A Spring Deception (Seasons Book 2)(10)

By: Jess Michaels

The warmth that had been on Clairemont’s face disappeared entirely, and he swallowed. “Ah, I see. Well, I should not keep you. Good evening, Miss Fitzgilbert.”

He gave a stiff, formal bow and turned on his heel to stalk back into the house. Celia stared at his retreating back in shock and embarrassment. He had dismissed her.

But why? Gray and Rosalinde were well liked in Society, there could be no reason why their names would inspire such a quick retreat. Unless…

Her breath caught. Was it possible that even in his hermitage the Duke of Clairemont had heard of Celia’s broken engagement? That he judged her for it, as a handful of people did? Perhaps until he heard Gray and Rosalinde’s names, he hadn’t recognized her for her role in that minor scandal.

But once he did, he had retreated immediately, not wanting to sully his good name by associating it with her.

Tears stung her eyes and she blinked at them. It was a foolish reaction, for she had been well-aware there would be censure in some corners of Society, even if the romantic version of why the engagement had been broken appeased the majority.

And it wasn’t as if she knew this man or had any connection to him. He was handsome and had turned her head, he was charming and she’d been charmed. But if she never saw him again, it wasn’t as if she’d lost anything.

But as she reentered the ballroom and slowly crossed the floor to rejoin Gray and Rosalinde, she felt like she had. And it brought a terrible heaviness in her chest that made the ball seem a little less gay, the colors less bright and the night far less successful than it had been before.

Chapter Four

Clairemont paced across the parlor floor, his blood pumping and his heart racing, though he could not lie to himself and say it was the thrill of the hunt that caused those reactions. No, it was something else. Something he had to squash as swiftly as possible so he could refocus on his duty.

“Explain why you are so worked up,” Stalwood said as he poured Clairemont a drink from their host’s sideboard and held it out.

Clairemont waved the offering away and continued to pace, but his restlessness didn’t abate even a fraction. “I thought I had made it perfectly clear. I found myself out on a terrace alone with Celia Fitzgilbert, the sister-in-law of Grayson Danford. In case you have forgotten, the man is one of our prime suspects, Stalwood.”

The earl nodded. “Indeed, he is, and it is an interesting development, but you are flushed and distracted and that isn’t at all like you.”

Clairemont stopped and gathered himself quickly. Showing emotion or weakness was not a good thing, not in his world, and he had to stop doing it immediately. He took a deep breath to calm himself, stuffed his emotions down deep and faced his mentor again.

“I’m not distracted,” he explained, hearing the peevishness in his voice that belied his words. “It is simply an unexpected and…interesting development.”

Interesting. No, his encounter with Celia on the terrace hadn’t been interesting. It had been…remarkable.

Oh, she was lovely, there was no denying that. What man would not be attracted to her dark hair and startlingly bright blue eyes? What man could resist the cheerful and lovely face that was so quick to smile and laugh? And what hot-blooded man wouldn’t notice her perfect figure, from her full breasts to her slender waist to the slight flare of her hips that teased beneath her gown?

And yet it was more than those things which had drawn him to her. From the moment she stepped from the shadows behind him, he had felt almost as if he had known her before. Like they were connected on a level that he never allowed, not even with friends and colleagues. Relationships were fleeting. They could end in a heartbeat.

He didn’t make them, beyond perhaps his long friendship with Stalwood.

“Are you listening to me, Clairemont?” Stalwood asked, his tone even and almost placating.

Clairemont drew himself away from his troubling musings and nodded. “Of course I’m listening. But are you? You don’t seem to understand that I’ve just made an accidental connection to a relative of one of the men we suspect of helping the real Clairemont in his dirty doings. This was not part of our plan and it means we must rethink our methods.”

Stalwood sighed. “There were many pieces of correspondence between Danford and Clairemont, yes. And Clairemont is heavily invested in a great many of Danford’s moneymaking schemes. The man is on the cutting edge of industry—it is not out of the question that he may very well be involved in nefarious elements. Grayson Danford must be investigated. But I’m telling you that this interaction with his sister-in-law tonight doesn’t hinder that investigation. In fact, it may be an excellent way to further it.”

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