Coralie angled her teacup, the simple, undecorated white one she preferred. If shifted properly to the light, it showed the next table’s occupants in miniature below the rim, adding a visual element to the overheard discourse. At this afternoon hour the window’s sunlight didn’t stretch as far as the dark paneling, leaving the little cup and its miniature reflected stage the natural subject for her attention. She could only be grateful the gentlemen at the next table had never figured it out.
Beyond Mr. Rainier’s splendid profile, the Duke of Cumberland’s stare bored into her and refused to shift. Coralie fought to maintain her relaxed composure. Surely no tell-tale emotion or passing thought had shown in her stance or behavior and given her absorption away. Could he even see her face? Surely not.
Mr. Rainier flicked his fingers, an economical and dismissive gesture, elegant brevity in motion and a standard to be copied. “What purpose does a rocky promontory serve? It is, and that’s sufficient. However, if one must assign a purpose to all things, then taste, a proper understanding of fashion and poetry and all the other trappings of a cultured life — taste can be used in the same way as manners, as a measurement for breeding. Because one cannot find good taste without also finding good breeding, nor vice versâ.”
Even in miniature, it was impossible to miss the way the duke’s eyes narrowed. “Mr. Rainier, your argument seems to equate the appearance of good breeding with its actual being.”
“Naturally.” Mr. Rainier’s smile could only be described as serene, and with her shoulder more fully turned away from their view, Coralie permitted herself an answering smile. “Is the existence of good taste more important than its usage? In this instance, can there be a difference between appearance and reality?”
Coralie pursed her lips. It was an interesting thought. Could a person without inherent elegance put on fashionable attire, behave in a cultured manner, and change himself?
A handsome man, the Duke of Cumberland, even reduced to a tiny image on the side of her teacup. And splendidly dressed, his claret-colored cutaway coat emphasizing his athletic shoulders and trim waist. But perhaps he didn’t know as much as her excellent Mr. Rainier regarding breeding and taste--
He was staring at her again, as if she were someone important, someone mesmerizing. Someone for whom he could cheerfully ignore the entire discussion, even whilst taking part in it.
While she’d prefer to ignore him and listen.
She shifted her cup away as Mr. Culver twisted again in his seat. Their gazes met in the teacup’s reflection. Coralie glanced aside — and ran into Mr. Anson’s stare as he turned, too. Drat them all. There didn’t seem to be anywhere she could look without meeting someone’s gaze. Even sweet Mrs. Lacey, sipping her white tea with a gentle, knowing smile, watched Coralie with silently lifted eyebrows.
Vexing man, that duke, for interfering with her enjoyment. Inelegant, despite his attire, which perhaps gave the lie to Mr. Rainier’s argument. Perhaps the duke’s quite impressive standard of dress didn’t testify to manners or breeding; perhaps the evidence didn’t hold, in the case of a rake.
For rake he surely must be. Staring at her in such a forward and indelicate manner — how could he dare? And vexing didn’t begin to describe his interference. She’d managed to keep her stealthy observations unnoticed for months. But finally it was coming to an end.
Coralie couldn’t help it. Without her permission, her gaze left the white teacup’s looking glass, strayed over her shoulder, and meshed with Mr. Rainier’s distracted glance her way. His eyes were dark grey-blue, the color of the sky beneath storm clouds; his hair, the hue of old supple leather, waved about his face in crisp, fluid lines. Heavy eyelids lent a sultry edge to his face, and his lips were surprisingly lush, surprisingly attractive. The face of a dramatist, sensitive and strong, as he poured forth words on the state of the human heart; the face of a Romantic artist as he stared into a mirror, sketching a self-portrait.
The face she’d see in her dreams for the rest of her life.
It was the first time Coralie had ever held his gaze, the first time he’d ever noticed her, and so the first time she’d ever experienced the full power of his focused intensity. The heat in her face, already uncomfortable since the duke had fastened his attention upon her, redoubled until she thought she’d burst into flames. Her blood rushed through her at breakheart speed. Mr. Rainier’s passionate glance, almost a physical force of nature, stroked across her skin.
Like a lover.
Hope you enjoyed the read! Shenanigans in Berkeley Square, the third book in the series The Scoundrel of Mayfair, is available wherever fine ebooks are sold for the low, low price of only 99¢. (Can’t you just hear that late-night television barker chanting his lines? )
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