Amanda Reynolds spied Captain Christian Ramsford across the ballroom. Dark and brooding, he looked as if he’d prefer a battlefield to Lady Catsworth’s society ball.
Amanda was the Season’s darling, a “diamond of the first water,” emulated by the ton’s young ladies and admired by its gentlemen -- except for one handsome cavalry captain. It stung that he disliked her. The captain’s vicar father had unexpectedly inherited a viscountcy, and it made Amanda sad that the Ramsfords still seemed on the fringe of the ton. If only the captain would accept her attempts at friendship, she could help him and his family take their rightful place in society. Amanda could introduce his mother to influential ladies. Take his sister to a fashionable modiste. Show the captain how to smile.
But he had no use for her.
He caught her watching him and, to her surprise, nodded to her.
Giddily gratified, she forced her attention back to the flock of men toiling to entertain her, but they suddenly backed away. The Earl of Greythorne, the man everyone expected her to marry, strode toward her.
“I would speak with you, Miss Reynolds.” Greythorne’s voice seethed with anger.
Her admirers fled. She was alone.
Greythorne seemed the perfect ton gentleman with his impeccable manners, superb tailoring, title and fortune, but lately Amanda’s friend Lord Devlin had informed her that Greythorne was a devotee of the Marquis de Sade. Amanda’s cheeks still burned from learning how some men derived pleasure from inflicting pain. She’d nearly recoiled when Greythorne approached her earlier that evening. She’d made known to him then her change of heart.
“I have nothing more to say to you, sir,” she told him now. She tried to push past him.
He grabbed her, his fingers digging into her flesh. “We will find someplace private.”
Suddenly, a man’s hand seized Greythorne’s arm. Captain Ramsford! Amanda went weak with relief. He, of all men, had come to her rescue.
“Miss Reynolds gave this dance to me, I believe,” Ramsford lied in a deep and dangerous voice.
Greythorne glared at him. “I have need of her.”
Ramsford merely increased the pressure on Greythorne’s arm until the man winced in pain and released her.
“This is not the end of it, my dear,” Greythorne snapped. “Not by any means.” He gave her a curt bow and spun on his heel.
Amanda gazed up at Ramsford, speechless in her gratitude.
He frowned as the musicians began to play a waltz. “I suspect we must dance.”
Only after he escorted her onto the dance floor did she find her tongue. “I must thank you, Captain.”
He peered into her eyes. “Did he injure you?”
She felt unable to breathe. “No…no….” They circled the floor before she spoke again. “You must wonder at that unfortunate incident.”
“It is none of my affair.” His tone was dry.
But Amanda wanted to tell him. She’d confided in no one else. “I…I refused his offer, you see. And he is quite angry.”
His step faltered, and his warm brown eyes bore into her. “You refused him?”
When he remembered to move, they again fell into the pattern of the dance, silent now, but Amanda had never felt so secure in a man’s arms. Amanda knew she would be safe from Greythorne the rest of the night. The captain would be looking out for her.
When the music ended, all too soon for Amanda, Ramsford delivered her to her aunt, made his bow, and walked away.
Aunt Ellen quickly drew her aside. “Lord Greythorne told me you refused his offer.”
Amanda, casting a longing glance back at Ramsford, tried to sound casual. “That is so.”
Ellen shook her. “You fool! Your birthday is but a month away.”
Amanda blinked. “Of what consequence is my birthday?”
Her aunt gave her an agonized look. “If you do not marry before your twenty-first birthday, you will forfeit your entire inheritance. You will be penniless.”