Miss Diana Middleton slumped against the ballroom’s decorative wainscoting. No need to open a journal to discover this woman’s name. This was Miss Felicity Sutton, younger sister—and sole sibling—to the Duke of Colehaven. Who was proving more vexing by the second.
Her fingers curled into fists. “Did your brother send you over here?”
“Yes,” Miss Sutton replied without prevarication.
“For what purpose?” Diana demanded. “He cannot desire a formal introduction.”
“Not with him,” Miss Sutton agreed. “I’m to introduce you to everyone else, particularly the gentlemen.”
Diana gaped at her. “Why?”
“He didn’t say.” Miss Sutton lifted a shoulder. “But it appears he intends to matchmake you. Or have me do it, rather.”
Over Diana’s dead body. The back of her neck flushed with heat. She was not some pitiful project for an arrogant duke to take under his wing, and she definitely wasn’t going to allow him to upset her perfectly controlled “wallflower” guise.
Her hackles rose. To the devil with the duke, and he could take his sister with him. Diana had no use for anyone who believed he could march all over someone else’s life, and she certainly wasn’t going to submit to—
“From here, I can see at least half a dozen eligible bachelors I could introduce you to.” Miss Sutton’s brown eyes brightened. “Or we could go to the library instead.”
A snort of startled laughter escaped before Diana could contain it.
“You don’t intend to heed your brother’s bidding?”
“My life’s work primarily consists of thwarting him at every turn,” Miss Sutton replied with an impish grin. “I suppose I could introduce you to all the most ineligible bachelors, and count how many minutes he lasts before storming over to demand what the deuce I think I’m doing.”
Diana grinned. Such an image was almost tempting. Miss Sutton wasn’t what she’d expected after all. If Diana could afford to risk having friends, someone like Miss Sutton wouldn’t be a bad start.
Unfortunately, Diana had to nip this nonsense in the bud before her ability to move unnoticed in this crowd was ruined forever.
“The library,” she said decisively. It should be vacant enough for a quick conversation to go unremarked. “Can you bring your brother to me?”
“Oh, pooh.” Miss Sutton’s shoulders sank. “I was hoping we could hunt for the latest Radcliffe instead.”
“You hunt for the Radcliffe,” Diana suggested. “I’m going to let your brother know exactly what I think of his meddling.”
“On second thought,” Miss Sutton said, “I’d rather watch that.” She dipped into a perfect curtsy. “Miss Felicity Sutton, unexpectedly pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Miss Diana Middleton.” With a grin, Diana dipped a curtsy of her own. “Likewise.”
If she wondered how Miss Sutton intended to lure her brother to the library, the mystery did not last for long. The moment the two young ladies quit the wainscoting in favor of the ballroom exit, rather than the dance floor, Colehaven immediately abandoned his champagne in pursuit.
Diana and Miss Sutton had only just found the library when Colehaven burst in right behind them.
“Why aren’t you in the ballroom?” he demanded.
“Why are you in my business at all?” Diana countered, hands on her hips.
Miss Sutton disappeared among the stacks of books, but Diana rather suspected she was peeking from behind the credenzas.
“What’s so hard about meeting other people?”
“I didn’t enjoy meeting you,” Diana snapped, her heart racing. She hadn’t noticed how long his eyelashes were before. She couldn’t look away from those magnetic hazel eyes.
“I don’t enjoy being extorted,” he snarled. Or perhaps meant to snarl.
He didn’t look angry anymore. In fact, he wasn’t looking at her eyes at all. His gaze had dropped a few inches lower, where Diana’s teeth nibbled her lower lip.
She licked her lips in response.
He stepped closer.
“I blackmailed you,” she stammered, the words coming out far breathier than she intended, “into not marrying me.”
“Marriage is not what’s on my mind.” His voice was husky, his mouth suddenly nearer, as if he could not prevent his body from inching closer and closer to hers.
Somehow, her feet were doing the same. When the tip of her toe brushed against his, her shiver had nothing to do with the January weather and everything to do with the irresistible scoundrel before her.
“Queen to H5,” she whispered.
“A feint,” he murmured, the full intensity of his gaze meeting hers. “My pawn protects me.”
Her heart beat faster at the realization that he, too, could visualize a chessboard.
She shook her head. “You lost that pawn in your opening gambit.”
“Did I?” he asked softly, lifting his hand toward her face. “Then may the queen defend herself from this move.”
His thumb touched her cheek.
Diana held her breath.