Monday, December 19, 2016

A Scandalous Charade


February 1812 - London

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This truly is a den of iniquity, Lucas Beckford thought to himself. One sleeping, naked woman was draped across his lower torso, while another slept soundlessly, her head resting on his left shoulder. However, Luke was not sleeping. He was wide awake in the wee hours of the morning, staring at the crushed red velvet walls and what was left of some flickering candles.
Something in his life was most definitely missing. Unfortunately that same thought seemed to creep into his mind at the most inopportune times over the last month or so. Not that he should complain. Many men would love to be in his position—especially the one he found himself in right now. But somewhere along the line, this had become mundane for him. After many years of cheerful sinning in one capacity or another, he’d started to tire of this existence that was his life. Fast-paced hazard tables, fast-paced whores, and a never ending supply of money and whiskey. No, most men wouldn’t complain.
Yet, he wasn’t satisfied. So, there had to be something he was missing. Something…more.
The woman in his arms stirred and he took the opportunity to shift her to a pillow beside him. However, the one draped across his middle didn’t seem likely to move for quite some time, and he hated to wake her. She had been quite accommodating. 
“Luke!” came a panicked voice on the other side of the door.
What the devil? He sat up with a start, waking the poor girl that had been atop him. “Sorry, love.” He smiled at her.
The panicked voice continued, “Lu—ke!” Then the interloper banged wildly on the door. 
“For God’s sakes!” he growled. What in Lucifer’s name was the problem? Luke wrenched the door open, not a stitch on him, and glared at the intruder. His glower lightened a bit when he recognized his young friend William, Lord Haywood, standing in the corridor, a horrified expression plastered on his boyish face. Will knew better than to interrupt a man here. Something truly terrible must have happened.
Will pushed his way into the room and noticed the two girls now scrambling for clothes. He grinned bashfully at the younger of the two. “Oh, Sarah.”
“Lord Haywood.” The girl blushed, which was strange in Luke’s mind, as he didn’t remember ever seeing a whore do so before. 
After he pulled his trousers up over his hips and started to button himself in, Luke glanced up and was annoyed that Haywood was still making moon eyes at the girl. “Sweet Lucifer, Will, what are you doing here?” 
Will tore his eyes away from Sarah. “You have to help me, Luke. I don’t know what else to do. I’ve tried everything I can think of, but nothing’s worked. And tonight she told me I was a featherbrained dolt whose thoughts wouldn’t fill a thimble.”
At the moment, Luke was inclined to agree with whoever she was. He had a hard time believing that the young baron had tracked him down here in the middle of the night to discuss some female. Certainly this could wait until morning…or afternoon, or whenever Luke chose to finally wake up. “Who are we speaking about, Will?”
Haywood looked exasperated and frowned at him. “The Ice Princess, Luke—Lady Juliet.  That damned haughty chit.”
Luke’s head began to ache. This was hardly the sort of thing a man wanted to think about at—he checked his pocket watch—three-thirty in the morning. Then he pulled on his shirt and waived the girls out of the room.
Will smiled at the pretty young whore one last time. “Bye, Sarah.”
To her credit, Sarah quietly nodded and shut the door behind her. Luke scowled at his friend. “Sarah?” he asked incredulously. 
“What?” Will shrugged.
“Just surprised you know her name, Will.” Calling a whore by her first name was not something Luke had ever done. In fact, he didn’t know any of their first names and planned to keep it that way.
“Oh, well,” Will began as he sank into a high-backed velvet chair, “she’s a real sweetheart. Wants to be an actress.” 
Luke couldn’t care less, and his gaze darkened on his friend. “Perhaps instead of chatting up career goals with Madam Palmer’s girls you could be charming Lady Juliet.”
Will snorted and let his head fall into his hands. “I could spend all day trying to charm her and it wouldn’t do a damn bit of good. Honestly, Luke, a more frigid woman doesn’t exist.” Then his head shot upward. “That’s why I need your help.”
Luke didn’t like the sound of that and he shook his head slowly. “If she’s so prickly, Will, then just pick someone else. It’s not as if she’s the only heiress in England.”
“No, she’s just the wealthiest. If I have to sell my soul in marriage, I want to get the most out of it.”
Luke pulled on his Hessians and chuckled. It was no wonder the Ice Princess wasn’t charmed by Haywood. “What a romantic notion,” he remarked sardonically.
