A Loving Scoundrel Page 22

“Famous! I knew you could do it, Tess. I’ll want it looking just so tomorrow.”

Danny didn’t get a chance to see it herself before the tiara was removed and she was shown to a guest bedroom, where Regina told her to get right to sleep. They had alot more work to do tomorrow, and she’d be woken early.

A guest bedroom! She couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe either that Lady Regina was going to such bother to save her cousin from marriage to a beautiful heiress. If someone like that didn’t tempt him to put the shackle on, then Jeremy obviously hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d said he was going to remain a bachelor the rest of his life. Which was too bad, she thought with a pang of sadness. For him to go to such lengths to avoid marriage just proved he wasn’t the man for her.

She was excited, though, at the prospect of his seeing her transformation into a lady tomorrow. She’d be attending a ball with him! He was even going to pretend to be courting her. For a short while reality would be suspended and she could do some pretending of her own—that the whole glorious evening was for real….

She was awakened earlier than she expected the next morning. It seemed as if she’d barely gotten to sleep when a maid was knocking on her door and coming in with a platter of breakfast. She’d only eaten half of it when Regina walked in complaining, “Not done yet? Well, do hurry. You shouldn’t need to dance tonight, but just in case something goes wrong and you end up having to, I’ve decided we have enough time for a little instruction in that regard.”

“You’re going to teach me to dance?”

“Not me, dear girl, Jeremy is. I’ve already sent for him.”

Danny couldn’t help snorting. “You won’t get him out of bed this early.”

“Yes, I know.” Regina sighed. “But he will be roused, since I’ve mentioned it’s an emergency.”

“Is it?”

“Course not, but that will get him here in quick order. Now, I suppose I should tell you a little bit about this ball. Lady Aitchison is having it, and that means it is going to be the premier ball of the season, because her parties are all the rage, yet she only has them every four years or so.”

“That mean there will be a lot of people there?”

“Yes, it will be an immense crush, with the very cream of London society in attendance. All the young debutantes this season, all the young men whodo want to get married, their mamas and papas and other assorted escorts, and a few scoundrels like our sweet Jeremy whom you should avoid.”

“He’s not a scoundrel,” Danny said, though she’d thought the same thing herself more’n once.

“Course he is, though a lovable one. Why look what he’s doing to you? He makes you his mistress, but still has you cleaning his house!”

“I’mnot his mistress, nor will I ever be!”

Regina blinked at the vehement tone as well as the words. “Really? Oh my, I do apologize then. I thought, well, the whole family thought, well, blister it, it’s rather obvious he wants you to be, and Jeremy has never failed to obtain a woman he wants.”

Danny was blushing by then, because she’d come close to succumbing to his seduction herself and had to constantly remind herself of her goals and that Jeremy Malory wasn’t one of them. But Regina didn’t notice the blush and, as usual, went from one subject to the next seamlessly.

“Come along, then. I’ve already had the parlor cleared so we’ll have room to work.”

The work wasn’t just dancing. As soon as they got downstairs, Regina told her, “Now, let me see how you walk. No, no, you aren’t wearing britches anymore. Take small steps. That’s better, but, no, don’t walk with your whole body, just your legs. We want it to look like you’re gliding across the room without really moving a’tall.

Danny slowed down and took smaller steps. “Perfect!” Regina exclaimed.

Danny grinned. “Doyou walk like this?”

Regina chuckled. “Well, I do try, really I do. But truth be known, I used to be a bit of a tomboy. I was raised with my cousin Derek after my mother died, and I enjoyed the freedom that boys have. Course, you must know what I mean. Isn’t that why you wore britches?”

“No, where I come from, girls work on their backs, and at young ages. I didn’t want to be forced into that line o’ work, so I lived the life of a boy.”

“Oh my.” Regina was blushing now. “No one knew?”

“Only my friend Lucy.”

“Reggie, where are you?” Jeremy suddenly called from the hall.

