“Come now, Miss Tempest, my uncle expects me to dance with one of you,” he said as he came wavering up to her. “You cannot stand here all night.”
She looked around for her sister, Lady Aveley. Anyone. “I-I-I, oh dear. Mr. Rowland, I don’t believe—” she stammered out, even as Mr. Rowland took her hand, his strong, sure fingers lacing around hers.
No man had ever just come up and claimed her before for the simple reason that Kempton was a small village, and everyone knew (thanks in no small part to Mrs. Bagley-Butterton) that dancing with Lavinia was akin to asking to have your toes trimmed—or those of your neighbors—or to have something valuable broken.
Or a section of your house scorched.
Mr. Rowland, completely unaware of the mortal danger into which he was placing himself and a good portion of London society, just caught hold of her hand and tugged her out onto the floor, utterly and completely deaf to her protests.
“No, please, sir, I don’t think this is wise,” she told him. And she meant it. This was a very bad notion.
But unfortunately, her protests had no effect on Mr. Rowland, horrible scoundrel that he was …
Has that been mentioned as yet? That Mr. Alaster Rowland, the presumptive heir to his uncle’s barony, is the worst sort of knave? It should be. And often.
He was also the most handsome devil Lavinia Tempest had ever met. Or had held her hand. Or smiled down at her with a wicked light in his eyes.
Lavinia had never seen brown eyes hold that sort of promise, the kind that sent a shiver of something so delicious, so dangerous, down her spine that she made a note right there and then to add a new rule to her list at her first opportunity:
No. 83. A proper gentleman should not make one’s insides get so very warm.
In truth, as Mr. Alaster Rowland slid his hand around her waist, took her other hand in his, something altogether improper happened to Lavinia.
It had to be improper, for it certainly wasn’t proper.
“Mr. Rowland, I cannot,” she protested one last time, when to her horror, the band struck up a cotillion.
A cotillion? The last time she’d tried to dance a cotillion, Lady Essex’s house, Foxgrove, had caught fire.
Yet here was Mr. Rowland, laughing and leaning closer. “But of course you can,” he whispered in her ear, his breath warm against her skin.
It was as if he had brushed his fingers there —right against the curve of her neck. It was so intimate, so promising a gesture, that it left Lavinia in a blinding daze.
Yet Lavinia, the girl who had made a study of all things proper, knew exactly how to behave when all was proceeding at a proper pace, but right now she was being steered down a path she’d never taken before and assailed by a river of improper desires.
At least she assumed they were desires, for it was a dangerous, heady sort of warmth spreading through her limbs.
That, and something else happened. Her feet—which before had always seemed two sizes too big—untangled. It was as if the warmth of Mr. Rowland’s touch, his teasing glance, his confidence in her, awakened a very graceful part of her.
Lavinia straightened, head held just so, and a long-forgotten admonishment from the dancing master Lady Hathaway had hired years ago, tripped through her thoughts.
Dancing is all about elegance.
And right there and then, Lavinia felt elegant. Not because her gown was proper. Or that she was standing on the dance floor of Almack’s (though that certainly helped) but because the man gazing down at her held her, not at arm’s length and in obvious fear, but with all the proper care and respect of a gentleman.
Moments later, Lavinia Tempest found herself dancing.
Perfectly. Like a lady. Mr. Rowland moved, as did everyone else, and Lavinia moved as well.
And in the right direction.