Taming Her Forbidden Earl

A Lady Lancaster Garden Society Series by Catherine Hemmerling

Everyone knows William Bredon, the earl of Pembroke, has a reputation as a captivating rogue, determined to never marry until his duty to produce an heir requires it. So when he invites Lady Hannah Rochester to dance, Hannah vows to keep her distance. After all, it’s clear her mother would forbid a match with the devil-may-care ladies’ man. But the undeniably gorgeous William, with his dark humor and seductive gaze, draws her in nonetheless.

Of course, Lady Hannah is not completely what she seems, either. A member of the dowager Lady Lancaster’s Garden Society, she secretly spends her days solving mysteries and uncovering intrigues, and when she brings William into the fold, a sinister plot develops that throws the two together. William’s protective nature ensures he remains by Hannah’s side, but he will not surrender his anti-marriage stance. Can intrigue, passion, and maybe even a little bit of scandal reform the most notorious of rakes?

 

Information:

Title: Taming Her Forbidden Earl (A Lady Lancaster Garden Society Series)
Author: Catherine Hemmerling
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 250 pages
Release Date: December 2012
ISBN: 978-1-62266-817-5
Imprint: Scandalous
 
Taming Her Forbidden Earl - Catherine Hemmerling
 

Praise for Taming Her Forbidden Earl:

“A charming regency romance. Catherine Hemmerling is an upcoming historical author to watch.” – Kat Martin, NYT bestselling author of Heartless and the Secret

 
 

Excerpt:

© 2012 Catherine Hemmerling

Prologue

Looks can be deceiving.

- The Duke of Lancaster

By all appearances, the group of young ladies gathered around the dowager Duchess seemed like nothing more than the attendees of a high-society tea party. All were dressed in their afternoon best, all were sedately sipping tea and nibbling on biscuits, and every lady in the room had a pleasant smile on her face.

The room in which they sat was bustling with activity. The butler was directing two kitchen maids in the delivery of a fresh pot of hot tea and a delectable selection of finger sandwiches. The refreshments were settled on a truly exquisite table from the French Renaissance period, complete with intricate scrollwork and gold leafing.

The ladies all felt completely at home in the presence of the duchess and her beautiful surroundings, but currently they were the souls of complete propriety, with perfectly rigid posture and the most impeccable manners.

Until the last of the servants left the room.

Then the five young ladies immediately relaxed their spines and expressions, set down their tea and biscuits, and leaned forward expectantly.

“So, what news have you heard, Lady Lancaster?” Hannah asked eagerly.

Hannah and the four other young women seated in Lady Lancaster’s Blue Salon were visiting under the pretense of a weekly Young Ladies’ Garden Society meeting. As far as anyone knew, Lady Lancaster hosted the social gathering for these select young ladies—all of high ranking and highly respected families—out of the kindness of her heart, as was common of the society matrons of the aristocracy. Surely everyone thought the dowager Duchess was imparting her knowledge of deportment, social etiquette, and of course her gardening tips (Lady Lancaster’s garden was renowned across London) to the debutantes; however, this would not be nearly the case.

In fact, the dowager Duchess was using her status and connections to learn of deserving people in need of help and then, with the assistance of her “girls,” was providing them aid.

While many of the deeds were charitable and completely acceptable endeavors for ladies of the ton, more recently, as whispers of their “Society” spread, the women were being asked to do more than just provide food to the hungry and garner jobs for those undeservedly released from employment.

Many of their efforts now turned to the solving of mysteries and crimes.

The duchess learned long ago that gently bred young ladies were virtually invisible in most situations and, if they kept their eyes and ears open, they often could find themselves in the right places at the right times to learn all sorts of interesting things.

Most men thought women too unintelligent to understand even the simplest of business dealings or intrigues and, therefore, did not always watch their tongues when a demure young lady may be standing by.

