Seduced by the Brazen Baron – Ella Edon

With the music swirling overhead, and the large ballroom brimming with fashionable guests and desirable young ladies as far as the eyes could see, Michael’s boredom almost felt like a betrayal. He raised a glass of wine to his lips, watching as lords and ladies waltzed around in the center of the room to the lilting music, their slow movements making Michael’s boredom deepen. He sighed. “Mind it,” came a low drawl next to him. “If you dare to sigh again, you just might bring the ceiling down around our heads.” Michael didn’t bother to look over at his friend’s sarcastic tone. “At least it will make this night more entertaining.” “If you deem crawling out from under heavy rubble entertaining, then I do not understand how we are friends.” The slight humor he detected had Michael glancing to his left, his lips quirking at the sight of Stephen’s smirk. Stephen raised his own glass of wine to his lips and met Michael’s eyes. “I must say that I am quite surprised, though. I thought you quite enjoyed balls.” “I thought so too,” Michael said with a nod. He looked back ahead and swallowed the sigh that bubbled up his throat. “Or, rather, I once did.

I’m afraid it no longer has the luster it once held.” “How unfortunate to hear.” They were standing by the refreshments table, within reaching distance of more glasses of wine if they needed it. Nearby stood a door that led into a small parlor where Michael knew the other gentlemen of this ball—the ones who were also disinterested in talking and dancing—sat drinking whiskey and playing card games. Michael felt inclined to join them. But he’d never been one to mingle with those he did not know very well. Because of that, other men marked him as unfriendly and unapproachable simply because Michael was more than content sharing his time with his only close friend—Stephen Johnson. The fact that they had grown up together in the countryside had made their bond one that could never be broken. He supposed that was why Stephen was standing here with him sharing in Michael’s boredom, rather than enjoying a few games of whist with the other gentlemen. While he did not particularly care for the company of other men, however, it was quite the opposite for the ladies.

Michael scanned the room, noting that quite a few of the young debutante ladies were looking his way interestedly. The sight of them should have inspired eagerness within him, but he only felt resigned. “I see Miss Belinda is in attendance tonight,” Stephen spoke up. Michael looked at him in time to see Stephen jerk his chin to the left. His dark brown hair shifted out of place a bit and Stephen reached up and tucked the tuft back into position. “Have you greeted her yet?” “I shan’t,” Michael said. Stephen looked at him, no surprise in his eyes. In fact, he too seemed a little resigned— and just a tad amused. “Do not tell me you have fallen out of favor with her,” he said. “Rather,” Michael explained in a disinterested rumble.

“ She has bored me. I find I cannot remain in her company when she only ever talks about her paintings all day.” “She is quite artistic, I hear,” Stephen mused. “And has a lovely voice.” “Yes, if only she wasn’t so determined on always using it for speaking.” Michael didn’t have to look in Miss Belinda’s direction to know that she was staring at him. She’d been doing so ever since he arrived. For a while, he’d wondered if she would muster up the courage to approach him, but it appeared she was far more timid in public than she was behind closed doors. “The last I checked,” Stephen replied, “you did not mind her talkative nature.” Michael chuckled at that, knowing exactly what Stephen meant.

“She is quite the beauty, but it has reached a point where I simply cannot deal with it any longer, no matter how lovely she may be on the eyes. Perhaps you would like to try her out for yourself and then you will understand what I mean?” Michael suggested, wagging his brows with a small smile. “You have no fear of God, it seems,” Stephen mused, shaking his head. Michael only shrugged. He didn’t feel bad for leaving Miss Belinda behind, even without so much as a word as to why he no longer wanted to see her. She’d known who he was before he approached her, had known of his particularly rakish reputation, and yet, she’d willingly fallen in love. He surmised that she’d believed she would be the one to change him. There had been many who had made that mistake before. He couldn’t be the one to be blamed for her heartbreak, and now that he was done with her, he had nothing else to occupy his time. Stephen, the second son of a proud and pious Viscount, had a family more concerned for his reputation than Michael did, and so as such had mostly been only a witness to Michael’s more immoral exploits, keeping his own nose clean.

Michael’s suggestion had partly been in jest, but he sometimes wondered if his friend wished to enjoy himself the way Michael had been. It was hardly fair he’d had all the fun over the last two years they’d spent in London, and now they had left the city, it seemed there would hardly be a chance of any kind of scandalous fun to tempt either of them. It seems there will be no hope of a new conquest here tonight. Perhaps I should just return home. The moment the words crossed his mind, a lady crossed his vision. She seemed to materialize out of nowhere, her cerulean ballgown drifting around her gentle curves as she turned to speak to the lady on her right. Her hair, like strands spun from gold, was twisted up into an elegant style, wisps framing a heart-shaped face. It was Lady Selina, the daughter of the Earl of Warwick. Michael knew of her the same way most gentlemen did—as the beautiful lady who had rejected any and all of the gentlemen who approached her. He’d seen her once before, but the moment had been too brief to be of note, he had not spoken to her.

