Chapter One Chapter One
London, May 1818
Sophie did not recommend widowhood as a rule, but there were undoubtedly certain advantages. She could come and go as she pleased, for example, without any man to fuss over her whereabouts. She could spend an entire day reading, or playing piano, or painting. (She had not, in fact, ever spent an entire day doing any of these things.) She could slip a tot of brandy into her afternoon tea without suffering a man’s disapproving gaze. (She absolutely had done this, on more than one occasion.) And she could eat a leisurely breakfast, presented with a mouthwatering array of baked-good bounty, without a single other person to interrupt the peaceful solitude of her breakfast room.
Or, rather, she imagined this last thing was possible; her sisters, however, made certain that this option was almost never presented to her.
Sophie glanced up from the newspaper she was idly perusing over a cup of tea, resisting the urge to roll her eyes heavenward at the sight of not one, nor two, but three of her sisters beaming at her from the doorway of the room. Behind them, Grimball, her long-suffering butler, managed to bleat a frantic, “Mrs. Brown-Montague! Mrs. Lancashire! Mrs. Covington!”
Harriet, Sophie’s youngest sister—by a mere sixteen minutes—turned a radiant smile on him. “Thank you, Grimball, but I do not think we need announcing! We are family.”
“Why does that sound like a threat?” Sophie murmured, rising to embrace her sisters in turn.
“Sophie, sarcasm does not suit you,” scolded Betsy, Harriet’s twin. She caught sight of the platter piled high with croissants on the sideboard. “Ah! I see that Mrs. Villeneuve has made croissants! How convenient, when they are my particular favorite!” She gave them a look of such lascivious appreciation that Sophie felt rather protective of the virtue of a platter of baked goods.
“Mmm, yes,” Sophie agreed, resuming her seat as Harriet, Betsy, and Alexandra fell upon the bounty on offer. “It could not possibly be that it is a Monday, and Mrs. Villeneuve is in the habit of making croissants every Monday—a fact of which you are perfectly well aware?”
“No,” Betsy said brightly, placing two croissants on a plate and eyeing a third. “I think it is a mere happy coincidence—the eyes of fate smiling upon us on this joyous day of sisterly reunion!”
“Betsy,” Harriet said severely, “have you been reading novels again?”
“Writing them, actually,” Betsy said, and Sophie and Harriet both blinked; before they could pursue this most intriguing line of inquiry, Betsy fell into raptures at the sight of a particularly enticing apple tart and was temporarily deaf to any further queries.
“How was Cornwall?” asked Alexandra—Sophie’s middle sister, who had been widowed within a year of Sophie. She had selected a more reasonable quantity of pastries and was now settling herself in a chair directly opposite Sophie.
“Lovely. I think my hair still smells of salt.” Sophie had recently returned from a fortnight at a house party hosted by Viscount Penvale and his new viscountess.
“It’s been an age since I went to the seaside,” Alexandra said a bit wistfully.
“Perhaps we should take a holiday together, once the Season is over,” Sophie said, taking a sip of tea and watching her sister scrutinize the jam options before her. “We could go to Brighton and go sea bathing,” she added, merely to annoy Alexandra; Alex hated to be cold and was generally reluctant to dip more than a toe into the frigid English waters.
“I think a nice walk along the shore would suffice, thank you,” Alexandra said, spreading raspberry jam upon a piece of toast. “Besides, I don’t know what I shall have planned for the summer.”
Sophie frowned, and opened her mouth to inquire further—she did not recall her sister having previously mentioned any potential plans for after the Season concluded—but before she could do so, Alexandra continued, “I want to hear more about the house party.” She took a bite of toast and directed a look of innocent inquiry at Sophie—one that had Sophie instantly on guard. “Was there any interesting company?”
At the sideboard, Harriet and Betsy broke off their murmured discussion and turned inquisitive gazes upon Sophie.
“Violet and Audley were there,” Sophie said serenely, reaching for a butter knife with calm deliberation. “And Emily and Belfry announced that they’re expecting a baby.”
Betsy—who was herself expecting, and therefore a bit more emotional than usual—was unable to suppress a soft, misty, “Oh!” at this news. Harriet turned a disgusted look upon her twin, and Betsy added, a touch defensively, “Well, just think how beautiful their baby will be! Those eyes!”
“All babies have blue eyes,” Harriet informed her sister, with the wisdom of a woman who had herself produced just such a creature the previous autumn, and Betsy sighed.
