Eviana Waring caught sight of Lord Sinclair the moment she entered the Pump Room. Beside her, Isabel dug an elbow into her side,
"There's Lord Sinclair, standing by Sir Rodney." Her younger sister gestured with a subtle nod. "He's not nearly as handsome as the baron, is he? Or as tall."
"Bel!" Hoping to cut off any further appraisal and flushing with embarrassment at the thought of being caught staring, Evie caught her sister by the arm and towed her after the stately figure of their aunt, ignoring Isabel's protests.
Despite the growing popularity of Brighton, there was still a crowd of people promenading about the Pump Room, eager to see someone they knew or catch the eye of someone they hoped to. Mrs. Brantley beckoned to her nieces, as one after the other of her acquaintances asked for an introduction. Offering her best smile and curtsey, Evie forced herself to properly greet her aunt's friends and tried not to let herself think of the viscount standing at the other side of the room.
"Aren't people kind?" Isabel whispered in her ear, as yet another lady pushed her son forward to make his bow. Evie felt her smile falter for a moment before she managed to fix it more firmly on her lips. She was well aware that the source of people's interest in two girls fresh from the country did not come from kindness.
A flutter amongst the people surrounding them signalled the arrival of the true cause of their civility.
"Lord Sinclair!" Her aunt turned to greet him and Evie felt her heart jump inside her. He bowed,
"Mrs. Brantley, Miss Waring, Miss Isabel." She disagreed with her sister; in his own way, he was handsome, but like everything else about him, it was an understated attractiveness. Time and again her gaze was drawn to him and each time she found him more appealing than the last. She hastily turned her gaze down to a pair of beautifully shined hessians.
"Miss Isabel, will you take a turn with me?" Looking up now that he had his back to her and aware that her eyes were openly displaying the wistful longing in her heart, Evie watched her sister take the viscount's arm and be lead away. Around her, women young and old sighed and she could hear mumbled comments on how lucky Isabel Waring, a country nobody, was to have caught Lord Sinclair's notice.
Evie trailed after her aunt as the older lady went to partake of the waters, unable to stop herself from flicking occasional glances at her sister and the viscount.
"They make a very handsome couple, do they not?" Evie blushed, but knew there was no point in denying that she had been watching them.
"Yes, they do," she murmured. Her sister's blonde delicacy was charmingly displayed against Lord Sinclair's dark haired, muscular build; her soft blue muslin delightfully displayed against his coat of dark blue superfine. Isabel's familiar laughter cut through the hum of conversation, turning heads and causing smiles. Evie felt a tug at her heart as her sister turned her head up to look her companion in the eye and earned a smile with her response. Isabel's liveliness, though occasionally bordering on the audacious, somehow never crossed that invisible line into fast and always managed to please.
"You look so much like your father, my dear." Evie hastily turned her attention to her aunt at this fond comment, realising that she had missed some of the comments that lady had been making while she engaged in an achingly impossible daydream.
"Mama always said so," she responded with a weak smile. The remark, which she had heard so often in her life before, generally followed one made about her sister's appearance.
She was the complete opposite of Isabel, both in nature and looks. Her brown hair and eyes, her taller and more well rounded form, her quiet disposition were neither fashionable nor the sort to attract the attention of a gentleman. Now twenty four, Evie had long ago resigned herself to the fact that she wouldn't marry, but when her aunt had generously extended this invitation to spend a few weeks visiting with her in Bath, a traitorous hope to the contrary had raised its head.
She had even seen, on her first day in Bath, the man she would love for the rest of her life. It was the greatest irony that he only had eyes for her sister and the greatest pain that with each meeting her feelings only deepened.
As they returned, Evie dropped her gaze, fastening it on the viscount's waistcoat - a tasteful ivory with satin striping of the same shade. In love she may be, but she had her pride and would not wear her heart on her sleeve or show it in her eyes.
"Oh, Evie!" Isabel was bubbling over with happiness and Evie was grateful to be able to direct her attention somewhere other than the man before her. She gave her sister an affectionate smile, reflecting painfully that she had never seen Bel in such good looks before. "The most wonderful thing! Lord Sinclair and Sir Rodney are getting up a party to Farley Castle. They have already asked Miss Taylor and Miss Anna and their brother and cousin, and we shall stop for a light luncheon and... Oh, say that you will come with us, Evie!"
