Risking it All for the Sinful Earl – Lucy Langton

Lady Emilia Grey looked about the stately ballroom of Lady Constance Belmore and felt her heart beat wildly in her chest. It was her first ball of her first London season, and Lady Emilia didn’t feel entirely ready to face the ton. Her brother and chaperone, Lord Roderick Grey, had assured Emilia that despite her tendency towards shyness, she’d make a fantastic debut at the tender age of eighteen, but Emilia thought otherwise. She was not the kind of girl who found interaction with the fellow upper echelon of society to be difficult. In fact, Emilia had an effortless, attractive mystique. At least, that was what confidantes had told her for some time. For Emilia, this merely came from a genuine interest in other people. She tended to like those she met for the first time, even if they were a tad haughty, for Emilia Grey found society in general to be quite fascinating. Despite the fascination, Emilia preferred quiet evenings at home with a book on her lap, her brother seated beside her. She’d remark to Roderick about which passages were funny, amusing, or even shocking. He would laugh in the face of Emilia’s delight. But she did have to admit that when she was wrapped up in a good book, she could become rather animated. But Emilia was far less animated that evening at Lady Constance Belmore’s ball. As everyone around her was in such over-the-top fits of gaiety – perhaps because they felt that they must – Emilia chose to merely be amused by it all. “And to think,” Roderick said, seeing the delighted smile upon her face.

“You wished to remain in the country this season.” “It was you who said you wished to remain in the country!” Emilia protested. “That was because I forgot how old you are. I had to remind myself that you are no longer ten years of age and, therefore, coming to the London season is now a duty of yours, and of mine.” “You did not have to come. You could have just thrown me to the wolves.” “There’s nothing I want more in life than to see you fight off the wolves,” Roderick said with a smile. He regarded his sister for a moment, and Emilia feared she was being inspected in a way that did not make her entirely comfortable. “You look beautiful, sister,” Roderick finally said. “It fills me with disgust.

” In response to this, Emilia smiled yet again. “It is my mission to repulse you.” “But in all truth,” Roderick went on, his tone changing. “You’re a vision. Mother and Father would be proud.” Emilia saw a tear come to her brother’s eye and she, herself, needed to fight back a sob. The siblings had never known their parents in their adult lives. The Baron and Baroness of Rutledge had tragically died when Emilia and Roderick were still babies. Although Emilia always gazed at their paintings upon the wall, she had no recollection of what they had looked like in real life. And Emilia did truly hope that her parents would be proud of her.

She was the very image of the baroness, with her long, reddish-brown hair and warm brown eyes. And she had her father’s height as well, a long, elegant form that gentlemen always admired. Whenever Emilia caught a man admiring her gamine, lean elegance, she would knit her brow in confusion. In Emilia’s estimation, she was still the tomboyish adventurer who used to journey the hillsides, book in hand. But Emilia did have to admit that things had changed since she turned eighteen. Coming out into society and finding a husband were duties she had to face. Roderick was good enough to be by her side, and Emilia hoped that he, in kind, might find a wife. Roderick, as well, was looking more and more like their late father every day. If Emilia was tall, then Roderick was exceedingly so. He had a strong jaw and the same soft brown eyes.

Sometimes, when Emilia looked into those eyes, she saw herself. “I fear this gown was the wrong choice,” Emilia said regretfully. “What do you mean?” Roderick asked, looking down at her pale blue dress. “I have no doubt that all these women are clothed in fabric from France,” Emilia said, with trepidation in her voice. Roderick looked around the ballroom and laughed. Emilia could see that he understood her meaning, for all the women were draped in fabric so lavish and refined they may have been more likened to upholstered furniture from Versailles than women at a ball. Apparently, the trend was for large plumes of feathers in the ladies’ hair as well as several bejewelled gold bracelets along the wrists, atop silk gloves that stretched up one’s arms as high as could be. For Emilia’s part, her hair was simply done, there were no bangles upon her wrists, the fabric of her gown was plain, and her gloves barely passed her elbows. Essentially, Emilia felt that she had a lot to learn. “It is a bit of a peacock farm, isn’t it?” Roderick said.

It wasn’t that Emilia and her brother were lacking in funds. Whatever the Baron and Baroness of Rutledge owned was passed down to them, and they spent that fortune modestly. Neither of them went for extravagance and so they were prudent with their funds. And, being prudent was quite necessary for the Greys since, living off their parents’ estate, there was no additional income in the near future that they could depend upon. “If only old Stanley could be here,” Roderick said, taking a flute of champagne from a passing tray. “He’d leave at once.” “That is very true,” Emilia replied with a laugh. “I fear that Lord Stanley would scarce last a moment.” Emilia was referring to their uncle, Lord Stanley Grey, the late baron’s brother. Upon the death of their parents, Lord Stanley raised the siblings until Roderick was of the appropriate age to be Emilia’s protector.

Emilia and Roderick found Stanley amusing as they grew up. Something of a curmudgeon, and a stout fellow, Stanley was always complaining about one thing or another, and had no taste for society. He would scarce invite anyone to the home to dine with him. He preferred quiet and solitude. Emilia always wondered if she inherited this from him. “But you realise,” Emilia went on, “Stanley would do perfectly well after a few glasses of champagne.” “That is the honest truth,” Roderick replied, raising his glass into the air as though toasting their beloved Uncle Stanley. And although they did love the man and were indebted to him, both knew there was never a closeness between them. Stanley was a distant man, bound to duty, but still with an air of detachment. For these reasons, Uncle Stanley would never feel like a father to them.