“Yes, I know, but—”
“Any other company of note?” Alexandra asked, a bit louder than necessary, exchanging an exasperated glance with Sophie; they were both accustomed to the trial of attempting to hold a conversation while in the twins’ company. “Any… gentlemen?”
“Several,” Sophie said. She broke off a piece of the croissant on her plate. She had her doubts as to the veracity of her cook’s French heritage—she had an accent that was prone to rather alarming wobbles at the slightest provocation—but there was no denying that the woman had a way with bread products. “Our numbers were even.”
“Any unmarried gentlemen?” Alexandra persisted; Sophie glanced up and met Alex’s gaze. A brief, silent battle of wills was conducted. Sophie sighed resignedly; her sister, sensing victory was within her reach, leaned forward in her seat.
“Lord Weston was there,” Sophie said shortly, a fact her sister clearly already knew—proof that the ton’s gossip mill was as efficient as ever.
“Was he?” Alexandra asked thoughtfully, tapping her chin.
“Alex.” Sophie bit back a dozen things she wanted to say to her sister, beginning with the fact that it had been seven years since she had fancied herself in love with the Marquess of Weston, and spent a spring dreaming of the future they’d share—a dream that had proved too fragile to handle even the slightest bit of strain. And, since it had been, again, seven years since these events, she would very much appreciate being able to attend an event at which Lord Weston was also present without sparking a speculative fervor among her nearest and dearest.
She said none of this, however; as the eldest of five, she was well-practiced at resisting the urge to snap at her younger sisters. Instead, she merely waited for whatever torment would come next.
“Was he looking well?” Betsy asked, taking a bite of apple tart. She was blond-haired and pink in the face and rather round about the middle, given her pregnancy, and she had a dimple in her chin. She was darling, in other words, which was why it should not have been possible for an expression so closely akin to diabolical to cross her angelic face.
“I suppose.” Sophie popped a piece of her croissant into her mouth.
“Did he seem to be in good spirits?” Harriet asked, sitting down next to her twin and reaching for the teapot. Where Betsy was blond and pink-cheeked, Harriet was dark-haired and less rosy, though she did sport deceptively charming dimples of her own. Sophie had always darkly considered the twins’ dimples to be the human equivalent of the camouflage that predators in the wild used to lure unsuspecting prey to their demise.
“It was May in Cornwall—it’s not physically possible to be in anything other than good spirits,” Sophie said, a bit shortly.
“And yet you seem to be managing a rather impressive display of bad spirits at the moment,” Alexandra said, her gaze on her sister shrewd. Sophie suppressed a sigh.
“Perhaps,” Sophie said, laying down her butter knife, “it is because I am no longer in Cornwall—which, in addition to its sunny skies and ocean vistas, also has the advantage of being a week’s journey away from the three of you.”
“I am wounded!” Harriet cried, flinging a dramatic hand to her breast in a display that would have been a bit more convincing had it not also been accompanied by her attempt to simultaneously take a generous bite of croissant. “But,” she added quickly, “as it happens, things have been ever so interesting here.”
“Have they?” Sophie asked idly.
“They have,” Harriet confirmed, casting a knowing glance at Alexandra, who suddenly seemed very busy stirring sugar into her tea—an interesting preoccupation for a woman who, to the best of Sophie’s knowledge, did not actually take sugar in her tea. Sophie’s attention sharpened on her sister. It was suddenly clear to her that this was the reason the twins, at least, were here this morning: They had news that they thought would interest their eldest sister, and they badly wanted to see her reaction.
“Define ‘interesting,’ would you?”
“Alex has a beau,” Betsy said in theatrical tones.
Alexandra shot a withering glance at her sister, laying down her teaspoon. “You make me sound like I’m a blushing debutante who just made my curtsey to the queen. I don’t believe widows have beaux.”
“What shall we call him, then?” Harriet asked, a wicked gleam in her eye. “Your paramour?”
“Your inamorata?” Betsy suggested.
“I believe he would technically be her inamorato,” said Harriet, who had recently decided that she was bored, and had therefore begun attempting to teach herself Italian.
“Lover?” Sophie offered—it was the obvious word they were all tiptoeing around, after all.
“He is my—my gentleman caller,” Alexandra said primly, causing both twins to hoot with laughter.