“That’s just the problem. I don’t have a clue what to say around her. You’ve got to go with me to the Ridgemont’s tomorrow…er, technically I suppose it’s tonight.”
“No!” Luke barked emphatically. He’d successfully avoided Louisa Ridgemont for the last fortnight and he wasn’t about to go traipsing into the she-devil’s den.
“Please,” Will begged. “You’ve got to watch me interact with her, tell me what I’m doing wrong.”
Luke was bone tired and he shook his head at his pitiful friend. “Not even to save your pathetic life, Haywood. Do you know how long it took me to end things with Louisa?”
Haywood actually blanched. “Oh, sorry. I hadn’t thought about that. The thing is, Luke, Lady Juliet’s unpredictable, and avoids functions for the most part. But I know she’ll be at the Ridgemont ball, and I desperately need your sage advice.”
Luke cursed under his breath. If it had been anyone else that was asking this of him, he’d have told them to go jump in the Thames…But he felt responsible for Haywood. He always had. “I ought to be checked into Bedlam for agreeing to this, and you’ll owe me for the rest of your life.”
Will’s solemn face broke into a wide grin. “You’re the best.”
“Yes, yes.” Luke frowned, opened the door of the small bedroom, and stepped into the corridor—directly into the path of Alexander Everett, the Duke of Kelfield.
An amused grin tugged at the corners of the wicked duke’s mouth. “Very interesting. I had no idea,” he smirked as he glanced inside the empty bedroom, then back at Luke and Will.
Luke scowled at Kelfield, as he pushed past him. “Bugger off.” Then as an afterthought he added, “Your Grace.”
* * *
“Dear God, she’s here.” Will gulped nervously, his boyish face drawn up tight. He quickly downed the remainder of the wine in his goblet.
They’d been waiting for nearly an hour at the Ridgemont’s and Luke had been certain the Ice Princess wouldn’t show up. She’d leave him to flounder in Louisa’s ballroom, paying a penance he had no desire to pay. But, apparently, he’d been wrong. 
Will raked his free hand through his dark hair, as if the process would help him think of the right thing to say this time. Luke had never seen the lad so anxious. This was serious indeed.
“Courage, Will,” he drawled next to his anguished friend. Then Luke lazily pushed himself away from the large, white pillar he’d spent the last half hour leaning against, to focus his attention on the Ridgemonts’ newest arrival. 
The reason he was here.
Lady Juliet St. Claire.
The last time he’d laid eyes on her had to be ten years ago, at a wedding or something. She must have been nine or ten at the time, a bony girl with knobby knees and big brown eyes. 
She had changed. 
She was lovely.
Lady Juliet was adorned in an expensive, yet tasteful silk rose gown that shimmered like diamonds as she glided across the floor. Her chestnut colored hair was piled high on her head, and dainty tendrils framed her heart-shaped face. Her brown eyes were still big, though apparently deceiving, as he’d heard tales of her ability to instantly chill a man to his bones with just her gaze.
So this was the chit Haywood had decided on. God have mercy on his soul. 
Luke watched Lady Juliet with methodical eyes. She was instantly swooped down upon by a fortune-hunting viscount, who was quickly followed by other suitors, all light in the pockets, each of them. Without a doubt Will had competition for the heiress’ hand…er…make that fortune. “Do you see how they’ve swarmed around her? You definitely do not want to be part of that pack.”
Will frowned and focused his attention on the lady. “But if I’m not near her you can’t tell me what I’m doing wrong, and I won’t have a chance at catching her.”
With a beleaguered sigh, Luke turned to his protégé. “You won’t have a chance if you join their ranks. Trust me, Will, ladies like Juliet St. Claire are accustomed to gentlemen showering them with attention. Up ‘til now you’ve been chasing her so hard that she takes your affection for granted. But if you suddenly turn your attentions elsewhere… Well, that she’ll notice. She won’t want to lose one of her many accessories, and she’ll scramble to get you back.”
Will didn’t look convinced, and Luke grinned to himself. Haywood was still such a green lad, though over all a pretty good fellow. It wasn’t his fault he’d inherited his father’s massive debts along with his title.  The young baron was simply trying to put his estates to rights, and he was in over his head.
