Only one wedding guest was frowning. He stood, arms crossed on his chest, and watched the other guests celebrating. It was a perfect evening for it. A Iong soft midsummer's evening, mild and balmy, the kind made famous by Shakespeare--the land that England rarely got in reality.
The wedding party had moved from the church to the groom's nearby estate for the reception. It was a glorious one, lasting from daylight into dusk. Musicians sat in leafy arbors and played. Lanterns hung from the trees, twinkling in the boughs like trapped stars. Torches flamed on the lawns, echoing the candlefilled chandeliers inside the house. The guests danced in the ballroom, onto the terrace, and then out on the scythed lawns that rolled to the river's edge and on into the coming night.
The frown didn't suit Lord Raphael Dalton. He wasn't much past thirty, but had a hard-planed, angular face with strict features, their only saving grace the surprisingly dark lashes that offset his deep blue eyes. He had tried very hard to compensate for his unfortunate red hair, cropping it ruthlessly close in a modish Brutus cut. But even that couldn't make it remotely fashionable. He was spared the pale, freckled skin that often went with such hair, his complexion tan and clear. He was lean, with a wide rack of shoulders, and bore himself as the military man he'd once been. Rafe didn't have a mild appearance; the scowl made him appear harsher.
He wasn't looking at his newly wed host and hostess. Instead, he didn't take his gaze from a dark lady standing on the terrace nearby. He watched her as closely and jealously as a cat at a mousehole.
Or so at least his friend, the earl of Drummond, remarked softly to him.
Rafe's head turned fast. He pinned his friend with a blazing look. "And how'd you know if you hadn't been watching her that closely yourself?" he snapped.
"By watching you, of course. I didn't have to even glance at her. Your eyes were mirrors of her soul," the tall, thin, languid earl answered. He saw Rafe's expression. "And if you hit me here and now," he added softly, "you'll disrupt this lovely wedding party."
Rafe blinked; his shoulders drooped. "Too right," he said, rubbing the back of his neck, "You're right. Damme, don't you get sick of being right, Drum?"
His friend shrugged and hid a smile. "Perfection is wearisome, I agree. But, Rafe, I thought you were as happy as I to see our friends wed. If you keep frowning like that, people will wonder if you see some problem with their union."
"Problem?" Rafe asked, amazed. "Did you ever see Wycoff so content?" he asked, looking at the groom. "Takes years from his face. And look at his Lucy. It does the heart good."
"Exactly, so stop scowling."
Rafe's harsh expression eased into genuine puzzlement.
"You look murderous."
"Do I?" Rafe's head went up. His cheeks grew warm. "Sorry. My thoughts were far from them. Little could make me happier than to see those two married."
"Little could make you happy indeed," Drum murmured.
Rafe still gazed at his dark lady. Only, the lady Annabelle was not his, and might never be, he reminded himself. Apart from the fact that he was a man women didn't look at twice--nor did he blame them for it--she was still bound heart and soul to another man. A man as unobtainable for her as she was for himself, Rafe thought savagely. The man she still yearned for was a good man, but well matched and married to another good person, so why didn't she cut line and move on? For the same reason you don't stop wanting her, he told himself as he stood watching her, helpless to look away. He hadn't expected to see her here, hadn't known she was a distant connection of the groom. She was so well born, she was...