Devon Marshall, Viscount Huxhold, turned the corner of the cow shed and found himself on the other side of a pig sty from the young woman. She had not yet noticed him.
“Excuse me,” he said.
Pig grunts drowned him out. The earth was soft and warm here and his boots sunk a bit into the muck. He tried not to think what it was he stood in.
Shoving aside a surge of frustration, he raised his voice, “Excuse me!”
This time he caught her attention. The woman looked up, startled to find she was not alone. Holding the slop bucket protectively in front of her, she lifted the brim of her hat, the better to see him–and then gave a loud gasp surprise.
Devon was no less shocked himself. Could his eyes be deceiving him? This was no pig girl. It was Leah Carrollton, a London debutante who only months ago had been the reigning belle of Society.
In the whisk of a second, he no longer saw himself standing by some yeoman’s pig sty but back in London almost a year ago when he’d been badgered into attending a ball. He usually avoided such affairs and he’d been determined to escape this one as early as possible . . . that is, until he had seen her. Leah Carrollton–although he hadn’t known her name at the time.
She had been standing with a group of other debutantes, all dressed in pastels, smelling of rosewater, and full of shy giggles. But she had been different. There was a worldliness about her, a sensuality even, that made her seem old before her time.
She’d sensed him staring at her. She’d turned and looked right at him–and in that moment time stopped.
Oh, she was lovely to look at. Curling dark hair framed exotic almond-colored eyes. Her petite figure was buxom perfection and when her gaze met his, it was as if he’d been struck by lightning. Cupid’s arrow had found him. For the first time in his life, Devon was smitten.
And it wasn’t just her beauty that drew him. No, it was something deeper and something he’d never felt before. He wasn’t a fanciful man but he could swear he’d been waiting for her to walk into his life.
She smiled. The most charming dimple appeared at the corner of her mouth and his feet moved of their own volition. He wasn’t even conscious that he was walking until he stood in front of her.
“Dance with me.” He held out his hand. He would not take no for an answer.
She placed her hand in his. It was a magic moment. He felt as if he’d been changed in some indefinable way.
He pressed her gloved fingers to his lips. “Do you feel what I feel? The draw? The pull?”
She nodded. “My heart is beating as if I’ve been racing a great distance.
Devon smiled. “As is mine. Tell me your name.”
Leah. He loved the sound of it. “I’m Devon. Do you feel what I’m feeling, Leah?”
“As if we were destined to meet?”
Her answer reinforced his belief that something greater than both of them was at work.
“Come.” He lead her out onto the dance floor where they took their places for the Pavane, the sort of ritualistic promenade he usually hated. But not tonight. Tonight, he was transformed. Him! A man who had sworn that one woman was as good as another and had sampled most. Colors were suddenly brighter, the music sweeter, the world full of possibilities. Looking at her, he felt he’d discovered something that had been missing in his life–
A rough hand grabbed his arm. Devon whirled on his attacker, ready to defend her. Before him stood Harold Carrollton, his face red with anger, his fists clenched.
Devon wasn’t afraid. Harold was more bluster than bully. The man was a shiftless gambler, just like all the other members of the family.
The Marshall’s and the Carrollton’s did not mix. Especially since Devon blamed Harold’s father for his own father’s death.
“Take your bloody hands off my sister.” Carrollton spat the words out.
The floor seemed to disappear beneath Devon’s feet. He didn’t look at her. Didn’t want to see her face and damning confirmation.
Instead, he’d turned and left the ballroom without looking back. But he’d never forgotten her or those precious, magic moments . . .
Now here she was in the middle of no where, slopping pigs, and looking more lovely than he had remembered her.
She was also very, very pregnant.
The sudden jolt of jealousy was staggering.