Michael had been courting another lady at that time, he didn’t let his attention drift to a shy closeted debutant. Now, he couldn’t fathom how he’d been distracted from such a vision. The sight of her was like a punch to his guts, familiar tendrils of lust spreading throughout his body. He smirked to himself as the blood rushed from his head, taking in the silky gown and how it framed a generous bust and lovely hips. I can already tell that she has a perfect figure underneath that gown. I wonder, has any other gentleman been lucky enough to witness it? “In truth,” Stephen was saying, completely oblivious to Michael’s distracted attention, “I did not think Miss Belinda would fall for your charms. As I’ve heard, the Duke of Hollwell is quite protective of his daughter, and quite religious.” “That is precisely why she was so willing,” Michael responded, his eyes never leaving Lady Selina for a second. She laughed at something the lady on her right was saying, but then her smile slipped away nearly instantly. If Michael didn’t know any better, he might think she was as bored as he was.

Though, perhaps he was not any longer. “Though,” he continued, “it would not have made a difference. I can charm any lady in England.” “You think too highly of yourself,” Stephen quipped without malice. “With such a large head, my friend, it is a wonder how you fit in through the doors.” Michael wrenched his gaze away from Lady Selina for a brief moment to look at Stephen. “Surely, you do not doubt me?” “I do not doubt that you are gifted in that aspect,” Stephen said. “But every lady in England? Come now.” “Are you willing to place a bet on it?” Michael challenged, a grin slowly stretching across his face. Stephen met his eyes and Michael saw the usual spark of competition light up the muddy brown.

“Very well, then,” Stephen agreed with a nod. Then he looked back in front, searching through the crowd before him. Michael caught when his eyes darkened with mischief before Stephen said, “Surely you know of Lady Selina of Warwick, do you?” Well, well. What are the odds? Michael smirked, looking back at the graceful lady who captured the attention of all the men around her. It intrigued him to see that she didn’t seem oblivious to those eyes. Instead, she appeared disinterested—even when she glanced in Michael’s direction and then slid her gaze away as if he was nothing more than a blade of grass. “I believe every gentleman knows of Lady Selina,” Michael murmured, running his gaze down the length of her body. The candlelight within the ballroom not only illuminated her graceful figure, but sparked images in Michael’s mind that made his body go hot. “Then you are aware that this is her third Season, yes? And she has earned herself the reputation as the Aloof Princess. She’s received so many marriage proposals and have turned down every single one of them.

” Stephen sounded proud of himself for having chosen such a difficult lady. The Aloof Princess was quite fitting. The men that surrounded her might as well be decoration with how little she cared about them. The boredom was already lifting as Michael studied his new challenge. Her beauty would make this quite easy for him. A lady he could not look at would prove to be a little more difficult. “What are the terms of this bet?” he asked Stephen. “No terms,” Stephen said confidently. Michael raised a brow at him. “Are you so certain that I will not be able to court her?” “Your reputation precedes you, Michael,” Stephen said with a shrug.

“And from what I have heard, Lady Selina does not care for looks or prestige, but she wants to fall in love. But if you believe that you have the power to charm any lady you set your eyes on, I am more than willing to watch you test your claim.” A mad grin stretched across Michael’s face as he looked back at Lady Selina. She didn’t seem to care to pay anyone particular attention than the lady on her right. Michael shifted his focus to her, noting that she looked a lot like Lady Selina—the same blond hair, the same gentle shape and short stature, the same heart-shaped face and full lips. Only this lady appeared to be a bit younger, more immature in her stance. Her eyes were filled with excitement and she seemed to be trying very hard to keep herself still. Considering it is the first time I have seen her, I suppose she is debuting tonight. Lady Selina’s sister, perhaps? A plan was already forming in his mind, slowly he nodded, knowing very well that Stephen was watching him. “All right,” Michael said finally.

“I shall take you up on your bet. By the end of the Season, the Aloof Princess will be mine.” At this point, Season balls were becoming draining. They were the same things over and over again, with the same people. Dancing and laughter, and generally good camaraderie all around, save for one single thing—Selina could not find a single gentleman she cared to be courted by. That fact only served to dampen the experience for her, even though she knew she would be subject to more balls and events in the coming weeks – it was her third Season and though she’d done this more times than she could count – it felt as if it was only getting harder and harder. “Would you smile, Selina?” came Tereza’s voice next to her. Had they been at home, Selina was certain her sister would slip her arm into hers and pull Selina to her side. But since they were in public, Tereza only laid a hand on her shoulder. “If you stand here looking so dour, no gentleman will approach you.