A few years back Luke had taken pity on Will—fresh from the country with not an ounce of Town polish. The boy had been a complete innocent. Since that time, Luke had tutored Haywood in many things: gambling, whoring, drinking. But helping him with the unenviable task of snaring a wealthy bride wasn’t something he was anxious to do. The very idea sent chills down Luke’s spine, but he had seen the baron’s accounts himself. Marriage seemed the best way to keep the Haywood estates afloat. 
Across the room, Lady Juliet dismissed her entourage, one at a time. Two of her penniless suitors fought to retrieve the Ice Princess some refreshment. And it appeared that she dismissed the rest with a flick of her wrist and a cool scowl.
Now she was all alone, and Luke studied her delicate frame. If one had to marry an heiress, they’d be hard pressed to find a more attractive one.
Haywood started to move toward the icy heiress, but Luke halted him with a hand on his arm. “She’ll just turn you away, Will. Don’t be rash. Don’t act without thinking. Just watch her. Study her.”
Will snorted. “What’s the point? She never joins any group. She just stands there looking down her nose at everyone.”
But at the moment, she wasn’t looking down her nose at anyone. She was actually smiling at someone who had just entered the ballroom. Both Luke and Will glanced across the sea of people to see who had caught Lady Juliet’s attention. If Haywood had serious competition, it would behoove them to know just who it was.
But when Luke’s eyes landed on Georgina, Lady Teynham, he grinned wolfishly as luck, once again, smiled upon him. This was going to be like a walk in the park. Lady Teynham, a widowed marchioness, was Lady Juliet’s older sister. She also just so happened to be one of his sister Caroline’s dearest friends. But most importantly, Georgie had always had a soft spot in her heart for Luke.
He glanced at Haywood and winked. “Do not approach Lady Juliet. In five minutes, join me as I talk with Lady Teynham. Then we’ll all end up with the Ice Princess together and Lady Teynham will ease the way for us.”
Anxiously, Will looked from Luke to Juliet and back again. With an uncertain nod, he finally agreed. Then after one last look of warning, Luke stepped away from his young friend and toward Lady Teynham. This whole thing would be much easier if Will could just relax and listen to his guidance. 
Luke stepped in Georgie’s path, with a rakish bow and an outstretched hand. “Well, if it isn’t the loveliest widow in all of England.”
Georgie smiled radiantly, her blue eyes twinkling. “My dear Lucas, whatever are you doing at Louisa’s ball? I mean, the marriage mart is the last place in the world I’d expect to find you.”
Luke chuckled and placed her hand in the crook of his arm. “Perhaps times change.”
Georgie giggled at that and tapped his chest with her fan. “And perhaps house cats pull Prinny’s carriage. Darling, if you were seriously considering finding yourself a wife, news would be all over Town.”
“I hardly think I’m that noteworthy,” he remarked with a lazy smile.
“On the contrary,” Georgie insisted, “Caroline would be shouting the news from the rafters and scoping out any and all eligible candidates for the position.”
He chuckled at the image she painted in his mind. Georgie knew Caroline well indeed. If he was searching for a wife, his younger sister would make a complete nuisance of herself— of that there was no doubt. “Well, for God’s sakes, Georgie, don’t tell her whatever you do. I can manage without her assistance. But what, may I ask, are you doing at a marriage mart ball? You’re not replacing Teynham?”
Georgie’s marriage had not been a pleasant one and everyone knew it. She’d been married off at the tender age of seventeen to a man that was old enough to be her grandfather and who had the reported temperament of Attila the Hun. Luke would be surprised if she ever replaced the crusty old marquess. Widowhood had saved Georgie from a miserable existence. She wouldn’t give up that status lightly.
They were slowly creeping toward Lady Juliet, and Luke surreptitiously glanced around the room. Where the devil was Haywood? He was supposed to have joined them before they reached the Ice Princess’ side.
“I’m here with my sister, Juliet. You remember her?”
Luke nodded. “Of course.” 
Georgie leaned in closely to him and whispered, as if they were conspirators. “Actually, Lucas, I’m hoping someone will strike her interest. Unlike Caroline or myself, Juliet has the luxury of actually picking her own husband.”
This was perfect. He could get Georgie to tell him everything. “Oh? And who is the gentleman that’s caught her attention?”
With an unladylike grimace, Georgie shook her head and sighed. “No one yet. She’s being very obstinate about the entire thing.”
Well, that was good to know. Now he just needed to learn what the Ice Princess was looking for in a husband and then help Will discover those traits in himself. “How so?” he asked casually.
