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Excerpt

The Foundling Hospital, London
Saturday, June 8, 1816

Lady Juliana Chase's family often accused her of looking for trouble. Of sticking her nose where it didn't belong. Of exaggerating—if not outright imagining—other people's problems and sorrows and miseries.

But she would swear she'd never seen anything so sad in her life.

Upstairs in the Foundling Hospital's picture gallery, she stared through the window down into the courtyard. There, arranged in six neat, regimented lines, a hundred or more young girls performed calisthenics, resignation written on their faces. In all of her twenty-two years, Juliana couldn't remember ever feeling that grim.

"William Hogarth was a genius."

Sighing, she turned from the window to see her younger sister scrutinizing the art on the gallery's pale green walls. "I thought you preferred the Dutch masters."

"I do," Corinna said. "But look at the characters in this painting."

The work was titled The March of the Guards to Finchley, and the people depicted were, indeed, characters. Humor, rowdiness, and disorder abounded. "The drummer looks quite amused," Juliana said, swiveling back to look out the window.

The painting seemed a complete contrast to the figures outside.

Miss Emily Neville, Juliana's eight-year-old next-door neighbor, stood gazing through the glass beside her. "The girls don't appear to be ill. So why are they in hospital?"

"Hospital is an old word that originally meant 'guest house,'" Miss Strickland, the battle-axe of a woman assigned to shepherd visitors through the orphanage, explained in her no-nonsense way. "This is a charitable institution for children whose mothers couldn't keep them."

"My mother died." Still gazing outdoors, Emily absentmindedly raised a hand to stroke a slim, olive green snake that rested upon her shoulders. "May I play with the girls?"

Ranging in age from about five to perhaps fourteen, the children all had identical haircuts and wore aprons of stiff, unbleached linen over brown serge dresses. Juliana smoothed her palms over her own soft yellow skirts. "I'm afraid your snake might scare them."

"The girls aren't playing. They're exercising. Outdoor exercise is advocated for maximum health." Miss Strickland crossed her arms across her ample bosom. "And you couldn't play with them in any case, young lady, with or without that horrid creature."

"Herman isn't horrid," Emily said, slipping her hand into Juliana's. "He's naught but a common grass snake. Can't you tell by the black bars along his sides and the yellow collar behind his head? He's absolutely harmless, I assure you."

Juliana hid a smile. My, such a vocabulary for a girl of eight. Emily certainly was articulate.

But carrying a snake around was just not done.

Emily was Juliana's latest project, and Juliana was sure—positively sure—that with a bit of patience she could turn the girl into a perfect little lady. A few more outings with Herman ought to convince the child that the creature wasn't welcome in public.

She squeezed Emily's hand and turned back to Miss Strickland. "Do the girls ever play?"

"Of course they do," Miss Strickland said. "For an hour every Sunday." As though suddenly remembering her duty—principally to encourage donations—she stretched her lips in a smile that appeared rather forced. "Are you ladies enjoying your visit to the gallery?"

"Very much." Corinna moved to view the next painting. "George Lambert," she breathed. An artist herself, she'd suggested this day's outing to the Foundling Hospital's gallery. "What a lovely scene."

Mr. Lambert's picture was lovely, but Juliana couldn't peruse the painted people for long. Not when there were real people—disadvantaged children—to consider.

"What do the foundlings do all day?" she asked. "If they don't play?"

Miss Strickland squared her shoulders and began reciting by rote. "They rise at six and prepare for the day, the older girls dressing the younger children, the boys pumping water and such. At half past seven they breakfast, and at half past eight they begin school. At one o'clock they dine and return to school from two until dusk." She paused for a much-needed breath. "After supper, those not employed about the buildings are instructed in singing the Foundling Hymns and anthems, and in their catechism. At eight they go to bed."

What a life. Thinking about her own days and nights filled with parties and shopping and dancing, Juliana swallowed a lump in her throat. Still, the children looked healthy, warmly clothed, and well fed…which she supposed was more than could be said for much of London's youth.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked.

