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Authors: Mary Williams

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #Historical Fiction, #Historical Romance

The Velvet Glove (3 page)

BOOK: The Velvet Glove
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The next half an hour was to register later as a mere blur in Kate
’s memory.

The orchestra, at the far end of the magnificent ballroom was already tuning up for a waltz when Kate and Cassandra entered accompanied by Bertie Foster, recently graduated from Oxford. He was the son of a lawyer and well acquainted with the Barrington family. Kate had felt relief when he
’d appeared on the scene. Here, she’d thought, was someone able to take Cassie off her hands for a bit. He was good-natured, tall, fair, light-hearted, and interested in art more than the legal profession he was expected to follow. Just right for Cass.


May I?’ he said, indicating Kate’s little dance card dangling from her wrist.


Oh, but—’ Kate paused. Only a few yards off she saw Jon’s form making his way towards them. ‘There’s Cassie,’ she reminded Bertie, ‘we can’t just—’

Her voice wavered speculatively, and during the following brief seconds Jon was there, smiling with an eager anticipatory look on his face.

Kate’s heart fluttered. Her eyes were bright; the rose of her cheeks was emphasized by the brilliant light on her glossy curls. She had never looked lovelier. Unconsciously she took a short step towards him.

And then the shock came.

He gave her a brief nod, then by-passed her and moved straight to Cassandra who stared at him coolly for a moment, looking like some pale effigy of a character out of
A
Midsummer
Night’s
Dream
, while he indicated her dance card and, with something in his expression that shocked Kate, took it from the slim, outstretched white hand and started scribbling his name on it. Kate winced inwardly. Feeling outraged and hurt she looked round for Bertie, but he’d disappeared. Only one face in the nearby crowd was known to her – that of a dark, rather sardonic-looking man – Rick Ferris, standing just inside the door. Her glance was held by his. Was it her fancy that his expression was faintly amused? She had a feeling he’d witnessed the little incident and sensed her humiliation. Anger replaced shock in her. She lifted her head proudly, wild colour flaming her cheeks, and turned away.

Strains of the
‘Blue Danube’ already floated sweetly, insidiously, through the air. One by one couples took to the floor. Kate noticed a somewhat florid middle-aged gentleman with a paunch approaching her. She moved hurriedly past a little group where an MC was busy about his duties. She was oblivious of anything but a wild desire to escape – to be alone somewhere – the powder room, where she could recover her equanimity, and avoid the further hurt of seeing insipid Cassandra being swirled around in Jon’s arms.

Cassie! –
that insignificant pale-faced little creature who hadn’t a word to say for herself, and Jon –
Jon
.

How
could
he?

Half-blindly she pushed her way towards the door, and almost ran straight into the
tall form of Rick Ferris.

She stopped, with a start,
as he said, ‘Miss Barrington! – not leaving yet, I hope. You’re not faint surely? In that case, allow me—’

She pulled herself together abruptly.

‘No, no. I’m quite all right. I just – I think I’ve left my handkerchief in the powder room—’ She broke off knowing he did not believe her. There was a twinge of laughter at the corner of his lips, and his eyes had a shrewd disconcerting look as he stared at the tempestuous slender figure confronting him. The dip between her white breasts was faintly shadowed above the low-cut crimson bodice, the dark eyes luminous with the glitter of temper and unshed tears under disarranged curls of chestnut hair.


I think you are mistaken,’ he said, in quiet even tones. ‘Isn’t it poking out of your bag?’

She glanced down at the spangled pockette dangling from one wrist, with the card. He was right. The handkerchief was there.

‘Oh how – how stupid of me—’


But lucky for me. The moment I spotted you – looking so very striking, if I may say so – among that bunch of frilly dollies – I decided you were the only one worth a second glance. I was about to cut across and grab my chance of a dance, when you bolted.’

There was a slight pause until he added,
‘In the right direction luckily. So – may I have the pleasure, Miss Barrington?’

In a kind of daze Kate agreed, and a second or two later his arm was about her waist, and they were gliding across the polished floor in perfect rhythm as though they could have been practising for quite a time.

Once or twice, through the haze of figures and her own mixed emotions, she caught a glimpse of Cassie and Jon drifting by. She ignored them purposefully, her head high, smiling up into Rick’s face. He was tall – quite the tallest man in the room. With his lean, strong features that were almost piratical they must appear the most spectacular couple on the floor. The knowledge raised her spirits. She’d show them; show them all – including Jon – that she, Kate Barrington, had sufficient feminine allure to captivate the man whom many women would consider a brilliant catch.

His b
ackground, though hardly aristocratic – his father had been a journalist, his mother, it was rumoured, on the stage, of Welsh extraction – could be ignored in the face of his other attributes, including his striking looks, the fact of his wealth, for he was very, very rich, and that at his age in the mid-thirties he had still evaded the matrimonial net. An aloof quality about him was tantalizing, though in business circles, and farming – he owned hundreds of acres of valuable land, and a stud bordering the forest – he was respected and well liked. He lived at Woodgate, a picturesque village only six miles from Lynchester, which enabled easy access to the thriving Midland town. As chief shareholder of the daily newspaper, the
Lynchester
Times
, he journeyed there almost daily for meetings and to keep a personal eye on what was going on.

He could be generous to any charities he, considered deserving, but critics resented what was termed the
‘mean streak’ in him, which seemed aware if even a penny stamp went missing according to the books of firms he had considerable interests in.

On the other hand his private life was frequently the scene of lively parties. It wa
s known he had a ‘lady friend’ – a widow, a Mrs Linda Wade, who appeared periodically for the weekend at his home. ‘Well – rather more than
friend
, my dear,’ one thwarted ambitious mama had whispered significantly to another. ‘She was on the
stage
you know. Like his mother. Blood will out.’

