Douglas, Duke of Ethingham, was every matchmaking mama's dream come true and nightmare rolled into one delectable package. Cicely had always thought him attractive, although she'd only observed him from a comfortable distance. Since the familial connection between he and Colleen had been revealed, he'd become a regular fixture at the Penwyth townhouse and estate. Cicely and he had become acquaintances of a sort. He rescued her from being a wallflower. She saved him from debutantes and mamas.
She watched him walk through the crowded ballroom, the candlelight caressing his sculpted facial features. From where she stood, his eyes looked ordinary grey. But, she knew about the hint of blue around the iris of his eye and the way it lightened even more when he laughed. Her heart skipped a beat as he headed in her direction.
"You would think he would have been caught by someone by now."
Cicely jumped, startled by the familiar faint whisper in her right ear, then looked over her shoulder at her aunt Victoria. Petite, yet rounded, Victoria was still the beauty she had been in her youth. While fine lines around most ladies' eyes would make them appear older, it just added character to Victoria's face.
They were much the same height, yet Cicely always felt like an elephant next to her. She turned back around but realized she'd lost sight of Douglas. Disappointed, she gave her attention back to her aunt, an empty feeling lining her gut. He had seen her. She knew it. But, he'd seen something better. She tried to push the negative thoughts from her mind and focus on her aunt.
"I have a feeling that His Grace will not be caught unless he wants to be caught."
Victoria laughed and stepped forward to stand beside Cicely. "That much we agree. Still, he is getting to the point where he should think about putting up a nursery. He is the end of his line. Well, the only one worth anything anyway. I know there is a cousin or two somewhere, but rumor is they are as ghastly as his father and grandfather."
Something cold slithered into Cicely's stomach and settled there. Not from her aunt's description of Douglas' extended family, but rather from the thought of him with another woman. She knew he had to marry, though she had hoped it would not be so soon. At least not until after he helped her with her plan. Okay, really never. If he did have to wed, sharing one memorable night with him would be enough for her to endure whatever simpering fool he married.
She cleared her throat delicately. "His Grace has said before he does not intend to marry for some time."
When Victoria didn't respond, Cicely glanced at her. A mysterious smile played about her aunt's lips.
"You know what they say, Cicely. The right woman could make any man change his mind."
She doubted any woman would change the duke's mind, but she nodded just to agree and get the conversation moving. Knowing that this would probably disintegrate into another discussion on her lack of beaus, something that apparently confused her aunt, Cicely decided to change the subject.
"Did I tell you about the diary I found today at the bookstore?"
Victoria gave her a knowing look but said nothing about her lack of tact. "No, you didn't."
"It was quite amazing I found it because it was buried at the bottom of a crate. The proprietor told me he'd bought it at some estate sale."
"Really?" Victoria's attention had now turned back to the dancers on the floor, but Cicely knew that her aunt had a habit of keeping one eye on her surroundings and her ear to the conversation.
"It is more an accounting than a personal diary. I am not sure what it means or if it is real. But it seems that one of five men kept a diary while they conspired against the throne about the time of the Terror. I have no idea from where they came, but I think they may be very significant."
The first strains of a waltz sounded before Victoria could answer. Cicely really hated this dance. While she sometimes had requests for country dances from various cousins and gentlemen she knew from The Historical Society, she rarely was asked to waltz.
She glanced over her shoulder to find Douglas standing to her left, a smile curving his beautiful lips. Curling her toes into her slippers, she told her heart to stop doing flip-flops. All she could do was stare at him. His wavy dark hair never seemed to stay in place, yet always looked tidy. The mischievous twinkle in his eye sent heat racing up her spine. A few murmurs reached her and brought her out of her stupor. It was then she realized her faux pas. Flushing, she curtsied.
He took her offered hand and waited for her to rise before asking, "Would you honor me with this dance?"
She didn't pretend not to hear the whispers growing louder. Accustomed to them or not, they were still disturbing. Regardless, she held her head high and looked him right in the eye. "I would be delighted to dance with you, Your Grace."
He led her out to the dance floor and within moments they were whirling with the other dancers. The feel of his strong hand providing gentle pressure on her waist, his body close to hers made her head spin. The heat of him warmed her front, though she tried not to think about it. Her body already tingled, and she knew from experience she lost all thought when that happened.
"I owe you a world of thanks, Lady Cicely." He smiled down at her, a genuine smile because the man thought she was no threat to his bachelorhood. And she wasn't. She didn't want marriage, but she did want him. "Lady Sara has been after me since I walked in the door and I shudder to think what would happen if I had to dance with her."
She tried not to laugh, but she couldn't help it. "You should be ashamed of yourself, Your Grace. She cannot help it that she can't dance."
"I danced with her last week and my feet will never be the same. Who would have thought such a small woman could inflict that much pain?" He shook his head and chuckled, clearly amused with himself. "So I am serious when I tell you I owe you a boon."
This was almost too good to be true. "You will grant me a favor in return?"
He nodded and expertly twirled them around a slower couple. She licked her lips and numbly followed his lead. Truthfully, she knew he thought nothing of the offer. In Douglas' mind, she was sure he assumed she might ask for a ride in the park, or the use of his box at the theater. This had been handed to her on her silver dancing card.
He leaned closer to hear her. She normally didn't speak that loud, but with the sound of the orchestra, not to mention the fact she was out of breath from dancing, she understood he was having problems hearing her.
"I call in your boon. I do have a favor to ask of you."
Nodding, he straightened and again twirled her around. "Ask and you shall receive."
"I was wondering, if you wouldn't mind, would you teach me how to seduce a man?"