"Certainly, my lady. We are always pleased to accept monetary donations."

Juliana knew that was one of the purposes of the gallery. Popular artists donated paintings and sculpture, a scheme that not only gave the artists a chance to cement their social positions through well-publicized acts of charity, but also ensured that their work would be seen by those most wealthy and aristocratic—exactly the sort of people who might commission works of art for themselves and be persuaded to become patrons of the Hospital.

It was a most satisfactory arrangement for all concerned. But unfortunately Juliana hadn't the option to become a patroness at present. While it was true that her late father had provided a substantial dowry, and she wasn't in any way deprived—quite the opposite, in fact—as an unmarried woman she had no money of her own, other than a small allowance granted by her brother Griffin. "I cannot donate significant funds," she said apologetically.

Miss Strickland aimed a rather disbelieving look down her knife-edged nose, pointedly skimming her gaze over Juliana's fashionable dress.

"I cannot," Juliana repeated. "But I should like to do something." She could ask Griffin to donate, of course—and she would. But she wanted to do something herself. "Perhaps I could make clothing for the children." Surely her allowance would cover the fabric.

"The children have no need of clothing. They wear uniforms, as you've seen."

Juliana had seen the boys eating luncheon in their dining room, all wearing white linen shirts with military-style suits made of the same brown serge as the girls' dresses. "But someone has to make the uniforms."

"The girls make and repair them during their sewing lessons."

"Then perhaps I can make treats," she suggested. "The ladies in my family are rather renowned for our sweets."

"The children are all fed a plain, wholesome diet. Sweets are not allowed except on very special occasions. However, food does account for a large proportion of the Hospital's budget, so your monetary donation would be much appreciated." Before Juliana could repeat that she had no money to give, Miss Strickland continued. "This is a reception day. Perhaps seeing some infants might change your mind."

Though Juliana knew nothing could change her mind, she loved babies and could scarcely wait to have one of her own. "We should very much like to see the infants," she said, drawing Emily toward the door.

"I'm not finished looking," Corinna said, finally moving to view the next painting.

The battle-axe cast her a speculative glance. "Well, then, the horrid snake can stay with you."

"Herman isn't horrid!" Emily said, pulling her hand from Juliana's. "If Herman stays, I shall stay." She marched over to take Corinna's hand instead. "There's an infant right here in this picture."

Corinna nodded her dark head. "It's Andrea Casali's Adoration of the Magi."

Juliana would never understand how anyone could stare at a single painting for so long. Two minutes with any painting, and she was finished. But then, she'd never been as interested in things as she'd been in people. "What's a reception day?" she asked, following the battle-axe from the room.

Miss Strickland led her down a corridor. "On the second Saturday of every month, mothers are invited to bring their babies for possible admission."

"Possible?"

"They must meet specific criteria. An acceptable candidate must be under twelve months of age, the mother's first child, and healthy, so as not to risk infecting other children. In addition, although only illegitimate offspring are admitted, the mother must establish her good character. A secondary purpose of the Hospital, you see, is the restoration of the mother to work and a life of virtue. Some children are the result of rape, but most petitions come from women who claim to have been seduced with promises of marriage and then deserted when they became pregnant. In such cases, many mothers can avoid disgrace and find employment only if they don't have to care for their children."

"A sad truth," Juliana said, her heart hurting at the thought of women being forced to give up their babies.

Miss Strickland opened a door. "The Committee Room," she whispered.

And Juliana's hurting heart broke clear in two.

Inside the elegant chamber, a queue of young mothers clutched their infants tightly, the expressions on their faces a mixture of anguish and hope. Their simple cloaks and aprons were a poignant contrast to the silk gowns of a few fashionable lady patronesses who'd come to observe the spectacle.

And what a spectacle it was.

