The Saint Who Stole My Heart: A Regency Rogues Novel (7 page)

BOOK: The Saint Who Stole My Heart: A Regency Rogues Novel
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The color of the hair so ruthlessly imprisoned within the torturous style was not precisely muddy brown, as he’d originally estimated so many years before. Actually, it was closer to a rich sable, he realized, with hints of gold intertwined throughout. He decided it would no doubt be stunning if it were ever set loose and allowed to fall naturally about her shoulders.

Intrigued, he continued to study her as she returned
the book to the shelf and walked slowly down the long, carpeted aisle, unaware of his perusal.

Her face was more fetching than he’d given her credit for, her hair color reflected in her eyes. Large and fringed in thick, sooty lashes, they were expressive and quite striking. Her nose was charmingly pert, and her mouth … Dash paused at her mouth, noting the movement of full, pink lips as she silently read off the titles of books to herself.

She bent to examine the lower row of books, giving Dash a nice view. Her deliciously curved backside perfectly complemented rounded, firm breasts. An hourglass. A wonderfully proportioned hourglass with the sand in just the right spots.

Dash ignored the flash of heat that suffused him and focused on being annoyed. The chit’s hideous dress was what he’d expected of her. Bluestockings were known for being bookish. And yet, he’d never once made the acquaintance of even one who’d ever cracked the covers of
La Belle Assemblée
. No, her unfashionable dress did not surprise him in the least.

But the curves? Now, that was completely unexpected. As were her lush mouth and the silky hair …

“Oh!” Miss Barnes exclaimed in a hushed tone, her excited intake of breath pulling Dash from his thoughts.

She rushed toward the end of the aisle, skidding to a halt in front of a glass case situated against the wall.

Dash couldn’t help himself. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and he followed.

“Giacomo Paolini’s
Abecedary
,” Miss Barnes whispered, as though speaking a sacred prayer within the walls of a grand cathedral.

Dash moved closer to the case, studying the book. Its presence was wholly surprising. His father must have acquired the volume shortly before his death. “Have you read it, Miss Barnes?” he asked, breathing in her
delicate floral scent as he did so. He couldn’t readily identify the flower.

“Hardly,” she replied, leaning closer to the case, her brow nearly skimming the glass. “This volume—the only one still in existence, mind you—was lost for years. Your father was incredibly fortunate to find it, my lord.”

“Mmh,” he replied, distracted. Rose? No, the scent was more complex than that. Lavender? He discreetly breathed deeper, dragging in more of her elusive scent, suddenly desperate to know.

Bergamot.

“Ha,” he declared.

Miss Barnes jumped. “I beg your pardon, my lord?” she asked, looking at him as though he were mad.

Really. I’m not the one gushing over an old
book.

Dash fought the urge to say the sentence out loud and instead, straightened his crisp cravat. “Funny that, wouldn’t you agree? My father found a book that so many could not,” he replied, looking at the volume with what he hoped was childlike glee. “Were there many people searching for it?”

“Oh, yes.” Her voice brimmed with enthusiasm. “The late Lord Carrington was not the man who actually found the volume, of course. But we can all be thankful he had the foresight to provide such an admirable and efficient home for it. Look here,” she gestured at the case. “See how it is perfectly situated away from the sunlight …”

Dash hardly heard a word she said. He couldn’t pull his gaze away from the fascinating quality of her skin and the flush of color from her cheeks, down the curve of her throat, to the neckline of her dress.

“And the case? Why isn’t it stacked with the rest of the books?” he wondered aloud.

He knew
exactly
why, of course. Direct sunlight would compromise the already fragile pages. But he wanted to
watch her hands as she talked, gesturing and pointing this way and that, as expressive as the excited cadence of her speech and tone.

Dash wondered why he was noticing her hands. They were, after all, only hands. She possessed a pair just as nearly every other human being on the planet did.

What was he doing? He wasn’t supposed to be interested in Miss Barnes. He just needed her to pack up the books and go back to Dorset, as soon as possible.

“Fascinating stuff,” he interrupted her careful explanation, needing to be anywhere but next to Miss Barnes. “But I’m afraid I must be off. I’ll leave you to your books.”

She smiled at him shyly. “Of course, my lord. This must all be terribly boring to you,” she replied, curtsying.

Dash bowed and turned to go.

“Thank you, my lord,” she added. “You’ve no idea what these books mean to me—and my father, of course.”

Dash paused, but did not turn around, fearful that she’d draw him back. “Oh, don’t thank me, Miss Barnes. It’s all my father’s doing.”

It was the truth, after all. Though Dash was having a hard time being thankful to his father for anything at the moment.

“I look forward to seeing you at dinner, my lord.” The woman could not bear to relinquish the last word. “Yes, Miss,” he replied.

“Excellent.”

Christ Almighty
.

 

Elena was late to dinner. She’d been absorbed in her thoughts when Rowena had found her in the library. Earlier, she’d watched the viscount disappear through the doorway and sighed, only then realizing she’d been holding her breath. She’d pressed her hand to her bodice, right over the rapid beat of her heart, and frowned.

Elena didn’t want to find the man attractive. As she’d explained the dangerous relationship between rare books and sunlight, her traitorous skin had blushed at his intent stare, a curious sense of pleasure lightening her limbs.

But then he’d abruptly left.

Elena knew Lord Carrington was quite the catch even if he was stupid. While she, though highly intelligent, was not.

