
His bright smile calmed her, and he held out his hand. “Please give me the honor of a dance with you.”
“Of course, My Lord,” she said, placing her hand in his. He was rather charming, and she enjoyed the cotillion they danced. When it ended, he steered her toward the terrace that overlooked the gardens.
“How do you know me?” she asked as they descended the terrace steps and began to walk through the garden.
He laughed. “Beauty such as yours cannot be ignored, My Lady.”
They walked for a while and indulged in pleasant conversation. The cool evening air and the lanterns about the garden made her forget how far from the ballroom they were. When she felt Lord Moore tug her close, she realized there was no one around. They had long left the guests she had seen walking around the garden.
“Where are we?” she asked, her consternation growing by the second. “We should be closer to the ballroom,” she suggested.
“We do not need to be close to the ballroom, Eloise,” Moore whispered, his hand stroking her upper arm.
Her heart thudded loudly. Oh, no! What have you gotten yourself into, Eloise?
“I do not recall giving you leave to use my Christian name.” She pulled her arm away, her eyes seeking an exit.
“Oh, Eloise.” His hand went up to finger one of the curls framing her face. “We are too familiar with each other to be formal. And no one will know we are here.”
“What are you insinuating?” She tried to take a step back, but a hedge behind her blocked her path. More stepped closer, caging her body with his. Her breath came faster, and her fear grew. Still, she endeavored not to allow her emotions to show. He might be the sort of man who would exploit her fear.
“You are not as innocent as you look, my dear.” He touched her cheek, and she flinched, her hands making fists. “Given your family’s reputation, I am sure that being alone with a gentleman is a common occurrence. Have a merry time with me. I can give you all the pleasure you want.”
She should have heeded her sister’s warning. His charming smile had fooled her, and she had presumed he was a gentleman who intended to court her. There was no one about to rescue her, and the dark look in his eyes made her tremble with fear.
He took hold of her waist and drew her to him. “How dare you!” Eloise spat, kicking his shin with as much force as she could muster. He hopped back in pain, cursing, and she stepped away from the hedge and began to run back to the ballroom.
Moore recovered quickly and caught the back of her dress. Eloise formed a claw with her hand and quickly turned, catching his face.
James Simmons glared at the matron approaching him with three pink-cheeked debutantes, and she immediately turned and hurried away with her brood. He ground his teeth and cast another glare in the direction of the lady who stared at him with interest. She immediately covered her face with her fan.
He would have been out of London by now but for the promise he had made to his father, and going back on his word would be disregarding the principles he lived by. James moved toward the edge of the ballroom, intending to escape into the gardens, but a force in the form of a woman stopped him.
A few yards from him was the most appealing creature he had ever laid eyes on in a pale green dress that fit a luscious body to perfection. Her bright green eyes found his and widened like a doe’s, her pretty pink lips parted, and her bosom rose and fell with every breath she took.
She was a wonder, and the sight of her was stirring him in ways he had not been stirred before, at least not the first time he saw any other woman. He wanted to know her name, know what every inch of her body felt like, and then possess her. He felt his mouth curve and his body carry him toward her.
James was saved when the lady beside her waved a fan before her face. He blinked as though he was waking from a trance, his senses returning. Swiftly turning on his heel, he made his way out of the ballroom altogether. She was likely the precious daughter of some lord or duke, and he had no intention of walking down the aisle with a pistol pressed into his back.
In the hallway, he spied his father at the end, conversing intently with a young lady who appeared to be no older than the one who had beguiled him in the ballroom. Curious at how grave and odd their conversation seemed but cautious not to walk into a matchmaking trap, James took the first corner he found to avoid them then opened a door and slipped into a drawing-room.
“If it is not the ton’s most elusive marquess!” came a familiar voice from a chair by the fireplace. James almost cursed when he recognized the voice.
“What the devil are you doing here?” he asked.
“Why, helping myself to our host’s generosity.” Adrian Howards, his maternal cousin and good friend, raised the glass in his hand. “Who are you running from tonight?” he asked.
The lovely lady with green eyes came to mind, and he groaned, walking toward the fireplace. “No one.”
“Marry, and you will not have to hide,” Adrian advised.
“Because you present the perfect image of matrimonial bliss?” James chuckled. His cousin had long entered the parson’s mousetrap and already had two children.
“You would have the liberty I have. You would be invisible to society’s matchmakers.” Adrian drained his glass and reached for the decanter on the table beside him.
James sat in the chair opposite Adrian’s and tilted his head. “I am too fond of my life and freedom to be leg shackled,” he said.