It was with such knowledge that Lady Lancaster herself had assisted her husband, the Duke of Lancaster, in solving many war crimes in his role with the war office. He was a remarkable man who appreciated her acumen and insight when it was clearly not fashionable to do so.

After the Duke’s passing, Lady Lancaster found she was bored and in need of a new project to keep herself busy. She came up with the idea of the Young Ladies’ Garden Society after helping her maid’s family out of trouble with a tyrannical landlord. It is safe to say, that landlord no longer lorded over much of anything anymore, land or otherwise, except perhaps the four walls of his cell at Newgate Prison.

The sense of accomplishment she felt at seeing justice done inspired her to find young women with fire and wit who she could recruit to her Society. She began to watch the young ladies of the ton carefully, seeking signs of intelligence and streaks of independence in their demeanor. So many of the debutantes were reticent and meek—as was expected of them—but she knew, if she looked closely, she would see signs of something more in a few of the girls, and those would be the ones she would approach.

Now, nearly a year later, Lady Lancaster was pleased with her selections.

There was quiet bespectacled Rose Warren: a pretty girl who managed to remain relatively unnoticed by the ton due to her extreme shyness. However, for all her demure ways, she hid a logical mind and a keen eye that noticed everything.

She was seated next to Hope Stuckeley. On the surface, Hope was passably attractive and clearly a people-pleaser; however, there was a side to her that most never saw. Hope had a way with numbers that would rival any Cambridge graduate and a smile that could light up a city. Lady Lancaster planned to make everyone, including Hope, see how much more the young lady had to offer.

The farthest away, in a chair relatively clear of other furniture and decorations, sat tall and clumsy Sarah Jardin. She had a habit of always saying the wrong thing and was a bit of a wallflower, but she also had boundless empathy for other people’s plights and an unending willingness to help. Lady Lancaster was loath to leave her to the society wolves and already, with her help, Sarah was starting to turn heads on the dance floor (and not for eliciting yelps from her partners after stepping on their toes…anymore).

A surprising member of the group was Emily Moss. Stunning, graceful, and petite, Emily was this season’s Diamond of the First Water. Not the type Lady Lancaster thought would meet her criteria, but this society prize was a master of disguises and was already helping the poor by posing as a maid to deliver food and goods to the underprivileged. It was an easy decision to bring her into the fold.

Then, of course, there was Hannah. Hope and Hannah were cousins; however, it was Hannah who Lady Lancaster first invited to join her. Daughter of an earl, Hannah was privy to all walks of society. She was very pretty, with dark blond hair and intriguing blue-green eyes. Lady Lancaster had seen her potential during the Waltham Ball, when she rescued a gentleman being ripped to shreds after he asked one of the more popular ladies to dance. The invited girl was most unkind in her refusal of Mr. Pomfret, a gentleman short of stature and even shorter of hair, causing her friends to snicker directly at Mr. Pomfret’s already painfully red face.

Lady Lancaster had silently cheered as Hannah swept in and asked Mr. Pomfret to dance—against all confines of social etiquette! The girls stood aghast as Hannah and the gentleman took to the dance floor.

This girl, and the other four, all had personality traits that reminded the duchess of herself. And really, what better recommendation was there?

“As it happens,” Lady Lancaster began, “I have heard from one of my boys about something disturbing regarding your brother, Hannah.”

“My brother?” Hannah burst out. “What on earth could your boys have found out about David? He hasn’t even been home from his travels a fortnight!”

“That is apparently enough time to be found where someone ought not be found,” Lady Lancaster imperiously intoned, “and that is precisely the case here. Roddy was down near the docks watching the building of the new Custom House when he saw your brother and another young man—I believe the brother of the Earl of Pembroke—lurking near the docks by the old Custom House. Do you know of any reason for your brother to be in that area of the city?”

Hannah groaned. “Nothing that does not bode ill for David.”

