If ever there was a fish out of water, Sarah Draper reflected, it was her. Dressed in borrowed finery, her hair styled for the first time in years, and surrounded by a society she’d long since given up, Sarah clung to the wall and watched as her cousin’s engagement was announced.
She couldn’t be happier for Eleanor, but at the same time, she recognized that her own life would be growing more lonely, for surely once Eleanor was wed, her new husband wouldn’t approve of her working with Sarah in their charitable aid organization in one of London’s most dire slums. In fact, she realized with a frown, Eleanor’s time was sure to be taken up immediately with wedding plans, for it wasn’t every day that an earl’s daughter married a bastard-turned-legitimate-heir-to-another-earldom. With a sigh, Sarah resigned herself to the solitary life she’d been living before her stunning cousin had hurtled into her life two years ago.
Sarah’s morose thoughts were distracted by the boisterous laugh of a man standing a few feet away. Glancing over, she saw a tall, broad-shouldered man still grinning with mirth. His hair was a riotous mass of gold and honey and champagne, worn loose and uncontained by pomade as was the fashion. His face was stunning, with eyes so pale blue, Sarah could discern their color from several feet away. The strong lines of his face and sun-kissed complexion distinguished him from the classically pale faces of the other men standing next to him and when he spoke—more loudly than was seemly, the nasal tone of his accent gave him away as an American, bold as brass and confident as they came. He was exactly the sort of man who would glance at her dark hair and eyes and drab gown and see right through her to the dazzling blonde behind her.
Sara glanced down and fingered the rich dark blue satin of her borrowed gown. Well, perhaps not everything was so drab about her this evening. Still, she thought as she allowed herself one more glance at the golden Adonis, he was exactly the sort of man she scorned if for no other reason than it was safer to scorn him first before he looked at her and found her lacking. It was a protective measure she had employed many times to avoid the unpleasant sensation of being judged wanting.
As if feeling her gaze upon him, the Adonis looked over at her and she quickly turned her head, affecting interest in the crowd of people who were still congratulating her cousin and her new fiancée.
Eleanor appeared a bit dazed and glancing at Eleanor’s future husband, Lord Reading, Sarah realized he had the same bemused expression. Sarah wondered if either had known of the Earl of Southampton’s plan to announce their betrothal.
“I’m glad to see I’m not the only one you scowl at,” a deep voice said to her left.
Startled, she turned to find the Adonis smiling at her. Crinkle lines around his eyes suggested he smiled a great deal. Or squinted from near-sightedness, she thought uncharitably.
“I’m not scowling,” she replied sourly, but as she felt the muscles of her forehead relax, she realized she had indeed been frowning. “You’re American,” she said, trying to change the subject.”
He held up both hands and said, “Guilty as charged. But what did she do to you?” he nodded in Eleanor’s direction. “She seems as English as they come. Did she steal your fellow?”
“What?” Sarah asked, suddenly flustered. “No! She’s my cousin. If she’s happy, I’m happy.’
“Uh huh,” he said, clearly unconvinced, and Sarah realized her eyebrows had drawn together again. She reached up to smooth them with a gloved finger.
“It’s just—I shall miss her, is all. We have grown very close in the last few years and I suspect I will not see her as much once she is wed.” Or at all, Sarah thought, but she forced herself not to frown at the idea.
“And who are you to be here at the Duke of Andover’s ball?” she asked sharply, turning her discontent against him.
“He executed a slightly mocking bow. “Forgive me. I forgot I’m not supposed to be speaking to a lady without a proper introduction.”
She almost told him she was no lady, but realized in thime just how that would sound and bit her tongue instead.
“I am Samuel James,” he continued. “American, as you so astutely pointed out.”
She narrowed her eyes at this, but he didn’t appear to be mocking her.