But the time for confidences had abruptly come to an end. The Ice Princess herself had stopped before them and kissed Georgie’s cheek in greeting. “I was starting to worry about you.”
Georgie pulled an unpleasant face and motioned toward the main entranceway, which was adorned in white tulips, where their hostess still stood greeting her guests. “Louisa cornered me and was-” She stopped in mid-sentence, glanced briefly at Luke, and then she cleared her throat. “Jules, you do remember Mr. Beckford don’t you?”
* * *
Juliet swallowed. Hard. She could never forget Mr. Beckford, and it had taken some amount of courage to approach her sister in his presence.  After all, the last time she’d seen him, she’d made a complete ninny out of herself, though she’d only been ten years old at the time. But she could still remember the mortification she felt when he’d overheard her gushing to Georgie about how ‘beautiful’ he was. He’d chuckled and patted her head in a very patronizing manner, crushing her little heart in the process.
From time to time, Juliet had thought about him over the years, but their paths had never crossed again. Though they both lived in London, they traveled in vastly different circles. Occasionally, she would hear about one of his wicked exploits and wonder what had happened to the beautiful young man he’d been.
What she saw was that he’d grown into an exceedingly striking man. Honestly, no man had the right to be that devilishly handsome. He was slightly taller than she remembered and his golden-blond hair fell rakishly across his brow. But it was his eyes that she found most captivating—just looking into them she felt lost, vulnerable, and fluttery in places she’d sooner die than speak of. 
And now he was looking at her, focusing those heart-stopping, green eyes on her. Just like when she was ten, Juliet’s mouth went dry in his presence and she didn’t think she could speak. But Georgie was staring at her with wide eyes, and she felt certain she was making a cake of herself. So, she stiffly nodded her head and managed to choke out, “Of course.”
Luke Beckford took her gloved fingers in his hand and brought them to his lips. Shivers raced down Juliet’s spine, and her heart pounded so hard she couldn’t think straight or clearly hear what was going on about her. Truly, it was difficult to function as normal when a Greek God was paying her his complete attention.
But the magic between them came to an abrupt end, when without any warning at all, Lord Haywood joined their group, and grinned at her like the idiot he was. She’d been trying to shake his interest for the better part of the last month. “What a surprise to see you, Lady Juliet. And might I say you’re simply stunning this evening?”
He was such a toady! A surprise? He’d kept his eyes glued to her ever since she’d entered the room. Did the dolt think she was too featherbrained to have noticed? 
After favoring the young baron with a cool expression, Juliet looked back at Mr. Beckford and caught a speaking glance that was obviously meant for Haywood. 
Realization hit her hard. The two of them were friends. She should have known better. 
Lucas Beckford was not the sort to pay her any attention. She wasn’t a member of the demimonde, or someone else’s wife, or some beautiful widow. However, the reprobate probably would assist his friend Haywood in his untenable quest for her hand. How silly she’d been to think that the handsome devil could possibly find something of interest in her for himself. She felt like that awkward ten-year-old girl all over again.
Juliet found herself frowning at her own foolishness and silently swore not to fall victim to her sensibilities in the future, at least not where he was concerned. 
It suddenly became much easier to look at the handsome scoundrel. And since he’d decided to interfere in her life, there were a few things she’d like to say to him. To that end, she turned an icy glare on the penniless, toad-eating baron. “Lord Haywood, would you please fetch me a glass of ratafia?”
“I’d be delighted,” Haywood squeaked. Then he scooted off toward the refreshment table, beaming with pride. The fool.
Juliet then focused her attention on her sister. She would have to get rid of Georgie too. As much as her sister loved her, she just didn’t understand the situation Juliet was in. Georgie was an incurable optimist and didn’t clearly see the dangers that surrounded wealthy heiresses. Georgie honestly believed that all of Juliet’s suitors were besotted with her, but Juliet knew better. Her suitors were besotted all right, but with her fortune not her dull, mud-colored eyes. 
With a sweet smile, Juliet gestured back to the main entranceway with a delicate flick of her wrist. “Georgie, Lady Ridgemont was just trying to signal you from across the room.”
Georgie glanced across the sea of people until she spotted her old friend—who was indeed looking their direction—and rolled her eyes heavenward. “I just finished speaking with her. I can’t imagine what Louisa could possibly want now.” Then with a sigh of resignation, Georgie made her way through the crowd toward Lady Ridgemont.