"You ought to be asking Aunt Delphi, Bel," Evie chided her quietly, even as her heart managed to both leap and drop at the thought of spending a whole day in the company of Lord Sinclair.
"It sounds delightful," said that lady happily, "you girls go and enjoy yourselves. It's such a pretty ride, especially at this time of year. If I was twenty years younger I'd come with you myself." Ride. Evie's stomach dropped.
"Indeed, very pretty," the viscount's voice sounded, rescuing her from her misery as she tried to stammer out a polite refusal, "but I understand from Miss Isabel that Miss Waring does not ride, so I thought to invite her to come up with me in my curricle." Evie's eyes flew to meet his and she found him smiling at her encouragingly.
"Oh yes, I had forgotten to say," Isabel seized her sister's hands. "Do say you will come with us, Evie." Evie laughed softly and nodded,
"I should most happy to accept, my lord, thank you."
"We shall call for you tomorrow morning then. I bid you good day, Mrs. Brantley, Miss Isabel, Miss Waring." He bowed and turned to stride away to where his friend, Sir Rodney Appleton was waiting. Evie watched him go. Had it just been wishful thinking that had conjured up that brief tenderness in his eyes?
Evie tried to use the intervening period to gain a balance of mind, repeatedly reminding herself that Lord Sinclair was doing this for her sister and it was Isabel's generosity that had caused her to be included in the excursion.
By the time she had sat through breakfast, succeeding only in swallowing a mouthful of tea and pushing her eggs around on her plate, she had almost decided to cry off with a megrim. It would certainly be the truth if this tortuous battle between mind and heart continued.
"They are here, Evie, are you ready?" Isabel was almost dancing with excitement and what little of Evie's own joy evaporated at the sight of her sister so happy to be in Lord Sinclair's company.
"Yes, I'm ready." She followed Isabel and her aunt out of the house, onto the street.
"Miss Isabel!" Sir Rodney dismounted and beckoned forward a groom. "Your horse, as promised." Evie watched her sister squeal with unaffected delight over the gelding, stroking his nose, offering him a piece of apple purloined from the dining room and patting his neck.
"Miss Waring?" The quiet voice coming from beside her so suddenly, made her jump and a strong hand caught hold of her elbow as her foot slipped off the pavement. "My apologies, I didn't mean to startle you. Are you all right? Miss Waring?" Evie slowed her errant breathing and tried to ignore the pounding of her heart that his touch had caused.
"Yes, yes, my lord, I'm sorry," she caught herself before she could gabble on any further, revealing her agitation. The sound of hooves on the cobbles rescued her and she turned to greet the new arrivals: Miss Laura Taylor, her sister Anna, their brother and Mr. Sefton their cousin.
She was helped into the curricle, her comfort assured with gentle courtesy and the party set into motion. The busy streets of Bath took all of Lord Sinclair's attention, allowing Evie time to recover her poise and observe her sister laughing at something Sir Rodney had said.
"Your sister sits a horse very well," Lord Sinclair remarked, once they had left Bath behind, "is there a particular reason that you do not ride, Miss Waring?"
"It isn't that I do not ride, my lord, but that I do not enjoy it."
"Did you always feel like that?"
"Not always, no. Both my parents loved to ride and would take me up before one or other of them even before I could walk. I had my own pony from a very young age."
"But now you do not enjoy it. May I ask why?" There was such genuine interest in his voice, that Evie found herself replying with unguarded candour,
"I was riding with my mother when her horse was startled by a rabbit and bolted with her. When the mare jumped a fence, my mother was unseated..." Evie trailed away, realising what she was saying. "I am sorry, I did not mean to burden you with that story."
"It is no burden," his voice was very gentle, "I was the one intruding." Evie turned swiftly to look up at him,
"It was no intrusion, my lord," she assured him, "and... thank you for taking me up with you in your curricle." He nodded gravely, but his eyes twinkled at her and his lips twitched. She found herself smiling and ducked her head shyly. He turned the conversation to what they would find at Farley Castle and some history of the surrounding countryside. Evie, a voracious reader, could share easily with this line of thought, even adding to the viscount's knowledge.
