‘You will have to get in line,’ Teddy said with a chuckle. ‘Sophie is in great demand. She has turned down three offers of marriage already, and all three disappointed suitors are in town.’
‘All three?’ Sophie echoed in dismay. ‘I knew Sir Reginald and Mr Fanshawe were here, but not Lord Gorange.’
‘I saw him myself at the club yesterday evening,’ he said.
This was not good news. She could only hope his arrival was coincidental and nothing to do with her. ‘What did he say?’
‘I didn’t speak to him. In any case he was having an argument with Fanshawe, and very heated it was. Didn’t want to get involved. I should stick to Reggie, if I were you, sis. He’s the best of the bunch.’
‘I am not sticking to Reggie or any one of them,’ she snapped.
Teddy shrugged. ‘As you say. Where are you off to now?’
‘Hookham’s to return this.’ She held up the library book.
‘With no escort? Dear me, Sophie, will you never learn?’
‘I do not need an escort. I have Bessie with me. You would do well to go back to Mount Street and sleep it off or you will not be fit for the dance tonight. Good day to you, Captain Moore. Come, Bessie.’
She heard her brother chuckling as she left and then she spotted Viscount Kimberley on the opposite side of the crowded thoroughfare. He appeared to be watching them. Furious, she marched down the street, pretending not to have seen him. She dare not look back. ‘Is he still there?’ she asked Bessie.
‘Who? Your brother?’
‘No, Mark’s cousin Kimberley.’
Bessie turned. ‘I can’t see him. The pavement is very crowded.’
‘Yes, but he is a head taller than anyone else.’ She risked turning round to look. ‘He has gone. Let us make haste.’ She began to walk very fast. Why that man should upset her equilibrium, she did not know. She had no trouble dealing with other men, could converse, jest or deliver a put-down with ease. It must, she surmised, be because he had witnessed her humiliation the day after she’d arrived in the capital. It was something she could not forget, nor the amusement in his eyes when he looked at her, as if he, too, were remembering.
* * *
In spite of the high cost of the tickets, Lord Rowland’s ballroom was crowded. Some were aristocrats and members of the ton, but many more were the newly rich who had come to hobnob with the nobility. Sophie, accompanied by her brother and Lady Cartrose, wore a gown of pale green gauze over a white satin slip. It had little puff sleeves and a heart-shaped neckline. The high-waisted bodice was caught under the bosom with a posy of silk flowers. Lady Cartrose had been taken aback when Sophie had joined her in the drawing room to wait for the carriage that was to take them to the dance.
‘Sophie, young ladies not yet out should not be wearing colours.’
‘But, Aunt, I am not to have a come-out ball, so the fact that I am here with you, going out and about, is proof enough that I am already out, don’t you think?’ She spoke loudly and clearly and accompanied her words with a sweet smile. ‘Besides, I have already had offers. Acting the innocent would be entirely inappropriate.’
Her ladyship laughed. ‘Sophie, you seem to have an answer for everything, but do not blame me if the company frowns at you.’
They were a little late arriving, and the dancing had already begun. She stood looking about her to see who was there that she knew and soon spotted the Malthouse party with Cassandra in virgin white decorated with the green ribbon she had suggested. They moved over to join them and Teddy, bowing, asked Cassie to stand up with him for the country dance then in progress. Vincent claimed Sophie.
‘You are in looks tonight,’ he said as they danced.
‘Oh, does that mean I am not usually in looks?’
‘No, not at all,’ he said, embarrassed. ‘You always look beautiful, but especially so tonight. It is very daring of you.’
‘Daring, Mr Malthouse?’
‘To wear colours. For someone not yet out...’
‘Oh, but I am out—well and truly out. Besides, white does not suit me. It makes me look deathly.’
‘I cannot imagine that. You are always full of life. Your eyes sparkle and your smile...’
‘Mr Malthouse, pray do not go on. You are putting me to the blush.’
‘And a delightful blush it is.’ He bent closer and whispered in her ear, ‘I would like to see more of it.’
‘Mr Malthouse, do concentrate on the dance. That is the second time you have taken a wrong step.’