My American Duchess(5)

By: Eloisa James

“There are few acceptable topics of conversation in London. It is quite wearying to try to remember what one is allowed to discuss,” she said with some feeling.

“Bonnets, but not boils?”

He must be something of a rake, Merry decided. The way his eyes laughed was very alluring.

“Exactly,” she said, nodding. “British ladies are discriminating conversationalists.”

“Don’t tell me you have ambitions to master the art of saying nothing.”

Merry laughed. “I fear I shall never become an expert at fashionable bibble-babble. What I truly dislike,” she said, finding herself confiding in him for no reason other than the fact that he seemed genuinely interested, “is that—”

She stopped, realizing that the subject was leading her to insult his countrymen. She was still a guest in this country, at least until she married Cedric; she should keep unfavorable opinions to herself.

The expression in his eyes was intoxicating, if only because no one else she’d met was interested in the impressions that an American had of their country. She loved London, if only for its marvelous public gardens, but there were aspects of polite society that she found tiresome.

“It’s the way people speak to each other,” she explained, choosing her words carefully. “They are clever, but their cleverness so frequently seems to take the form of an insult.”

Merry felt her cheeks growing warm. He must think her a complete simpleton. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate a witticism. But so very many remarks come at someone’s expense.”

He frowned at that. “Such people talk nothing but nonsense, and you should ignore them,” he ordered.

“I can’t, but I am learning to control my temper.”

“I believe I’d like to see you in a passion.”

“You may mock me if you like, sir, but I can tell you that it is perishingly difficult for an American to transform herself into the perfect English lady! You should try it.”

He had a very appealing dent in his cheek when he smiled. “I’m quite sure I would fail. For one thing, I wouldn’t look anywhere near as appealing in a gown as you do.”

He was right about that. He was uncommonly large. Of course, so was she: much taller than any lady had a right to be, as Miss Fairfax had remarked any number of times.

“Do you, in fact, know why Americans add tea to their milk rather than the other way around?” he asked, returning to her earlier claim.

“Because it is the correct way to do it, of course,” she said, twinkling at him.

He shook his head. “Here’s a fact for you. Your countrymen add boiling tea to their milk in order to scald it, in case its quality is not all one would wish.”

“Oh for goodness’ sake,” she cried. “Don’t tell me you’re as ignorant of Americans as everyone else at this ball! My aunt’s housekeeper would die of humiliation before she would serve milk that wasn’t absolutely fresh.”

“Then why do Americans put milk in their cup first?”

“It tastes better. The only reason English people do the reverse is to demonstrate that their china is of the very best quality and won’t break. Inferior china cracks immediately if you pour in scalding water without first cooling it with milk. And before you ask, we Bostonians drink from the very best Chinese porcelain.”

Rats. She’d been waving her hands about, which was one of the habits she was determined to curb. Cedric had mentioned once that ladies should not resemble Italian opera singers.

The way this gentleman could smile with only his eyes was quite . . .

She really should return to the ballroom before she did something foolish. “If you will excuse me, sir, I must allow my dance partner to find me.” She gave him a smile. “Or rather, fetch me. I’ll bid you good night.”

When he still didn’t move, she began to edge around him.

“Do satisfy my curiosity,” he said softly. “Why on earth did American gentlemen leave you free to voyage to England and enjoy our season?”

He had no business looking at a betrothed woman with that gleam in his eye, though of course he was unaware she was engaged, since her diamond was concealed by her glove. He took a step toward her, close enough that she could feel the heat of his body.

And then his eyes moved to her mouth, for all the world as if he were as consumed by desire as Bertie used to be.

That was a nonsensical comparison, because he was an English gentleman and even a fool could tell that this man had complete control over himself and his emotions.

His eyes moved lower still, to her gloved hands. He frowned. “Are you married?”

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