Earlier this year, Mr. Thaddeus Middleton had realized he’d been placing all his attention on the same pool of ladies. The outgoing ones, the flirtatious ones, the ones who had known him for so long that every one of his dances was promised within moments of stepping foot in a ballroom. Such evenings were fun, but got him no closer to his goal. Worse, he might have spent the past decade skipping over all the most interesting women.
Thad had immediately declared this season the Year of the Wallflower.
By dedicating at least half of each evening to ladies he’d never danced with before, he’d met countless new friends… and no potential brides. But just because there had been no fireworks so far didn’t mean he was on the wrong track. In fact, the season had barely begun, and he’d already witnessed two unlikely love matches. Didn’t fortune come in threes?
He turned a slow circle, paying close attention to those in the margins. Although gentlemen carried no dance cards, Thad kept careful track. He still had a handful of unclaimed sets. Some young lady here tonight might be the one to spark the fireworks he sought.
An excited tingle of anticipation rushed through him. Dark brown curls, gorgeous brown eyes, dusky pink lips, an enticing combination of soft skin and lush curves wrapped in a gauzy roses-and-cream evening gown.
He knew her name: Miss Priscilla Weatherby. They had been formally presented during her come-out four or five years ago, but hadn’t spoken since.
Although a reasonably familiar face at society gatherings, Miss Weatherby rarely stood up for more than a quadrille or two and tended to guard her company. As such, her name had never been linked to gossip—or bandied about much at all. She was almost as much a fixture as the gilded columns and crimson ropes partitioning the ballroom.
Not today. He rolled back his shoulders in determination. After being on the shelf for five years, Miss Weatherby had likely tired of being overlooked by unimaginative lordlings. If she had never danced a waltz, why, Thad would be honored to be the first to ask.
He strode in her direction with confidence and good cheer. Even if no spark marked the occasion, at least they would get a dance out of it, and possibly a few laughs. Miss Weatherby might well become the most memorable set of the entire night.
When he reached the pilaster whose shadow half-concealed her from view, Thad swept a glorious bow. “How do you do this evening, Miss Weatherby? Dare I hope room remains on your card for a dance?”
She gazed back at him with a fathomless expression. “Why?”
He blinked. “Er, because this is a ballroom. For dancing. The food might be wretched, but the orchestra is lovely. Unfortunately, it is impossible to dance a quadrille by oneself, so I wondered—”
“I know what dancing is,” she interrupted, her dark eyes locked on his with amusement and heat. “Why would you want to do it with me?”
Thad moved closer with interest. Now that the conversation had taken such an unprecedented turn, he wasn’t certain he wished to waste a thirty-minute set marking out the steps of a quadrille. Conversingwith Miss Weatherby would be leagues more diverting.
“We needn’t dance,” he said at once, and gave her a full smile. “I’m happy to promenade, if you prefer.”
There was no sense hiding how intrigued he’d just become. Thad did not believe in playing games. Part of being in the right place at the right time meant not ruining the moment by feigning indifference.
She tilted her head. “Did I do something to make you think I’d be interested in perambulating about a ballroom on your elbow?”
“Er,” Thad said brightly. “That is…”
“Or did you come here because you judged me to be a wallflower, and therefore desperate for the attention of some impossibly handsome gentleman with courtly manners and a contagious smile?”
Impossibly handsome and courtly manners sounded wildly complimentary.
Thad suspected it was not.
“Er,” he said again. “Only a fool would believe all wallflowers—”
“Only a fool,” she interrupted, “would assume a woman not dancing must be heartbroken over a lack of suitors. Perhaps the woman received plenty of offers and simply said, ‘No.’ Just like this.”
Miss Weatherby stepped away from the pilaster and into the light, her upturned chin and plump lips suddenly close to his own. “No.”
With a flutter of eyelashes, she turned and walked off.
Thad stared after her, thunderstruck. Their encounter had been more sledgehammer than spark, but one thing was certain:
Only a fool would overlook a woman like Miss Weatherby.