“You devil!” Adrian shook his head and poured two fingers of liquor into his glass.
“You speak as though you were never like me,” James returned.
“Ah, but Ruth reformed me, you see.” Adrian smiled. The door opened suddenly, and James’ father, Frederick, the Duke of Burton, walked into the room.
“Your Grace,” Adrian gained his feet and then sat down after the Duke’s acknowledgment. James remained seated.
“I saw you in the hall, James,” Frederick said, taking the third seat before the fire.
“You were occupied,” James responded flatly.
“Ah, yes,” his father said but did not elaborate. This caused James to tense. You better not be thinking of finding me a wife! Although he was still curious, he did not ask his father anything. Now was not the right time.
“You should be in the ballroom.” His father’s blue eyes held his. “There are plenty of young ladies in that ballroom without dance partners.” He turned to Adrian. “And, Vellow, I believe your wife is looking for you.”
“Ruth would not wish for me to take her away from her friends, Your Grace,” Adrian replied. Seemingly satisfied with Adrian’s answer, Frederick raised a brow at James, waiting for his excuse.
“We agreed that I would make an appearance in society tonight. I presented my face in the ballroom moments ago,” James said.
“I do not like what they are saying about you,” Frederick pointed out.
James shrugged. “You were once like me, were you not? I believe you still are.” Adrian offered Frederick a drink, but he declined it as he glared at James. “My reputation had never bothered you before. Why do you care now?” James asked.
His father did not respond and instead regarded him with an inscrutable expression. James held his gaze in a challenge, and a moment later, some of Frederick’s mask fell to reveal something dark. James’ gut tightened with apprehension. Reading his father had been one of his greatest challenges, and he feared a trap was being laid out for him.
“I think I would like a finger of that liquor now, Vellow,” Frederick said to Adrian, his gaze still on James’. When Frederick smiled, his jaw clenched.
“I shall leave you to drink, then.” James stood.
“That is right,” Frederick said, accepting a glass from Adrian. “Return to the ballroom. We have a legacy to protect.”
Damn the legacy! James was tempted to say. Instead of returning to the ballroom, he found the conservatory and wandered out into the gardens from there. He had been to this manor several times and knew where to find escape routes.
He decided that he would spend an hour in the company of flora before leaving the ball to seek his mistress. After sighting that lady in the ballroom, he would need a different woman to quell his desire.
“You filthy harlot!” someone growled in the distance, and James stopped in his tracks. “I will destroy you!”
He hurried in the direction, thinking that a lady might need to be rescued. No sooner had he taken the first few steps than someone, a woman, crashed into him. His arms shot out to steady her, and his breath caught the instant he beheld the green eyes that gazed up at him.
Viscount Moore appeared, forcing him to look away from her. When he saw James, he stopped. “What do you want?” James asked him, stepping in front of the lady to shield her.
“My Lord, do you see what she did to my face?” Moore asked. James’ eyes narrowed as he saw the three lines on Moore’s cheek. They were just scratches but prominent ones.
“What did you do to her?” James asked. His voice was calm, but his insides were raging. Moore was a wretched rake who had ruined several innocent ladies. He must have done something grave to cause a lady to tear his face like that. Despite his rage, James felt great pride in her ability to defend herself.
“My Lord, she seduced me, and—”
“How dare you!” the lady growled, stepping out from behind James. “You lie to me, lure me out here, risk my reputation, and claim that I seduced you? Do you have no shame?”
“That is enough,” James said, gently taking the lady’s hand and drawing her back behind him. “Remove yourself from this place, Moore. And if you speak to anyone about what happened here, England will cease to be your home.”
Moore looked from him to the lady then nodded and briskly walked away. James turned to regard her, once more finding himself trapped in her gaze. Lord, she was lovely!
“How do you fare?” he asked her.
She swallowed, seemingly wary of him. “I am well.”
“It is men such as him who make women fear rakes,” he heard himself say and frowned. He was not supposed to say that aloud.
“I rather thought that women have always been meant to fear rakes,” she said, her rosy lips curving in a manner that both intrigued and enticed him.
“Perhaps,” he agreed, taking a step toward her. Now that he was alone with her, his desire was becoming too great to fight. What was worse was that he did not wish to fight it. “But it should not be so.”
“How should it be?” she asked.
“Not all rakes seek the company of gently bred women. Some seek to avoid them entirely.”
