To Capture a Duke's Heart(10)

By: Jennifer McNare

“Alas, boys will be boys,” Penny remarked lightheartedly. “In fact I’ve little doubt that my younger brother, Charles, will be following a similar path in no time at all.”

Lord Wexley had proven to be a delightful dinner partner, Penny thought, as they ate their dessert and continued to converse, for he was intelligent, amusing, attentive and quite attractive as well. Not as handsome as the duke, of course, but with thick, dark blonde hair, striking, hazel-colored eyes and lips curved upward in a seemingly perpetual smile, he was quite pleasant to look upon. Even so, the charming viscount failed to elicit even a tiny semblance of the overwhelming, visceral reaction she had experienced during her brief introduction to the Duke of Ainsworth, nor did she feel anything even remotely similar to the heightened sense of awareness she felt whenever her eyes alighted upon Gabriel Ashcroft.

With the meal concluded a short while later, Penny joined the other women as they made their way to the drawing room for coffee and tea, whilst the men remained behind to enjoy an after dinner port. They would meet up again before long, however, as the Gilchrist’s had planned a musical performance for the evening’s entertainment.

“You have nothing to be nervous about,” Penny said to Eleanor as they seated themselves upon one of the velvet-covered settees placed throughout the drawing room. “You have a beautiful voice.”

“Yes, but I’ve never sung in front of such a large group before,” Eleanor replied anxiously. “What if I’m dreadfully off pitch or my voice cracks or I forget the words.”

“You won’t!”

Eleanor shook her head, sending her brown ringlets bouncing. “You can’t possibly know that.”

“Yes, I can,” Penny asserted, taking hold of Eleanor’s hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze. “I’ve heard you sing a number of times over the years and you’ve never once done any of those things.”

“But those were small gatherings with family and only a few close friends in attendance,” she responded worriedly, biting down upon her lower lip.

“Listen to me, Eleanor Cunningham,” Penny directed in a firm, no nonsense tone, “you are going to be fine. You are going to sing just as brilliantly as you ever have before and you are not going to forget a single word. Do you understand?”

Eleanor nodded, a slight smile curving her lips. “Fine, if you say so then I shall try to have faith that all will go on without a hitch.”

Penny smiled confidently, giving her friend’s hand another squeeze. “I do and it will.”

“Let’s discuss something else then, to help redirect my thoughts.”

Letting go of Eleanor’s hand, Penny lifted a teacup from the silver serving tray in front of them, handing it to Eleanor before taking a second cup for herself. “Alright then, what shall we talk about?” she asked. “Or should I say who shall we talk about?” she continued in a hushed voice. “Michael Ashcroft, perhaps?”

“And why ever should we discuss him?” Eleanor queried, even as a faint, telltale blush slowly began to color her cheeks.

“I saw the way he was looking at you during dinner,” Penny whispered. “He appeared quite taken with you.”

Eleanor’s eyes widened as she regarded Penelope anxiously. “Do you really think so?” she asked, no longer feigning disinterest.

Penny grinned. “It certainly seemed so to me,” she avowed. “Just as it seemed that you were quite taken with him.”

Eleanor returned Penelope’s grin with a sheepish smile. “I shall have to thank Mother for partnering us at dinner, for he was ever so pleasant and far easier to converse with than I would ever have imagined.”

“Was he?”

“Oh, my yes. We discussed all sorts of things in fact, for he is exceedingly knowledgeable on a wide variety of subjects. But not only that, for surprisingly we share a number of common interests as well.”

“Ah. So it isn’t just his devilish good-looks that have caught your fancy then,” Penny remarked with a playful waggle of her eyebrows.

“Yes, well, there is clearly no denying that he is ever so easy to look upon,” Eleanor acknowledged with an impish lift of her own, chestnut-colored brows, and then promptly raised her hand to her lips to stifle a giggle.

“And what of you?” Eleanor asked after a moment, eyeing Penny intently.

“Me?” Had Eleanor noted her fascination with the Duke of Ainsworth at dinner? Oh dear, had the duke noticed as well she wondered in dismay?

“Perhaps I’m mistaken, but it did appear as though you enjoyed being partnered with Lord Wexley.”