I Close My Eyes by Regina Puckett
I Close My Eyes
by Regina Puckett
2017 Finalist in the Readers' Favorite Historical Romance Awards
The last thing The Duke of Greystone wants is a wife, until The Lady Jane Blackmore seeks out his quiet corner of Earl Braxton’s ballroom. But there she stands, attempting to shut out the rest of the world by simply closing her eyes, but the duke understands better than most that life is never that simple.
The last thing Jane wants is a husband, until she opens her eyes to find the scarred and much too handsome stranger secluded in her chosen quiet corner. Why can’t the obstinate man understand she just needs a brief moment of solitude before returning to face her tormentors? But no matter how many times she tells him to go away, he remains. So is it her fault that her father misunderstands the young duke’s intentions?
I Close My Eyes
She pressed even closer to the column and once more closed her eyes. How was it that each and every time she went out in public something horrible happened? As huge as the Braxton’s London house was, how was it that she had managed to pick the only corner that had hidden a mad man? She was doomed. There was no way the three of them were ever going to go unnoticed now.
Jane might have remained close up against the column all night had she not recognized the deep resonating throat now being cleared.
Why couldn’t he just go away? “Shush.”
“Stop shushing me and open your eyes.”
He clearly wasn’t going to take the hint, and he was certainly no gentleman. Jane only opened her eyes again because she despaired that it was time to give up at last. She only hoped the nuns would be kind to her.
Her determined new acquaintance grinned before turning to his friend. “Robert, we have a slight difficulty that only a man of your good standing can help us with.” The handsome stranger dipped his head to the other man. “Would you be so kind as to introduce the two of us?”
Jane knew Robert, but seriously doubted the viscount would know her own name. After all, he was first rate marriage material, so Jane had hardly ever been near the handsome man. It hadn’t, though, precluded her from admiring Viscount Worthington’s guileless, even if a mite too beautiful face. Never having been this close before, she had never noticed how brilliant blue were his eyes, stunningly beautiful but ever so kind. The viscount clearly thought his friend had lost his mind, but his good manners and gentle nature kept him rooted before Jane.
Over the previous two seasons she had kept a conceit: that the viscount had been her brother. She had often thought that if she had had an older brother he would have put a stop to all the vicious attacks she had had to endure since her coming out. And now that he was standing in front of her, Jane saw that he was every bit the man she had always dreamed him to be. There was no hiding the strength of character in his eyes and in his confident demeanor.
Jane’s make-believe brother bowed and then smiled. Deep dimples in his cheeks came out of nowhere, and if she hadn’t before understood why all the unmarried ladies chased after him, in that moment she did.
“But, my dear Phillip,” he implored, “the lady is far too lovely to draw into what is certain to become a scandal. We must escort her back to the dance floor before such a thing can happen.” The viscount smiled at Jane, as if to apologize, but she knew that scandal seemed drawn to her every appearance in polite society. But the man who seemed intent on engineering her next one now gave a polite bow.
“And one of the many reasons,” he grinned, “why we should hurry the introductions along.”
Jane had become distracted by the way her dashing stranger’s unruly dark curls fell into his eyes every time he bowed, although she did note a certain reticence held the viscount back.
“My good lady,” he finally said, a smile lifting a corner of his mouth, “if you would permit me to introduce my best friend, The Duke of Greystone. And, Phillip, this is the beautiful Lady Jane Blackmore.”
Jane couldn’t help but blink at hearing the stranger’s name, although she tried to remain calm. It had only recently come up in conversation, that afternoon as it happened, whilst enjoying high tea at Lady Harper’s home.
Jane’s gaze wandered back to the man’s scar, her interest piqued as to whether or not the rumor was indeed true. But then here he stood in front of her, his face scarred just as Lily had said it would be.
If Phillip noticed her staring, he didn’t show it but took her hand.
His devilish grin returned. “My friends call me Phillip, and I think by now you should consider us good friends, since we’ve shared such a special moment here behind Lord Braxton’s ferns.”
Jane’s mouth fell open.
He grinned again. “Why is it we’ve never met?”
Trying to recover from her shock, Jane curtsied. The Duke of Greystone? Her father was simply going to kill her when he discovered she had made a total fool out of herself in front of a duke.
She hoped by the time she met his eyes again her expression would once more be the fake smile her stepmother had drilled into her since the vile woman had married her father, what now felt far longer than ten years earlier.
Jane glanced at the wet stain running down her yellow ball gown and then back at the duke. “Unfortunately, I seldom make it past the first dance before disaster befalls me and I have to leave.”
The two men looked at her punch-stained dress but Phillip recover his good manners first. He took Jane’s hand and kissed it. “Then the fault lies with me, because I should have been by your side to stop such a cruel disaster from ruining your night. I’ll certainly make a point of doing so in the future.”
It was a kind gesture and it did what it was clearly meant to do—Jane blushed again. “Thank you, but we both know this will be my last time out in public if we don’t soon go our separate ways. Someone is bound to notice us huddled here in this corner. Please excuse me and I’ll go find my father. I may as well accept defeat before he comes looking for me.”
Jane didn’t immediately leave, though, but flipped her fan open and yet again furiously fanned her hot cheeks. There was something rather marvelous about being surrounded by two handsome men. Why not enjoy these last few moments of freedom before being locked away in a convent, where she would no doubt die of either boredom or a rash from her woolen habit?
But then she looked over Phillip’s shoulder and her heart sank, the best night she had ever had about to come crashing down around her ears.
Before either man could notice her distracted look, she pointed her fan over their shoulders and told them: “Gentlemen, you are about to meet my father, His Grace Stratton Blackmore, The Duke of Rutherford.”
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