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LAST NIGHT'S SCANDAL
by Loretta Chase

Genre: Georgian Period, England, Scotland, Historical Romance

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The crowd was so thick that at first all the Earl of Lisle could see was the fashionably absurd coiffure rising above the men’s heads. Two birds of paradise seemed to have their beaks stuck into a great loop of . . . red hair. Very red hair.

Only one girl in all the world had that hair.

Well, then, no surprise to find Olivia at the center of a crowd of men. She had rank and a thumping great dowry. That would more than make up for . . .

The crowd parted then, giving him a full view. She turned his way and he stopped short.

He’d forgotten.

Those great blue eyes.

For a moment he stood, lost in a blue as deep as an Egyptian evening sky.

Then he blinked, and took in the rest, from the ridiculous birds hanging over the stiff loops of red hair to the pointed slippers peeping out from under the ruffles and furbelows at the hem of her pale green gown.
Then his gaze went up again, and his brain slowed to a crawl.

Between coiffure and shoes appeared a graceful arc of neck and smooth shoulders and a creamy bosom more than amply on display . . . and lower down, an armful of waist curving out gracefully into womanly hips . . .

No, that had to be wrong. Olivia was many things. Beautiful wasn’t one of them. Striking, yes: the fatally blue eyes and the vivid hair. Those were hers and no one else’s. And yes, that was her face under the absurd coiffure . . . but no, it wasn’t.

He stared, his gaze going up then down, again and again. The room’s heat was suddenly beyond oppressive and his heart was beating strangely and his mind was a thick haze of memories where he was searching to make sense of what his eyes told him.

He was dimly aware that he was supposed to say something, but he had no idea what. His manners had never been quite so instinctive as they ought to be. He was used to another world, another clime, other kinds of men and women. Though he’d learned to fit in this one, fitting in didn’t come naturally to him.  He’d never learned to say what he didn’t mean, and now he didn’t know what he meant to say.

At the moment, everything anybody had ever done to civilize him was lost. He beheld a vision that stripped away all the rules and meaningless phrases and proper ways to look and move and shredded them to bits and blew them away.

“Lord Lisle,” she said, with a graceful dip of her head that made the birds’ plumes flutter. “There’s a wager on, as to whether you’d turn up for Great-Grandmama’s party.”

At the sound of her voice, so familiar, Reason began to slog its way through the muck of confusion.

This was Olivia, Reason said. Here were the facts: her voice, her eyes, her hair, her face. Yes, her face was different because it had softened into womanliness. Her cheeks were softer, rounder. Her mouth was fuller . . .

He was aware of people talking, of this one asking that one who he was, and another answering. But all of that seemed to be in another world, irrelevant. He couldn’t see or hear or think anything but Olivia.

Then he discerned the glint of laughter in her eyes and the slight upturn of her mouth.

He came back to earth with a thunk that should have been audible on the other side of the great ballroom.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said.

“I’m glad to see you,” she said, “and not merely because I’ve won the wager.” She gave him one slow, assessing look that slid over his skin like fingertips and sent heat arrowing straight to his groin.

Ye gods, she was more dangerous than ever.

He wondered whose benefit that look was for. Was she simply exercising her power or was she trying to provoke all her admirers simultaneously by pretending he was the only man in the room?

Excellent work, either way.

All the same, enough was enough.

She wasn’t a little girl anymore—if she’d ever been a little girl—and he wasn’t a little boy. He knew how to play this game. He let his gaze drift down again to her breasts. “You’ve grown,” he said.