The Dangerous Lord Darrington(6)

By: Sarah Mallory

Beth took another deep breath and forced herself to be calm. The tingle of excitement she had felt when he looked at her was purely nerves, brought on by the unexpected events of the evening. She had been caught unawares. Now she must pull herself together: there was much to do before she could sit down for supper.

‘So, my lord, you found something to fit you!’

Lady Arabella Wakeford looked formidable in her black-and-silver gown when Lord Darrington entered the great hall some two hours later. He walked up to her chair and gave a flourishing bow.

‘As you see madam. The embroidered coat is perhaps more suited to St James’s than Yorkshire, but much better that I present myself to you attired in this than a dressing gown.’

Standing beside her grandmother’s chair, Beth thought the earl looked magnificent in the coat, waistcoat and breeches of striped-blue velvet. The coat and waistcoat were embroidered with yellow flowers and leaves around cut-glass lozenges that twinkled in the candlelight. The clothes hung a little loosely save across his broad shoulders where the coat was stretched tight, but she agreed with him: she could not have endured to sit at supper with him dressed only in that revealing wool wrap. She lifted her eyes to his face and the wicked glint in his eye made her believe he could read her thoughts. She blushed hotly.

‘Since there is no man here to introduce us and my granddaughter seems to have lost her tongue, I suppose for formality’s sake I must do it myself.’ Lady Arabella held out her hand to the earl. ‘You have the honour of addressing Lady Arabella Wakeford, widow of the last Sir Horace Wakeford and daughter of the Marquess of Etonwood. And this,’ she continued, once he had kissed her fingers, ‘is my granddaughter, Mrs Elizabeth Forrester.’

He bowed. ‘Mrs Forrester.’

Beth dipped a curtsy, not sure if she was most relieved or disappointed that he did not reach for her hand. However, his forbearance pleased her grandmother, who thawed a little towards her guest.

‘My granddaughter is a widow. It is Mr Forrester’s court dress that you are wearing,’ Lady Arabella informed him.

‘Indeed?’ murmured the earl. ‘I am honoured to step into his shoes. And very pleased, too.’

Beth’s eyes narrowed. Was he trying to flirt with her? She said pointedly, ‘You may find they are too big for you, my lord.’

‘The clothes are a little large for you around the middle,’ agreed Lady Arabella, catching only part of Beth’s words. ‘But Forrester was inclined to corpulence.’

Darrington’s eyes were on fire with unholy amusement while Beth seethed inwardly. She was thankful that her grandmother did not notice and continued to address the earl.

‘I saw you entering your friend’s room a little earlier, my lord. How does he do now?’

‘He is sleeping, ma’am. I saw Dr Compton before he left and he explained that Mr Davies has broken his right leg.’

‘Yes,’ Beth replied. ‘And he thinks there are a couple of broken ribs. He is also a little feverish, but I had feared it would be much worse. You may have confidence in Dr Compton, my lord. He is an excellent physician.’

The earl nodded. ‘He has set the leg, but I fear Davies cannot be moved for a while yet—’ He broke off as a door opened.

‘I am so sorry to be late, Grandmama!’ said a pretty, musical voice. ‘With all the excitement no one remembered to collect the eggs, so I told Cook I would do it, and then my gown got so muddy I was obliged to change it!’

Beth stepped forwards.

‘Sophie—let me present you to the Earl of Darrington. My sister, my lord.’

She watched as Sophie made her curtsy to the earl and was relieved when they showed no more than polite interest in each other. In Beth’s eyes Sophie was uncommonly pretty, with her dark-honey curls and pansy-brown eyes, but she was only eighteen and had not yet enjoyed a season in town. Beth was afraid that the sudden entry into her world of a handsome and attractive peer of the realm might well cause her to lose her head and her heart, a complication that Beth could well do without. She listened as Sophie enquired politely after the health of Mr Davies and commiserated with the earl upon his soaking.

‘Such a pity that Beth only kept Forrester’s old court suit,’ she said, eyeing the elaborate coat with disfavour.

‘I would have borrowed a lackey’s raiment if one could have been found to fit me. The alternative was to keep to my room until my own clothes are dry.’

The smile that accompanied these words startled Beth, for it softened the earl’s rather sombre features and warmed his eyes. She felt again that delicious tingle running through her.

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