“My Lord, you appear to know quite a lot about rakes. Are you one?” James’ way of life had not been his choice. He had been forced into it, and he had learned to appreciate it until it became who he was. This thought reminded him of one of his principles and the need to fight the temptation before him.
“Yes,” he replied, “and I think you should run back to the ballroom.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Run back to the ballroom as if I am a fearful damsel?”
“I know you are not fearful,” he said, “but I am a rake.”
She pursed her lips, and he stepped away from her, pretending he was looking about to ensure they were still alone. The longer he remained there, the greater his urge to pull her close and kiss her. He could not leave her because he wanted to ensure she was safe.
“You appear to be a different sort of rake,” she moved toward a rose bush and touched one of the blooms, her slender fingers stroking the petals as well as his imagination. Something fell from the reticule that hung on her wrist, but she did not appear to be aware.
“And what manner of rake do you think I am?” He bent and picked up what she had dropped, realizing as he straightened that it was a folded sheet of paper.
However, a gasp was drawn from her when she saw it in his hands. He was about to give it to her when the word cunny caught his attention. The sheet had been folded with the writing on the outside which was rather odd.
Instead of giving it back to her as any decent gentleman would do, James retreated from her and unfolded it. His eyes found the title, Eloise’s List of Desires., and his mouth opened. He immediately read the words under the title.
“Give it to me!” she tried to snatch it from him, but he held it above their heads where she would never be able to reach. James was utterly shocked by the brazen list, and he repeatedly looked from the sheet to her face. If it was indeed hers, then she knew exactly what she wanted from a man, and evidently had the intention of getting it.
“Is this yours?” he asked.
“Please, give it to me!” The desperation in her voice exposed her, and he chuckled.
“Eloise,” he said softly. “That is your name, is it not?”
“No, it is not.” She jumped to reach his raised hand and failed, but he was gifted with a view that sent a jolt through his body. “You should not be looking at someone’s personal things.”
“I thought you said that it does not belong to you,” he countered, and she blushed deeply. “Should I wonder what an unmarried young lady is doing with such a list?” He laughed when she tugged at his coat sleeve to pull his hand down which she was unable to do.
“It is no concern of yours,” she ground out.
“Oh, it is every bit a concern of mine if I can be of service,” he said without thinking. When he realized what he was suggesting, he ignored his voice of reason. “I can see here,” he glanced at the sheet, “that you prefer a rake to fulfill your desires.”
“You are not the rake I made it for,” she said, abandoning her fight to reclaim her list. Her eyes blazed in the lamplight, and he further provoked her, so he could continue to see the fire in her gaze.
“Pray, who is he?” James asked. When she looked away and did not respond, he tucked a finger under her chin and lifted her face. “Who is he?” he repeated softly.
“The Marquess of Hanvey,” she whispered. “You are not him.”
Hell! She did not know who he was. “Have you met him?”
“No, but I intend to.” She folded her arms across her chest.
“Because every woman who was ever with him claimed he is the best of lovers.”
“I see.” He could reveal he was Hanvey, so she would allow him to kiss her, but that was not his way.
She jumped again to take the sheet from him but slipped when she landed. James immediately caught her, her softness cradled in his hardness. She felt perfect in his arms. She did not attempt to extricate herself from his arms, and he could not find the will to release her.
The fire in her eyes burned brighter, and her lips parted. James was completely undone.
“I will fulfill your first desire,” he whispered, his lips meeting hers.
Eloise thought she was dreaming when her gentleman kissed her. His lips were soft, and his tongue stroked her lips, seeking permission to explore her mouth. Sighing, she granted it by parting her lips for him.
His kiss grew more intense, and his arm slid around her waist, pressing her body into his. Every inch of her ached for more than he was giving her, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, her fingers weaving into his thick brown hair.
She no longer gave a damn about Hanvey, not since the moment she had set eyes on this gentleman. He had both intrigued and aggravated her, but helping her with Moore had endeared him to her. And now, she wanted nothing but him. Her body trembled, and she moaned.
“Eloise,” he murmured against her lips, one of his hands moving to cup her buttock while the other brushed the underside of her breast. A sweet pulse gathered at her sex, and her breath caught.
His tongue stroked her lips again, and they parted for him. He surprised her by taking her bottom lip between his teeth and biting gently then a little more intensely. Eloise moaned aloud, her fingers tightening in his hair.
“Do you still want Hanvey?” he rasped, pressing his hard pelvis into her belly. His hand moved to her neck and made a sensuous circle around her throat.
“No,” she breathed.
“Do you want me?” he demanded, his fingers running a line down her chest and slipping between her breasts.