Sophie suppressed a smile. “Indeed. And would you be so kind as to enlighten me as to the identity of this gentleman caller?” She could barely get the expression “gentleman caller” out with a straight face; she felt like a maiden aunt.
Alexandra sighed, putting on a show of exasperation, but a soft smile played at the corners of her mouth as she said, “The Earl of Blackford.”
Sophie blinked. “Belfry’s brother?”
“The very one.”
“He’s awfully handsome,” Harriet said thoughtfully, “though I do think his brother is perhaps even more handsome.”
“They both have those blue eyes,” Betsy said with a wistful sigh; she considered it a great tragedy of her life that both she and Sophie—as well as their absent sister, Maria—had been blessed with golden hair, but without the accompanying blue eyes that one might expect, theirs being a middling shade of brown.
“I was not aware that you and Blackford were acquainted,” Sophie said to Alexandra, ignoring Betsy and Harriet as they lapsed into a dreamy contemplation of the precise shade of the eyes of the Belfry brothers.
“We must have been introduced at some point, but I’d never exchanged more than a few words with him, until we were both guests in the same box at a performance of The Talk of the Ton.” This was a new production at the Belfry, the somewhat-scandalous theater owned by Blackford’s younger brother, Julian; the show was unique in that it featured only female performers, and was a somewhat ruthless—albeit amusing—skewering of the ton. Shows had been sold out for weeks.
“We struck up a conversation,” Alexandra continued, “and… well, we rather hit it off. He’s escorted me to a few balls and dinner parties—we go riding on the Row.…” She spoke all of this very nonchalantly, but there was a telltale hint of color in her cheeks and a softness about her as she spoke of him that told Sophie that this was not a mere lark, nor the beginning of a simple affair. And yet… something about her voice, some slight note of restraint, gave Sophie pause.
Sophie took a sip of tea, giving herself time to think. Blackford was, from everything she had observed, a true gentleman—she had met him at several events that Emily and Belfry had hosted. Alexandra was not the type to rush into love at a moment’s notice, so Sophie had few concerns about the match—but what did concern her, at the moment, was her sister’s rather strange demeanor as she relayed this information. To be sure, her face lit up and her voice softened upon uttering Blackford’s name, but there was something oddly constrained in her manner as she informed Sophie of this development. Alexandra was the quietest and most demure of Sophie’s sisters, particularly compared to the boisterous twins; and yet, recalling Alexandra’s courtship with her late husband, Sophie couldn’t help but think that something seemed to be troubling her sister now, by comparison. Was it guilt at finding happiness again after being widowed, or was there some other concern at play?
“Alex,” Sophie said carefully, “are you in love?”
All at once, something in Alexandra’s face shifted—whatever softness had been there seemed to vanish, and her features were at once schooled into a look of bland unconcern that was bafflingly at odds with the expression she’d worn just moments before.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Alexandra said with a wave of her hand. She lifted her teacup to her mouth; Sophie was aware that Harriet and Betsy were watching both of them quite closely. “We barely know each other.”
Sophie glanced at the twins, in time to see Harriet frown, and Betsy open her mouth to protest; this was enough to confirm for Sophie that this was not at all in line with what Alexandra had told them previously.
“I like Blackford, Alex—if he makes you happy, then I think this would be a wonderful match.” Sophie kept her voice as gentle as possible, feeling as though she were approaching an easily spooked horse. She liked all of her sisters’ husbands—even Maria, the second-eldest, had married Edgar Grovecourt, a man who, while perhaps a bit priggish for Sophie’s taste, was fundamentally decent. And in the past, her approval had always seemed important to her younger sisters—a hurdle any suitor needed to clear.
But Alexandra appeared unmoved by this offering on Sophie’s part; instead, she waved a hand airily once more, and Sophie was tempted to swat it out of the air; something about the studied casualness of this gesture irritated her. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves—I don’t know that I’m going to marry him.”
Sophie frowned. “Why not, if your feelings are mutual?” She paused, then added more gently, “Is this about Colin?” Colin had been Alexandra’s first husband—a younger son who’d bought a commission in the army and died at Waterloo barely a year after he and Alexandra had wed. Alexandra had been devastated by his death three years earlier; coming as it had within a year of Sophie’s husband’s death, their widowhood had brought the sisters even closer.
Alexandra’s face softened at the sound of her late husband’s name. “No,” she said, a tinge of sadness in her voice. “I loved Colin—I still miss him every day—but I know he would want me to remarry, if I found someone I wished to spend my life with.”
