Asher Wellingham, Duke of Carisbrook, was captivated by her! He had happened upon Lady Emma Seaton swimming naked and, beyond her beauty, had seen the deep curling scar on her thigh--a wound that could only be the mark of a sword.
Who was this creature of contradictions? Something about her brought back tantalizing memories from the past. Her ill-fitting, threadbare clothes concealed the body of an angel, but what kind of woman truly lay behind her refined mask? Highborn lady or artful courtesan, she intrigued him and Asher wanted to possess both!
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February 29, 2008
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Excerpt from High Seas to High Society by Sophia James
London, May 1822
Asher Wellingham, the ninth Duke of Carisbrook, stood in a corner with his host Lord Henshaw, and watched a woman sitting alone near the dais.
'Who is she, Jack?' he asked with feigned casualness. In truth he had noticed her as soon as he had walked into the salon, for it was seldom a beautiful woman wore such a plain gown to a ball and then sat alone looking for all the world as if she was actually enjoying her own company.
'Lady Emma Seaton, the Countess of Haversham's niece. She arrived in London six weeks ago and every young blood has tried to strike up some sort of relationship with her since.'
'Somewhere in the country, I would presume. Obviously she has not seen a London stylist--I've never seen hair quite like it.'
Asher's gaze travelled across a thatch of blonde curls barely restrained by hairpins. A home-fashioned coiffure, he surmised, and executed badly, yet the whole effect of sun-bleached curls threaded with gold and corn was unsettling.
People seldom surprised him. Or intrigued him.
But this girl with her lack of self-consciousness and her fashion faux pas had succeeded. What woman, after all, ate her supper whilst wearing her gloves and licked the end of a silk-covered finger when the jam of a sweet biscuit stained it.
This one did.
Aye, this one did not nibble on the food as every other female in the room was wont to do, but piled the plate before her from the tray of a passing waiter as though her very life depended on it. As though it might indeed be a good deal of time until the next course showed itself, or as if, perhaps in her old life, in some country village, she had not had as much food as she had needed and could barely believe that she was being offered such bounty here.
He saw others looking her way and felt vaguely irritated. The buzz of whisper had grown as she stood, tall and thin, the hem of her gown reaching a good inch above the line that would have been decent and at least three inches above the length that was now in vogue.
He could hear the conjecture and the whispers all around, even if she did not seem to, and he wondered why the hell it should concern him anyway, but there was something about her. Some hint of familiarity.
Some elusive memory of fellowship that could not quite be shaken. How could he know her? He tried to determine the colour of her eyes, but from this distance he could not. Turning, he cursed the Countess of Haversham for being remiss in seeing to her niece's wardrobe and hairstyle, and left Lady Emma Seaton to the circling society wolves.
The room was crowded with men and women chatting at great speed and without pause, the music from a stringed quartet hardly discernible across the din.
Emerald frowned and sat, closing her eyes in order to listen better. People here did not seem to appreciate music, did not seem to understand that, when silence threaded the undertones, sound could be better heard, melody enhanced.
The music was unfamiliar, an English tune and lightly woven. She could almost feel her harmonica at her lips, notes soft across whisper-swelling seas. Jamaica crowded in like an ache.
Nay, she mustn't think of this, she admonished herself, drawing her body more upright in the chair and forcing herself to observe the pressing crowd around her.
This was her life for a time.
Her hands fingered the silk gown that swathed her from head to foot and, raising the third glass of fine champagne to her lips, she swallowed quickly. Good drink dulled her anxiety and heightened other senses. Sound. Smell. Feel. Every pore in her body longed for sun or wind or rain upon it, to break free of her high-waisted frilled bodice. To lie on summer-warm sand or in the wild grasses on the rise above Montego Bay or to dive deep into an azure sea, down and down until the bubbles tickled greenness and the other world was lost.
Letting out an audible sigh, she schooled her thoughts. 'No more memories,'she whispered beneath her breath and was pleased when her aunt sat down on the spare seat opposite. The paleness in her face, however, was alarming.
'Are you quite well, Aunt?'
'He is here, Emmie...' Miriam could barely enunciate the sentence.
'Who is here?' She knew which name she would hear even before her aunt spoke.
Panic raced across fear and anger.
Finally, he had come.
Weeks of waiting had strained her nerves almost to breaking point and the advances of the men here had become increasingly more difficult to discourage. But had he seen her? Would he remember?
Placing her glass upon the table, she refused more from a circulating waiter and her hand strayed to her hair to tuck in an errant curl. Please God, let it be enough, for, if he recognised her, everything would be lost.
'Where is he?' She hated the tight nervousness she was consumed with.
'Over in the corner by the door. He was watching you before. Watching closely.'
Resisting a strong urge to turn around, Emerald summoned up every reserve she had. 'Do you think he suspects?'
'No, for if he did he would have you dragged out of this place immediately, and hanged in the gallows of Tyburn as the daughter of a traitor.'
'He could do that?'
'Oh, you would be surprised what he can do, Emmie, and do with the impunity of a lord who thinks himself so utterly and morally right.'
'Then we must hurry to complete that which we came here to do. Now, look across at him. Slowly,' she added as her aunt's head jolted around. 'Is he carrying a cane of any sort?'
Emerald held her breath as her aunt looked. Could it really be this easy?
'No. He has a drink in his hand. Wine, I think and white.'
She tried not to let her frustration show.
'At least it will not mark this gown.' She had three dresses, procured from the second-hand markets in Monmouth Street, and with a dire lack of funds for any more, did not want this one ruined by a stain that she could never remove.
'Oh, my dear. Surely you do not intend to just bump into him? He would know a sham when he saw one, I am certain of it.'
'Do not worry, Aunt Miriam. I have done this before in Kingston and in Port Antonio when Beau wished for an introduction to some well-heeled stranger. Here it will be easy. Just a small push. Enough at least to allow me the beginnings of a conversation and the chance to be included for a while within his circle of friends.'
'This is the Duke of Carisbrook. Do not underestimate him as your father did.'