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Jim wrote this scene prior to the accident and we both agreed it was the perfect way for Fox and Catherine to first meet at the opening of the book:

The marriage mart is officially open, Fox thought cynically.

The moment he stepped through the door, he could see the Marquess of Pennington's spring ball was a press. Glittering ladies dripping with jewels and clad in brilliant hues of satin and brocade were swept across the polished marble floor by beardless youths and older gentlemen. Everyone perspired, overdressed for the unseasonably warm evening and filled with nervous energy of one sort or another.

Under the watchful eyes of their mamas, eligible misses simpered and fluttered hoping to land suitable husbands. Their dance partners strived mightily to appear witty and charming, hoping to impress either a rich heiress or a beautiful bride, depending on whether the men themselves possessed sufficient lands or titles. Being independently wealthy, Fox had no desire to win the hand of an heiress or a vapid society belle. Cyprians and opera dancers were ever so much more enjoyable. And when he tired of a current partner in pleasure, he could quickly reach an equitable settlement for parting.

The devil of it was his adopted grandfather was George William Beaumont, Ninth Marquess of Cargrave. The wily old devil had lured him back to Albion's shore from his self-imposed exile in America by feigning illness. Once here, Fox realized the old man was awake on every suit, just as he had been all his life.

Cargrave wanted him settled and married. Worse yet, so did his beloved Rachel, wife of his adopted brother Jason Beaumont, the Earl of Falconridge, who also agreed. This unholy trio had become insufferable matchmakers. His brother Jason of all people should have understood how Fox felt. Their grandfather had actually blackmailed Jason and Rachel into marriage. The fact that he adored his brother's unconventional wife, and that the two of them had made a splendid love match in the end did not influence Fox's opinion of marital bliss. They came from pure undiluted English bloodlines.

Fox did not.

Shaking off unpleasant memories of his time at Harrow and Oxford, Fox surveyed the room, his dark eyes glancing around the perimeter where the more homely girls sat in silent misery. Their parents were less likely to take offense if he signed their daughter's dance cards. Some families were even desperate enough to countenance his suit. He was, after all, held in high regard by the Marquess of Cargrave and the Earl of Falconridge. That he had been given a profitable estate by Grandfather did not hurt either.

Ah such sacrifice, mixing blue blood with red Indian, he thought wryly. Modesty never having been Fox's long suit, he knew he was far better looking than any of the pasty-faced prigs prancing on the dance floor.

Of course he had not the slightest intention of pursuing any of the girls, no matter their physical or mental capacities. He was simply going through the motions to please Grandfather, Jason and Rachel. He signed dance cards, favored wallflowers with his dazzling white smile and gave each a turn about the floor. After about an hour or so, he needed some fresh air. Nervous perspiration and sickly sweet perfume clogged his nostrils as he made his way toward a set of open doors leading onto the large stone veranda that ran the length of the east side of the mansion.

Once the forced laughter and string music faded, the coolness of fresh air greeted him. He took a deep breath and reached inside his jacket pocket for a cigar. Blessed solitude. No more brainless nattering. But before he could light the fine tobacco, sounds of a scuffle emanated from the shadows at the opposite end of the gallery.

A woman's hissed angry whisper cut across the distance. "I warn you, Virgil, remove your hand from my arm at once."

"Aw, com'on, Cathy, jus a li'l kiss." The male voice was slurred with drink.

Silent as if he were still wearing moccasins in the forest, Fox closed the distance and recognized the lout attempting to embrace the female. "Well, Fenton, I see your manners have not improved since university. Nor your winning ways with the fair sex. You're still a little weasel."

Virgil Fenton was not a small man, but the tall man looming over him had a good five inches on him. Suddenly growing much more sober, he glared up at Fox. "Demme, I had no idea Pennington would invite such as you."

"You still have not complied with the lady's demand," Fox said, staring down at Fenton's hand encircling the girl's arm. Before Virgil could reply, Fox reached over, grasping his arm, driving his thumb into the inside of his adversary's elbow.