“I have been reading in the papers about the increase of smuggling in that area,” Hope said. “It has been affecting the stock market, so I have been making note of it. The old Custom House would certainly be a prime location for such activities.”

The old Custom House was in deplorable condition, and a decision had been made to build a new one immediately to the west of the old building. As a result, there was a lot of activity in that area, and with so few custom officers on duty, smuggling goods and alcohol was a common occurrence.

“Smuggling?” wondered Hannah. “That doesn’t sound like David at all. While he has a penchant for trouble, lately his interests have been more focused on gambling and women.”

A coughing sort of gasp was heard coming from one of the girls, and all heads swiveled toward Sarah, who was sitting in a pearly blue damask wingback chair situated at the far end of the conversational seating arrangement. With a sheepish look, Sarah mumbled something about biting her tongue and waved her biscuit as if to say, See, just chewing on a biscuit over here. But her face was burning with such a blush, no one truly believed her.

Lady Lancaster felt for Sarah. Everyone there knew Sarah was desperately in love with Hannah’s brother, and as she and Hannah had been best friends since childhood, Sarah got to watch the love of her life grow up and, as of late, try to do everything in his power to become the most notorious rake in all of London.

Clearly embarrassed, Sarah motioned with her hand to signal that the conversation continue.

Hannah turned to Lady Lancaster. “So what do you think I should do? Was Roddy able to find out anything else?”

The dowager shook her head. “There were too many dock guards around for Roddy to do anything other than observe, but it is clear to me that those boys are up to no good. Hannah, you need to question your brother and try to find out what is going on. If it is smuggling and he gets caught, he and his friend could end up in more trouble than a little gambling or women could bring.”

With a morose nod of her head, indicating her acceptance of the assignment, Hannah and the ladies turned to their tea and began the gossiping and talk of fashion that was more typical of such a gathering. However, throughout most of the conversation, Hannah remained noticeably—though not surprisingly—quiet.

 

 

Chapter One

All men are brothers, like the seas throughout the world; so why do winds and waves clash so fiercely against each other?

- The Duke of Lancaster

William Bredon, the Earl of Pembroke, glanced around the room with a look of studied boredom. What on earth had possessed him to attend the grandest—and therefore most crowded—ball of the year?

Oh, yes, he thought dryly, as he spotted his mother talking excitedly with some other marriage-minded mama whose daughter would surely be added to her ever-growing list of suitable wives for her eldest son. He came because he couldn’t bear to break a promise to his mother.

Bloody hell, why couldn’t he be like all the other sons out there? He had seen plenty of men successfully ignore their mothers without even a backward glance. No force on earth could get one of them to set foot in this den of decorum against his will.

But William supposed he wasn’t built the way other men were. Just the thought of hurting his mother sent a dagger to his heart. Perhaps it had to do with the way he grew up. His father had been a cruel and overbearing man, and William had watched his mother, so kind and open with him, fade away completely when his father was near, so afraid that one small move would set off his lightning-quick temper.

As William grew older, he began to protect his mother—and later his little brother—by stepping in and taking upon himself the brunt of the Earl’s rage. But he couldn’t be there all the time to shield them, and when he was gone, William knew it was his mother who took the beatings.

Every term, as he headed off to school, William was always afraid that when he returned he would find his mother dead. As fate would have it, it was not his mother who passed away while William was at school, but his father—from a heart attack.

It had taken years for his mother to stop jumping at the slightest noise or bang of the door, and even longer still before the light came back on in her eyes. But now, finally, she was enjoying life again, and William was loath to do anything to bring her more pain, even if it meant enduring the ton every now and then.

Of course, the whole reason his mother wanted his attendance at such affairs was to present eligible lady after eligible lady to William in hopes he would find a girl with whom to settle down…get married, have a baby or two, become the picture of a perfect family. But William had seen what marriage could be—and he knew deep down that it was never pretty. The chance that wedded bliss could deteriorate into hell “till death parts you” was not a chance he would take lightly…

If ever.

