A Spring Deception (Seasons Book 2)(9)

By: Jess Michaels

He turned to face her and those pale gray eyes caught hers. “Then what is the purpose? I cannot seem to divine it, no matter how intently I study the problem.”

She felt speared in place by his attention, his focus. She blinked up at him, mesmerized in a way she’d never experienced with another person on this earth.

“To show off,” she said when she could find her voice. “To prove that this host and hostess are more popular than the last. And since you agreed to come here tonight, to flaunt that they have pulled off the coup of the Season by bringing you here.”

He tilted his head at her candor. “Interesting. That explains all the attention, I suppose.”

She smiled. “You’ve been away a long time. I can guess how uncomfortable all this must make you.”

He shrugged. “I don’t belong here. No matter what the title says.”

“Do you really feel that way?” Celia asked, narrowing her eyes.

He hesitated a moment, staring at her like he was truly seeing her for the first time. It seemed he might say something important, something sincere, and the moment hung between them like a heavy curtain waiting to be peeled away to reveal the truth.

But then he shook his head as if clearing it, and smiled. “I’m sure it will pass. After all, this was what I was raised to do, isn’t it? My duty is here and I will do it.”

Celia nodded, but there was disappointment heavy in her chest. As if something important had just been taken from her. She shrugged off the foolish reaction and moved another step closer.

“I realize we haven’t formally met. Though this isn’t exactly the proper way to do it.”

He inclined his head. “Yes, I should be introduced to you by our hostess or some other mutual acquaintance. And yet here we are, on a terrace, unchaperoned. That is dangerous, isn’t it?”

“Only if we intend to hurt each other,” Celia said. “I know I do not. Do you?”

He held her gaze steadily. “I have no intentions of hurting you, miss.”

“Good. But you see, I am at an advantage over you that I think is unfair,” she said. “After all, I know who you are, Your Grace.”

“Have we met before?” he asked, suddenly stiffening.

She frowned. It seemed after all their banter that he would know they hadn’t, especially since he had been holed up in the countryside for years. But then, maybe he secretly brought women there, looking for a bride or just a companion to warm his bed. Perhaps they were forgettable, and she would be too, despite the connection she felt in their conversation.

“No, we’ve never met,” she said slowly. “There is just a buzz about you in the room tonight, so I was informed who you were by friends.”

Now it was he who took a long step toward her. She could feel the faint warmth of his body heat now.

“Who am I?” he asked, his tone once again the rough version that seemed to ripple through her and settle somewhere in her lower stomach.

“You are the Duke of Clairemont,” she breathed.

“And who are you?” he pressed, his gaze now locked with hers.

She swallowed. There were a dozen inappropriate answers that flowed through her head, but she didn’t say any of them. “I’m Celia Fitzgilbert.”

“Miss?” he pressed.

Her breath caught. He wanted to know if she was married. “Yes, Miss Celia Fitzgilbert.”

“Well, Miss Celia Fitzgilbert, it is a pleasure to meet you, unorthodox as this introduction is.” He leaned in and took her hand, lifting it to his lips. Through the thin fabric of her glove, she felt the swirl of his breath and a tingle made its way through her.

He lifted his eyes as he remained bent over her hand, and her own breath hitched. She’d never felt so out of sorts with a man before. Never felt confused and drawn, hot and shivery, all at the same time.

He released her hand gently and straightened up, but he didn’t step away from her. And he didn’t look away. Heat flooded Celia’s cheeks at the intensity of his stare and she found herself backing up, even though what she truly wished to do was step even closer. But that was not what ladies did.

“I-I should probably go back inside,” she stammered. “My sister and brother-in-law will be looking for me.”

He arched a brow. “And who are your sister and brother-in-law?” he asked.

“Mr. and Mrs. Danford,” she explained.

The slight smile on Clairemont’s face fell and he took a sudden step back. “Grayson Danford?”

“Yes, Grayson Danford,” she repeated slowly. “He is the Earl of Stenfax’s younger brother. My sister is his wife, Rosalinde.”

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