The Scandalous Lady Mercy(3)

By: Maggi Andersen

Mercy nudged her mother’s elbow. “Robin’s friend, Lord Bellamy, is coming this way. I do like him.”

“A second son who spends his time kicking his heels about London in dubious company, so I’m told. Your father would never consider him.”

“Oh, Mama do hush. Francis isn’t a rake.”

“Lord Bellamy! Do not call him by his first name,” Mama hissed under her breath.

The dark-haired lord bowed before them. “How do you do, Lady Baxendale, Lady Mercy? Your daughter and I were introduced at Harwood Castle last year.”

“So I believe, Lord Bellamy,” Mama said with a thin smile. “The Duke and Duchess are expected to attend tonight.”

“I look forward to seeing them.” The master of ceremonies announced the quadrille in ringing tones, and the musicians assembled on the dais. “I believe the dancing is about to begin. Might I have the pleasure, Lady Mercy?”

“I’d love to.” Mercy rose and took his arm before her mother could raise an objection.

While the groups formed sets on the dance floor, Bellamy’s attentive gaze roamed from her head of full curls to her white gown trimmed with pink satin padded bands.

“You have grown up, Lady Mercy,” he said with a smile.

“You look just the same.” She grinned. She’d forgotten how attractive his green eyes were.

“Do you remember our impromptu dance in Robin’s salon at Harwood Castle? Your sister thought me presumptuous. I do hope the duchess has forgiven me.”

Mercy laughed. “That was my first dance.”

“Not quite a dance, but I am pleased to have partnered you. A lady always remembers her first.” He grinned. “First dance…first kiss.”

She was saved from giving him a set down when Robin and Charity joined them. Mercy squealed and rushed to hug them. “I’m so pleased you both could come tonight.”

Robin kissed Mercy’s cheek. “Prettiest debutante at the ball.”

Charity looked every inch a duchess in a ball gown of gold satin with a diamond tiara in her fair hair. “The musicians are striking up. We shall talk after the dance.”

Chapter Two

GRANT AINSWORTH VISCOUNT Northcliffe, walked the length of the ballroom. As he moved through the crowd, voices lowered a fraction and heads turned in his direction. He’d expected it, but that didn’t make it any less annoying. His former mistress, Lady Alethea Archer, had been busy. Had he not been generous when they parted? Not enough to satisfy the widow’s demands apparently. Now thanks to the gossipmongers, the ton were privy to details of their escapades, and many gleefully thirsting for more. He and Alethea had shared an adventurous two months, and there were plenty of titillating tidbits that might be gleaned, unless he could persuade her otherwise.

He refused to approach her where she stood with friends and pouted prettily at him. There would be no more fuel added to that fire if he could help it. Grant greeted two of his friends, Adam Dalgleish, Viscount Skye, and Hugh Sitwell, Baron Sexton.

“Not inclined to dance, Northcliffe?” Adam, a fair-haired Viking of a man, asked him.

Grant’s gaze drifted to the dance floor and the curvy, blonde debutante in pink and white with the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. “I might, later.”

“I see you lookin’ at the Baxendale chit. Pretty girl,” Hugh observed.

“Barely out of the schoolroom,” Adam said. “Not your usual fare.”

“What is my usual fare, Adam?” Grant snapped.

“No need to get touchy with me, I wasn’t referring to Lady Alethea,” Adam said with a laugh.

“Why not?” Grant asked. “Everyone else is.”

“Behaving badly, Lady Alethea,” Hugh said. “I believe she intended you to marry her, Grant.”

“I made it quite clear from the beginning that I wasn’t the marrying kind.”

“Your grandfather, the duke, won’t be pleased to hear that.”

Grant felt there was so much more for him to do before he wed. Marriage closed a man’s future down whatever way you looked at it. He saw no sense in being one those men who cared little for their wives; who escaped the home to visit their clubs or their mistresses. A dishonest way to live. “I appreciate that I shall have to face the parson’s mousetrap and beget an heir at some point. But as Father is in line before me, still enjoying shooting quail and riding to hounds, and I trust that Grandfather will live for many more years, there’s no rush.”

“Then I’d give the Baxendale girl a miss,” Adam said. “Baxendale is lookin’ for nothing less than an earl for her. I suspect there’s a wager written in White’s betting book that she’ll snare a duke. Settled a handsome dowry on her. His railway shares have soared in value. Bought in early and made a fortune. The Stockton and Darlington railway is to open in the northeast in September.”