Lord Sheffield stared at her, incredulous. “Ready? I haven’t a clue where we’re going!”
“Haven’t you?” she teased. “But it’s Wednesday!”
“Almack’s?” His mouth opened and shut without making a sound. “But its rooms are only open during the Season, which hasn’t even begun yet—”
“—making it quite suitable for our ends. All we have to do is bend the patronesses to our point of view. Lady Jersey has agreed to hear our request.”
“Bend—Queen Sarah—” He burst into laughter and offered her his arm. “Come, my lady. I shall permit you to do all the talking.”
She slipped her gloved fingers into the crook of his elbow and allowed him to escort her to his waiting carriage. Despite the many times her societal roles had caused her to be on the arm of this duke or that earl, she had never before been struck by the sudden, foolish wish that her fingers were not so properly gloved, and his arm not so encased in winter layers, so that she might feel the warmth and strength of the muscle beneath.
Heat pricked the back of her neck. Her, blush? It simply would not do.
Oh, certainly, Lord Sheffield was a Tulip of Fashion and a delight for the eyes. Even were he to suddenly attire himself in waistcoats of tangerine and puce, his golden curls and sparkling hazel eyes would flutter the heart of any maiden—and did. Amelia was not so green as to be unaware of his rakish reputation. Being alone with him in a carriage might be considered fast, even if one was a spinster in her dotage.
And yet . . . His behavior toward her had spoken very well of him from the very first. When he had enquired about her chaperonage, she had been the one to point out her age obviated the necessity. He had not only been perfectly willing to drive separately to their various assignations, he had accepted the assumption without question. It was she who had foregone her carriage in favor of accompanying the viscount.
Just what were her intentions toward the man? She bit her lip and forced herself to turn from his handsome mien and focus instead on the view out the carriage window.
His profile reflected back at her.
She closed her eyes. It wouldn’t do, she reminded herself. Besides the frivolous reasons that they could not suit—his estate being perfectly run, future children failing to be lords and ladies—his nightly carousing was legendary, and unlikely to alter for someone as negligible as a wife.
Unless the rumors were greatly exaggerated? She indulged herself in another long look at the golden-haired Corinthian seated across from her. He didn’t seem blue-deviled and bleary-eyed. But if that was because he’d spent the entirety of his daylight hours sleeping off a night of unrepentant bacchanalia, then she couldn’t even fathom a friendship forming between them.
No. She’d had it from no less than three sources: after she’d gone home from the theatre at two in the morning, he’d traipsed directly to the Daffy Club, where he’d caroused until dawn.
His eyes met hers and his brows lifted in question.
She gazed back blandly, thankful the shadowed interior would mask any flush to her cheeks.
“Guinea for your thoughts,” he said in his low, smooth voice.
“Prinny has caused that much inflation?”
The corners of his mouth quirked. “Most people’s ruminations aren’t worth a ha’ penny. Yours, I am persuaded, are worth considerably more.”
“You shan’t think so once I’ve made them known.” She flattened her lips into a straight line. “I was thinking about those who behave impractically. All of today’s scandal sheets were full of a certain Viscount S—’s adventures with Blue Ruin.” She arched a brow pointedly. “Late night, was it?”
“Mmm. And an early morning.” He stretched his long legs out before him. “As a lady of clocklike precision yourself, you may appreciate my schedule. I have kept strictly to it every day for the past decade. From eight in the morning to eight in the evening, I devote myself to my duties. Then from eight in the evening to eight in the morning, I . . . do . . . not.” He smiled, as if in remembrance of some unspeakable exploit.
Amelia was horrified. His devil-may-care response had been crafted in just such a way to provoke her displeasure, and so it had. But not, perchance, for the reasons he might expect.
As much as she tired of the house parties and winter retreats she was obliged to attend, or the two weeks in Bath every year with her cousins the Kingsleys, she could not deny the rejuvenating effect of several days in a row without a single responsibility or effort on her part. While she’d been picnicking at follies or riding in the parks, he hadn’t enjoyed a single ray of sunshine at all.
She bit her lip. His estate might run smoothly, but it was in shocking want of efficiency. What had he said about the Christmastide party? He hadn’t wanted her to do it?
“Requiring help does not indicate one is incapable of performing a task,” she said softly. “It simply means it is more expedient not to do so.”
The darkling look he glowered upon her could have melted iron.
The adventures of Lord Sheffield and Lady Amelia continue in:
The Viscount’s Christmas Temptation
The Dukes of War #0.5