The Perfect Waltz

Table of Contents
 
 
Praise for the novels of Anne Gracie
An Honorable Thief
“She’s turned out another wonderful story!”
—All About Romance
 
“A true find and definitely a keeper.”
—Romance Reviews
 
“A thoroughly marvelous heroine.”
—The Best Reviews
 
“Dazzling characterizations . . . provocative, tantalizing, and wonderfully witty romantic fiction . . . Unexpected plot twists, tongue-in-cheek humor, and a sensually fraught battle of wits between hero and heroine . . . embraces the romance genre’s truest heart.”
—Heartstrings
 
 
 
How the Sheriff Was Won
“Anne Gracie provide[s] pleasant diversions.”
—Midwest Book Review
 
“An excellent story with an engaging plot and well-rounded characters.”
—Romantic Times
Tallie’s Knight
“Gracie combines an impeccable knowledge of history, an ability to create vibrant and attractive characters, and an excellent storytelling ability.
Tallie’s Knight
is far and away the best Regency romance I have read in a long time.”
—The Romance Reader
 
“Gracie’s writing style is charming and wonderful and the love scenes are very sensual . . . a special book with excellent writing and characters that touch the heart.”
—All About Romance
 
 
 
Gallant Waif
“A great heroine . . . This is as polished a piece of romance writing as anyone could want.”
—The Romance Reader
 
“I loved everything about it.”
—All About Romance
 
 
 
A Virtuous Widow
“A wonderful, warm, emotionally stirring Christmas story of love found, wishes fulfilled, and promises kept.”
—Romantic Times
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
 
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
 
THE PERFECT WALTZ
 
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
 
PRINTING HISTORY
Berkley Sensation edition / November 2005
 
Copyright © 2005 by Anne Gracie.
 
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
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375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
eISBN : 978-0-425-20680-5
 
BERKLEY® SENSATION
Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 
 

http://us.penguingroup.com

With thanks to all my writing friends
in whom I feel immensely blessed.
And to Linda B., Barbara H., and Bron J.,
who talked me over the bumps.
Prologue
If one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better.
JANE AUSTEN
 
 
 
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND. MARCH 1818
 
HIS LITTLE SISTER WAS ABOUT TO PLUMMET TO HER DEATH ON the cold, gray cobblestones at his feet!
“Stop, Cassie! Don’t move!” Sebastian Reyne kept his voice calm as he dismounted and passed the reins to the groom. What the devil was she doing on the roof? “Just keep still, and I will come up and rescue you.”
“I don’t need rescuin’!” Cassie yelled scornfully and to prove her point moved farther along the steep ridge of his tall, stone house.
“Then go back inside, immediately.”
“I won’t. Not while that bloody old cow is in there!” She inched a little farther, and he winced as her foot slipped. A slate smashed to pieces in front of him.
Sebastian followed the jerk of Cassie’s chin to where Miss Thringstone, their newest governess, leaned out of the window. When she saw him, she began in shrill fury, “She struck me! Actually struck me! These girls are completely ungovernable—”
He cut her off. “Downstairs in my office, Miss Thringstone! Now! I’ll speak to you after Cassie is safe inside the house.”
She hesitated, then with dignity withdrew.
After a moment Cassie said, “Is she gone?”
“She’d better be,” Sebastian responded grimly. “And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get yourself inside, now!”
“I’m not comin’ in if you’re goin’ to hit me, too!”
Too?
“I won’t hit you, Cassie. But you will explain your behavior to me, and if warranted, you will be punished.”
He watched, heart in his mouth, as Cassie considered his words for a moment, then slowly climbed back along the spine of the roof. Another slate smashed to smithereens on the cobbles. She clambered in the nursery window, and Sebastian began to breathe again. He’d have all the girls’ windows nailed shut within the hour.
 
