Authors: L. A. Hilden
Tags: #Romance, #Historical Romance, #LA Hilden, #Historical Fiction, #regency romance
The Perfect Suitor
Bewildering Love Series
L. A. Hilden
© L.A. Hilden 2013
Also available in ebook formats
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the author’s consent in any form other than this current form and without a similar condition being imposed upon a subsequent purchaser.
Any similarity between the characters and situations within its pages and places or persons, living or dead, is unintentional and co-incidental
The Perfect Suitor
1815 London, England
The audience’s enthusiastic cheers and applause continued for several moments. Then, as the cheering and clapping faded, people began to leave their seats in search of refreshments and conversation.
“Well?” Viscountess Stonehaven asked her two daughters. “What did you think of the play?”
“I loved it!” Cassie, the youngest of the girls by two years, beamed with teary eyes as she snatched her handkerchief from her reticule to dab at her face. “Nicholas Diamond is an outstanding actor.”
“I’m sure all of London would agree with you, dear. What about you, Evelyn? Did you enjoy the performance?”
“I found it mediocre,” Eve stated, bored by the theatrical performance. She wished she had Cassie’s enthusiasm for what she had just witnessed, but she didn’t. In truth, her first foray into society was completely uninteresting. Of course, this was
debut in society. Cassie’s turn wouldn’t come about for another two years. Twenty was the age their parents deemed the appropriate age for ladies to marry.
The Stonehaven women had appeared in the city to prepare for the Season weeks in advance. They purchased wardrobes and finished Eve’s lessons in amore, which Mother had been teaching her daily since she turned nineteen. For an entire year, she had practiced her manners, flirting, dancing, conversation, and so many other things that they were too numerous to contemplate.
How was she to draw upon these lessons if she was tucked away in some hidden alcove watching a troupe of ordinary actors flit about on stage? Only two men had visited them since their arrival to the theater, and although one of them had been a duke, he was young and Eve had not been impressed let alone charmed by his holier-than-thou demeanor.
Mother clearly perceived her boredom. “Evelyn, would you be a dear and fetch me a glass of punch from the hall. Mind you, go no further than the hall.”
Eve immediately stood, shaking the wrinkles out of her dress, happier just to be on her feet. “Cassie, would you care for a beverage?”
“No, thank you.” Cassie stood transfixed at the balcony, mesmerized by the sea of people below. As Eve went to leave, her mother took her vacated seat and began pointing out various people she was acquainted with to Cassie, but in a nonchalant manner.
Evelyn was glad to gain an opportunity to move around a bit. She hated sitting for long periods of time. Sitting was so unproductive. She was not happy to find that she detested the theater, but the actors seemed wooden, the stories were silly fantasy, and above all, the whole affair was dull, dull, dull! Where was the excitement she had been looking forward too? She’d never survive the Season if the theater was to be her main source of entertainment.
She searched the hall for the waiter who, she was told, paced through the corridor offering refreshments, but he was nowhere in sight. Aware that there were refreshment tables set up on the main floor, she descended the colossal staircase along with the crowd.
A sickeningly sweet smell made her turn her head as she continued her slow descent down the steps. The older woman in front of her was wearing too much perfume.
My goodness, do you lose your ability to smell as you age?
Eve turned her attention to the Theatre Royal, which was lovely, the auditorium decorated in the Imperial style and overlaid with wood. It held a beautiful cupola-topped atrium and grand staircases. Floor-to-ceiling paneling met with marble flooring in the expansive foyer.
When she at last reached the marble floor, Eve tried to see around the throngs of people in hopes of finding the refreshments. The theater was extremely crowded, and she thought it odd that there wasn’t a method to this kind of madness. She gently pushed her way through, excusing herself until she finally made it into one of the long lines. She felt like every person who walked by was looking at her oddly. She began to feel like she was wearing one of her mother’s whimsical hats. It dawned on her that the looks could be from the fact that she was standing in this crowd un-chaperoned, and her heart lurched.
Oh no! I’ve gone and broken one of the rules. Lud, how did I let this happen? My first night on the town and I blunder horribly.