When her sister was safely out of earshot, Juliet braved a glance at the striking devil at her side, only to find his green eyes dancing with merriment.
“And just what do you wish to speak with me about, Lady Juliet?”
He knew? Blast him! Her face warmed and she stiffened her back in response as she met his amused gaze. “Take a turn about the room with me, will you, Mr. Beckford?”
He stared deeply into her eyes, and Juliet felt as if he was trying to see straight into her soul. “Wouldn’t you prefer to dance?” he asked smoothly.
The first strings of a waltz began, and, fool that she was, Juliet would have preferred to dance with him. But that was not an option so she shook her head. “I never dance, sir.” Then she waived her hand airily toward her bevy of suitors and furrowed her brow. “Those dogs would hound me until I danced with every single one of them, and I have no intention of indulging even one of them in that regard.”
To her delight, the dashing scoundrel threw back his head and laughed. Then he offered her his arm with a roguish grin. “A turn about the room it is then, my lady.”
She slipped her hand into the crook of his arm, and her fingertips tingled from just this simple contact with him. When he smiled down at her, Juliet thought she might faint, which was completely unacceptable—especially for her. So she took a deep breath, steadied her shoulders, and blurted out, “You are tutoring Lord Haywood in how to court me.”
The rogue nearly stumbled, but to his credit, he quickly righted himself and glanced down at her in surprise. “That obvious, is it?”
Juliet frowned her answer. She had suspected it, knew it in her mind, but hearing it confirmed was still disheartening. The tiny bit of her that hoped he’d had some interest in her died. “I want you to end it. In fact, I’d like you to convince him to find some other heiress to hound altogether.” She began to tick off the names with her fingers. “There’s Marian Hampton or Alice Kelston. Oh, Susan Clarke—her father is anxious for her to marry into a title and he’s quite plump in the pockets.”
One dark golden eyebrow shot up mockingly. “Well, you’re certainly mercenary, aren’t you?”
Juliet let go a beleaguered sigh as they passed couples who were dancing the waltz nearby. “Better one of them than me. Besides, Mr. Beckford, I’ll never marry. So your friend is simply wasting his time—Time that could be spent in courting Lucy Turnbridge perhaps?” she asked hopefully.
Luke grimaced and shook his head. “Isn’t she the one with a mustache?”
True, poor Lucy wasn’t the prettiest of girls, but physical attributes didn’t appear to matter at all to the group of fortune hunting scavengers that were preying on London’s wealthy females. “Yes, and isn’t Haywood the one with debts to pay?” she asked tartly. “Miss Turnbridge’s father has made a fortune in shipping. I’m sure your friend’s estates could be set to rights in no time.”
Her handsome companion looked skeptical. Juliet had to catch her breath when he towed her a bit closer to him and whispered, “Come now, Haywood’s a good fellow. He—”
“Is a gambling, rakish ne’er-do-well—just like you. Only he lacks your easy charm.”
He laughed again and he squeezed her fingers with his free hand. “You have a saucy tongue, Lady Juliet.”
She shrugged in response. “I can afford it. Do you have any idea how much I’m worth?” Juliet figured that, as Haywood’s confidant, Luke would have a fairly accurate guess as to her value. But would he admit to such a thing?
“Hardly an appropriate topic of conversation,” he replied with a feigned reproach.
This time Juliet laughed. “Considering your usual conversations are reputed to be highly inappropriate, Mr. Beckford, I’m certain we’re in acceptable territory. But I’ll save you the trouble of actually answering my question, as we both know that I’m one of the wealthiest women in all of England. The only St. Claire to have more than two farthings to rub together.” 
There was no point in denying the truth, and thankfully he didn’t. Everyone else knew it anyway—the St. Claire coffers were completely empty, except for when Juliet replenished them. She was the only one who had any money to speak of, as her fortune had come from her mother’s family. 
The history of the St. Claires was a fairly unpleasant one. Much in the same way Henry VIII wanted a son, Juliet’s father, the late Duke of Prestwick, had been obsessed with having an heir of his own. And though the duke only had four wives as compared to the six of King Henry, the unfortunate Duchesses of Prestwick hadn’t fared any better. Though none of them were beheaded, not one of them had lived past childbirth. The duke had three daughters from three different wives before he finally had the male heir he sought. 