Sophie reached across the table and placed her hand on Alexandra’s. “Still, it would be entirely normal if you were to feel some guilt about falling in love again—and I’m certain Blackford would not wish to rush you into anything, if you did not yet feel ready to remarry.”
Alexandra turned her hand palm up so that she might give Sophie’s a quick squeeze. “I know,” she said, her gaze on Sophie affectionate, before shaking her head as if to clear it. She then added, in a more businesslike tone, “I’m just not entirely certain that Blackford is that man, though he—” Here, she broke off abruptly, as though she’d been about to disclose something she’d rather not share.
“Has he asked you?” Sophie was beginning to have grave concerns about the wisdom of attending country house parties in the future, if one month away from town was sufficient to see her sister receiving marriage proposals, of all things. Clearly she should not allow herself to be removed from their presence for so long—they might be adults, but they still needed her guidance, as this conversation proved.
“Not yet,” Alexandra said cagily; seeing Sophie’s gaze boring into her, she sighed and relented. “He might have… hinted.”
“And what do you intend to say to him, when he does ask?” Sophie pressed.
“I’m not certain.” Alexandra’s tone was carefully light, in a way that seemed artificial. “I’m very fond of my life the way it is now, you know—I mean to say, I wouldn’t be able to pop over here for breakfast half so often if I were married to an earl and living in some mansion in Grosvenor Square.”
Sophie frowned; while she had, in some ways, come to appreciate the independence that her widowhood had offered her, she had never got the impression that Alexandra fully embraced it. She had been deeply in love with her husband, and stunned by his sudden death—and, too, she was four years younger than Sophie, and had found it something of a shock to leave her parents’ home at nineteen only to find herself a widow little over a year later. Once her official mourning period had ended, she had never, so far as Sophie was aware, displayed much interest in flirting with the many eligible gentlemen who had looked her way, and she had certainly never done something so bold as embark on an affair.
Something that Sophie herself had done the previous summer. And while Alexandra had certainly not been disapproving—unlike their sister Maria, who had made more than one snide comment once the gossip had reached her ears—she had seemed more than a little bit mystified by the proceedings. And so, for Alexandra now to be seriously contemplating refusing an offer of marriage—from a future marquess and, more importantly, a man she was obviously very fond of, despite her odd attempts to downplay the affection that so clearly existed between them—struck Sophie as somehow… wrong.
Alexandra, meanwhile, had taken this opportunity to engage the twins in conversation on other matters—the Northdale ball was in a few days’ time, and Harriet offered a lengthy monologue about the neckline of the new rose silk gown that she was debuting—but Sophie was only half-listening, chiming in when a response was clearly expected, but otherwise preoccupied by her thoughts.
Her mind was stuck on one offhand sentence Alexandra had uttered: I wouldn’t be able to pop over here for breakfast half so often if I were married to an earl.
And the more she thought about it, the more a niggling suspicion began to grow—and grow.
Alexandra wouldn’t refuse an offer of marriage for her, would she?
Surely, despite their closeness—despite the fact that they saw each other nearly daily, dined together multiple evenings a week, went for long walks in the park together, shared their deepest thoughts and fears…
Surely Alex wouldn’t turn down Blackford’s proposal, for all of that?
Sophie watched her sister. Given Alexandra’s strange behavior at breakfast, Sophie had little faith that she’d get an honest answer from her, were she to ask directly.
She meant to find an answer—though she wasn’t entirely certain what she intended to do about it—and that meant she needed to have a conversation with the Earl of Blackford.
So it looked like she would, indeed, be going to the Northdale ball.
“I’ve never been so pleased to be back in civilization in all my life.” This was uttered in tones of deep satisfaction by Diana, who was nursing a glass of champagne and surveying the crowded ballroom with a sharp eye.
“I do not think Cornwall is entirely removed from civilization,” Sophie said, taking a sip from the champagne flute in her own hand. “And besides, I rather thought you were enjoying yourself.”
“She was,” put in Lord Willingham. “She just doesn’t want to admit that her brother was right and she was wrong.”
Diana cut a narrow look at her husband. “I wasn’t wrong. I merely had concerns about Penvale relocating to a remote clifftop with a woman he’d barely exchanged two words with.”
“I like Jane,” Sophie said mildly, in regards to Penvale’s new viscountess. “I think she’s very amusing.”
