Already Bridget was relieved her aunt had taken ill that afternoon. Since she was unable to accompany her to the dinner party, Bridget had come with her dear friend Gemma Reynolds. The freedom from her aunt’s heavy-handed scrutiny of Bridget’s every move, as well as the lack of formal dancing, gave Bridget liberty to avoid hiding in corners from unwelcome attempts at forcing her to participate.
She sat chatting with Gemma and her brother, waiting for the entertainments to begin. Gemma was slated to play the piano forte later this evening after dinner, a talent that escaped Bridget, but she did enjoy listening to her friend’s mastery of the instrument.
Bridget had known Gemma for many years. Many times they had been mistaken for sisters, because their hair was the same brilliant shade of crimson—though Bridget had often wished she could trade her wild insubordinate curls for a satin smooth mane like Gemma’s.
Ever since her mother’s death and Bridget had come to live with her father’s family in London—though the man himself had abandoned both Bridget and her mother when she was but a child—Gemma and Bridget had been in constant company and loved one another like sisters. But Gemma’s aspirations were toward marriage nowadays, so her subjects of choice in conversation held little interest for Bridget.
Therefore it was little wonder that Bridget was only half-listening to the discussion of the announced betrothal between Count Belvedere and Miss Violet Jasper, when her friend stopped talking mid-sentence and anchored her gaze on the archway behind Bridget.
“Sweet heavens…Sin just walked through the door,” Gemma whispered in ironic reverence.
As Bridget twisted in her chair to see what was affecting her friend so, Gemma rested a hand on Bridget’s to stay her, stopping her from turning wholly around.
And something in Gemma’s urgency caused Bridget to stiffen in purest dread, when her friend added, “Oh! I may swoon! He's approaching us!”
“The devil you say!”
“He comes at this very moment!”
If the sudden chill prickling along her spine was any indication, Bridget was certain that the Sin her friend was rendered paralyzed by at this moment was none other than Viscount Maddox, and he stood directly behind her, a beautiful smile spread across his smug face. How did he know she would be here? Well, she was not going to gift him the satisfaction of knowing she could sense his presence. That would be just what he wanted.
“Holy Moses, no man should have a smile like that,” Gemma said just under her breath.
Bridget rolled her eyes, but had to grudgingly agree. His smile could melt the ice off a polar bear’s tail.
"Lady Bridget, a word?"
Gemma’s mouth gaped, betraying her shock.
Bridget stood before turning around, giving herself time to steel her nerves against the onslaught of his overwhelming male ego. At least he came by it honestly. The viscount truly was carved like a Greek god. But she had no intention of allowing it to affect her. She has other interests—other pursuits, and—
“My buttons, they make a handsome couple,” Gemma’s brother said loud enough for all to hear. Gemma jabbed him in the ribs with a deep frown.
How does one unring a bell?
“Ah, Lord Maddox. Speak of the devil and he appears—what an unlikely surprise.”
“You were speaking of me?” His beguiling smile stretched wider across his marble features.
“Hmm…if I recall correctly, we spoke of sin, and yes, I believe the devil was mentioned.” His smile waned to its usual irritating level. The golden corona of his brilliant green eyes seemed to catch the candlelight and sparkle at her. No. Bridget wouldn’t let him convince her. She was no trophy to be won. Why wouldn’t he just leave her alone?