Eve started to move away from the line with the intent of hurrying back to her mother’s side, but then she stopped. So she was remiss in bringing a chaperone, she thought, but it was silliness to remove herself from line merely to fetch her mother. By the time they returned, the intermission would be over.
Besides, this wasn’t
fault. If the waiter had been where she expected him to be, she wouldn’t be in this fix. Everyone could simply stare.
For goodness sakes, I am only retrieving a glass of punch.
What harm could possibly befall her? Eve was lost in her thoughts of defending her scandalous actions when she felt a light caress across her back.
“Lady Evelyn. Perhaps I may be of some assistance.” The young Duke of Herrington, who had been introduced to her earlier, ushered her further up in the line seemingly oblivious to the ire of the people he pushed out of his way. He clearly thought his title gave him leave to act in a discourteous manner.
“I came in search of refreshment for my mother.” Eve tried to act normal, even though the man stood far too close to her and was being blatantly rude to others. She realized that, without a chaperone, she was doing something socially wrong, which made her feel terribly awkward; but worse, she thought the Duke of Herrington was seizing upon this moment to take advantage of her mistake and she didn’t like it.
“Is your mother ill?” Lord Herrington asked, obviously wondering why she would be unescorted.
“No, Your Grace. Merely thirsty.”
Herrington laughed and continued to abruptly push his way to the front of the line to retrieve a glass of punch. Handing the glass to Eve, he clasped her free hand and placed it on his arm, then began to shove his way back through the crowd.
Among the swarms of pushing people, Eve was separated from the duke. Finding this to her liking, she did not look for him.
Paxton Witley, the Earl of Devonhurst, was all too happy to retrieve Lady Patricia some punch, for the sooner he moved away from her side the better. Throughout the entire first half of the play, Lady Patricia had watched him with an eagle eye, blatantly ignoring the performance. She had dropped her handkerchief at least ten times so she could bend over and allow him a view of her full breasts. Paxton had picked the handkerchief up for her at least three times before he realized her intentions. She had pretended to wipe at nonexistent tears in her eyes when she thought the scene called for such, and all the while she continued to ignore his sister. Poor Lydia, he thought, he should have never put her in the middle of this. Here he had promised to take Lydia to the theater, and then he ruined it by bringing Lady Patricia with her out of control passions. He would have to make it up to her.
Paxton waited patiently in the long line, periodically conversing with acquaintances. After retrieving a glass of punch, he drank down its contents and turned to make his way back to the stairs. He decided Lady Patricia didn’t deserve a beverage after her shabby treatment of Lydia.
As Eve floundered, trying to weave her way through the people toward the staircase, the music began, which indicated that the second half of the play was beginning. The pushing increased tenfold. She found herself being shoved backward until she hit what she thought was the wall, but when the wall gave out an explosive curse, she quickly turned to find herself staring up at the most muscular, formidable man she had ever seen. The man was glaring down at her dumped punch puddled at his feet and splashed onto his highly polished black Hessians. “I… I’m so sorry. I was pushed, and I couldn’t catch myself. I will pay for the cleaning, of course. I was shoved quite hard and…”
“It’s fine. Are you all right?” The man looked down at her and Eve blushed in embarrassment.
“Well, um, yes, sir. I’m fine.” Eve looked up, entranced by the man’s piercing eyes, the darkest shade of brown, indeed nearly black, she had ever seen. As she gazed up at him helplessly, she was shoved again from behind. He quickly drew up his strong arms to shield her from further harm. His arms were huge and his chest massive. His whole body seemed a proclamation of power. His waist appeared narrow beneath his black waistcoat, and his shirt was pristine white and his perfectly tied cravat matched his dark gray pants. He was the most attractive man she had ever seen in her life. He had firm lips, high cheekbones, wavy brown hair, and long black eyelashes.
Eve felt someone brush up behind her and she lost her balance as her slipper went sideways in the punch. Plunging forward, she practically had to wrap her arms around his waist to catch herself. His scent invaded her senses and she quickly straightened, blushing profusely. “Sorry. The spilt punch is slippery.” She was never so embarrassed in her life. “I think the strap on my shoe has fallen.” Eve held on to one of his arms as she righted the strap on her shoe with her pinky finger, since she still held her glass. Now here was man who didn’t need to pad his clothing, she thought as she felt his muscled arm flex beneath her fingers. “Perfect.”