“As do I,” Willingham—Jeremy, to his friends—said. “Anyone who can irritate Diana so thoroughly earns my stamp of approval.” He reached out and clinked his own glass against Sophie’s, and they exchanged a grin.
“How lovely to see you two so chummy,” Diana said, watching this exchange. “Does it remind you of other, more intimate moments?”
Both Sophie and Jeremy choked on their champagne, which had undoubtedly been Diana’s aim; she was perfectly well aware of—and entirely unbothered by—the fact that Jeremy and Sophie had had a brief affair the previous summer, before Diana and Jeremy had fallen in love. (Or, in Sophie’s personal opinion, before Diana and Jeremy had admitted that they’d fallen in love.)
“Diana, what have you done to poor Jeremy and Sophie?” asked Emily, materializing at Sophie’s side, her blue eyes wide and concerned. She was wearing a gown of yellow silk and looked, as ever, utterly luminous. Her husband hovered protectively at her elbow.
“Just reminiscing fondly about old times,” Diana said with a serene smile.
“Quite,” Sophie said, recovering her power of speech now that most of the champagne seemed to have exited her windpipe.
“How… nice,” Emily said, a bit uncertainly.
“Isn’t it?” Diana asked cheerfully. She wound her arm through Jeremy’s and turned to Emily’s husband, Julian. “Belfry, is that your brother over there? I saw him at a dinner party the other evening and…”
Diana’s words faded into the background as Sophie wheeled around quickly, looking in the direction Diana had indicated. And, indeed, just a few feet away she saw the Earl of Blackford deep in conversation with Lord James Audley and his wife, Violet. This was too perfect an opportunity to pass up.
“If you’ll excuse me,” she said abruptly.
“Sophie!” Violet cried as she approached. “You look lovely tonight, wherever did you find the fabric for that gown?”
Sophie glanced down; when she had ended her mourning and half-mourning periods, she had commissioned a new wardrobe for herself—one a bit more daring, a bit more colorful than what she’d worn during her marriage. Fitz wouldn’t have minded any of these gowns, precisely, but Sophie had spent the duration of her marriage acutely aware of the reasons she’d wed—of the four younger sisters who needed to make successful matches of their own. The entire point of her marriage had been to ease their way, so she’d always done her best not to call attention to herself, to float beneath the level of ton gossip.
But she was no longer a wife. And all of her sisters had been happily wed—until Alexandra’s widowhood, of course. To Sophie’s mind, she had accomplished what she’d set out to do, and therefore, upon reentering society, she thought that she might do something that she wanted to do, for a change. She’d taken considerable delight in commissioning a wardrobe that was precisely what she wished. The gown she wore tonight was a deep-purple silk, with small pearls encrusting the cap sleeves.
“I shall give you the name of my modiste,” she promised Violet, and then turned to the man standing next to her. “Lord Blackford.”
Blackford, always a gentleman, bowed over her hand. “Lady Fitzwilliam. You are looking lovely this evening. I believe you are recently returned from Cornwall? The seaside clearly agrees with you.”
“Thank you,” Sophie said, offering him a smile. “Did my sister inform you of my recent travels, then?”
“She did indeed.”
“How lovely that you two have grown so close in my absence,” Sophie said. “I have been so eager for Alexandra to find happiness again.”
Blackford blinked at this remark, which possessed all the subtlety of a hammer. “An admirable sentiment from a sister, I’m sure.”
“Yes.” Sophie heaved a weary sigh. “It is exhausting, you know, having four younger sisters. One does so often find that they will not behave precisely as one would wish. One might even find them being maddeningly stubborn for no apparent reason. It is most irritating, as I’m certain you can appreciate.”
Blackford raised a brow, and Sophie’s smile widened a touch. “Lady Fitzwilliam, I do believe I hear a waltz starting—I don’t suppose I dare hope that you still have this dance free on your dance card?”
“I do,” Sophie lied cheerfully, with only the slightest apologetic flicker of the eyes in the direction of Audley, to whom she’d actually promised this dance. “How positively fortuitous,” she added demurely, and allowed Blackford to lead her to the dance floor with a quick wave of the fingers in the direction of Violet and Audley, who watched this exchange with great interest.
“Why,” said Blackford, as they took their places amid the other couples, “do I feel as though I was just carefully maneuvered?”