"I had no idea you were so interested in history, Miss Waring. You have whetted my appetite for further study."
"Not history so much, sir, as how people used to live and what their homes looked like and the clothes they wore."
"And what else interests you, Miss Waring? Obviously you are widely read, do you paint or draw?"
"Not very well, I'm afraid, but Isabel is very good with watercolours."
"Embroider then, cover screens or net purses? I must confess, Miss Waring, that I too am interested in people, not so much of history, but the here and now and what they like to do." Evie blinked and then smiled again,
"All those things, sir. I enjoy creating things with my hands. I have even attempted to press my own paper, though the finished result was only suitable for wrapping some fish that my father caught!" He laughed and Evie felt a thrill blossom inside her. He had a lovely laugh, warm and rich, it lit his entire face, brightening his grey eyes and softening the lines of his jaw.
"But still it had a use, Miss Waring." He was smiling down at her in such a tender way that she was finding it difficult to breathe.
"My lord," she whispered. He glanced away from her for a moment and then drew the horses down to a walk.
"Miss Waring," he murmured softly. His glance however had broken the spell and brought her sister back to mind.
"The others will leave us behind." Her words were choked, coloured with the ache she felt in her heart. She turned away, but felt his eyes rest on her for a moment before he urged his horses up to a faster pace again. Disappointment, as hot as the thrill of a moment before when she had made him laugh, churned at her. The rest of the journey to the castle was completed in silence.
Evie's misery was further deepened however, at the luncheon, as she watched Isabel laugh and talk with Sir Rodney. It was one thing for her heart to be slowly breaking to pieces inside her, but quite another for her sister to do the same for Lord Sinclair. She glanced at the viscount to see his reaction to Isabel's apparent defection, only to blush furiously as she found him watching her.
"We are going to explore the chapel," Isabel broke into her thoughts and Evie realised that she had been woolgathering.
"Oh, yes." She made as if to rise, but Isabel forestalled her, bending down beside her, a concerned expression on her face.
"Evie? You're terribly pale and you've hardly eaten a thing." Glancing down, Evie saw that her sister was right. She hadn't even noticed.
"I..." She couldn't reveal the true source of her misery to her sister. Isabel would be terribly hurt if she thought that Evie had been watching her behaviour and found her wanting and her own tender heart wouldn't allow her to wound her beloved sister. In addition, she didn't think she could speak about it without turning into a watering pot.
"I have the headache, Bel, but it's not serious." Her sister frowned anxiously,
"Then perhaps you should sit here for a little. It's nice and shaded and once everyone has gone it will be quiet so you can rest. I will stay and keep you company."
"Oh, no, there's no nee..." A male voice interrupted Evie.
"If you will allow, Miss Isabel, I would be happy to remain behind. I have seen the chapel several times before and it would be a shame for you to miss it."
"Well, if you are sure, my lord," Isabel replied doubtfully.
"Miss Isabel?" Sir Rodney came to stand beside the little group, one hand extended, "are you coming? May I help you up?" Evie watched her outgoing sister blush as heatedly as she had under Lord Sinclair's gaze and a suspicion sparked at the back of her mind as Isabel bashfully put her hand into the baron's, allowing him to help her up. This new idea was promptly smothered as Lord Sinclair seated himself next to her.
"You don't mind, do you, Evie?" Barely waiting for her mumbled reply, the two followed after the others in the direction of the chapel.
"Is there anything more that I can get for you, Miss Waring?" Evie looked down at her plate, still clutched in her hands,
"No, thank you, my lord." A hand appeared in her vision and carefully removed the crockery.
"You and your sister are close." It wasn't a question, but Evie replied to it anyway to fill the silence.
"Yes, we are. I couldn't ask for a better sister."
"High praise," he remarked. "She and Rod seem to get on very well."
"Yes," Evie said faintly, "they do."
"You do not approve of Sir Rodney, Miss Waring?" Evie looked at him to find that he was observing her thoughtfully.
"I did not say that, my lord," she replied, frowning at his implication.
"Then perhaps it is the friendship between him and your sister you dislike." Evie's frown deepened and some of her discomfort was replaced by irritation at his suggestion.