“What?” The man stared down at her, obviously perplexed by her clumsy behavior. She was usually quite graceful, she wanted to tell him. He took her almost empty glass of punch and set it on the floor by the wall. Then he turned back to her, and she realized they were the only two people left in the hall.
Oh dear heavens, now I’m breaking
Eve could not believe she had spoken her bold thought out loud. “Perfect. My shoes are fixed, and so they are perfect.” He smiled at her response. Her heart hammered wildly in her chest and she suddenly felt as if a ball had formed in her throat. She couldn’t seem to speak. She just stared.
Paxton admired the lady’s fiery red locks, full lips, and bright blue eyes. He then lowered his gaze. Her breasts were full and round, the silky white tops of them exposed for his viewing. Her waist was so small that he was sure he could span it with his hands. But it was her alluring gaze mixed with a hint of a maiden’s innocence that held him so enthralled. “You are new to London?” he asked, assuming he would have noticed such a beautiful creature before if she weren’t. It suddenly dawned on him that she was without an escort, and he found himself wondering why.
A widow, perhaps? I’m sure I could not be so lucky.
“Yes. We recently arrived. This is to be my first Season.”
Paxton found himself disappointed by her answer. “You will find yourself swamped by all the activities and entertainments the city has to offer. Perhaps you plan to attend the Countess of Madison’s soiree tomorrow?” He hadn’t thought to attend that particular function and was unsure why he had even asked such a question.
“I think so. My mother handles our social calendar, but she promised I would meet many eligible men.” The young lady looked surprised by her own candor and a becoming blush spread across her cheeks again.
Paxton grinned, holding back his laughter as he observed her dismayed expression. She was charming. “Another young beauty looking for a wealthy husband.” He knew his comment was unnecessary, and his tone was more condescending than he had anticipated.
She appeared saddened and hurt by his comment. “He doesn’t have to be wealthy. He only has to be special to me.”
Her honesty pulled at his heartstrings and he suddenly felt like the biggest dolt for his comment. She sounded so earnest that he tried to repair the hurt he may have caused. “Then I wish you the best of luck in your pursuit.”
The orchestra began to play and she looked around, likely noticing that they were the only people left in the foyer.
“Are you married?” she asked, her blush growing deeper.
At her question, Paxton’s brow lifted. He grinned at her obvious interest in him. “Indeed. I am married to bachelorhood,” he answered honestly.
“Oh.” Eve was intrigued by his statement, and his crooked smile had her stomach fluttering. It seemed as if he was issuing her a challenge.
“Shall I walk you back to your seat?” The gallant man offered her his arm.
“That’s not necessary, but thank you.” Eve wanted time to compose herself before she went back to the box. This man had her jumbled. Her body vibrated with delight from being in his company.
This was the excitement she had been hoping to find in London.
“I bid you a good evening, then. Perhaps we will one day run into each other again.” He said the last part in jest, and Eve couldn’t help but laugh.
But her laughter quickly died when she found him lifting her hand to his lips for a soft kiss. He released her hand and she smiled before turning and making her way up the curved stairway. Finding the waiter in the corridor, she snatched her mother another glass of punch and entered the box. She hoped her mother wouldn’t be overly upset by her prolonged absence.
Her mother did look at her oddly as she took the proffered glass, but she didn’t say anything as Eve took her seat. Cassie was so absorbed in the play that she didn’t even glance in her direction. If she had been merely bored before, now Evelyn really wasn’t going to be able to concentrate on the play. The only scene she wanted to focus on was the one that had taken place downstairs. Although her eyes watched the stage, her mind kept replaying every word he had spoken to her, every look he had given her. She suddenly realized she didn’t even learn the man’s name. Mayhap her mother would know him from his description, and Eve could definitely describe him. She wondered if they were supposed to go to the Countess of Madison’s tomorrow. She was tempted to turn around and ask, but regardless of her eagerness, she didn’t want to bother Mother while she was enjoying the show. Eve couldn’t wait for the performance to end. Perhaps she would see him when they exited the theater. She tried not to fidget in her seat.