“Good afternoon, ladies, sir,” Lythmore greeted them with a doff of his hat. “I could not help but notice as we drove past that Madame de Vouvret seemed unwell. May I offer my assistance?”
Arianne’s companions stared, speechless, for they had just been discussing the duke, and here he was! As if they had conjured him! Arianne’s heart fluttered in her chest. Lythmore’s gaze settled on her as he waited for an answer. Words would not form on her lips. All she could do was shake her head in the negative. Fortunately, the others did not notice she was speechless.
Arianne found her voice long enough to introduce her acquaintances. Lythmore bowed his greeting, tossed a cocky little smile in Arianne’s direction, and then introduced his companion, Mrs. Sally Turner, his cousin, lately widowed. Fool, she scolded herself for being such a ninny. The baroness fluttered her lashes, and Sir Roderick and Lady Cecilia expressed their condolences upon the demise of Mrs. Turner’s dear husband. Lythmore’s attention crept back to her.
Arianne tried to focus on the conversation going on around her, but his gaze drew her in. She felt herself falling into a void, so huge and so expansive, it seemed to swallow her. But his eyes held her gently, safely. Time turned to infinity. Her breathing halted. Her heart, that traitorous, fickle organ, skipped and cavorted wildly in her chest.
Stop, she commanded herself.
She must not.
He smiled. She blinked.
That void had a very hard bottom as she landed. She stumbled again. Gasping, she dragged air into her lungs.
“My dear, what is it?” Mrs. Weathersby whispered from her right.
“Is something amiss?” Lady Cecilia Crump demanded from her left.
“I’m terribly sorry,” Arianne said. “I am not feeling well. A slight dizzy spell.” She watched a line of concern appear between Lythmore’s brows. Embarrassed at the commotion she was creating, she said, “I’ll be fine after a few moments.”
“Oh, you poor dear,” Sally Turner exclaimed. “You must have Lythmore drive you home. I feel the need to walk a bit. I will promenade with your delightful companions.”
The others enthusiastically agreed, except for the baroness, who sent Mrs. Turner a chilly sideways glare. Arianne tried to decline gracefully, but matters were taken out of her hands. Lythmore nimbly jumped down from the curricle. He helped Mrs. Turner descend. Arianne closed her eyes and wished she could disappear. She did not want to create a disturbance, and she certainly did not wish to have news of her silly weakness spread about. She sensed his presence before her and felt herself teeter on the brink of that void once more. If I do not look at him, I will not fall.
“Madame, may I help you up?” she heard him say.
Her eyes snapped open.
Lythmore held out a hand to her.
Arianne forced a smile and kept her gaze focused on his hand, neatly covered in a leather driving glove. Perhaps if that hand had been bare, she might have been all right. She might not have remembered another gloved hand from another time, one that had reached out to her, one that caused guilt to twist in her chest. That other hand floated before her vision and superimposed itself on Lythmore’s hand. The sands at the edge of the void shifted. She felt herself falling weightless once more. She swayed. Calmly, Lythmore stepped forward, and without warning, swept Arianne up into his arms.Return to Confessions of a Dangerous Duke