Lord Randolph Gresham has come to London for one reason only-to find a suitable wife. Verity Sinclair may be intelligent, beautiful, and full of spirit, but her father knows a secret about Randolph that makes her entirely unsuitable as his bride. Not right for him at all, never, not a chance.
Verity knows that Lord Randolph lives in a country parish, and she wants nothing more than to escape to town. He may be fascinating, attractive, rich, and the son of a duke, but she’ll never marry him, nor will she talk to him, flirt with him, walk with him, or dine with him. She’ll sing a duet with him, but only this one time, and only because everyone insists.
But one duet invariably leads to another.
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Randolph enjoyed the performances right up until the moment when the hostess said, “A little bird has told me that we have some other talented singers among us tonight.” She marched up to Randolph and took his arm, then pulled him over to Miss Sinclair and did the same with her. Ignoring their protests, she hustled them over to the pianoforte. “Now, now, no false modesty. I’m told that both of you are quite out of the ordinary.”
Randolph was proud of his musical skills. He even enjoyed showing them off, on certain occasions. This was not one of them. He glared at his brothers. Robert and Sebastian shook their heads, disavowing any hand in this development.
“We must have a duet,” Lady Tolland said, maintaining her grip on her captives. She turned to her guests. “Don’t you think?”
The answering applause was more curious than enthusiastic.
Recognizing inevitability when it stared him in the face, Randolph responded with a slight bow. On Lady Tolland’s other side, Miss Sinclair bobbed a tiny curtsy. Their hostess released them and stepped aside.
Meeting Miss Sinclair’s blue-green eyes, Randolph found his own emotions mirrored there. They were trapped together. He addressed the room. “Give us a moment to find some music.”
The concentrated attention focused on them lessened.
Randolph reached for the pile of sheet music lying on top of the pianoforte. His hand bumped Miss Sinclair’s, on the same mission. They both drew back, reached again, drew back again. With an exasperated sigh, Miss Sinclair took a step forward and spread the pages across the top of the instrument.
They looked together at a ballad. “Maudlin,” said Randolph.
“Saccharine,” said Miss Sinclair at the same moment.
They exchanged a brief, startled glance.
“Trite,” she judged the next piece in line.
“Tired,” Randolph said simultaneously.
Their eyes swiftly met and parted again. Unconsciously, they moved closer together as they considered a third choice. “Overly complex,” said Miss Sinclair.
“Pretentious,” said Randolph. “‘The more notes the better’ is not a wise rule of thumb for a composer.” Miss Sinclair giggled. It was an engaging sound, low and throaty. He rather liked it. Randolph leafed through more sheet music and finally glimpsed something he liked. “Ah,” he said.
“Oh,” said Miss Sinclair at the same instant. Randolph tugged at the page and found that she was pulling at the other side. They unearthed the music together. “One of my favorites,” he said.
“Mine, too,” she said.
They looked at each other, equally surprised, speculative.
“No need to be too scrupulous,” called Lady Tolland from the crowd. “I’m sure we will enjoy whatever you sing.”
Verity started. She’d been quite…lost for a moment there. She let go of the sheet music and took a step back. “Will you play?” she said.
Lord Randolph gestured toward the keyboard. “I defer to you.”
“I’d rather you did.” When it seemed he would protest, she added, “I’ve never sung before such a large group. I suppose you have.”
He gave in at once and sat down at the pianoforte. He had beautiful hands, Verity noticed. He touched the keys with delicate authority. But they’d had no chance to discuss how they would harmonize.
Lord Randolph played the opening notes. Verity took a breath, set aside her nerves, and began to sing. She’d performed in other drawing rooms. She knew her voice was good. She’d had fine teachers. The melody belled out and filled the room.
At the perfect juncture, Lord Randolph joined in. He had a lovely resonant baritone, a perfect counterpoint to her soprano. His voice was full and rich, obviously well trained. It wove around hers as if they’d sung together a thousand times.
The song dipped and soared. He shifted into a more complex harmony. Verity followed. She tried a small flourish. He extended it without hesitation. The chiming sound vibrated in her body, an amazing sensation.
She embellished a sequence. He elaborated on her embroidery. With a smile and a little nod, he varied the tempo. She swooped in effortlessly to answer the change. It was a glorious, intimate call and response. As if they could read each other’s minds. As if their bodies pulsed to the same rhythms. This was music she could never make alone.
Verity was swept away. She was always moved by music, but this was beyond anything she’d ever experienced. The room, the crowd, disappeared from her consciousness. Only their twined voices existed. Meeting Lord Randolph’s intense blue eyes, she saw that he felt the same. It was as if their souls communed. She couldn’t look away.
The song came to an end. The harmony died. Verity’s careful breath control evaporated. Her hands shook. Lord Randolph blinked. He looked down at the keys of the pianoforte.
The burst of applause was a stunning intrusion. They both started. Verity felt the pounding palms as an intolerable sound. She wanted to put her hands over her ears. Lord Randolph recovered more quickly. He rose, took her hand, and led her in a bow. Verity clung to his fingers.
People rushed over, full of chattering praise. They were like a surging mob. Lord Randolph let go of her hand, and Verity felt bereft. Clearly she’d judged this man too hastily. She wished she could take back some of the things she’d said to him. All of the things, really.
As Randolph acknowledged the barrage of compliments, he struggled to gather his scattered faculties, and to comprehend that…extraordinary experience. He was astonished and unsettled and aroused. He’d never imagined such an instant, automatic link. And yet it had happened. He couldn’t deny that. With a rude girl who didn’t even like him, an inner voice warned. Who scorned his countrified position. Who thought him, in a word, a failure.
“Oh, Miss Sinclair, the archbishop must be so proud of you,” simpered a turbaned lady at his elbow. And there was that, Randolph thought. He mustn’t forget that complication. This was all as unfortunate as it was unexpected. He struggled to control his expression. Feeling uncomfortably exposed, he turned. As if he’d spoken his need aloud, he found Sebastian beside him. “All right, there, Ran?” he said.
His hulking military brother could be remarkably like a sheltering wall, Randolph thought.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jane Ashford discovered Georgette Heyer in junior high school and was captivated by the glittering world and witty language of Regency England. That delight was part of what led her to study English literature and travel widely in Britain and Europe. She has written historical and contemporary romances, and her books have been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Spain, as well as the United States. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews. She lives in Beverly Hills, CA.