“Would you care to dance?” Roderick asked. “I can’t dance with you,” Emilia protested, taking a dramatic step away from him. “Not with me, silly. I’m referring to one of the eligible gentlemen on your dance card.” Emilia had forgot about the dreaded dance card. Although the thought of dancing with handsome strangers did fill her with excitement, Emilia thought the prospect of being forced to dance with anyone to be terrifying at best. What if there was poor conversation? What if the man was cruel or haughty? What if she stepped on his toes? The latter possibility was the most horrifying, for Emilia was always stepping on toes during dances. Looking down at the card, Emilia couldn’t help but muse over the thought of being someone’s wife. There was no pressing need for it, of course. The Greys were financially on solid ground and her elder brother was still not married.

It would be the custom for Roderick to take a wife before Emilia took a husband. But Emilia had to admit that, despite her independent spirit and casual, shy nature, the prospect of marrying did thrill her as well as the idea of creating a family with someone she loved. But the heartbreak wrapped up in all of this was the notion of change. Emilia loved her brother dearly and because of their shared history was closer to him than brother and sister usually were. Roderick was her dearest friend. It pained her to think that both of them were now at the age where they should marry and drift apart. Could her husband ever be as dear a friend to her as Roderick was? Emilia greatly hoped so. “Who makes the decisions about these dance cards?” Emilia asked, thinking that her brother was much more informed about the ways of society than she was. “Our honourable hostess, of course. Lady Constance Belmore,” he said, motioning towards where the hostess sat fanning herself, surrounded by an entourage of admirers.

“She is beautiful, is she not?” Emilia said, marvelling at Lady Constance’s Viking-like blonde hair and blue eyes. “She has more money than god,” Roderick replied. “Funny she’s not yet married. I hear she’s in the midst of her twenties.” “Although Lady Constance is rich, she’s also rather an unpleasant woman,” Roderick explained. “How so?” “Lady Constance has a rude, quarrelsome tongue. If you have anything nasty to say, go and sit beside her.” “I never quite understood all that,” Emilia remarked. “Society and its mean, gossiping tongues.” “It’s a sport, dear sister.

Once you’re in society for long enough, you begin to understand.” “I don’t imagine I’ll be in society long enough for that to happen to me.” “No, your plan is to get in and then out swiftly. I can see it in your eyes,” Roderick said. “You’re just going to snatch up a husband like a sneaky bandit and then run back to the country with your spoils.” “Brother, you’re making my sides ache,” Emilia protested, keeling over with laughter. “Then you’ll lock your husband up in a room and only let him out at certain hours of the day. Occasionally, you’ll bring him bread to feed on.” “Stop it, Roderick,” Emilia protested, the pain from all the laughter not abating. “If I’m to be stealthy in this marriage business,” Emilia went on, speaking as best she could through her tears, “then I imagine that you will be rather slow, like the fifty-year-old bachelor that one hears of at Almack’s every Wednesday night, always looking for a wife.

” “That will, indeed, be me,” Roderick said, taking a fresh flute of champagne and placing his empty one upon the passing tray. “I plan to draw this business out for as long as possible. You may be uncomfortable here, but I’m rather enjoying myself.” “Is that so? When we first arrived, you looked rather bored.” Roderick’s delighted expression slowly sank, as though a thought had occurred to him. He took a hearty sip of his drink and considered his words. Emilia had never seen her brother turn so serious. “Have I said something wrong?” Emilia asked. “No, no,” Roderick said, his voice distant. “I fear this champagne is going too quickly to my head.

” “Why did you turn so sad? When I said that you looked bored?” Emilia asked, thinking it strange. “We’ll talk of it later. For now, we must deal with Lady Constance Belmore.” “And why is that?” Emilia asked. “Because she’s walking this way.” Emilia turned to, indeed, find Lady Constance upon them. “There’s a new face,” Lady Constance said, her blue eyes shimmering like water. “Such a lovely home you have,” Emilia replied by way of being cordial. “I take the opportunity to invite guests whenever I can. Especially new ones.

” “I’m indebted to your kindness.” “How does it feel to be out in society, Lady Emilia?” “So far? It feels rather…uneventful.” Just then, Roderick nudged his sister in the back, signifying that she may have suffered a faux pas. “I mean, I haven’t even shared one dance with anyone,” Emilia added, trying to amend the situation. “There will be plenty of time for that,” Lady Constance replied, then turned her attention to Roderick. “Your face is much more familiar.” “We have met previously, yes,” Roderick replied. “So delighted to have you in my home,” Lady Constance said with a winning smile, to which Roderick smiled back. “If you’ll excuse me,” she added before departing. “She was flirting with you,” Emilia said teasingly.

“Stop it.” “She was. It was written clearly on her face.” “Lady Constance is far out of my league.” Emilia couldn’t help but think that Lady Constance Belmore was out of her league as well. Standing before her hostess, Emilia was reminded of everything that made her unfit for society. She didn’t have that winning smile that Lady Constance had, in her own estimation. Not only that, her dress was subpar in comparison. These things didn’t bother Emilia too much. She had no great ambitions to be a perfect fit for the ton.

Yet still, she did wish to present herself appropriately. Or at the very least to not embarrass herself. “She was not mean-spirited in the slightest,” Emilia finally said. “Because she was flirting with me, indeed,” Roderick replied. “Tell me,” Emilia went on, curiosity getting the better of her. “If you could select one lady to dance with – any lady in this room,” Emilia said, wishing to know her brother’s mind. She found it fun to talk with him about his affections for ladies. “Whom would you dance with?” “Anyone?” “Anyone.” Roderick looked about the room, and yet again that mien of sadness came over him. Emilia cocked her head in confusion at the sight of it.

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