My American Duchess(10)

By: Eloisa James

“Right. Well—”

“Shameful, the way she laid out a plate or two of cucumber sandwiches and tried to pretend it was a spread,” Royston continued, staring so hard that his eyes bugged out a little.

Had he really become so grim that acquaintances found a smile shocking? The man was looking at him as if he were a five-legged calf, as the American had described. The memory made him smile again.

His lordship blinked uncertainly. “Heard your brother has found a wife.”

“We both have,” Trent stated.

“Have you indeed! Who is your duchess-to-be?”

“I have yet to ask her, so I’d best keep it to myself.”

Wry humor crossed Royston’s eyes. “Of all the men in London, you needn’t worry about a refusal, Duke.” He raised his glass. “I’ll drink to the prospect of matrimony, since it’s making you so cheerful. Don’t think I’ve seen you smile in years.”

Trent bowed and made his way toward the refreshments table, in an anteroom off the entrance hall. He probably hadn’t smiled often, not when every minute of his day was consumed by saving the estate his father had almost bankrupted.

But that would change after he married an American who had promised never to swoon, but who had looked slightly dazed after examining him from head to foot.

Especially after perusal of his midsection.

His body had responded to her gaze with a surge of raw lust. If they hadn’t been so close to the ballroom, he would have kissed her. Hell, he would have snatched her up and ravished her . . . after obtaining her permission, naturally. The thought sent another wave of heat through his loins.

More than once during their conversation he’d had to fight an impulse to claim her lips. Claim all of her, in truth. Push her up against the balustrade and kiss her until those intelligent eyes were blurred with desire, and her clever brain forgot every fact it had ever contained.

Sure enough, as Royston had predicted, Lady Portmeadow was hovering beside the refreshments table, watching cucumber sandwiches disappear down her guests’ gullets.

He helped himself to a sandwich, just for the fun of it, and ate it as her ladyship rounded the table to him. Then he took another and ate that, too.

“I am so honored that you were able to join us tonight,” Lady Portmeadow said with a pinched smile. “It’s at times like these that I miss your dear mother.”

Trent had no idea what she was talking about. He took another sandwich. They were small, but surprisingly good.

“How have you been, Lady Portmeadow?” he asked.

“The same, the same. My daughter Edwina is . . . oh, you likely know that. After all, you’ve come to her coming-out ball.”

Trent frowned, confused. Wasn’t this ball in honor of the new hospital that his brother had championed?

“I saw no reason to go to the expense of two balls,” Lady Portmeadow explained. “Edwina is making her debut this evening, which is fitting, as your mother was her godmother.”

Trent bowed slightly.

“I shall take you to Edwina,” Lady Portmeadow said, taking his arm and drawing him back to the ballroom. And away from the sandwiches, Trent couldn’t help noticing. “She has changed a great deal since you knew her as a child. I am happy to report that those unfortunate freckles have disappeared.”

“I am certain she is most lovely,” Trent murmured. He remembered Edwina without enthusiasm. She had been about as interesting as a bread pudding.

In fairness, she had been only ten years old at the time.

“Your brother told me that you have been very busy with the House of Lords since the season began,” Lady Portmeadow said, as they crossed the entry, heading toward the ballroom. “Have you seen Lord Cedric tonight? He must have told you his happy news.”

“He has.” Trent nodded to an acquaintance.

Lady Portmeadow lowered her voice. “I am so pleased for him. You must know, of course, how much your mother worried. I’ve thought of her a hundred times in the last few years, watching the two of you grow to be men. Younger sons frequently pose problems. It’s such a burden for a man to grow up without an inheritance.”

Trent kept his mouth shut. The fact Cedric had gambled away an estate was thankfully not common knowledge.

“There are some unfortunate aspects to his proposed marriage,” Lady Portmeadow whispered. “Prudence dictated that your brother chose from a limited selection.”

Hell. Cedric must have found an heiress with buck teeth or a squint.

Trent tried to feel sorry for him, but he couldn’t keep his mind on it.

He kept thinking about his American. Not a few English maidens would consider themselves compromised merely for having conducted a long conversation with a man on a shadowy balcony. But his American had no interest in the sophisticated games that members of English society amused themselves with.

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