With a sigh, William decided to put off greeting his mother for the moment—not yet up to being displayed like a high-quality piece of meat—and instead he looked around for a good place to hide.

Hannah had been keeping an eye open for David since the minute she arrived in the Chattam ballroom that evening. Her mother had been inundating her with a parade of eligible men for over an hour, all of whom politely complimented her on her appearance—with very little variation in delivery—and added their names to her dance card before making their escapes.

Hannah chose to believe the swiftness of their departures was in an effort to avoid her mother, rather than the alternative. Shrugging, she turned her attention back to the task at hand. She hoped she would locate her brother before the dancing began. It would be nearly impossible to find him from the middle of the floor.

Finally, she spotted him across the room. He was standing with his good friend from university, Alexander Bredon. They were whispering and grinning wickedly about something and appeared to be up to mischief, even from across the room. Hannah squared her shoulders and began to make her way over to them.

Navigating the ballroom took a bit longer than she intended, as she was stopped numerous times by guests wanting to greet her or engage her in conversation. She extracted herself as politely and quickly as possible, all the while keeping one eye on her brother.

She ignored the startled looks from Hope and Sarah when she passed them with barely a nod. Normally the three of them would be standing together providing subtle commentary on the activities of the party guests, but clearly tonight was not destined to be normal.

All of them had been “out” for at least two years now and the excitement of the first season had since worn off. While they still enjoyed attending the events of the ton, it was no longer with the giddiness of a green girl going to her first dance. These days they felt more like the elderly chaperones sitting on the fringe of the action, simply observing.

Of course, that wasn’t precisely true. Aside from Sarah and perhaps Rose, none of Lady Lancaster’s girls were wallflowers by any means. They all received multiple requests for dances and were still on the lists of those seeking brides, but the first glorious bloom had faded and they had settled into a comfortable rhythm of behavior—and invariably that behavior found them all huddled together off to the side of the dance floor discussing their latest mission with the Society or a recent scandal brought to their attention during their careful observation of the ton, while seemingly ignoring the party going on around them.

The Chattam ball was always a popular event of the season. And normally the mad crush of a party appealed to Hannah; it allowed her to blend into the background while engaging in her favorite pastime, watching people. The time spent in this endeavor honed Hannah’s skill in reading people and their body language. She prided herself on hearing beyond what the people were saying verbally. And much to everyone’s dismay, she was very often successful at ferreting out much more than they had planned to impart.

Hannah intended to use all her powers of observation in the conversation with her brother. David had been a sweet boy when he was younger and their mother was prone to doting on him. Plus, as heir to their father’s estate, the boy could do no wrong in the earl’s eyes. This resulted in David feeling perhaps that he was a little better than everyone else and certainly that he should always get his own way.

He was a charming, precocious boy who knew that with a smile and a kiss on the cheek, he could get away with pretty much anything. By the time Hannah’s father and mother realized they were creating a thoroughly spoiled brat, it was quite too late to do anything about it.

Hannah had been hoping that David’s time at university would help him grow up, but clearly all it had done was introduce him to a more adult environment in which he could stir up trouble. He and his friends had spent all their free time during term breaks at the gambling halls, brothels, and drinking establishments in London. And now that they had graduated, it seemed everywhere they went they ended up in some sort of trouble—which, unlike the pranks at school, was more likely to have serious repercussions. Through the rampant gossip of the ton, Hannah knew that David had been involved in at least one duel, a number of bloody fights (usually over a woman or card game gone wrong), and now this.

Hannah shuddered to think what could happen to David on the docks of London.

With even more determination, she continued to make her way across the room until finally, she found herself in front of her errant brother. David was dashing in his evening kit, but the gleam in his eye and his rather relaxed posture ruined the gentlemanly effect he might have been able to achieve.

However, in his new role of dangerously charming rake, he was succeeding grandly.

“David,” she said evenly, then nodded at his friend Alexander.

