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The arrival of the Earl of Rockhurst at Almack's the next night caused a near panic amongst the other guests. Of course he had the necessary voucher. He'd always had a voucher at his disposal. And why wouldn't he? He possessed the fortune of Midas, and if that wasn't enough to pass muster with the patronesses, his handsome visage and hawkish looks were admired wherever he went.
But most importantly, he was single. More than one mother had lamented that an unwed earl without an heir was truly a sin against nature.
Though they hadn't necessarily been talking about Lord Rockhurst. For there was the small matter of his reputation—a man whose tastes favored expensive courtesans and high--stakes gaming, as well as an unsavory penchant for frequenting some of the most dangerous hells and darkest brothels.
To bring him to heel, one matron had declared, would take a lady of some consequence. A lady who could touch his black, unfeeling heart.
Yet here he was, at Almack's, all but declaring his intention to find a bride. For what other reason was there for a rich, unmarried nobleman to attend the Wednesday night balls?
Accustomed as he was to the controversy, Rockhurst gave little regard to the stir his arrival caused, for there, to his amazement, was his cousin, Miss Mary Kendell.
He held out his arm to her, and she settled her hand atop it automatically. Taking a glance around them, then back at her, he asked, "Cousin, whatever are you doing here?"
"I would ask the same of you," she replied. "Really, Rockhurst! Send around a note of warning before you decide to arrive at Almack's."
He glanced around the room and blinked several times. "Almack's? Is that what this is called?" He patted the front of his jacket. "And here I thought I had tickets to the ballet this evening. Remind me to sack Tunstall tomorrow for driving me to the wrong address."
"The sun hasn't even set yet," Mary pointed out. "I'm sure when you arrived, you might have noticed the difference."
The earl grinned, completely unrepentant. "I will maintain to my dying day this was all Tunstall's doing. Or until his."
"Poor Tunstall," Mary said. "I'm surprised he didn't fall over with apoplexy when you directed him here rather than your usual haunts."
"Ah, Mary," Rockhurst replied. "As forthright as ever. 'Tis why I adore you above all my other relations."
"Since your only other choice is Aunt Routledge, I can't say I am impressed with your singular favor."
Rockhurst laughed. His cousin was one of the few -people who was neither awed nor impressed by his title and rank.
"You still haven't answered my question. Whatever possessed you to come here?" She waved her hand at the ballroom, where a good portion of the ton was staring back at the pair of them as if they had arrived dressed for a masquerade.
"I lost a wager." He winked at her and led her toward the punch table.
"You never lose wagers."
Right she was, but he wasn't about to explain himself to anyone. Hell, how could he explain it to her when he wasn't quite sure of the reasons himself. "I will tell you if you can tell me what you are doing here amongst all these dullards, Mary?"
"If you kept to proper society, you would know I am out this Season."
She couldn't have said anything that would have shocked him more. "Out?"
"Rockhurst, I would like to get married. Before it is too late even to consider the possibility."
Quite frankly, he didn't know what to say. He'd never considered that his bluestocking cousin would even want a husband.
She continued on, "And I would appreciate it if you wouldn't point out the impracticality of such a notion like Father or . . . or others have."
Yet there was one point he could argue, glancing around the room one more time and suppressing the shudder that threatened to run up his spine. "Why here?"
"Aunt Routledge," she confessed.
"Bullied you into it, didn't she?"
Mary cringed, then nodded.
He leaned over. "You need to spend more of your days away from your library and out in the world—where our aunt can't find you."
"I haven't the Dials to hide in, as you do," she commented. Then she glanced over at him, taking a measuring glance if ever there was one.
A skill she'd no doubt inherited from their aforementioned aunt.
"You've looked drawn of late," she said. "I take that to mean that your other responsibilities have become more pressing than usual."
"In a manner of speaking."
She lowered her voice, and asked, "You haven't found the hole yet?"
He shook his head, but said nothing more given the curious and close company surrounding them. Mary wouldn't pry further—at least not until she had him alone where she could pepper him with questions. Nothing like a true bluestocking to want every detail of a matter.
If anything, perhaps his troubles of late were exactly the reason he was here. At Almack's.
He glanced around at the bevy of young beauties and heiresses and those who'd just arrived in the world with all the necessary pedigree and nothing else to recommend them, and he shuddered.
No, for a brief second of late, he thought he'd found a lady who was different. Miss Charlotte Wilmont. But it hadn't taken him long to realize the lady had eyes only for another.
But in those few hours in her company, he'd discovered something he hadn't thought possible. A spark of something that he'd never found before. Perhaps it had only been a brief enigma. A happenstance of fate.
Yet here he was, at Almack's, surveying the ladies of the ton, in search of . . . someone.
His musings were interrupted by a sharp fan into his ribs, and his cousin saying, "Rockhurst, stop measuring the guests as if they were horses at Tatt's. It is unbecoming."Tempted By the Night. Copyright © by Elizabeth Boyle. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Tempted by the Night by Elizabeth Boyle
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