Until You (Westmoreland Saga 3) - Page 42

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She looked charmingly flustered as he whirled her around and around, adjusting his steps for her diminutive size. “Nicholas,” she said, “may I confide something to you?”

“Certainly, if you like.”

“I am old, and I nod off when I don’t at all wish to sleep, and I am dreadfully forgetful at times . . .”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Nicki gallantly replied.

“But, dear boy,” she continued severely, ignoring his disclaimer, “I am not enough of a ninnyhammer to have believed for more than the first hour that you were besotted with our dear Sherry!”

Nicki nearly missed a step. “You . . . did not think I was?” he said cautiously.

“Certainly not. Things have worked out exactly as I planned they should.”

“As you planned they should?” Nicki repeated a little dazedly, completely reassessing her and coming up with answers that made him feel like shouting with laughter and flushing with embarrassment over his own naiveté.

“Certainly,” she said with a proud little wag of her head. “I do not like to boast,” she tipped her head toward Sherry and Langford, “but I did that.”

Uncertain if the unbelievable notion forming in his head was correct, Nicki studied her closely from the corner of his eyes. “How did you do whatever it was you think you did?”

“A little nudge here, a little push there, dear boy. Although I did wonder tonight if we should have let Sherry leave with Langford. He was jealous as fire over Makepeace.” Her little shoulders shook with merry laughter. “It was the most diverting thing I’ve seen in thirty years! At least, I think it was. . . . I shall miss all this excitement. I have felt so very useful from the moment Hugh Whitticomb asked me to be chaperone. I knew, of course, that I wasn’t supposed to do a good job of it, or else he’d have gotten someone else to do it.” She looked up inquiringly after Nicholas’s long silence and found him staring at her as if he’d not seen her before. “Did you wish to say something, dear boy?”

“I think so.”


“Please accept my humblest apologies.”

“For underestimating me?”

Nicki nodded, grinning, and she smiled back at him. “Everyone does, you know.”


“I feel like a guest in my own house,” Stephen remarked ironically to his amused brother as they waited for the women to join them in his drawing room so they could leave for the opera. He had not been alone with Sherry since he’d announced their engagement last night at the Rutherfords’ ball, and he found it absurd that his change in public status to being her fiancé supposedly had to mark the end of all possibilities for the slightest intimacy.

At his mother’s suggestion, he’d moved into Clayton’s house, and she had moved into his, where she planned to remain with Sherry during the three days before the wedding—“to absolutely eliminate any possible reasons for gossip, since Sherry is under the very nose of the ton here in London.”

Stephen had graciously agreed to her suggestion only because he had every reason to expect Whitticomb to maintain his earlier position that Sherry would require the security of his reassuring presence, and that Charity Thornton was an adequate chaperone.

Instead, the unreliable physician had agreed with Stephen’s mother that Sherry’s reputation might suffer now that Society knew Stephen was personally interested in her.

Tonight, his brother and sister-in-law were playing chaperone, accompanying Sherry and him to the opera, while his mother attended her own functions, but she would be there when they returned, she’d promised.

“You could always move Sherry in with us,” Clayton pointed out, enjoying Stephen’s discomfiture and his healthy eagerness to be alone with his fiancée, “and then you could stay here.”

“That’s as absurd as this arrangement. The point is that I’m not going to preempt the damned wedding and take her to bed when there are only three more days to wait—”

He broke off at the sound of feminine voices on the staircase, and they both stood up. Stephen picked up his black coat and shrugged into it as he strolled forward, then nearly walked into his brother, who had stopped to watch the two women rushing into the hall together laughing. “Look at that,” he said softly, but Stephen was already looking, and he knew what Clayton meant even before he added, “What a portrait they would make.”

Their musical laughter made both men grin as they watched the Duchess of Claymore and the future Countess of Langford trying on each other’s capes and bonnets in front of the mirror while Colfax and Hodgkin stood with hands clasped behind their backs, staring straight ahead, as if oblivious to the girlish antics. Hodgkin wasn’t as good as Colfax at hiding his thoughts, and his gaze kept sliding to Sherry and a smile kept tugging at his cheek.

Whitney had been wearing a bright blue gown when they arrived. Sherry had said she intended to wear a bright green gown even though, she’d softly added, as she looked at the huge sapphire Stephen had given her that afternoon for a betrothal ring, “sapphire blue is my favorite color of all.”

They had evidently changed their minds and their gowns upstairs because Whitney was now wearing Sherry’s green gown and Sherry was wearing her deep blue one.

As both men started forward, they heard Whitney gaily predict, “Clayton will never notice the change, mark my word.”

“And I doubt Lord Westmoreland paid the slightest heed to my comment about which gown would look best with my ring,” Sherry said, laughing. “He was preoccupied with—” She choked back the word “kissing,” and Stephen stifled a laugh.

“Shall we?” he said to his brother.

“By all means,” Clayton agreed, and without further communication, Stephen walked up behind Whitney while Clayton offered his arm to Sherry, startling a peal of laughter from her as he joked in a low voice, “Did I tell you earlier how lovely you look in green, my love?”

Whitney was pulling on her gloves when masculine hands touched her shoulders and Stephen’s voice whispered tenderly in her ear beside her bonnet. “Sherry,” he whispered, and beneath his hands her shoulders shook with laughter as she carefully kept her face hidden, “I’ve arranged with my brother to leave us alone for a while when we return from the opera, so we can be private. He’ll distract Whitney—” She whirled around and had already begun her indignant reprimand before she saw his knowing grin. “Stephen Westmoreland, if you dare to even—”

Outside Number 14 Upper Brook Street carriages paraded in dignified pomp, their lamps glowing and flickering like a procession of golden fireflies. As the conveyance belonging to the Duke and Duchess of Dranby passed by the house, her grace looked admiringly at its splendid Palladian facade and sighed. “Dranby, who shall we find to wed Juliette, now that Langford is taken? Where will we find his equal in taste and elegance, in refinement and—” She broke off as the front door of the house opened and four laughing people erupted from it—the earl running down the front steps in pursuit of his new fiancée. “Sherry,” he called, “I knew she wasn’t you!”

The American girl called a laughing reply back as she headed straight for the Duke of Claymore’s coach, which was pulled up behind the earl’s. The duke and duchess pressed closer to their coach window staring with disbelief as the Earl of Langford caught his new fiancée by the waist as she climbed into the duke’s coach, swung her into his arms, and firmly deposited her into his own coach.

“Dranby,” said the duchess, “we have just witnessed the most delicious on-dit of the year! Wait until I tell everyone what we saw!”

“If you’ll take my advice, you won’t bother,” said the duke, leaning back in his seat.

“Whyever not?”

“No one will believe you.”

Tags: Judith McNaught Westmoreland Saga Romance
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