by JoMarie DeGioia
William Chesterton, the Earl of Chester, might be the perfect gentleman, but his feelings for Constance Bridgewater are anything but gentlemanly.
Constance Bridgewater, the daughter of the late Earl of Bridgewater, might be the perfect lady, but her feelings for the Earl of Chester are anything but ladylike.
They both know that if they were together, everything would be just perfect.
So what is keeping them apart?
“You can’t deny the party last night was delightful, Constance.”
Constance read the extreme interest in her cousin Sarah’s countenance. Her eyes were almost wild.
“I believe I told you it was so,” Constance said.
“And what of the gentlemen there?” Sarah persisted. “Do you deny that you enjoyed dancing with them?”
Constance took a measured breath, keeping her pique from her own features. “Why ever would I deny that? I enjoyed myself immensely and fancied each gentleman who took my hand in his. There, are you satisfied?”
Sarah blew out a breath and leaned back. “You’re always satisfied.”
Diane Plymouth, their close friend, let out a sigh. “I’m not.”
Constance studied Diane, certain she had heard her incorrectly. “What do you mean, Diane?”
She waved a hand. “I’m unable to settle on a gentleman, I’m afraid. I want to marry and settle down, like our other friends have.”
Constance quelled her feelings. She so wanted that as well, but it wouldn’t do to appear as desperate as these two. It wasn’t in keeping with her image of the cool and perfect young society miss. This morning she was immensely chafed by that mantel.
“It’s a pity so many eligible men have been snatched from the marriage market.” Sarah sighed, then suddenly brightened. “There are still several left for the taking, Diane. Don’t give up hope.”
“True, but I don’t know where to set my cap,” Diane said. “I have a few men in mind, but I just can’t decide.”
Constance didn’t want to ask, she truly didn’t. Burning interest in the social swirl of the season was expected, however.
“Which gentlemen are you considering?” she asked Diane.
“Well, there are several,” Diane said, her eyes bright as she warmed to her topic. “Take Lord Kanewood’s circle.”
Sarah snorted. “Two down, two to go.”
Diane nodded. “I chose that particular group of gentlemen to demonstrate my sad state.”
“Really?” Constance said, curious despite herself. “Why those particular men?”
Sarah nodded, leaning forward. “They are such diverse gentlemen, in looks and temperament.”
“Exactly,” Diane said. “Take Lord Kanewood.”
“Yes, please,” Sarah put in.
Constance laughed. “He’s married, Sarah. And quite happily.”
Sarah grinned and nodded. “Yes, yes. Go on, Diane.”
“He’s the leader of their circle, commanding and very handsome. Yet he was caught.”
“And gone from the market.” Sarah sighed.
“Now, take Lord Leed,” Diane went on.
“Yes, please,” Sarah said again.
“Sarah,” Constance said with another laugh.
“Lord Leed,” Diane went on, her face dreamy now. “Dark and brooding and so . . .” She sighed.
“Yes,” Constance said. “Another gentleman happily married.”
“Oh, but Lord Roberts!” Diane gushed now. “He’s still available. And so charming and attentive toward me.”
“As he is toward most every lady.” Sarah pouted. “A girl can’t count on his charm to land on her alone.”
“But I’ve seen his sparkling gray eyes in my dreams,” Diane said.
Constance silently allowed that there wasn’t a more charming man of their acquaintance than Lord Roberts, not that she’d seen his particular eyes in her dreams. No. It was one particular pair of warm, brown eyes that made her body ache, in and out of her dreams. Not to mention his thick, blond hair. It looked so soft . . . she shook herself back to her boring, wakeful existence.
“Lord Roberts has gone to the country, Diane,” she said. “And will no doubt remain there for some time.”
“Yes, his father has reportedly taken ill,” Sarah said. “Pity that, though it might lead to an elevation in his station from viscount to earl.”
“Sarah!” Constance said. “How can you wish such sadness on Lord Roberts?”
“Oh, I don’t, not really,” Sarah said. “I just wish he was in town this season. He’s one of the few unattached gentlemen who draws my attention.”
“Your attention is drawn to every handsome face with a title and fortune,” Diane said. “I daresay I would take Lord Roberts with neither.”
Sarah snorted in obvious disbelief. “Be that as it may, he’s well and gone from London and we’ll have to set our caps for different gentlemen if we have any hope of marrying before this new season ends.”
The two other girls grew quiet, which unsettled Constance more than their chatter had. It was inevitable, the new course their conversation would take. She braced herself for the realization to strike the two of them.
“There is at least one who is available and quite attractive,” Diane said.
Constance’s hands fluttered in her lap and she fought to keep them still. “Which gentleman?” she asked, as if she didn’t know.
“Hmm, yes,” Sarah mused aloud. “There is always Lord Chester.”
And there it was. The mention of the very man Constance couldn’t get out of her mind. “L-Lord Chester?”
“Oh, yes, Lord Chester!” Diane cried. “He’s quite handsome and most pleasant. Though I can’t quite sketch a true picture of his character.”
Constance knew what she meant, for he was always so perfect in every social situation. Saying the right thing, dressed the right way, acting in the right manner. Aside from those blessed moments he’d held her in his arms at Leed Manor, that is.
“He has done work for Lord Kanewood. That is certain,” Sarah said. “During that business with the earl’s brother, at least.”
Diane shivered. “Horrid, that. Stealing funds and attempted murder?”
Sarah nodded, her eyes bright. “It’s rumored that Lord Chester has worked with the government, but no one can say in what capacity. He’s well-respected and his opinions count in Parliament. He’s affable and most pleasant, I’ll allow. Well-connected and wealthy, and welcome wherever he goes.”
“A perfect gentleman,” Diane concluded.
Constance could practically see the interest sparking in the girl’s mind. She wouldn’t let it smolder into flames of desire, however. Lord Chester wasn’t for Diane, or even Sarah for that matter. He was for her.
She alone had seen the dark glint of intent in those deep brown eyes of his as he stole glances at her from across the ballroom. She alone had encountered the tenseness of his firmly muscled body as he held her sedately during the dance. She alone had felt the impact of his intriguing smile, curved with heat instead of politeness as he’d nearly kissed her.
Yes, she knew there was far more to the Earl of Chester than the well-connected perfect gentleman. Far more.
And she would die before she let another lady steal him from her.
JoMarie DeGioia has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and has spent years giving voice to the characters in her head. She’s known Mickey Mouse from the “inside,” has been a copyeditor for her town’s newspaper, and a bookseller. She writes Historical and Contemporary Romances, along with Young and New Adult Fantasy stories. She divides her time between Central Florida and New England. You can contact her at JoMarie@JoMarieDeGioia.com