“Ah, Hannah, my dear sister!” David exclaimed. “See here Alex, it’s Hannah.”

David turned to Alexander in quite the jovial manner, completely unaware of Hannah’s mood. Alexander bowed succinctly before Hannah and lifted her hand for a brief kiss on her gloved knuckles.

“A pleasure, as always, Lady Hannah,” Alexander said smoothly, favoring her with a debonair smile.

“Oh, stop it, you two,” snapped Hannah, jerking her hand from Alexander’s. “I am not some light skirt for you to practice your pleasantries on. I know you are up to something and I demand to know what it is.” She stared meaningfully at both men.

David presented his most innocent face before asking, “Why ever would you think we are up to something?”

He appeared most sincere for a moment, but then ruined the effect by elbowing Alexander and flashing him a Watch me handle my sister look.

Growing aggravated, Hannah leaned in close and said, “I know about your little trip to the West Quay, darling David.” She paused to watch him flush at her use of his childhood name before continuing. “So stop the playacting.”

Both David and Alexander blanched at the mention of the area near the Custom House and began to look nervously this way and that. Hannah could see David’s hand twitching with the effort not to reach up and tug on his finely tied cravat. She knew he was hiding something, and while he may chortle about it with his friends, she could see he was not proud enough of his actions to freely admit them to his sister.

“I ask again,” Hannah said, pinning her brother with a look. “What are you up to?”

“I…uh…” stammered David, clearing his throat uneasily. “Well now, Hannah…you see it’s like this,” he began haltingly. “Alexander and I were presented a great opportunity, um, recently—”

“Gentlemen!”

Hannah jumped slightly when, from out of nowhere, another young man showed up, throwing his arms around David and Alexander.

“What are we up to this fine evening?” Simon Trumbull inquired enthusiastically.

Hannah groaned to herself. Just when we were finally getting somewhere.

Simon was another of David’s university friends, although a year ahead of him, if she remembered correctly. He was a likeable fellow, but a devil-may-care kind who never seemed to take anything seriously. She was also sure that he thought his endearingly crooked smile would get him out of any scrape. And why shouldn’t he think that? Hannah thought wryly. It seemed women of all ages just melted at that patently charming smile.

Though not Rose, Hannah was proud to say. Rose had been betrothed to Simon since she was an infant, but she was in no hurry to pursue the connection. Not when the man in question behaves soso like every other man of our acquaintance, Hannah thought, fighting the urge to roll her eyes.

Simon turned his gaze to her. “Lady Hannah, don’t we look lovely this evening?” He stepped out from behind her brother and Alexander to reach for her hand and kiss the air above her knuckles.

Hannah did roll her eyes this time. “I’m sure I don’t know how lovely we are, Mr. Trumbull, but I do know you are interrupting a very important conversation I am having with my brother.” She looked pointedly in David’s direction.

Simon also turned to look at the gentleman in question and, from the shrewd look on his face, Hannah surmised that he knew exactly what the conversation with David was about, even if she did not…yet.

“Lady Hannah,” Simon said, bowing slightly, “I do apologize for interrupting your conversation, but I am afraid I must drag young David and Alexander away from the festivities…this instant.” He flashed his famous smile and began to usher both David and Alexander toward the exit.

David offered Hannah a sheepish smile and shrugged as if to say, What can I do? It was so clear that he was relieved by the turn of events, Hannah was surprised he didn’t just dissolve into a puddle of gratitude right then and there.

“Men!” she muttered with a decidedly unladylike snort. “No backbone whatsoever.”

“I beg to differ, my lady,” came a man’s voice, intimately close behind her. “Perhaps you have just been dealing with the wrong men.”

Hannah stiffened at the familiar voice so close to her ear. She turned slowly, edging away gradually as she did, and pasted a smile to her face.

