A Loving Scoundrel Page 21

Danny glanced back again, in time to see Jeremy blushing. Fascinated by their conversation, she knew she should move on to a different piece of furniture, but she didn’t want to remind them that she was there.

“If you know so much, puss, tell me why the rush?” he complained. “I only clapped eyes on the lady for the first time last week. D’you think she has to get married? Already enceinte?”

Regina frowned, then shook her head. “No, highly doubtful. I think she just fell head over heels for you and has decided no one else will do for her now. And her impatience stems from being spoiled. Ihave learned that much about her. Found an old chap who’s known the Bascombs for many years. He mentioned that she’s an only child, so her father spoiled her beyond redemption.”

“But to blacken her own name in this campaign? That’s a bit much, ain’t it?”

“Well, that can only be for one reason,” Regina said. “She wants her father to hear about it and take matters into his own hands. Now do you see why you need to attend this ball tomorrow night?”

“No. My attending if she is there is just going to—”

“No, no, you won’t be going there alone. I ran into an old friend of our cousin’s last night.”

“Which cousin?”

Regina tsked impatiently, “Diana, not that it matters. The point is that her friend’s younger sister is also having her first season.”

“Do I know her?”

“No, don’t think so.”

“Then what are you getting at?”

“I’m sure she would agree to have you escort her to this ball if we present the plan to her. And if you devote the entire evening to her, it will prove without a doubt that your romantic inclinations are directed elsewhere. Particularly if you ignore Emily completely in the process.”

“Easy enough to do, but the chit isn’t going to get her own hopes up, is she?”

“No—well, probably. They all do, if you just happen to glance at them. But wewould explain fully that she’d merely be helping you out of this horrid situation which is escalating far too quickly. And she would benefit from your attention. It will quite raise her on the ladder, as it were, since it will draw her to the attention of every other young buck. They’ll want to know whatyou find so fascinating about her.”

Jeremy chuckled. “You overstate the effect I have, puss.”

“Rubbish. We both know that your appearance at any social gathering quite stirs up the pot. Mostly everyone wonders if you’ve taken after your father and uncle. Those two rakes did leave their mark, notoriously, before they quit the social scene. You, however, have managed to avoid any scandals thus far, so no one knows what to make of you yet.”

“I do try.” Jeremy grinned.

“We know you do,” Regina said, patting his hand. “I suppose you learned from Derek’s example, to keep your affairs strictly private. Of course it helps that you choose your women from the ones who don’t feel a need to brag about it to anyone who will listen. And don’t you dare mention my Nick’s bad luck in that regard.”

Jeremy hooted with laughter. “Never entered my mind, old girl. Although, come to think of it, his bad luck with Lady Eddington turned out to be your good luck. Doubt you would have met him otherwise, or been forced to marry him, if Lady E. hadn’t crowed to her friends that he’d meant to abduct her, but abducted you instead.”

Regina scowled. “Thank you fornot mentioning it. Nowas I was saying, if you show up tomorrow night with this young debutante and spend the entire evening devoted to her, it will hit all the gossip mills that you’re courting her and should quite undo the gossip Emily is spreading. And Emily will be forced to back off—”

“That is if she believes it,” Jeremy cut in. “This sister of Diana’s friend, she’s prettier than Emily?”

Regina frowned. “Well, no, actually. Famous! All my brilliant thoughts on the matter wasted. You’re quite right, it won’t work. Emily will easily see it for the ploy it is. It won’t put her off a’tall, will more’n likely double her own efforts.”

“Well, it would work if you can find me a chit who is prettier than Emily. No easy task, I know. The lady is quite stunning.”

Regina sighed. “Devil take it, Jeremy, if you think so, thenwhy aren’t you interested in her?She’s probably wondered the same thing,and thinks you’re just playing hard to get. She could think she’s merely doing you a favor, to hurry things along with these lies she’s spreading.”