“In here!”

He appeared in the doorway, his expression quite disgruntled and turned on his cousin. “D’you know what time it is?”

“Yes, and half the morning is already wasted. You’re going to teach Danny to dance.”

“I am?” He crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe.

“I thought she was going to have a sprained ankle?”

“She is, but it’s mostly recovered, merely a bit tender. We’re not making her limp, after all. And this is just a precaution. What if King George shows up and asks her to dance?”

Jeremy rolled his eyes. “That’s stretching it, Reggie, ’deed it is.”

“That was merely an example of why she needs to learn to dance. Don’t be difficult. This is your ankle we’re saving from the shackle.”

He glanced at Danny and his eyes widened slightly. “Cut your hair, did they? Looks very nice.”

Danny blushed becomingly. “It will be fancied up for tonight.”

“Heaven help me if you get even more beautiful.” Then he grinned and said to his cousin, “Damn me, I don’t suppose you’d leave us alone for this instruction, Reggie?”

“Not a chance. This isn’t an excuse for you to manhandle her, so behave!”

He sighed. “Don’t we need music for this?”

“I’m going to hum, and if you laugh about my humming, I’ll box your ears, see if I don’t.”

He crossed over to Danny and extended his hand. “Are you ready to be taught, luv?”

He said it in such a way that she humphed. “To dance and nothing else.”

“More’s the pity,” he whispered as he drew her a bit closer and began to waltz with her about the room.

She keenly felt his hand on her back, his other warm against her palm. The room was large. Regina was on the far side of it, so she couldn’t hear Jeremy when he began to fluster Danny with his whispered comments.

“I love touching you. D’you think she’ll notice if I put my hand on your derriere?”

“I’llnotice,” Danny gasped.

He chuckled. “But you’d like it, wouldn’t you?”

“No. And don’t you dare! We’re supposed to be dancing.”

“But I can make love and dance at the same time,” Jeremy whispered. “I promise you.”

Danny sucked in her breath and was barely able to reply, “What a whopper. Now stop it!”

But, of course, he didn’t. Leaning slightly closer he whispered, “Shall I tell you how it can be done? You only need to hold on tight and wrap your legs about my hips. We’d both have to be na**d, of course.”

She tripped, was surprised she hadn’t done so sooner when she suddenly couldn’t concentrate on anything but him and the images he was drawing in her mind. He gathered her closer till she regained her balance, whichdidn’t help, only made her distraction worse.

Regina had stopped humming. Danny became aware of that when she noticed a servant had come in to speak to the lady. Jeremy must have noticed as well that his cousin wasn’t paying attention to them because his mouth was suddenly on Danny’s neck, kissing her hotly, then moving over her ear where his tongue laved deeply. Oh, God, the feeling was amazing. Her knees went weak, but she didn’t need the strength to stand. Jeremy was holding her so close her feet were off the floor! And she was clinging to him. She couldn’t help it. The feelings he aroused in her made her want to get even closer….

Regina’s loud throat-clearing drew them apart again, but slowly. Her feet back on the floor, Danny tried to regain her composure. Noticing Jeremy’s grin helped in that regard. That scoundrel! He knew exactly what he’d just done to her senses and was puffed-up pleased about it.

Jeremy took pity on her and got serious after that, told her to follow his lead, and she actually learned a thing or two about dancing before he was done.

Danny had thought they would continue after lunch, but she got sent back to bed instead, with Regina warning her to sleep, not just rest, because they would be up until the wee hours of the morning. Danny was sure that she was too excited by that point to actually fall asleep in the middle of the day, but all the information and instructions that had been thrown at her had quite worn her out, and she was asleep within moments of lying down.

Chapter 28

DANNY SLEPT SO SOUNDLYshe was disoriented when she awoke and keenly disappointed. She assumed that she must have been dreaming that she was going to a ball. But then the knock came at the door and she opened her eyes to find she really was in Regina Eden’s house, really was going to a ball.