Fenton let out a howl as what felt like a lightening bolt shot down his arm. He released the girl's forearm immediately, attempting to back away while cradling his injured appendage in the other.

As he did so, the girl standing in the shadows turned her attention to Fox, snapping as she rubbed a red spot on her arm, "There was no need for your interference, sir. I could have handled the situation without assistance and without creating a stir."

Hell, she was angry with him! And decidedly not grateful. Still in shadows, she appeared to be attractive, but he did not care. He'd had his fill of arrogant aristocrats snapping at him. "And how would you have handled him, miss? Wrestle the weasel to the ground and out-bite him?"

In the dim light he could not tell if she was smiling or smirking as she smoothly extracted something from her reticule and held it up for his inspection. A small but wicked looking dagger gleamed with menace. Fox nodded, bemused at the most unlikely accoutrement for a belle. "No doubt you also carry a skinning knife under that gown."

She deftly replaced the dagger and turned away, heading for the nearest doorway to the ballroom. Dulcetly she whispered over her shoulder, "Trust me, sirrah, you shall never see what is under this gown."

For a second Fox froze as she moved into the light while still looking over her shoulder. Lud, she was a fire-haired beauty, tall and slender, with a face that could grace a cameo broach. Quickly, his long stride caught up to her as he said, "We seem to have gotten off to an unfortunate start. My name is Cameron Barlow." He had no time to sketch a bow as she kept walking. "And you are, m'lady?" he persisted.

"I am not your lady," she replied coldly, looking up at him.

He noted that she had the most unusual shade of turquoise eyes, high cheekbones and a decidedly kissable mouth, although the set of her jaw was mulish and the lips unsmiling.

Just before they reached the door, a loud shout from behind them called out, "What a hypocrite you are, miss. To spurn the honorable attentions of a gentleman and throw yourself at the infamous Shawnee Lord!"

Fenton was not as loud as a town crier, but did not miss the mark by much. It seemed that half the eyes in the ballroom had fastened on them. The redhead kept her gaze locked with Barlow's as the music stopped. "So, I have the dishonor of being escorted by the season's premiere rake." Again, her tone was soft, almost menacing.

Fox relished a challenge. Smiling in his most beguiling manner, he said, "I did not intend to subject you to my dubious reputation...ah, how shall I call you?"

"From a great distance would suit," she snapped back sotto voce, once more moving toward the gaping crowd.

Unused to being bested in a battle of wits with a female, especially when he turned on his charm, Fox coaxed, "No, please." He caught up to her but made no attempt to lay a hand on her.

"You may call me Damsel in Distress," she replied with enough dripping sarcasm to form a puddle. "Now if you will absent yourself, I shall find my father."

Fox shook his head and one straight ink black lock of hair tumbled across his forehead. "Very poor strategy, Distress," he whispered. "If I do not escort you to your father, the vultures in there will think you really did throw yourself at me. If you do not care-and I am beginning to believe you do not-think of your father."

Her step faltered at the doorway as she chewed her lip, considering. "Very well, let us find my father while-like the monks of old-you practice a vow of silence, the vow of chastity being quite beyond you, I am certain."

They walked with her gloved hand resting lightly on his arm, making their way toward the opposite side of the press where she saw her father emerging from the card room. Before she could utter a word, Fox extended his hand to the gentleman. "M'lord Distress, I am Barlow. 'Tis a pleasure. And you, m'lady, or miss, or just Distress, it has been...ah...interesting."

The tall older gentleman with thin silver hair blinked in startlement as his hand was seized for a cursory shake before he could create a scene by withdrawing it. The young man's words made no sense. Leave it to Catherine to make a breeze at her first go on the season's marriage mart.

Fox bowed and turned toward the front entry without further ado. Catherine watched his arrogant stride. She thought of all the puffed up lapdogs that had sniffed about her skirts the past year. Now she had just met a cunning, beautiful wolf, a wild and possibly dangerous creature for which her skirts would be no barrier. He would simply chew them off!


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        iBooks             | Kobo                          

Amazon.com | Barnes & Noble
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