” Selina opened her mouth to respond, but Tereza was already lifting her hand and waving it in the air as she continued, “Oh, what am I saying? You look absolutely lovely tonight. I’m certain every man in attendance is simply dying to dance with you. I, on the other hand, should have simply stayed home. I’m certain no one will even look my way.” That brought a frown to Selina’s lips as she took in the dejected shoulders of her dear sister. There was at least one happy thing about tonight and that was finally being able to attend a ball with her. Tereza had been looking forward to this day for a long time and pained Selina to see that, now that the day had come, Tereza’s insecurity had risen to an all-time high. “Don’t say that,” Selina chided gently. She too had to resist the urge to tuck her arm around her sister. “You are more radiant than every other lady here.

” “You’re just saying that,” Tereza said dismissively, even as she blushed. “Because it’s true,” Selina insisted. “Heavens, I always knew you were lovely but tonight you have really outdone yourself. You should relax and enjoy your moment, Tereza. I’m certain tonight will be a good one for you.” “I am relaxed.” Her knitted brows said otherwise. “If you are so relaxed, then perhaps you should stop fiddling with your fan.” Instantly, Tereza tucked her fan behind her back and pouted a little. “All right, I’ll admit that I am bit nervous.

I’ve been looking forward to this day for quite some time now, and now that it has arrived, I haven’t a clue what to do with myself.” “You need not do anything but partake in the festive music and enjoy yourself with your dance partners,” Selina told her. “It is really quite simple, if you think about it.” A tad boring, almost. Tereza slid her Warwick blue eyes over to Selina. Her lips had a touch of rouge spread across it, deepening the blush of her cheeks and her porcelain skin. Once again, Selina felt a spark of pride at seeing how beautiful her sister looked this evening. Normally, it took quite a lot of effort for Tereza to keep her hair within its hold and the hem of her gown dust-free, but every bit of her boyish nature seemed to have been tucked away for tonight. I only wish she could see that beauty herself. A thread of guilt ran through Selina at Tereza’s earlier words.

They hadn’t been said begrudgingly, but Selina knew very well that Tereza felt like a wallflower standing next to her. “What if no one wants to dance with me?” Tereza asked softly. Worry flickered in her eyes for a moment. “What if my debut is a failure?” Selina blinked in surprise. Tereza was many things, but she certainly was not a negative person. “That’s stating the impossible, Tereza,” Selina told her. “Come now, there is no use worrying yourself about such things. As I said before, you need only relax and enjoy yourself. Perhaps you would like a glass of punch?” Tereza shook her head. The concern cleared and her smile returned.

“No, I’m fine. You’re right. I shouldn’t think about such things. I should try to enjoy myself as much as I—oh!” Selina watched as Tereza’s jaw went slack, her eyes widening. She looked in the direction her sister was staring in but saw nothing but swaying bodies moving to the music. “What is the matter?” Selina asked. “That gentleman…” Tereza murmured, sounding quite dazed. “He’s so handsome! Do you know who he is? Heavens, he’s coming this way! Selina, prepare yourself.” “Prepare myself?” Selina echoed in surprise. Tereza looked at her as if she couldn’t believe she had to question her.

“A gentleman that handsome could not possibly be coming to see me. He will certainly ask you for a dance.” Before she could respond to Tereza’s words, Selina saw him. It was the very same gentleman she’d seen watching her from a short distance away. She’d caught his gaze a few times already, but despite his handsomeness, had dismissed him. Selina wouldn’t allow herself to be taken by the attractiveness of any gentleman, not when she had her sights set on something more profound. But, as she watched this man carve a path through the ballroom, his long legs eating up the distance with ease, Selina was slowly beginning to forget why she’d decided against him. From a distance, it was easy enough to dismiss him, to put him aside with the other gentlemen who had nothing but their vapid good looks to recommend them, and no substance or character. But as he came closer, his features grew sharper, his eyes trained on her with a head of blond hair cut in Titus fashion. His jaw looked as if it had been chiseled out of stone, full lips were tilted up into in a small, welcoming smile, but it was his smoldering green eyes that made her chest grow tight.

Selina clutched her fan, tremors of sparking heat racing up and down her spine. Next to her, Tereza was also quiet, as if she too couldn’t believe that such a handsome gentleman was approaching them. It is likely that he is like all the others, Selina told herself, trying to chase away her odd reaction. I am not here to find a handsome gentleman, but a man that I can love. I should take care to remember that.

.

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