A bath was drawn for her after her nap, and then it was time to get ready. She was led to Regina’s room again and set before the vanity so this time she could watch Tess work her wonders with her hair. Regina was being dressed as well by another maid, yet all the while she was giving last-minute instructions that Danny barely heard, she was so fascinated by what was happening to her appearance.

Tess was using a jeweled tiara with a large amethyst at its center to tame her curls. With the tiara as a dividing point, the short curls left at her temples were twisted to look like ringlets, and the rest was combed in such a way that it resembled a short style many women had favored a few years back. Then in quick order, they were tossing petticoats over her head and draping her in the most exquisite ball gown.

The dress was basically a pale lavender silk. It had two layers of tulle lace ruffles toward the hem. To the second layer the maid had attached another border in white silk, over which violet lace was added. Once the same violet lace was added to the short puff sleeves, a narrow layer to the low, wide décolletage, and a half inch to the top edge of the long white gloves that she was also to wear, the entire effect was as if the ball gown had been created just so to begin with.

They had had to cut the shoulders, since the waist had been a bit high for Danny to begin with, Regina having a shorter torso than hers. But with the insertion of more white silk and violet lace that blended in with what had been added to the sleeves, it now fit her snugly about the waist as it should.

The entire ensemble was so fancy, Danny was reminded of the dream she’d had of the beautiful angelic woman. It had come true. For one night, she would be that incredibly beautiful woman. Danny simply couldn’t stop staring at herself. Regina had to literally drag her away from the mirror to go downstairs when they were done.

“Close your mouth, Jeremy, do,” Regina complained when they found Jeremy waiting in the foyer for them.

He didn’t, and he wouldn’t stop staring either. Danny started blushing. She had a feeling he hadn’t even heard his cousin’s admonishment. Deep down, though, she was so pleased she could barely contain it.

He looked splendid himself in his formal black togs. His coat was open, the frilly white cravat tied loosely, giving him a rakish look. His raven black hair had been combed back, but it wouldn’t stay. It fell over his temples and about his neck. His expression thrilled her.

He was shocked by her appearance, no doubt about it. She’d been shocked as well, so she understood why he could do nothing but stare.

Regina had to nudge Jeremy several times. When he finally paid attention to her, he dug in his feet and said adamantly, “She ain’t leaving this house looking like that.”

“And what’s wrong with the way she looks? I’ll have you know—”

“She’s too bloody beautiful and you know it, Reggie.”

She stared at him wide-eyed. “Well, that was the point, you daft boy.”

“Not even close. Didn’t expect her to look like this. She’ll cause a sensation the likes this town has never seen. She stays home, and that’s my last word on it.”

Regina tsked at him in annoyance.“You stay home.She’s going to the ball. Come to think of it, you don’t really need to be there to accomplish what we’re after. I can spread the word quite easily without your attendance. She has to be there, though. The rumor won’t fly without the proof staring them in the face.”

“You aren’t listening, Reggie.”

“No,you aren’t. This is quite out of your hands now. I’m going to save you despite yourself. Come along, Danny, and get in the coach.”

Jeremy followed them, of course. And continued his objections all the way to the Aitchisons’ home, which wasn’t all that far. The ball was taking place in one of the mansions near the first Malory house Danny had visited.

Regina had stopped listening to Jeremy as she was quite annoyed with him now. Danny did, too, for that matter. She was disappointed that he was making such a fuss and didn’t quite understand his reasoning. She was too pretty? Was going to cause a commotion because of it? She’d thought that had been the idea, to dispute the false rumors that Emily Bascomb was spreading.

Riding with Jeremy in a coach again also brought back memories of the night she’d met him. Jeremy must have guessed what she was thinking from her expression because he whispered to her, “Quite the change from the last time we rode together, eh? You’re rather good at bolting from coaches. Feel free to do so anytime now.”

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