Today's Reading

PROLOGUE

Eric Marshall, Duke of Brentworth commanded attention when he entered the drawing room. He made his presence known through no effort or intention. Everyone noticed him arrive. Even the other dukes in attendance, Stratton and Langford, turned their heads and caught his eye.

Davina had been waiting for him.

She wanted to take his measure today. One should do that before engaging an enemy.

Tall and proud, his height alone made him dominate the chamber. His gaze that shot through all that it saw, but not with disdain so much as with perception.

Rather suddenly Davina's mission while in London became more difficult. She had prepared herself to handle conceit and arrogance. This man struck her as more complicated than that.

"That is Brentworth." Lady Farnsworth tipped her head close to confide his identity, interrupting the long opinion she had been sharing with Davina about a political matter. "It is a wonder he deigned to suffer our company."

"He appears very proud." Davina glanced again at the duke, who had been absorbed into a little group by their hostess, the Duchess of Stratton.

"It is a family trait, as is his enigma. I think he believes it amusing to be a cipher. I personally find it irritating." Lady Farnsworth's shot sharp looks past Davina. An authoress of middle age, Lady Farnsworth had become notable for both her eccentricity and pointed prose, and never swallowed opinions.

"Surely with friends and family he is less...formal." The wrong word, but the best she could muster at the moment.

"Possibly Stratton and Langford know the real man, since they are old friends. I daresay no one else does."

"Perhaps he is hiding something." It slipped out, a thought that entered her mind while she considered the controlled precision of his public demeanor.

"What an odd thing to suggest. Why would you think that?"

"It has been my experience that when people guard their words and actions overmuch, and reveal little of their inner characters, that is one possible reason."

Lady Farnsworth shifted so she could watch the duke. Her new pose meant the cream lace on her old-fashioned gray dress and the long length of her rose-festooned shawl crowded Davina. "He doesn't miss much, for all of his apparent disinterest. He is noticing every person here with those cold eyes of his, even as he attends to Clara's conversation."

Davina would not have described those eyes as cold. Cold implied flat and blank, like ice shields blocking any inspection of the soul. From what she had seen, the duke's eyes were full of depths, as if a gaze into them would leave one lost in a fruitless search, seeking a way out.

"He has noticed you. Since you are the only one here he does not know, he was sure to be curious." Lady Farnsworth made a display of turning her attention elsewhere. "Clara is bringing him over for an introduction. Do not worry. I will remain with you. I know most women find him frightening."

Davina already knew he approached, even if her back faced him now. She felt him get closer, step by step. She did not find him frightening. She merely knew she needed to collect every bit of her determination, so she might face him as something of an equal.

The Duchess of Stratton inserted herself into their tete-a-tete while the duke hovered at her shoulder. "You know Lady Farnsworth, of course, duke. She is one of the journal's most significant contributors," she said. "And this is our newest one, Miss Davina MacCallum."

The duke engaged Lady Farnsworth in a few words, then turned his attention on Davina. She straightened her spine and gave as good as she got, examining him closely while those gray eyes took in her most thoroughly. She saw him notice how the dressing of her hair could not hide its shortened length. With one glance he identified her meager resources when it came to her wardrobe. If, like most men, he also assessed other things such as her face and form, he was subtle to the point where she doubted he would have any memory of either.
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