“Yes,” she gasped. He could ask her to do anything at that instant, and she would do it just to have more of him.
“How much?” He pinched her bottom, and the pain quickly turned to pleasure, traveling straight to her throbbing center. Her knees weakened, and she felt them begin to buckle. He caught her as his teeth grazed her bottom lip again.
Eloise could not answer his question. She could not even remember what the question was. But the sound of approaching laughter quickly broke the spell. He appeared to have heard it as well because he stopped, but he did not release her.
She placed her hands on his chest and gently pushed away, her heart beating fiercely in her chest. “I should not be here with you,” she whispered, her fingers moving to touch her swollen lips.
His silver gaze was almost black. “No, you should not.”
Her hands clutched her skirts, and she turned away from him as quickly as she could, running. Eloise feared that if she remained with him for a moment longer, she would have him fulfilling every desire on her list, even the tenth one that she had not written. She returned to the ballroom without meeting anyone in the garden which she was enormously glad of. Then, she made her way out of the ballroom to the hallway.
“Eloise?” Josephine called, and Eloise started. She turned around and mustered a smile. “I was just looking for you. Martha is unwell.”
Eloise immediately tensed and felt her eyes widen. “What is the matter with her?”
“I believe she has a headache. She is in one of the drawing rooms. I just sent for the carriage to be brought, so we could go home.”
“Oh, no!” Eloise said quickly. “You mustn’t leave early because of Martha and me. I shall take care of her.”
Honestly, she was desperate to leave the ball after feeling the things she had in the arms of her gentleman. Her body was still reeling and aching with a desire she never imagined she could feel. She had done exactly what she had promised Martha that she would not do.
The carriage arrived, and she left with Martha, who was gravely silent throughout the journey. Eloise sat close to her in the carriage, occasionally inquiring about her well-being.
“How are you, Martha?” Eloise asked again on the stairs to their chambers after their return. Martha’s face was pale, and her eyes glistened with tears. Eloise was more worried than she had been earlier.
“It is only a headache. I shall be well after I sleep.” Martha continued climbing the stairs, and Eloise followed her. Eloise could not help her worry or the hurt she felt at Martha’s constant dismissal of her concerned inquiries.
“Why are you doing this, Martha?” she asked at Martha’s door before she could think better of her words.
“What am I doing, Eloise?” Her sister turned to regard her and allowed a weary sigh.
“You have changed,” Eloise said quietly.
“Circumstances such as mine often bring about change,” Martha responded flatly.
“No, I mean you dismiss my care and concern every time I offer them,” Eloise returned.
Martha looked away as she responded. “I do not dismiss you, Eloise. You may think me harsh and brooding, but I am merely doing what I can to keep you safe”
Eloise recalled what had occurred in the gardens with Moore. She would have escaped even if her gentleman had not arrived. She was capable of defending herself. “I know, Martha, and I appreciate your efforts. I truly do, but I only wish you would trust me.”
“I trust you, Eloise. It is society that I do not trust,” Martha said.
Eloise understood her sister’s pain, but after a year, Eloise still did not know the nature of the scandal that had nearly sunken their family. No one would tell her what exactly had happened because they believed her to be a delicate flower that must be constantly watched lest she lost her precious petals.
Eloise knew there had been a gentleman involved, and her sister had been seen in his arms. If it weren’t for Josephine’s efforts, Martha would never have returned to London and been allowed into society. But Eloise still thought her sister ought to allow her family to love and commiserate with her.
Martha opened the door and stepped into her bedchamber. “Lady Clayton is not helping us. She is far too lenient which encourages you and Lizzie to be reckless.”
Eloise’s shoulders grew rigid. “I beg your pardon, Martha, but Lady Clayton has been most kind and caring toward us since mother’s passing. She managed our scandal and helped us restore some of our good name.” She would not allow her sister to be ungrateful to Josephine or Lizzie. “Lizzie delayed her come out for a year in empathy.”
Her sister was becoming less a sister than a stranger, and that twisted Eloise’s heart. Eloise reached for Martha’s hand, but Martha pulled away.
“I suppose you think me a malcontent.” Martha walked to the divan by her window and sat.
“I did not say that,” Eloise said.
“You did not have to, Eloise.”
“Not now, Eloise,” Martha cut her off. “I truly cannot argue with you tonight. Good night.”
Eloise’s teeth clenched, and she felt alone. She turned and walked out of the room, closing the door behind her. Since their mother’s death, she had been pushed to the fringes in all of their affairs, treated more like a child than a young lady with the intelligence to understand what was happening in her life.