"I beg that you will not put words into my mouth, sir. My sister is free to make friends where she will and I reserve my own judgement until I know the person in question well enough to decide."
"Then there is another reason for you watching your sister with disapproval all through the luncheon?" Evie stared at him.
"I... Was I?" He nodded. "Oh dear," she whispered. She rose to her feet to escape his nearness.
"Miss Waring, please look at me." He had followed her and when she reluctantly turned to face him, concern was creasing his brows. "I apologise, I did not wish to distress you, only..." he hesitated, "only to discover your feelings in this matter."
"My feelings?" Evie was finding it hard to breathe.
"Yes, Miss Waring. You caught my attention from the very first moment I saw you."
"But... but Isabel..."
"Is a lovely young woman, who I'm sure will be very happy one day with the gentleman of her choice." Evie couldn't quite believe what she was hearing,
"But Isabel is beautiful." He smiled and nodded,
"Yes, she is, but waif-like blondes do not attract me. Over the past few days I have discovered in myself a definite preference for cinnamon hair and expressive brown eyes." Evie found that she still couldn't let go of the thought of her sister.
"You asked Isabel to walk with you and... and invited her on this excursion."
"Because her sister would not look me in the eye," came the soft response. "In your own quiet way I thought that you were politely letting me know that you had taken me in dislike."
"Oh no!" Evie shook her head and then blushed. He smiled warmly,
"I am relieved to hear it, Miss Waring, more, perhaps, that you realise. You see, I thought that once you came to know me maybe your opinion might change, but the only way I could get close to you was through your sister." His smile faded into a slight frown. "Perhaps it was wrong of me to show such regard, but I knew that Miss Isabel's feelings were not engaged towards me, indeed, Rod often had to entertain her himself because my concentration was... elsewhere." His look allowed her no doubt as to exactly where that had been and she ducked her head shyly.
"I thought up this expedition today purely so that I could spend some time with you. I must tell you, Miss Waring that I found no uncommon delight in your company during the journey here."
"Then, you do not care for Isabel nor she for you?"
"Not in that way, my dear." Evie's heart thrilled at his words and the sweet endearment.
"I have been so unhappy," she said, hardly able to believe that she had somehow passed from such a miserable state into something so wondrously joyous.
"I have seen it."
"No," she looked up to meet his gaze and marvelled at the tenderness she saw there, "no, not for myself, sir, or at least," she added honestly, "not entirely. You see, I saw how Isabel was favouring Sir Rodney's company over yours and I was worried..."
"For the state of my heart, sweetings? I assure you, it was never in your sister's power to hurt me. It was given away before I had spent more than a moment in her company."
"It was?" Evie found that she couldn't look away from that compelling gaze.
"But I trust it's holder completely, so kind and generous is she. Did you know," he continued, "that she was even willing to forgo her own happiness for that of her sister's?"
"My lord," she whispered. He was standing very near to her now and he reached up to lightly brushed a finger down her cheek,
"Your sister calls you Evie, but that is not your full name, is it."
"No. It is Eviana."
"So pretty. My I have your permission to use it?" She couldn't have refused him anything and nodded her head. His arm slid around her, "and you shall call me Miles."
"Miles," Evie murmured the name, trying out its sound on her tongue.
"Louder, sweetings, call me close."
"Miles," she repeated and he ducked his head until his lips hovered above hers.
"Eviana," he breathed and her mouth opened in a soundless O of wonder at the feelings her name, spoken so close to her own lips by his, kindled inside her. The kiss was light and magical and transported her far beyond the troubles of the day. He was the one to break it, setting her back with reluctance.
"The others are returning and I want to court you properly, sweetings." Evie straightened her dress with automatic motions.
"Yes," she murmured, unable to completely quash the sense of disappointment. He tilted her head up by pressing a long finger under her chin.
"Miss Waring," he was smiling, "will you be at the assembly tonight?" The frustration vanished as she saw that he both understood and shared her feelings.
"I believe my aunt is planning to attend, my lord."
"Then will you reserve the first two dances for me?" Her eyes sparkled and she looked up at him from under her lashes, daring now that she was certain of his feelings towards her.
"I should be honoured... Miles." His eyes widened and he had her blushing again with his next words,
"Unless you disagree, Eviana, I think that this courtship should be short."
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