Juliet had witnessed two of these unhappy unions, and had no intention of going down that path herself. “I’ve seen many marriages, Mr. Beckford, from my father’s numerous wives, to Georgie’s unhappy turn as Marchioness of Teynham. I’m determined never follow in their footsteps. And, thankfully, I don’t have a need to. The fortune my grandfather left me will allow me to maintain my independence throughout my life and still repair the Prestwick estates for my brother. My freedom is too important to ever risk falling prey to the parson’s noose.”
* * *
Luke was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Ice Princess was simply enchanting—much more so than his usual companions. And he found himself smiling at her, completely amused. In fact, he was beginning to realize that he’d seriously misjudged Juliet from the onset. For one thing, he now didn’t think that she’d care at all if she lost Will’s interest. On the contrary she’d probably be elated. But most importantly, cold and frigid weren’t apt descriptions of the charming woman on his arm. Smoldering was a more accurate term, and he began to think of ways he could convince Will to give up the chase, and leave Juliet to him.
And that, in itself, should have been a most alarming thought. 
Innocent, young, virginal girls were too dangerous to dally with. He’d learned that lesson years ago, when he’d nearly been forced to marry a chit, who wasn’t even as innocent as she’d led on. Quite honestly, until now, he thought he’d lost the taste for such creatures, generally preferring much more experienced women of one sort or another.
He should bow and take his leave from her. He should walk away and forget that their paths had ever crossed. Yes, he really should do all those things. “Would you like to join me in the garden, Lady Juliet?” he asked instead.
She focused her intelligent brown eyes upon him and her delicate pink lips upturned to a knowing grin, as if she could read the devilish thoughts in his mind. “Just because I have no desire to marry doesn’t mean I wish to have my reputation ruined, Mr. Beckford.”
Luke couldn’t help but smirk at that. Lady Juliet truly did have a fiery spirit, and he was becoming more intoxicated by her every moment he spent in her company. He dipped his head down toward hers.
“Finally!” came a shrill voice from behind them. “I’ve been looking all over for you!” Luke knew that voice and nearly winced when he turned around to face the unwanted interloper—Louisa, Lady Ridgemont. Their hostess wore a dark red dress and a forced smile, though she frowned when her eyes fell upon Juliet. 
Damn! Things had been going so well. He’d been able to breeze past Louisa when he’d arrived, since she was clinging to her ancient husband’s arm. Somehow she’d gotten free, and Luke’s stomach churned.
“Lady Ridgemont,” he nodded curtly, and prayed in vain that his one-time paramour would leave him in peace to continue his talk with the much more intriguing Lady Juliet.
But that was not to be. 
Louisa edged closer to him, with what she must have thought was a seductive look in her crystal blue eyes. “My dear Mr. Beckford, it’s a bit stifling in here, don’t you agree? Can I persuade you to follow me outside for a breath of fresh air?”
Lady Juliet slid her hand from Luke’s arm and stepped away from him. He turned instinctively to meet her big brown eyes. She smiled knowingly up at him and took another step away. “Thank you for the walk, Mr. Beckford, it was most enjoyable.”
And then she was gone, disappearing into the crowd like an apparition. Luke scanned the room with his eyes, but his princess was nowhere to be found. Damn! He’d much rather have spent the evening matching wits with Juliet than dealing with Louisa.
Louisa—who was now tugging hard on his arm, and trying to steer him thorough the veranda doors to the crisp outside air. Luke wrenched his arm free from her grasp and hissed, “Sweet Lucifer, Louisa, do you want Ridgemont to see you behaving like this?”
She took a deep breath and puffed out her ample chest in his direction. “I don’t care what Ridgemont knows, darling. Please follow me outside.” Then she whispered, “It’s been far too long since I’ve enjoyed your company.”
And she’d still be waiting until the end of time, if Luke had anything to say about the matter. He took a step toward her, hoping to keep anyone else from overhearing them. “Louisa, you have guests to attend to. Pray do so.”
Then he turned on his heel and started back toward the crowd of people. He spotted Will immediately, now holding a glass of ratafia at the edge of the room and scanning the throng of guests like an expectant puppy. 
However, Will and his problems were the last things on Luke’s mind at the moment as he looked the room over himself. But still he couldn’t locate Lady Juliet. She was simply gone. 
Blast and damn!

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