and old, but none had been as charming or as handsome as Lord Bentley.

He had returned to claim her for the supper dance and by the end of the evening she had quite revised her former opinion and was halfway to liking him a great deal. She was not so I as to believe he was so afflicted and did not expect to hear from him again.

*   *   *

The next morning when she returned from her early morning ride she was greeted by a frantic Aunt Laura.”My dear girl, such an honour, indeed it is quite worth the aggravation of rising at the crack of dawn.”

“Aunt Laura, I’ve no idea of what you mean. Indeed, I am astonished to find you abroad so early.”

“I told you, my love, The Duke of Rochester has come to call on you. He’s been here half an hour already. Poor Illingworth has been obliged to talk to him. I could not remain in the same room, he puts me all in a flutter, he stares at one in such a way as to make you believe you have a smut upon your nose.”

Isobel was dumbfounded; for such an illustrious person to make his appearance but a few hours after the end of the ball was incredible. Had he been as taken with her as she was with him? Had their encounter in Norfolk made her seem a friend and not a stranger?

“I had better not waste time by returning to my chamber and changing from my riding habit.” The look of horror she received from her aunt made her laugh. “He cannot expect us to be in our finery if he chooses to call so early. This is a very becoming habit, it exactly matches my eyes, have you not told me so several times before?”

Not waiting to hear the reply Isobel walked straight across the chequered entrance hall and into the drawing-room. Two heads turned. Her uncle was patently relieved and the duke showed unmistakable appreciation in his eyes.

She dipped in a deep curtsy; the jaunty ostrich feather on the brim of her military style swept the floor. Straightening, she gazed across the room at the two men, waiting for one of them to speak.

“Lady Isobel, forgive me for calling so early, but like you I am in the habit of riding before anyone else is around. I wished to invite you to drive in the park with me this afternoon.”

She was surprised at his statement. He did not look like a man who relished exercise at any time. Then she recalled his wild appearance last year and reconsidered. He had a slightly jaded air about him today, as if he had been spending his days in idle pursuits not something as invigorating as a gallop around Hyde Park.

“I should be delighted to accompany you, your grace, if my uncle gives me permission.”

“I am quite happy for you to do so, my dear, as long as you are accompanied by your abigail.”

A flash of something passed across the duke’s handsome features. This was quite possibly annoyance. Had he really believed his title would allow him to ride roughshod over her good name?

“Forgive me, gentlemen, but as you see I have not yet had the opportunity to change from my riding habit …” She stopped, appalled she’d been so immodest as to mention changing her apparel. This time his eyes glittered with something she did not recognize. Her cheeks blazed. Hastily she curtsied a second time and without further comment turned to go.

His deep voice followed her. “I shall arrive to collect you at two o’clock, Lady Isobel.”

She was sorely tempted to return to the drawing-room and tell this autocratic gentleman that two o’clock was not convenient, but common sense prevented her. A man like him had been born and bred to issue orders in the expectation that they would be obeyed without question. His dark visage had often filled her dreams these past few weeks. Indeed, it would be no hardship to drive with the most attractive man in Town.

She ran upstairs with her skirt draped over her arm and smiled at the thought of being seen in his company. If Petunia was to be believed, she would now be the talk of the town. Was it really possible one man could influence opinion in this way?

*   *   *

Mary stood back, her dear face glowing with pride. “My lady, I don’t believe there is another as beautiful as you in Town this season. The leaf green of your promenade gown was a perfect choice. I must say I wasn’t sure it was quite right for you when you selected it.”

“It seems a pity to cover the pretty beading on the bodice with my pelisse, but it’s decidedly chilly this afternoon. I know it’s the end of March, but it doesn’t feel like spring.” Isobel lifted the hem of her dress to stare at her new half-kid boots dyed to exactly match her ensemble. “These are decidedly uncomfortable, it’s fortunate I shall not have to walk far in them.”

“You know how it is, my lady, they will ease with wear. Your bonnet brim is so deep it’s going to prevent you from speaking to the duke. You will have to turn your head in order to see him.”

“That’s exactly why I selected it. If I find his company tedious I can stare straight ahead and he will have no notion that I am pulling faces at him.”

“My lady! You must not jest about such things; if you offend such an illustrious person your season could be ruined. One word from him and your invitations will be withdrawn. Remember how you met last November?”

“He is a man like any other; I shall treat him with the respect he deserves.”

She picked up her gloves and reticule and checked in the glass she was looking her best. After all, her appearance was the only thing she had to offer. Being the daughter of an impecunious earl would not impress this man. He was prodigiously handsome, fabulously wealthy and a duke - but for all that unless he engaged her affections she would not consent to marry him. Was it possible he had been thinking of her since their first encounter?

Good grief! She had been invited to drive and already she was anticipating an offer. On hearing voices in the vestibule she paused at the head of the stairs. She had not expected him to leave his carriage and come in person to collect her. He must not keep his team waiting a moment longer on her account. They were the same handsome chestnuts he had driven in Norfolk.

“Lady Isobel, you are ravisante. And equally important, you are not tardy.” He bowed and she paused halfway down the stairs to dip in a curtsy.

“Thank you, your grace, for your compliment. I am famous for my punctuality, am I not, Uncle?”

He nodded solemnly. “Indeed, my dear, you are an example to us all.”

She hid her smile beneath her bonnet brim; it was a standing joke that she was always the last to appear having had her nose in a book or become lost in her music.

Bentley met her at the foot of the staircase holding out his arm. She had no option but to place her hand on it. It was the same as when they had danced together last night, just touching him made her feel decidedly odd. She daren’t glance sideways; he would see that her cheeks were flushed and know he was affecting her.

“Oh my! A high perch phaeton - I had no idea you would drive such a thing.”

“I am a noted whipster, my lady. Unfortunately, as you can see, I will be unable to accommodate your maid. However, it’s perfectly permissible to drive in an open carriage in broad daylight without risking your reputation.”

Mary was rigid with disapproval. Isobel was tempted to refuse to accompany him, but the resulting fracas would cause distress to her relatives and she would not willingly do that. He was perfectly correct, only in a closed carriage did she need to be chaperoned.

Smiling apologetically at her abigail she continued down the marble steps where the alarming vehicle was waiting. A diminutive tiger was all but swinging from the head of the lead horse as it stamped and pawed the ground in its eagerness to be away.

Without a by your leave his strong hands gripped her waist and she was all but tossed aboard. The phaeton rocked alarmingly and she clutched the side and it did so again as he joined her.

His tiger released his grip and shot to the rear of the vehicle to scramble, not a moment too soon, on to the step at the rear. With a flick of his whip the duke released the team and they moved smoothly away from the path and on to the main thoroughfare. There was no conversation between them, she kept her eyes firmly on the road ahead fearing that at any minute the spirited team would spook and deposit her on the road.

Her worries receded as they progressed safely through the traffic. He was in control of his horses, she was in no danger with him beside her. She began to relax and to look about her with interest. This was the first time she’d travelled in such a modern vehicle. Its prodigious height gave one such an advantage over other road users. She saw the park gates ahead several minutes before they arrived there.

There were many like-minded carriages entering the park. Two o’clock was obviously the time to be seen bowling around the paths. They had not been inside for many minutes before she became aware that every head

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