Chapter 3

by Louise Allen

 

 

‘I have no invitation,’ Ben protested as Hal waved the valet out of the door.

            ‘Have mine. Lady Collingbridge will be just as happy to see you at the dance.’  He studied Ben’s dress uniform.  ‘You’ll do.  Don’t know what it is about a uniform, but it’s magic with the ladies.’

            ‘It’s a dance?  I don’t like dances.’

‘Yes you do.  And anyway, all you need to do is romance the girl, not stun her with your magnificent cotillion.’ 

‘I suppose so,’ Ben grumbled for the sake of it.  The idea of romancing Miss Morville, who Hal accurately described as a tidy armful, more than made up for the thought of an evening on the dance floor. 

‘Now, what you need to–‘

‘Carlow.’  Ben flung up a hand for silence.  ‘You may be the worst rake in the 11th but I am perfectly capable of flirting without your guidance.’  He considered tactics.  ‘How am I going to get rid of Honoria?  She’ll be sticking with her friend, won’t she?’

Hal grinned.  ‘Honoria will be either flirting with all the most ineligible men, drinking champagne or doing something outrageous..  Mama will be trying to watch her: she’ll be only too glad to see Felicity with a respectable man.’

Ben ignored the teasing sneer on respectable.  ‘And what’s your excuse for dodging this?’

‘An injured friend, as far as Mama is concerned.  A new opera dancer called Mirabelle with a sprained ankle, for your ears only.  Have a good time.’  He went out and then put his head back round the door.  ‘Don’t overdo it – being a best man is such a bore.’

Hal ducked laughing as Ben lobbed a shoe at him.  The last thing he was going to do was get himself caught in parson’s mousetrap by a curvaceous red-headed minx.

But she was a very attractive minx, he decided, watching the ladies come down to the hall in a flurry of gauzes and fans.  Lady Narborough smiled.  ‘So kind of you to accompany us, Lieutenant Ranworth.  Hal would have come, but he is engaged with a wounded friend.’  Ben controlled his grin. ‘Lord Narborough’s health does not permit evening excursions.’

‘Yes, thank you.’  Honoria opened wide blue eyes at him and fluttered past on a wave of scent and illicit face powder.

He bowed to Miss Morville who lowered her lashes. Pretending butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth he thought and was rocked back on his heels when she looked at him directly with clear hazel eyes that sent a frisson of awareness right down his spine.  Hell’s teeth.

‘Lieutenant?’  He dragged his gaze away with an effort, but not until after he had seen the way her pupils had widened.  He was not sure what had just happened, but it boded well for the evening.

‘Ma’am.’  He offered his arm and helped his little party into the carriage.

 

‘A waltz, Lieutenant Ranworth  Felicity bit her lower lip and saw him watching her mouth.  ‘But I haven’t been approved by the Patronesses.’  And the waltz was so new, and so daring.

‘But you have danced at Almack’s  His dark eyes were as intense, as mesmerising, as the ones that tormented her dreams.  And Lieutenant Ranworth was even taller and broader than her secret friend from the garden.  But not, of course, so romantically exotic.

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‘Oh yes.  But not waltzes!’

He tucked her hand under his elbow and strolled in the direction of a sofa.  ‘We can pretend: after all, who will know?’

‘You, Lieutenant Ranworth, are a dangerous, bad  influence  Felicity tried to sound reproving but suspected she merely appeared flustered.

‘Dangerous?  Of course.’  He looked at her with a thrilling intensity.

Yes, definitely flustered.  But it was a delicious feeling to be sitting here at a grand Society ball with a handsome man who was intent on flirtation.  What excitements she was having - her secret friend was mysterious, Lieutenant Ranworth was dangerous…

‘But only a little,’ he said, smiling at her in a way that made his eyes dance with mischief.  He took her dance card and pencil.  ‘Now then, that is the next set, the supper dance and the seventh set.’

‘But those are all waltzes!’

‘And I am the only man who is approved for dancing them with you.’  A gentleman approached and Ben smiled at him.  ‘Miss Morville’s card is full, sir.’

‘It is not,’ she whispered as the man looked at Ben, swallowed , bowed and removed himself.  ‘Lieutenant Ranworth –‘

‘Ben.’

‘Ben.  This is most improper!  And besides, what am I supposed to do when I am not waltzing with you three times – which is quite shocking – if you are going to scare all my other partners away?’

‘Talk with me, walk with me and flirt with me?’ he suggested.  ‘And I did not scare him off.’

‘Yes you did,’ she retorted, looking up at him.  ‘You are so… tall and in that uniform there is such a lot of you!’

‘There’s a lot of me out of it,’ he remarked.  He seemed amused at her blush. Felicity tipped her chin and sent him a challenging look.

‘What are you up to, Ben?’

‘Entertaining myself with one of the prettiest girls here and, I hope, entertaining you too.  But if I am not, I will remove myself and leave you free to dance with all these fellows.  Perhaps you fear a few wagging tongues.  Forgive me, I thought you were like Honoria, a brave free spirit.’

‘I am certainly as brave as she!’ Felicity retorted, stung.  ‘Why, I am meeting… I mean, I do as I please.’

‘Then let us dance.’

 

By the third waltz Ben was only vaguely aware of the other people in the room.  His attention was fixed on a red-headed pocket Venus who laughed at his sallies and made him laugh at her own ready wit: an intelligent woman who argued with him about poetry over supper, her face alight as she countered his aversion to Byron with dramatic quotations and whose dancing made him want to hold her far closer than propriety demanded.

‘No-one has noticed us,’ she said as he led her onto the floor. 

‘Yes, but they might.’  Ben swirled her round, closer to the windows onto the terrace.  ‘We’ll be safe out here.’  And before she could protest they were out in the cool air,  flagstones under their feet, the light from the ballroom creating mysterious shadows.

Dancing was all very well, but there was nothing like kissing to make an impression on a girl.  And he wanted to kiss her very much.

‘Ben, why are we out here?’  The breathy catch in Felicity’s voice told him she knew why.

‘So that I can kiss you,’ he said, sweeping her behind a large shrub. 

He was going to enjoy this, he thought, bending his head as he pulled her close.  Her mouth was soft and sweetly innocent under his and he moved his lips gently so as not to frighten her.  Then she gave a little gasp and opened to him, not wantonly, but so naturally that it took his breath.

She tasted of cherries and a little of champagne.  She smelled of roses and woman. Her hands slid up to his neck and he forgot to be careful, forgot everything but the need to kiss and be kissed, to learn her mouth, to discover her.  He was aroused, hard and aching, but all he wanted was this moment, this kiss and the trust she was giving him.

 Shaken, he lifted his head at last.  ‘Felicity?’  He touched her cheek.

‘Oh my,’ she said faintly.  ‘Oh my goodness.’

Oh my goodness, indeed, Ben thought.  That was not the plan at all.

 

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