As Juliana watched, a young woman was invited to the front, where a well-dressed man held out a cloth bag. Shifting her whimpering baby, the woman reached a trembling hand into the bag and pulled out a little red ball. She swallowed hard and, gripping the ball in her white-knuckled fist, stepped off to join a small group of mothers and babies huddled at one side.

Abandoning the battle-axe, Juliana walked over to join the other spectators. "What does the ball mean?" she asked in a whisper.

A tall, middle-aged woman answered in kindly tones. "The system is called balloting. These mothers have already been screened and deemed acceptable. But the Governors can accept only ten infants at a time, and many more qualified mothers wish placement for their children. Balloting is the fairest method of allocating places."

As she finished her explanation, another young woman drew a ball—a black one—and dropped it to the floor, sudden tears spilling down her cheeks as she ran from the room, taking her baby with her.

"Black is bad?" Juliana asked.

"Mothers who draw black balls are immediately turned out of the Hospital. A white ball means the baby will be examined and admitted if it is healthy. Mothers who draw red balls are invited to wait to see whether any babies are refused admittance, in which case they are given a second chance to enter the lottery."

An agonizing lottery. Juliana watched as two more mothers drew black balls and one lucky woman nabbed a white one. "How many mothers are hoping for placement today?"

"About a hundred, which is typical."

And only ten would see their babies admitted. The fortunate woman with the white ball was ushered toward a corner, where a doctor waited to evaluate her child—a girl, if Juliana could judge by the scrap of ribbon crookedly tied in the baby's sparse, downy hair.

During the short examination, a dozen more mothers drew balls—nine chose black, one red, and two jubilant women got white. When the first baby was declared healthy, the mothers waiting with red balls visibly drooped, gripping their infants more tightly. The lucky mother—if one could call her that—was given a numbered document that certified the Hospital's acceptance of her baby, and a lead tag with a corresponding number was threaded on a necklace and placed around the child's neck.

A tightness squeezed Juliana's chest as she watched the tearful parting, the mother kissing her baby girl over and over before regretfully surrendering her to a Hospital employee. "Is she given that paper so she can reclaim her child?"

"Partly. The babies are baptized with Hospital names—the child is never told the identity of the mother, and the mother won't know her child's new name. But if at a later date she can convince the Governors of her reformed character and improved circumstances, the paper and matching necklace number will prove they restore the right child to her."

"But you said partly," Juliana prompted.

The woman sighed. "Truthfully, that seldom happens. She's more likely to use the paper for her own defense; if she's accused of having disposed of her baby by murder, the certificate might save her from the gallows."

"Dear heavens." None of the mothers looked like criminals—they were just women in tragic circumstances. "I saw no infants in either the girls' building or the boys'. Have the babies lodgings of their own?"

"The babies aren't kept at the Hospital. They'll be baptized with their new names at Sunday services tomorrow and then placed with wet nurses in the countryside on Monday. The nurses receive a monthly wage and keep the children until they are five years or thereabouts, at which time they return to live here."

Juliana watched as the infant was carried off. "Does anyone make sure the babies are treated well?"

"Oh, yes. Inspectors visit regularly. They're responsible for the nurse's pay and the child's medical fees, and for purchasing clothes for the infants—"

"Purchasing clothes?"

"Baby clothes. Babies are sent to their new 'mothers' with frocks and caps and clouts and coats and blankets—"

"Don't the girls make these in their sewing lessons?"

"The baby clothes aren't uniforms—"

"Then I can provide them, then!"

"Pardon?"

"I can make them. I can make baby clothes and donate them to the Hospital."

The kindly woman blinked at her. "I don't know about that. I don't believe anyone donates anything besides money."

Juliana watched another mother draw a red ball and, trembling, take her baby to join the small group of hopefuls. She imagined having to wish someone else's child proved ill so her own child could have a chance at a decent life. Or at least she tried to imagine it. The very thought was heartrending.

She turned back to the lady patroness beside her. "The fact that the Hospital hasn't accepted nonmonetary donations in the past doesn't mean it cannot do so in future." Maybe providing baby clothing would free enough funds for the Governors to accept another child or two. She wouldn't allow them to refuse her. "There's a first time for everything, isn't there?"


