Dark Angel / Lord Carew's Bride

Dark Angel / Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh

Book: Dark Angel / Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mary Balogh
reached its culmination. Or almost so. There were a few weeks during which to enjoy Lionel’s company and to get to know him better. And then their wedding and the rest of their lives together. Happiness was soon going to turn to bliss. She felt an unexpected twinge of alarm. Life could not be that wonderful, could it? Or proceed quite so smoothly?
    “Well,” the Earl of Thornhill said softly, “I have feltsuch envy. I
feel
such envy. I envy Kersey more than I have ever envied any man.”
    “No.” She looked up at him in some distress, her lips forming the word rather than expressing it out loud. “Oh, no, that is absurd.”
    “Is it?” His hand had closed about hers.
    But in drawing her hand free at last and turning to make her way back across the garden and up the steps to the safety of the balcony, she made the mistake of turning in toward him. And of looking up into his eyes. And of pausing. And of noting that there was gentleness and something like pain in his eyes.
    He kissed her.
    Only his lips touched hers. His hands did not touch her at all. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to break away. But she stood transfixed by the wholly novel feeling of a man’s lips against her own. Slightly parted. Warm. Even moist.
    And then he stopped kissing her and she realized the full enormity of what had happened. She had been kissed. By a man. For the first time.
    Not by Lionel.
    By the Earl of Thornhill.
    And she had not stopped him or pulled back her head.
    And she did not now slap his face.
    “Come,” he said, his voice very quiet, “the set must be almost at an end. I will escort you back to the ballroom.”
    She set her arm on his and walked beside him just asif nothing had happened. She neither protested nor scolded. He neither justified himself nor apologized.
    Just as if a kiss was a normal part of a stroll a man and woman took together instead of dancing.
    Perhaps it was. Perhaps she was even more naive than she realized.
    But of course it was not. A kiss was something a man and woman shared when they were going to marry. Perhaps even only when they were actually married.
    She was going to marry Lord Kersey. She had looked forward so eagerly to his kissing her for the first time. To his being the first—and only—man ever to do so.
    And now it was all spoiled.
    The earl had timed their return very well. The music was just drawing to a close as he led her through the French windows to Aunt Agatha’s side. He bowed and took his leave, and she stood beside her aunt feeling like a scarlet woman, feeling that everyone had but to look at her to know.
    Everything was spoiled.
    V ISCOUNT K ERSEY FOUND THE Earl of Thornhill outside the ballroom, at the head of the staircase. He was apparently leaving even though the ball had scarcely begun.
    “Thornhill,” the viscount called. “A moment, please.” He smiled his dazzling white smile at Lady Coombes, who was passing on the arm of her brother, and joined the earl on the stairs.
    “Yes?” The earl’s hand closed about the handle of his quizzing glass.
    Lord Kersey reined in his temper, conscious as he always was of his surroundings. “It was not wisely done,” he said. “You must know that my betrothed, my soon-to-be wife, is not to be seen in your company, Thornhill. Certainly she is not to be seen stepping out of a ballroom with you.”
    “Indeed?” The earl’s eyebrows rose. “Perhaps it is with Miss Winwood you should be having this conversation, Kersey. Perhaps you have some influence with her.”
    “She is an innocent.” The viscount’s nostrils flared, but he recalled the fact that they were in full view of anyone both abovestairs and below who cared to look. “I know what your game is, Thornhill. I am on to you. You would be wise to end it or it will be the worse for you.”
    “Interesting.” The earl raised his glass to his eye and surveyed the other unhurriedly through it from head to toe. “You mean there will be a

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