“Oh, do be careful, Lord Levermarch. Those crab patties are a trifle rich, especially if one tends towards ill-humor.”
Finneous Barrick, Marques of Levermarch paused with the aforementioned crab patty inches from his lips. Lowering it to the table, he took a deep steadying breath and then turned to face the woman who stood at his back.
“Miss Langley,” Finn said, running his eyes over her perfect features but stopping before he reached her equally perfect breasts. “Such concern for my well-being, it warms my heart to know that you care.” He bowed in response to her curtsy.
“I care for the well-being of any person who is advancing in years, my lord.” She looked up at him beneath long lashes. Her expression appeared concerned yet there was a wicked twinkle in the depths of her brown eyes.
He smiled, although Finn wasn’t sure how genuine it appeared. He always felt off balance around this woman, and that was not Finn. He was controlled and in control of every aspect of his life, and had been since becoming guardian to his brothers at a young age.
“My aged heart is quite touched at your show of concern, Miss Langley, and may I add that the sugar-coated almond biscuits would suit your untutored palette. They do not have much substance…” He let that word hang in the air for several seconds before adding, “And are easily digested.”
That should keep her quiet for a few seconds, Finn thought, as her perfectly straight white teeth snapped together.
He and Phoebe Langley had verbally sparred with each other since the day he had met her and, loathe as he was to admit it, he almost looked forward to their encounters, as not many people talked to him that way. He never quite knew how to take her. She was outspoken, and appeared to flaunt the rules most of society, including him, lived by. She was unlike other debutantes, and he hadn’t decided if he admired her or resented her for her ability to be herself when, around her, so many played a game. She was rarely coy, nor held her tongue if she felt something needed to be said. Often she was snickered or sneered at, but it never appeared to worry her, duly. What was it about Phoebe Langley that unsettled him, he wondered, other than her physical attributes, which, if he was honest, were disturbing enough.
Because she’s like your mother.
Looking down into the beautiful face, he realized the truth in his thoughts. She was like his parent, and Finn had vowed long ago to stay well away from any woman who even remotely resembled his mother.
“Substance is a word that has many meanings, Lord Levermarch. Don’t you think?”
Luscious was the only word he had ever been able to find to describe the woman before him. She was taller than most and her hair was a warm golden brown, thick and full. Usually by the end of the evening at least one lock always came loose to draw his eye. He had imagined it unbound in various forms, curls or straight, coming to rest half-way down her back. He’d imagined it fisted in his hands as he took her mouth beneath his own. Her skin was smooth and creamy and beneath her feathered eyebrows, her eyes were large and the color of cognac. Framed with ridiculously long curling lashes, the woman drew men like bees to a honey pot. Dresses did not sit on Phoebe Langley; they draped and caressed the bountiful curves beneath. For a debutante, she showed far too much of her chest, Finn thought, wanting to loosen his necktie as his eyes passed over the swells of her creamy breasts as she briefly looked away. The woman was a walking temptation; however, he would never be tempted, he continually told himself. She held none of the traits he wanted in his future wife. She would be sweet and mild mannered, everything the woman before him was not.
“It certainly does, Miss Langley. I believe the dictionary states it can also mean the quality of having a solid basis in reality or fact.”
She pursed her lips, which immediately drew Finn’s eye to the pout of her lower lip.
“Something you struggle with, Miss Langley?”
The brown eyes flashed, and then she lowered her lashes. When they rose, the languid look was back in them.
“Not at all, my lord. Like your sturdy soul, mine is solidly grounded in both reality and fact.” Her voice was a breathy purr, which made the hair on the back of his neck stand.
“You do surprise me,” he drawled, enjoying himself now his initial reaction to her had passed. It always took him a few minutes of exposure to settle down. She was beautiful but there was something more to her that he reacted to, a vitality that was lacking in others.
“I see you once again favor the colors of mourning, my lord?”
Finn looked down at his jacket and the front panel of his waistcoat that she could see.
“Appearances are deceptive,” he said, opening one side to show her the thin ice blue thread of silk than ran in a subtle stripe down the side.