“I couldn’t say, I’m sure,” Sophie said innocently. “So, have you spent much time with Alexandra?” If they only had the duration of one waltz, she couldn’t afford to waste time on pleasantries.
“A fair amount.”
“How often do you see her? Weekly? Daily?” She paused delicately. “Nightly?”
To his credit, Blackford took this in stride. “Shall I save us both time and come right out and tell you that I’d like to marry your sister?” Blackford’s voice was amused, and a smile played at the corners of his mouth. Harriet and Betsy were right—he was quite handsome, with dark hair and vivid blue eyes. She had never heard much about him in the way of gossip—she knew that he’d once been the lover of the widowed Viscountess Dewbury, before she’d gone on to marry her second husband, but beyond that Sophie had merely heard that he always paid his debts on time, and was generally considered an upstanding sort of chap. He was in line to inherit his father’s title, but she believed he and his father were close, and he doubtless hoped that day was still a long way off.
In short, nothing she had ever heard of the man had given her the slightest pause as to his suitability for her sister—which was why she was so perplexed by Alexandra’s reaction at the breakfast table a few mornings earlier.
“I am happy to hear it,” she said cautiously.
“Lady Fitzwilliam, may I be frank?”
“By all means.”
“Well, then I think I ought to inform you that I do not believe your sister will marry me whilst you are still unwed.”
“I’m a widow,” Sophie said automatically.
“But one who has not yet remarried,” Blackford said gently. “And I would never presume to encourage a lady to remarry who does not wish to do so—I gather the widowed state has certain advantages. But I believe that your sister fears for your happiness, and is reluctant to find happiness of her own if she feels that she is… well, leaving you behind, I suppose.”
Blackford looked distinctly uncomfortable—no doubt the poor man was worried he’d cause her to have a fit of the vapors, or some other swooningly female reaction—but Sophie was not offended. Rather, she was feeling quite grim—she’d been hoping that her suspicion at breakfast would prove to be unfounded.
Sisters! Would they never do what she wished them to?
“I am not lonely, Lord Blackford,” she said carefully. “I like my life very much.”
And it was true: She did like her life. Was it all that she had once imagined? Well, no. But it was perfectly satisfactory all the same.
“I am certain you do, Lady Fitzwilliam,” he said, almost gently—and it was this gentleness that, for the first time, allowed the slightest painful pang to reach her chest. It was absurd and ridiculous, but she suddenly felt a bit like weeping over this entire foolish mess Alexandra had created. “And please know that I do not confide this to you out of some desire to persuade you to any course of action. But I thought, if perhaps you could speak to Alex…?”
There was a hopeful note in his voice on this last query, and Sophie nearly smiled to hear it. The thought that this man—heir to one of the oldest estates in England, to an ancient title, rich in family and friends and in every gift a man could receive from birth—should still sound so desperately eager to marry her sister delighted Sophie. And the notion that Alexandra would attempt to ruin both their happiness for Sophie’s sake was very near unbearable. To her astonishment, she realized that she was growing the slightest bit angry.
And, all at once, she was very, very determined to see Alexandra and Blackford wed, no matter what it took.
“I should be happy to speak to her,” she said. Speak. Knock her sister about the head with a serving spoon. Whichever suited, really. “I know we would all be delighted to welcome you to the family—my sisters are quite taken with you.”
“Well, I’m only interested in marrying just the one,” Blackford said, with a quirk of the mouth that made Sophie like him all the more.
Which meant that Sophie needed to speak to her sister. She did not relish the prospect; something about Alexandra’s demeanor at the breakfast table intimated that her sister might choose this exceptionally inconvenient moment to decide to be exceedingly stubborn. It was a family trait that tended to rear its head at the precise moments that one might wish it wouldn’t.
And then, as the waltz came to an end, and she sank into a curtsey before Blackford, her gaze alighted on a familiar pair of broad shoulders. She had caught sight of them out of the corner of her eye while she and Blackford had been dancing, and had determinedly ignored them; their owner was not a man she allowed her thoughts—or eyes—to linger on.
At that precise moment, he turned, his green eyes scanning the room. They landed on her for a split second, catching and holding, and Sophie inhaled sharply.
He looked away first.
She took a second, steadying breath.
And then, with the suddenness of a thunderclap, she knew precisely how she could convince Alexandra to marry Blackford.
If she could somehow find someone to aid her—and she very much feared that there was only one particular someone who would do.
So she would have to persuade him.