“One simple answer, puss. Give it just the tiniest bit of thought and you’ll come up with it.”

Raising a black brow, Regina said in a droll tone, “Because you’ve decided to spend your life without a wife?”

“Exactly. So I keep my eyes and hands off debutantes, and any other young misses on the marriage mart. There are quite enough women to enjoy without risking my bachelorhood.”

“Spare me the details, please,” Regina said, rolling her eyes now. “And we can forget about my brilliant idea. There simply are no other young hopefuls this go-round who can even come close to Emily Bascomb in rank and looks. The lady is hands down the reigning belle of the season.”

Jeremy did some hand-patting now. “I’m sure you’ll think of something else, puss. You always do.”

Regina sighed. “But we’re running out of time. She’s already claimed you’ve had a lovers’ rendezvous, when you haven’t. But that little on-dit is going to reach her father eventually, then he’ll be calling onyour father, and you know how that goes.”

Jeremy grinned at her. “My father will laugh in his face and tell him to go buy her a husband elsewhere, that I ain’t for sale.”

“Then he’ll just move on to Uncle Jason, and you know very well Jason won’t laugh over the matter.”

Jeremy cringed now. “Very well, we are down to desperate measures. Your plan was a good one. Just think of some other chit to play the part who is at least somewhat comparable to Emily.”

Regina shook her head again. “I hate to say it, but we just don’t have a sterling crop of young hopefuls this year. The only other girl who even comes close is already engaged. In fact, I can’t think of a single unmarried woman in all of London who—well, hmmm.”

“What?”

“I should rephrase that. There is one, and I’m looking at her.”

Danny swung around to see whom Regina was talking about and found the pair on the sofa staring at her now. She started blushing. She’d been following their conversation avidly. She didn’t need to ask what Regina Eden meant. She’d just been given an amazing compliment and was still absorbing how nice it felt.

Jeremy glanced back at his cousin and with a frown said flatly, “No.”

“But she’s perfect!” Regina exclaimed. “She quite outshines Emily Bascomb by far.”

“No.”

“And why not? Yes, yes, I know, she’d have to keep her mouth shut, of course.”

“It’s not that—”

“Course it is,” Regina interrupted. “For her to speak at all would quite give away the ruse. Can you keep your mouth shut, Danny?” Danny said nothing, prompting Regina to add triumphantly, “There, you see, she can.”

“Reggie, I love you, but you’ve gone half-baked on this idea now. She can talk well enough when she’s not nervous, b—”

“She can?” Regina interrupted again in surprise.

“Yes, though there’s no guarantee she wouldn’t slip up. But she doesn’t have attire for a ball, and there’s no way a gown of that sort could be done up between now and tomorrow night.”

“So I’ll lend her one of mine.”

He lifted a brow. “Did you grow an extra seven inches last night?”

“So we’ll add a hem. Stop being so negative, Jeremy, you know this will work, especially if she can mimic her betters.”

“It won’t. She can’t dance. She—”

“How d’you know I can’t dance, eh?” Danny cut in now.

“Maybe I’ve attended those masked balls in convent gardens. Maybe I’m a right fine dancer.”

“For a man,” Jeremy countered impatiently. “Ever try it as a woman?”

Danny blushed again. Actually, she’d never danced in her life, but she resented him taking that for granted. And this idea was starting to sound like fun. Attend a fancy high-class ball? Something she’d never dreamed possible. And what a perfect opportunity to meet a man who might fall in love with her and want to marry her! Not a lord, of course. She knew she couldn’t aspire that high. But surely it wouldn’t be just lords at such a gathering. Other well-to-do, respectable men would be invited, men without titles who weren’t as restricted in whom they married.

And shehad attended a masked ball before at the gardens— well, not actually attended, but looked on from a distance wishing she could. The people at it seemed to be having such a rousing good time. And those balls weren’t just for the nabobs, far from it.

Anyone could go to those and pretend for a night that they were someone other than who they were.