She missed her mother, and the trust she’d had in her. When her mother was alive, she conversed with Eloise as one would converse with a friend and trusted her to make decisions by herself, so she could learn from her mistakes. Her father and Martha did not trust her, and perhaps that was causing more harm in her life than any of them knew.
Eloise opened her bedchamber door, which was opposite her sister’s, and walked straight to her bed, flopping onto it, and burying her face in her pillow. It took a while for her whirring emotions to calm, and when they had, she rang for her lady’s maid to help her undress.
Only when she lay in bed to sleep did she recall something very important. In the snare of passion and her subsequent haste to flee the gardens, she had forgotten her list with her gentleman.
She quickly sat up with a frown. She had been reckless thrice that night. First by allowing Moore to lead her away from the ballroom, second by giving into her desires, and third by leaving her list.
Martha was right. Eloise was incapable of looking after herself.
“You are not eating,” Eloise’s father, Matthew, the Earl of Whey, observed over breakfast the following morning.
Eloise’s sleep-deprived mind still raced with thoughts of her mysterious gentleman and the list he had in his possession. She had tossed all night with both apprehension and hunger. She decided she had to find him to get her list back, but she did not know his name or title if he had one. All she had were his silver eyes and his touch, and she could not possibly use that to find him.
She glanced in Martha’s direction and found her sister pushing her toast and sausage around on her plate. She must have had a difficult night, too, and their conversation still irritated Eloise whenever she thought of it.
“Is something the matter with the two of you?” Matthew asked, his bespectacled gaze moving from one somber daughter to the other in concern.
“Everything is fine, Papa,” Eloise said with a small smile, raising her teacup to her mouth and pretending to sip her cold tea. She had not been able to eat anything this morning. His gaze settled on Martha next, who remained silent, looking blankly down at her food. “Starving yourself is not going to improve our family’s situation, Martha.”
Eloise almost blurted her agreement but bit her lip to keep silent. Anything she said might make her sister feel worse.
“Did something happen at the ball?” Matthew asked Eloise, and she shook her head.
“I am not starving myself, Papa,” Martha murmured. “I am not hungry.” She straightened in her seat. “And nothing happened at the ball. No one was unkind to us.” She raised her eyes to Eloise’s. “Lady Clayton ensured we were received well in society.”
“Very good. It pleases me that our efforts have not been in vain.” Matthew reached for Martha’s hand. “You have been gifted another chance. I do not wish for you to dwell on the past. Do not give yourself any more misery, please. Eloise and I do not blame you.”
Eloise sighed a little, wishing she could say the same words to Martha and not have them thrown back at her. Still, she touched Martha’s arm and offered her a smile. Martha nodded once in response and returned her gaze to her plate then she abruptly shot to her feet and hurried out of the room.
“Good Lord!” Her father removed his spectacles and set them down on the table before running a frustrated hand over his face. “What do I do with that child?” he asked. This was not the first time Martha ran out when her emotions were too much for her to bear.
“What we have been doing thus far, Papa,” Eloise sighed. “We must continue to encourage and love her.”
Matthew was pensive for a moment before he said, “I heard your argument with her last night after your return from the ball.”
Eloise looked up in surprise. “I did not realize we were loud. My apologies for the disturbance.”
“You were not loud. I was on my way to my chambers when I overheard from the open door. I did not want to interfere,” he responded.
“Oh,” Eloise let out. She did not know what else to say. A bitter fact was that the harmony she had once shared with Martha no longer existed.
“I have disappointed you both as your father,” he said ruefully.
“No, Papa!” She took his hand. “You have not disappointed us, and you advised Martha just now to not dwell on the past.”
He smiled at her. “I suppose you are right. The dinner with Lord and Lady Vellow is tonight, is it not?” he suddenly asked.
“Yes, it is,” Eloise replied. Her father’s schedule made him forgetful, and quite often, he needed to be reminded of the events he was required to attend. Eloise was glad he remembered this time.
To restore their family’s good name, Josephine had convinced some members of the ton with influence that the scandal was only a rumor. As such, they had been invited to small dinners and soirées since the start of the season, and eventually the grand ball they attended the night before.
Ruth, the Viscountess of Vellow, liked Eloise immediately when they were introduced, and she had invited their family to dinner.
After breakfast, Eloise decided to find her sister to see how she was faring. When she arrived at Martha’s ajar bedchamber door, a strange conversation froze her.
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