Waistcoats & Weaponry Page 28

“For you, my Ria, I would sacrifice my reputation.”

“Now, now, Lord Mersey, you are perfectly aware that you would be sacrificing mine.”

He whirled her into an elaborate twist. He danced divinely, his frame always a little too intimate but not enough to shock the chaperones. The hand at her back was warm and supportive; the one clutching hers to lead was direct and assertive. He looked into her eyes in a melting manner, but only long enough to let her know he was interested and not so long as to lose track of the others around them. He could have been a dance instructor had he not been born the son of a duke.

A duke who would see all vampires and werewolves dead. Sophronia tore herself away from his blue eyes to find she was the object of envious glances from nearly every young lady there.

“Felix, my dear, do me a favor after this dance?”

“Anything for you,” he said, rather unguardedly. Then quickly, “You aren’t going to leave me to finish the set alone, are you?” There was real fear in his voice; twice Sophronia had abandoned him in the middle of a dance.

“Not tonight, I hope. No one I know has been kidnapped, and the prototype is beyond my control.”

Felix tilted his head. “Indeed it is, as it should be. It was the Picklemen’s by right. Ours by right. Not something for you to worry that pretty head about.”

Sophronia wanted to argue that point, but midwaltz was not the time; besides, she liked it when Felix underestimated her. More room to maneuver. “Mmmm. No, I was going to ask… My sister Petunia is there, the one dressed as the fluffy shepherdess? Dance with her next, would you? Otherwise she’ll never forgive me.”

Felix looked over, winced a tiny bit, then said gallantly, “Of course. It would be my pleasure.”

“Oh, thank you.” Sophronia nearly slipped up and applied another longing glance at that juncture, she was so grateful.

Felix noticed and leaned in. “Careful, my sweet, we are in a public place. All eyes are upon us. And you are affianced to another.”

That made her smile again.

The dance was nearly finished when the tall, stiff young man dressed as a vintage dandy appeared at Felix’s elbow.

“If I may?” he said, insinuating himself between them like oil into a mechanical and dexterously depriving Felix of Sophronia.

Sophronia had never been removed from a dance partner before, although she had been trained for it. Felix certainly had never had anyone dare to cut in on him! At a loss, he bowed out politely. He was angry, though. There was a good chance that he, like Sophronia, was thinking of Lord Akeldama when he saw this man’s costume. And Felix did not like vampires.

The dandy guided her, clumsily it must be admitted, through the final refrain of the waltz. He relaxed noticeably at the end and whisked her to the punch bowl, taking proprietary control of her dance card so that she could not find her next partner. As it happened, she had no partner. She was, after all, not out, and could really only dance with her escort or her brothers.

Sophronia glared at him, waiting for some kind of sign.

“You’re awfully friendly with that young man,” said a horribly familiar voice from behind the velvet mask.

“Soap!” hissed Sophronia, backing them both away from the punch and into a corner behind a potted plant. “What on earth are you doing here?”

“Swilling punch with the aristocracy. Keeping an eye on you.”

“I can take care of myself!”

“Not from what I hear. Rumor around the floor is that you got yourself engaged!”

“Oh ho, trust you to be in on the gossip.”

“The ladies like me, what can I say? What do you have to say for yourself?” He was glaring at Felix, who held court across the crowded ballroom and raised his glass at them in a challenging, cocky way.

Soap inclined his head.

Sophronia could almost feel the sharpness of Felix’s glare.

Sophronia was convinced these two shouldn’t encounter each other when Soap was pretending to be a gentleman. Dueling might result.

“Silly Soap, it’s not to Felix. Mumsy has decided to engage me to Pillover.”

“What?” That took the coal out of Soap’s boiler.

“Misunderstanding.”

“I should hope so. He’s a child.”

“Sadly, he doesn’t look like it anymore.”

Soap stopped staring angrily at Felix and turned to follow Pillover’s slouched form as he led an excited lady through a reel in a competent—if desultory—manner. The young woman clearly thought he was the most wonderful thing.

“Oh, dear,” said Soap.

“Who knew Pillover would turn into a lady-killer?”

“Who indeed?” Soap could do a fair imitation of an upper-crust accent when he put his mind to it.

If Sophronia hadn’t been so annoyed with him for putting himself in danger, she might have said something complimentary on this subject. “I think it’s the general air of bleakness and dyspepsia; women want to save him and administer good cheer.”

“Poor old Pillover.”

As if knowing he was the object of their discussion, Pillover spotted them lurking behind the palm and, with an air of desperation, began to bend his set in their direction. Felix extracted himself from a flock of eager young ladies and desperate mamas and circled in on their location as well.

Sophronia panicked. “Soap, you have to get out of here! You haven’t been invited. What if someone finds out who you are? I’m sure there’s a law against it. You could be cashiered or whatever it is they do upon encountering unsanctioned mixing of the classes.”

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