“So she won’t dance,” Regina was saying to counter Jeremy’s last objection. “Sprained ankle and all that.”

“So she can’t talk, can barely walk. Sounds like she should be in a sickbed, not showing up at a ball.”

Regina scowled at him as she insisted, “She lost her voice on a particularly exciting fox hunt in the country earlier this week. She’s recovering nicely, but still pampering the vocal chords. Twisted her ankle at the same hunt, don’t you know. Shewould have declined this ball, but she didn’t want to disappoint you, when you wereso looking forward to showing her off tomorrow night. And since she’s only in town for the weekend—”

“I catch the drift, Reggie. And just who are you going to pass her off as being?”

“Perhaps she can be distantly related to Kelsey. Kelsey does come from all sorts of titles, though they rarely get mentioned since she married our cousin Derek. But I’m sure she wouldn’t mind claiming Danny as a relative.”

“Related to a duke is a bit much, don’t you think?” Jeremy said.

“No, no, one of the lesser titles, of course. And very distantly. Perhaps her parents moved to America and she grew up there— no, I know, Cornwall! Just in case her thick accent gets noticed. Thisis going to work, and splendidly. No one, and I mean no one, is going to doubt that you’ve been courting this lovely girl for the last several months, so you couldn’t possibly have been rendezvousing with Emily Bascomb. Must have been some other lucky chap.”

Jeremy shook his head at his cousin, but he did so in amazement. “How do you do it, Cousin? You simply boggle me, ’deed you do.”

“Rubbish,” Regina scoffed. “And I’ll be taking her home with me to get her ready. Come round with a carriage tomorrow night to pick us up at precisely nine p.m. We only want to be fashionably late, nothing more.”

“Us?”

“I’ll be going with you, of course. She must have a chaperone.”

“When did you become my guardian angel, puss?”

“When Amy asked me to keep an eye on you while she was gone.”

He rolled his eyes. Amy wasn’t just their cousin but his best friend, and she worried about him far more than was necessary.

“Far be it for me to put a damper on your amazing scheme, but don’t you think you should ask Danny if she’s willing to rescue me from Emily’s clutches?”

“Oh, dear,” Regina sighed. “Yes, I suppose.” And to Danny:

“Are you up to the task at hand, m’dear? Jeremy here really does need rescuing, or he’ll be dragged to the altar through no effort of his own.”

Danny grinned. “I’m right handy at masquerading.”

Regina blinked. “Why, yes, you are, aren’t you? Well, come along then. We’ve a lot to accomplish in very little time.”

Chapter 27

REGINAEDEN WAS SIMPLY AMAZING. She was a whirlwind of activity, instructions, and nonstop chatter. She did drag Danny out of Jeremy’s house and down the street to hers and took her straight up to her bedchamber, not giving her any time to gape at the magnificent town house they were rushing through. Regina immediately summoned her maid, Tess, told her what was required, and between them, they pulled out from Regina’s wardrobe countless gowns of the like Danny had never before seen. When they finally settled on one, Danny barely got a look at it before Tess sent another maid off to work on it.

The next order of business was shoes, but those that matched the gown simply wouldn’t fit Danny’s feet no matter how they tried to stretch them, and there was no time to have a pair made. So Regina sent a footman around to her relatives’. Danny wasn’t sure whose white satin slippers showed up before dinner, but they were only slightly short at the heels and her toes weren’t nearly as scrunched as they had been when trying on Regina’s shoes.

There was no break for dinner. Regina had trays brought up to her room, and Danny got to eat from hers while Tess tried to figure out what could be done with her hair. No easy task. In fact, this turned out to be the toughest of their problems. Such short curls simply didn’t want to be tamed. And a good number of them had to be cut even shorter, to even out the butchering Lucy had done.

Regina finally produced a tiara and Tess exclaimed, “This will do it! I can divide the curls now and control them like this. It’s as close as we’ll get to a contained look.”

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