being foolish enough to have co m e, he wondered what possible diversion could he have hoped to find here?
After what appeared to him an eternity, h e heard t h e orchestra s t ri k e t h e f i rst ch o r ds that heralded the recom m enc e m ent of the dancing and decided that, once the set was well under way, he would m ake good his escape.
It was then with great annoyance that he espied Mrs. Lewis once more bearing down upon hi m . Am I never to be free of this damn woman? he swore forcibly to hi m self. It was not however until she s to o d at his si d e that he noticed that she brought a young girl in her wake and his irritation deepened.
“Sir, our problem is sol v ed,” she hailed gaily, co m pletely ignoring his f rown.
“I was n o t aware that w e had a proble m ,” replied Vale, standing and facing her haughtily. “However m ad a m , whether the problem is solved or not, I m ust again m ake known m y i ntention of leaving.”
“Fie on you, m y lord,” she trilled, oblivious of his disdain. “Y o u shall not leave until I have introduced Miss Sophie Thornton to you. She too finds herself out of sorts with the ga the r ing and I have pr o m ised to f i nd her a suitable partner . Could I not prevail upon you, sir, to render this service? I pro m ise you she will prove a m ost worthy da n cing co m panion.” W aiting for no reply Mrs. Lewis turned on her heel and hurried away, quite confir m ed in the b elief that she had succeeded in her q u e s t and secured the interest of this haughty young e arl. For who is he to show such contempt for our compan y , she thought petulantly. Now, if it had been his father, well, that would be a candle of a d ifferent color. He is both a nobleman and a gentleman .
Oblivious of these thoughts, the newly introduced couple stood in silence, both feeling a degree of unease. Throughout the discourse the young girl had stood with head bowed, not even raising it when Mrs. Lewis took her leave, u n til, after what f elt an eternity, she raised her eyes to his lo r dship’s f a c e. “Sir, I am morti f ied,” she whispered. “I cannot tell you how dreadful that wo m an is.”
Seeing her obvious discomfiture Vale relented and in a much m ore civilized to n e said, “Th e re is no n e e d to tell m e, Miss Thornton, she treated me in m uch the sa m e cavalier m a nner. Shall we be seated until she is well away and then we can m ake good our retreat ? ”
Seated once more at t h e table, he to o k the ti m e to study his co m panion’s co u ntenance and was pleasa n tly surprised. A lthough not aspiring to the inco m p arable, it was a very char m i ng f a ce and he perceived the hu m or in her eyes as they returned his scrutin y . “ W ill you allow m e to order you so m e refresh m ent, Miss Thornton?” he asked politely, his attention diverted m o mentarily from leaving, and at her agree m ent ordered ratafia from the atten d ing lackey.
“ W hat a pair we are , sir , ” she smiled . “ We have allowed ourselves to be brow beaten into submission. I assure you, it was not my des i re to be forced upon you but I find the wo m an so hard to withstand without outright inci v ility. I ca m e to the ass e m bly r o o m s si m ply to please my aunt who now finds herse l f engaged with her cronies, leaving m e very m uch to m y own devices, and as I know no one, I felt very m u ch out of co m pany.” Then as if i m parting a confidence, “You s ee, I am not used to such social gatherings.”
For a brief m o m ent her voice arrested h i m , as if evoking so m e long lost m e m ory but, i m patient at his i m aginings, he brushed it aside. “Do you not live in the area that you know no one?” he asked with polite, but idle curiosity.
“I have but just co m e to live with m y Aunt Lydia whose boundaries lie alongside your own, I believe, m y lord.”
“From where do you co m e ? ”
“And you saw naught of London society ? ” he asked with