“Lord Shrewsbury…good evening, sir,” Hannah said politely. She lowered her eyes in what she hoped appeared as a respectful manner, but in truth she couldn’t stand to look directly at the lord.

By all conventional standards, Hannah supposed Caleb Collicott, the Earl of Shrewsbury, was a handsome man. He had light blue eyes and buttery blond hair that swept back from his forehead in carefully controlled waves. His skin was pale and his build was slight. Above all, Lord Shrewsbury was dressed perfectly: perfectly clean, perfectly pressed, perfectly in the height of fashion. However, despite all the perfection, Hannah had only ever found him to be perfectly unappealing.

“Oh, come now, Lady Hannah. How often have I asked you to call me Caleb?” he said in an oily tone that made the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. He plucked up her hand for a kiss, holding it a touch too long and giving her a knowing smile.

“I’m afraid that would not be proper, sir,” Hannah replied, quickly removing her hand and resisting the urge to wipe it on her skirts. For once Hannah was grateful for the strictures of propriety.

Lord Shrewsbury had been a thorn in Hannah’s side since her first season. He made no bones of the fact he wanted her as his wife—or at the very least, his bed partner. Frankly, she was surprised that he hadn’t offered for her yet. He had been lusting after her—and her dowry, she had no doubt—for over three years now. Hannah shuddered just thinking of it.

Of course, the earl was well known to be very aware of the importance of a social structure. In his unapologetically vocal opinion, social structure kept those of lesser breeding in their place. Only his status as the second son of the Earl of Shrewsbury had kept Hannah safe from the brunt of his attentions, as it seemed he felt inferior to her as a man with no title.

Unfortunately, his lack of title was no longer an issue. Rather suddenly, last year his older brother had died, leaving Caleb Collicott his title and all that came with it.

Hannah wasn’t sure what it was about Caleb that she didn’t like. Outwardly he behaved exactly as a gentleman should. He was always impeccably polite, never improper or untoward (unless one counted his insistence that she use his given name), but there was something…just something she didn’t trust. Maybe it was the way he watched her—her every movement—with his cold, calculating ice-blue stare. He makes me uneasy, Hannah thought, that is certain. And this was enough to make her scan the room for a means of escape.

Over by the west garden entrance, William had spotted his good friend Michael Ashmore, the Viscount Lichfield. Perfect, he thought. Now to get to him without being waylaid by a meddling mother or silly daughter looking for the perfect husband.

Keeping to the edges of the room, navigating around the intermittent benches placed here and there for those wanting a respite from the crowd of people, William began to make his way over to his friend. About halfway there, he overheard what could only be termed a tense reply to an obvious request for a dance.

“Thank you for the offer, Lord Shrewsbury, but I have already promised this dance to someone else,” a young lady was saying tightly.

“And yet, Lady Hannah,” the man with which she was speaking replied silkily, “I do not see anyone here to claim you. And I cannot allow you to miss one of the few waltzes of the evening because of some young man’s fickle nature.”

William did not recognize the voice of the lady in question, but his hands clenched upon hearing who the man was. William intensely disliked Caleb Collicott, now the Earl of Shrewsbury. How he had gained the title was suspicious, in William’s opinion. Collicott’s older brother, Frederick, had been one of William’s best friends, and when he suddenly died last year of an indeterminate illness, William always suspected foul play.

Of course, there was no hard evidence other than Frederick being the picture of health just hours before his death, but something about Collicott made William’s skin crawl. William prided himself on his intuition and if his gut was telling him that Collicott was not to be trusted, that was all he needed to know.

However, was his dislike of the man worth dancing with the girl? It was the only way to extricate her from her predicament with any grace, but to what end? William was already dreading the hero worship he was bound to see in her undoubtedly grateful eyes. And gratefulness would invariably lead to the mistaken belief that she was in love with him. Sadly, it had happened before, whenever his mother insisted on his taking pity on some wallflower or another. And then it was just awkward, for he knew full well the dance would lead to nothing.