Such comments, however, had in no way deflected from the obvious advantages any future young woman would acquire in becoming Mrs Rick Ferris.

Kate had met him only once, briefly, since her return from France at a rose show organized by her father. With her mind already concentrated so romantically on the Hon. Jon, his presence had not registered, except as a somewhat arrogant individual who gave her the impression of owning the whole event. This hadn’t been at all a fair assessment, of course. He’d done nothing obvious to impress his power on the public; in fact rather the reverse, by merely sauntering round, taking an interest in the exhibits without much socializing. But there was something about him – something difficult to explain – that seemed to place him as a man apart – different; a little irritating perhaps, but impossible completely to ignore.

And how fortunate, at this moment, Kate told herself, with her head whirling, that it should be so. Her dignity was restored with a surging through her of bitter-sweet pride as her body responded to the firm pressure and rhythmical movements of his. Triumph and a wild sense of abandonment possessed her. Her feet seemed to float on air. Like the wings and feathers of some gorgeous tropical bird the crimson silk gown billowed and swirled brilliantly through the crowd of dancers. Even when the strains of the orchestra died on a last quivering note, Kate and Rick were still moving.

Then, very slowly, his arm round her waist slackened into grudging release, and they stood for a moment, quite still, until her dizziness cleared.

He glanced down at her for a moment
before offering his arm and guiding her from the floor. She smiled at him with a contrived sweetness about her lips, aware of faces staring and doing her best to impress. Let them think what they like, she decided defiantly; she didn’t care, or about Jon either.

Following three dances with Cassandra Jon approached her for a polka, which she decline
d coolly, saying she was sorry – she was otherwise engaged. Rick supported her, and Jon merely shrugged, then moved back sharply to Cassandra. With a faintly possessive gesture Ferris momentarily touched her waist.


What a risk I took,’ he said, ‘in not filling your card earlier. If you hand it to me I’ll amend the error immediately.’

He held
out his hand and Kate automatically took it from her bag and gave it to him.

He glanced at it briefly and placed it in his pocket.

‘Shall we take a breath of air?’ he suggested. ‘It’s rather warm in here, don’t you think?’

She agreed, and together they walked
conspicuously from the ballroom into the great hall, and from there through a lounge where a few elderly guests were gathered, with two or three couples who were not dancing. A glass partition led into a large conservatory which had further doors opening to the grounds outside.

A drift of heady perfume from exotic plants subtly intermingled with that of wines and scents of bodies and food hung insidiously in the warm air as Rick guided her through.

‘Do you want to rest?’ he said. ‘Or take a stroll? But you haven’t your shawl, have you. I’ll go back for it—’


No.’ Her voice was emphatic. ‘I’m used to fresh air. I love it. You needn’t worry. I shan’t be cold.’

With a shrewd yet enigmatic glance at the rich white and rose of her skin and dark eyes brilliant with excitement and glowing life, he had to agree.

‘Very well. If the worst comes to the worst there is always my coat for your – bare shoulders.’

She flushed and placed her right hand
across the left breast letting her gloved fingers rest near her throat. A wave of unexpected self-consciousness swept through her.


I suppose you think I look rather – gaudy,’ she remarked childishly. ‘My mother didn’t approve of this red.
Or
the cut. But—’ She swallowed and when he said nothing immediately she added quickly, ‘I’m nearly nineteen you know. Old enough to know my own mind, I think.’


Certainly.’ He led her through the door into the sweet air of the gardens, saying, ‘No need for explanations, Miss Barrington. If you must know, I approve your choice; you look quite magnificent.’


No I don’t. You’re laughing at me. I – I wish you wouldn’t. As a matter of fact—’


As a matter of fact,’ he interrupted, ‘you’re in the middle of an emotional crisis, I believe. It’s the Honourable Jonathan, isn’t it? – oh, don’t worry. No one else would guess or have an inkling. But I have eyes in my head you know, and I’m a man of the world. I noticed your expression when he whirled away with your pale-faced little cousin. She is your cousin, isn’t she?’


A sort of adopted one. But it isn’t really your business, is it?
Or
the dress. Or Jon.
Or
me.’ She spoke haughtily to disguise her discomfort.


No,’ he agreed. ‘Not yet.’

They were walking down a narrow path between hedges of some night-flowering shrub. The scent was overpowering, almost hypnotic. She stopped walking for a second.

‘What do you mean, not yet?’


Simply that I hope we can be friends in the future. Perhaps more. Who knows?’

She brushed a curl away from her cheek.
‘It takes time to become friends –
real
friends, Mr Ferris.’


Not for some people. I’m not the patient sort. Neither I’m sure are you. And for Heaven’s sake, less of the “Mr Ferris”. Rick’s my name, short for Richard. And I’m damned if I’m going to go on calling you “Miss Barrington”. Oh, don’t worry’ – he lifted a hand with a negative gesture – ‘I’m not about to ravish or even kiss you, nothing familiar, although I’ve a shrewd idea some of the old girls – pardon me,
ladies
– in the lounge will be thinking so – that’s inevitable, looking like you do, and me being what I am.’

She glanced at him speculatively, then remarked, feeling more at ease,
‘You speak like some kind of brigand. Not the murderous kind, exactly, but rather wicked.’


I can be, if the occasion warrants it. There are things I don’t like which rile me. Seeing an attractive girl like you for instance, hurt by some conceited aristocratic young bounder like the Honourable Jon.’

She pulled her arm sharply from his.

‘Don’t.’


Oh, I have to if we’re to understand each other. I’ve been quite content for you to use me for the one evening, Kate, but after this any sharing basis wouldn’t be my cup of tea. I hope that’s clear.’

BOOK: The Velvet Glove
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