“Now, miss, explain why you took such an insane risk.”
“S’not a risk. I didn’t fall, did I?”
“Did you strike Miss Thringstone?”
Cassie tossed her head mutinously. “Yes, I did! I know it was wrong, but I don’t care. I hate her!” She put her arm around her younger sister. “We both do.”
At least she’d admitted it was wrong. That was something. Sebastian glanced at eleven-year-old Dorie. Her head was down, and she cringed, peeping at him through a tangle of dark hair. He gentled his voice. “Miss Thringstone’s job is to teach you both to become young ladies, Cassie. I know it must be difficult. But you have a new life now, and Miss Thringstone is here to help you prepare for it.”
Cassie pulled Dorie tighter and set her jaw. “We hate that bloody old horse-faced bitch, and we won’t learn nothin’ from her!”
Sebastian ignored the deliberate bad language. Cassie was hot-tempered and difficult, but one thing he’d learned in the last four months was that if he was patient enough, there was usually a reason for her outrageous actions. Not necessarily a good reason, but a reason, nevertheless.
“Why do you hate her this time? And why did you hit her?”
“Coz she hit Dorie!”
Sebastian stiffened. When they’d arrived at his house four months ago, two skinny little urchins, Dorie silent and shivering and Cassie hostile and feigning indifference, he recognized the signs. He swore then and there they would never suffer a beating again. He’d instructed the governess that no matter what the provocation, she was not to hit the girls. Not ever. She would refer all serious misbehavior to him.
But he had to be sure. Cassie was clever and cunning and not above manipulating the situation for her own advantage.
“She hit Dorie?” he repeated. “How? And for what reason?”
“She slapped her across the face. Hard.” Cassie gave him a flat look and added, “For
dumb
insolence!”
Air hissed in through Sebastian’s teeth. Dorie looked up. Her hair swung back from her face, and Sebastian could quite clearly see the red imprint of a palm on her pale little face.
For dumb insolence!
He reached out his hand to touch her hair, but both girls recoiled from the gesture. He swallowed and said quietly, “Go and wash your faces, girls. Cassie, you did right to protect your sister. You will not be punished.”
 
“A good whipping on a regular basis would do both those girls a power of good!” declared Miss Thringstone, facing him across his desk. “They lack discipline, respect, and all sense of proper behavior!”
“I believe I made my views on corporal punishment clear.” His fury firmly leashed, Sebastian selected a paper from the pile on his desk, the reference that had described her as “the finest governess in the county.” He returned to writing her letter of dismissal.
Miss Thringstone tugged her jacket straight and stared down her long nose. “Without whipping, those girls will never be fit for any respectable society, let alone to fulfill your ludicrous aspirations!”
“Those girls will, in due course, make their entry into the finest London society.” It was a statement of fact.
Miss Thringstone refused to be intimidated. Of good birth and superior education herself, she had worked in some of the finest houses in the country. She said in a tone designed to depress the pretensions of a nouveau riche cit, “Mr. Reyne, I hardly think your own background allows you to appreciate the qualities required of young ladies of the upper levels of society. Birth and breeding is simply something that money alone cannot achieve.”
His brow arched sardonically. “Indeed?”
The governess stamped her foot. “I can teach any young girl to be a perfect lady if the basic good material is there, but in this case, it is not. Cassandra is wild to a fault. She is rude, disobedient, argumentative, and uses language more fitted to the gutters.” She shuddered. “We have already discussed that item she wears on her person, so I shan’t mention it again, except to say that only a barbarian would carry such a thing!”
He inclined his head. “I am sure she has her reasons. Eventually she will feel secure enough to discard the habit.”
Miss Thringstone gave a ladylike snort. “To allow an undisciplined child of mercurial temper to carry such an item—well, sir, it borders on insanity!”
He shrugged. “Perhaps. Yet when she attacked you just now, she used her fists.”
The governess pursed her lips.
“Quite. Now, you said both girls needed a good whipping. I hope you do not expect me to believe that Dorie has been argumentative.”
The governess reddened.
“‘Dumb insolence’ was the crime, I believe.” He let his words hang in the air.
She shifted her feet uncomfortably and would not meet his eyes.
Sebastian said with silky menace, “It could hardly be any other kind.”
Defiantly, the governess burst out, “In her own way, Eudora is quite as stubborn as her sister and just as disobedient. And she simply refuses to be broken of the habit of stealing!”
He made a dismissive gesture. “Taking food from your own home is hardly stealing.”
Miss Thringstone’s lips compressed into a thin line. “Sneaking food from your own table, perhaps not. But she creeps downstairs in the middle of the night and filches food from the kitchen.”
“We have plenty of food. It, too, is a habit that will pass when Dorie feels more secure.”
Miss Thringstone persisted. “The butler says that mice are becoming a problem.”

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