In this case, he at least had a choice, so he turned to walk away.

“You would not insist I break a promise, would you, my lord?” the girl replied, her voice noticeably tinged with panic.

William stopped, shook his head resignedly, and walked over to the fair lady after all. Gallantly reaching for her hand, he bowed slightly and said, “Forgive me, my dear.” The lady’s eyes widened at the familiar address and she watched incredulously as he dropped a kiss on her knuckles. “I was unavoidably detained. I hope I have not missed my dance?” he said with a smile and a quick wink. Then he waited to see how the young lady would react.

Her eyes were shining with a mixture of relief and amusement as she responded, “Lord Pembroke, I had just about given up on you. Had you been even a minute later, you would have lost your dance to Lord Shrewsbury.” She looked over at Shrewsbury and seemed to rather enjoy the look of fury in his eyes.

“Perhaps you should punish Pembroke by accepting my offer anyway,” Lord Shrewsbury said, glancing disdainfully at William.

“Oh, come now, Collicott,” scolded William, who was surprised and impressed by the young lady before him—someone who apparently knew him, but to whom he could swear he had never been introduced. “You wouldn’t deny me a dance with this charming young woman, would you?”

“It’s Lord Shrewsbury now, Pembroke,” he practically hissed.

“Of course it is, Collicott,” William answered smoothly as he escorted Hannah to the dance floor.

Collicott stood silently fuming for a few moments before turning sharply on his heel and stalking away. William watched his exit with extreme satisfaction. This night was turning out to be more rewarding than he’d originally anticipated.

With a much lighter heart, he turned his attention to his unexpected dance partner.

“I can’t thank you enough, Lord Pembroke,” she said ardently, clearly relieved to be away from Lord Shrewsbury. “There is something about that man I simply do not like!”

“Well, we are in agreement there,” replied William, taking a closer look at his damsel in distress. She was quite pretty, with dark blond hair—golden, really—and large expressive blue eyes. Or were they green? William looked again. How remarkable, he thought. Her eyes were an unusual shade of blue-green that was ever changing in the flickering candlelight. He found himself wondering what color they would be in the bright of day…or in the even dimmer light of his bedroom, he mused wickedly.

William realized the lady was gazing at him expectantly and it became clear that she had asked him a question. And he was already undressing her in his boudoir. Get a hold of yourself, man!

William gave himself a mental shake and said, “I’m sorry, what was that?”

“I wondered if perhaps we should introduce ourselves,” she replied, looking at him oddly. “I don’t believe we have ever formally met, my lord.”

Just then, the music started and the dancing began.

“Of course,” William agreed, skillfully navigating them among the other couples as they jostled for position on the dance floor. “Although it seems you already know my name, officially I am William Bredon, Earl of Pembroke, at your service.”

The lady smiled brightly and said, “You certainly were at my service earlier, Lord Pembroke.”

William couldn’t help but grin back. This young lady’s smile was nothing if not infectious. I’d better be careful of this one, William thought, his eyes lingering a touch too long on her beautiful rose-colored lips.

“I am Lady Hannah Rochester, by the way,” she said, managing to drop a slight curtsy without missing a step as they continued circling the dance floor.

“Ah, yes, Lord Rochester’s daughter?” William surmised. At her nod, he added, “I am familiar with your father. He is a good man…and must consider himself quite lucky to have such an attractive daughter.” He gave her an exaggerated wink.

Hannah laughed. “Why do all men expect a lady to swoon at such a statement?” she asked rhetorically. “Surely you could be a bit more original?”

“Ahhh, an attack on my originality,” William gasped, releasing her side to raise a hand dramatically to his heart. “I shall have to endeavor to find more inventive ways to compliment you, my lady.” His eyes twinkled merrily as his hand resumed its place at her waist.

“See that you do, sir!” Hannah replied with a cheeky smile.

And for the first time that evening, William realized he was truly enjoying himself.