She’d attributed the ridiculous notion to fatigue by the time she’d reached her room and found there was little time to change. As for fashioning her hair into a chignon or applying the rouge Rowena had begged her to purchase for the trip? It could not be done. And so she was late, quite possibly looking worse than she had upon her arrival at Carrington House.

And she’d smelled of vomit then.

Perfect.

Lady Mowbray smoothed her silken silver hair and took in Elena with a lively smile. “My dear, have you
any sisters?” she inquired, her feathered brows punctuating the question with a charming arch.

Elena mentally ordered herself to sit up straight and quietly cleared her throat. “I’m afraid I cannot claim siblings, unfortunately. I am my father’s only child.”

“Lucky girl,” the marchioness sighed, her eyes softening as she appeared to contemplate such a singular state.

“You’ll have to excuse the marchioness, Miss Barnes,” the viscount said, cutting his slice of perfectly roasted ham. “You see, her sisters—and Lady Mowbray, I may add,” he continued, aiming a vacuous grin at the marchioness, “are known about town as the Furies. They’re quite a force of nature, those three. Perhaps you’ve heard of the trio?”

Elena shook her head and casually took a small sip of claret. “No, I’m afraid the sobriquet does not sound familiar.”

“I knew I would like you,” Lady Mowbray said with happy conviction, sending a superior smile toward the viscount. “You see, not
everyone
knows us as such.”

Elena hesitantly allowed herself to appreciate Lady Mowbray’s comment. She set the crystal goblet beside her plate and watched as the viscount acknowledged the woman’s victory with a smile and a good-natured shrug of his wide shoulders. “Though I do live in Dorset, alone with my aged father, on a vast estate,” she added, suddenly feeling bold. “News from town nearly always misses our isolated corner of the country, you see.”

The viscount let out a bark of laughter and his eyes lit with amused approval. “I believe I like you as well, Miss Barnes.”

Lady Mowbray’s eyes grew round and she looked at Elena with mock horror. “Why, Miss Barnes, I like you even more now.” Her peal of laughter could only be described as utterly charming.

Elena smiled a true, unaffected smile. She was quite
unexpectedly pleased. She had, of course, anticipated the worst from her chaperone. Not that all of the ton’s matrons could possibly be as horrible as Lady Hastings had been.

But a marchioness? Well, Lady Mowbray’s rank alone entitled her to treat Elena just as she pleased. Elena had expected minimal courtesy and politeness. She’d decided the resulting awkwardness and discomfort would be a small price to pay for the books, but she hadn’t looked forward to the necessary social interaction with her host and chaperone. This conversation was making her question her assumptions.

“Now, my dear,” Lady Mowbray began, winking conspiratorially at Elena. “What shall we do with you while you’re in town? You’ve come at the perfect time, of course, with the season only beginning. But we must narrow the possibilities.”

“Oh, no,” Elena and the viscount said in unison, startling the marchioness.

“That is,” the viscount continued, allowing a footman to clear his plate, “Miss Barnes has no interest beyond the books. Isn’t that right?”

Elena looked at Lady Mowbray, whose disbelief was obvious in her expression.

She fidgeted with the lace overlay skirt of her jonquil silk gown, rubbing the fabric between her forefinger and thumb under the cover of the table. “Lady Mowbray, your thoughtfulness is most appreciated. But I’m afraid the viscount is correct. I must go home as soon as possible. My father is terribly anxious for me to return.”

“But, surely a ball or two—”

“She hardly has the time for such plaguey things,” the viscount interrupted, drumming his fingers on the heavy table.

“A musicale?” the woman offered hopefully, looking to Elena for agreement.

“The books, Lady Mowbray, require my full attention,” Elena said with what she hoped was the right amount of regret.

The marchioness smiled in understanding, putting Elena’s concerns to rest.

“I simply won’t hear of such a thing.”

Taken aback, Elena stared at the woman, as though she’d uttered the most deplorable of curses. “I’m sorry, my lady?”

“Come now, Lady Mowbray,” the viscount muttered in a low tone, his fingers going still. “She wants nothing to do with your demmed social fluttering. Why won’t you leave her be?”

“Have I ever, in your memory, let anything ‘be,’ my dear boy?” Lady Mowbray replied, giving the viscount a chastening look.

Lord Carrington let out an exasperated sigh. And his fingers began to tap once more in an impatient tattoo.

Elena thought longingly of the library. She was sure she heard the books calling to her.

“Now,” the marchioness continued. “As your chaperone, it is my duty to ensure your general well-being. Obviously, one’s social calendar is directly tied to this, yes?”

She considered protesting. But Lady Mowbray was so determined. And, Elena admitted with some regret, if she carried on, the marchioness would likely only require her to attend even more events.

Elena continued to worry the fabric of her skirt, an idea forming as she did so.

“Of course,” Elena ceded carefully, “though I’ve very little in the way of fashionable attire, as you can see.” She gestured at her gown. “Therefore, I can only commit to three outings, my lady. I’m sure you understand.”

Lady Mowbray nodded solemnly. “My dear, a woman should never miss an opportunity simply because she does not possess a suitable gown. Therefore, I’ll make
an appointment with my modiste in the morning. The woman is an absolute wizard. She should be able to quickly create enough gowns for at least ten outings.”

“Splendid,” Elena muttered with feigned enthusiasm. She hadn’t seen that coming.

She raised her glass to her lips and drank deeply, sensing that fortification would be in order.

 

Bloody books
. Dash strolled the aisles of the library, the early morning sun illuminating the titles as he lazily ran his forefinger along the spines.

BOOK: The Saint Who Stole My Heart: A Regency Rogues Novel
5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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