"Meredith." He leaned into her ear, and whispered, "I do like your name. Merry Meredith--a diamond of the first water. You feel like heaven in my arms!"
Wow, this guy could lay it on thick. But maybe that was what she needed, to be wined and dined and flattered as if she were the queen of the prom.
Enjoying the moves of the waltz as they swayed, she sighed. She could get used to being the center of the universe.
Someone tapped William on the shoulder. "May I cut in?"
Meredith glanced up at the newcomer and gulped down hard. What a dreamboat! Tall, broad shoulders, deep brown eyes to die for, and dark, disheveled hair. This man had to have been Jeffrey, the one who carried her.
"Rot," William complained. "Do you have to?"
"Yes, I do." Jeffrey turned his stern gaze on her as if asking her permission.
She nodded, and willed her heart to slow its beating. Goodness, she hadn't turned into liquid goo at the sight of a man since her fiancé. But then again, look how that had turned out.
"Well then, if you must." William released her to his brother, then gave her another wink. "After this dance, Merry is mine, old man."
Jeffrey took her in his arms. To her surprise, she almost melted against him. His masculine scent tormented her in a thousand different ways. Everything peaked, in a manner of speaking. Not daring to look up into his face, she studied the jeweled pin in his white cravat.
"Merry? Is that your name?" He expertly maneuvered her about the parquet floor.
She unstuck her tongue from the roof of her mouth. "No, I'm Meredith. Meredith Wyatt. And you are Jeffrey...?"
"Lord Burnett," was his ungracious reply. "So how did you arrive on our lands, dressed in your night clothes, Miss Wyatt? If my brother had not found you, you surely would have expired due to exposure."
He was being very nosy for a hallucination, not to mention haughty. Peering over his shoulder, she stared out at the other occupants of the room. "It's a mystery, Lord Burnett. I have no idea. But I'm very grateful to you and ... your brother."
"How grateful are you, Miss Wyatt?" He executed a turn that caused her to bump into him.
Hot fire poured into her veins, and her breasts tingled even more. But dream or not, she had to ignore her feelings. This man was insinuating that she wasn't a lady. After all, he had wanted to deposit her in the servants' quarters.
She stiffened and gave him a tight little smile. "Very grateful, Lord Burnett. You and your brother are such gentlemen."
Hopefully that remark would remind him to behave accordingly.
When the waltz ended, she took a step away from him. Then she noticed another new arrival, a woman a little older than the other young ladies. The woman had more poise, more polish. And she glared daggers of hate at Meredith.
"Are you cold, Miss Wyatt?"
"No, Lord Burnett. Why do you ask?"
The smile on his handsome face could only be described as a smirk. He dropped his gaze to her chest. "Because it looks as if you might be cold."
She glanced down ... and died. Her nipples had hardened and the soft satin material of her gown showed every revealing curve.
Thank goodness she'd decided to wear a shawl. She quickly arranged the wrap over her traitorous breasts. "I'm fine. Thank you for your concern."
The music started up again, giving her a perfect out. "If you'll excuse me, Lord Burnett. I'm sure you want to dance with your wife."
She tried to leave, but he grabbed her by the upper arm, effectively stopping her. "You are in error, Miss Wyatt. I do not have a wife."
"No? Then I wonder why that woman with the purple gown is glowering at me." She tried to escape his grip, but he was far too strong.
"Lady Goodstone?" He looked over at the woman, who then reddened and returned her attention to her dance partner. "Lady Goodstone is a recent widow. Her somber appearance must be due to her unhappy circumstances, Miss Wyatt. Nothing more."
Right. And if Jeffrey believed that, he was a deluded fool.
With two goblets in hand, William approached, wearing an admiring smile. "There you are, my Merry Wood Nymph. Where have you been all my life? Let us leave this dull old dog to languish with these other beauties. Come, enjoy a glass of champagne with me."
"Certainly." Meredith returned William's bright smile and followed him over to an arrangement of chairs near one of the draped windows.
She took the goblet, sat in the chair, and listened to William's amusing gibberish. Either the champagne was more potent than what she was used to, or she was more tired than she realized, for after a while, her eyelids drooped. Despite her urging, there was no way she could keep them open.
Conversations droned around her. One in particular seemed really close by. She struggled to catch the words.
"Dashed good trade for the partridge, don't you think?" one voice asked.
"A chubby bird for a ladybird? This is a disgrace. It will not do," said the other in disapproving tones.
She couldn't fight sleep any longer. She lost consciousness.