SPICE CAKES

Take three scoops of Flower and put into it a Spoon of ale-barm, crushed cloves, mace, and a goode deal of cinnamon. To a halfe Pound of sweet Butter add a goode deal of Sugar and mixe together. Stir in three Eggs and work until good and stiff, then add a little cold Rosewater and knead well. Knead again, pull it all in Pieces and bake your Cakes in a warm oven.

I've heard tell that should you eat one of these before a gathering where you are likely to meet available men; their spiciness will clear your head and allow you to choose wisely. This did not, however, work when I baked them for my daughter. In any case, they are delicious.

—Amethyst, Countess of Greystone, 1690



"How many baby clothes do you need to make?"

"A lot." In her bedroom at the Chase town house in Berkeley Square early that evening, Juliana set down her little pot of lip pomade and picked up the list the Governors had given her. "Three frocks, three caps, three nightshirts, one mantle, one coat, one petticoat, two blankets, and ten clouts. And that's per child. There will be ten babies."

Emily bit into one of the spice cakes she and Juliana had baked after returning from the Foundling Hospital. "So you need to make thirty frocks?"

"Yes." The girl was articulate and good with arithmetic. "And thirty caps, thirty nightshirts, ten mantles, ten coats, ten petticoats, twenty blankets, and a hundred clouts. All within a month, before the next reception day."

Juliana set the list on her dressing table. Upside down, so it would stop taunting her. Whatever had she got herself into? She'd been thrilled when the Governors accepted her offer to provide clothing for the next intake of infants—until she'd realized just how many clothes she'd need.

She wasn't worried about the cost of the materials, because she was certain she could cajole Griffin into paying for whatever her allowance wouldn't cover. But the mere thought of making so many items was daunting. "You'll help me, won't you?"

Emily frowned. "I'm not very good with a needle."

"You can hem blankets and sew clouts. That's not very difficult, and it will be good practice." Reaching over the girl's snake, Juliana wiped a few spice cake crumbs off her mouth. "I'm going to invite my sisters to help, too. We'll have a sewing party. It will be fun to work together." She dipped a finger into the lip pomade. "But I think you'll need to leave Herman home."

"I told you, he's not dangerous."

"His danger, or lack thereof," she told the child, watching her in the dressing table's mirror as she slicked pomade on her lips, "is not the point. Little ladies do not carry snakes."

Emily's delicate chin went into the air. "I do." She adjusted the long, olive green reptile where it was wound around her neck, the better to eat another spice cake. "What are these cakes supposed to do again?"

"Help me choose a husband wisely."

"All the gentlemen will want you. You look beautiful tonight, Lady Juliana. Of course, you always look beautiful," she added with a wistful sigh.

Juliana lifted a pot of rouge. "You'll look beautiful when you're my age."

It was true. Other than her unfortunate attachment to the reptile, the child was a model of femininity. She always wore pink. Emily's blond hair and large, luminous gray eyes held much promise, and she was tall for her age. Since Juliana was slightly built, the girl was nearly her height already.

"I'm certain you'll be wildly popular," she assured the child, "if only you'll get rid of the snake."

"Mama and I found baby Herman in our garden," Emily told Juliana for perhaps the hundredth time. "She said we could keep him and watch him grow."

Emily's mother had been dead some four years. Having lost her own mother three years prior—although, thankfully, at age nineteen, not age four—Juliana felt for the young girl.

"Your mother would understand," she told her gently. "Surely she didn't intend to keep Herman long. I'd wager she hadn't an inkling that little baby snake would grow to be five feet long, and I'm certain she didn't make a habit of carrying him around. Why, I'd warrant she's looking down on you right now, waiting for you to grow up and stop toting that horror-inducing creature everywhere."

"Herman isn't a creature. He's a pet."

"A cuddly kitten is a pet. A rambunctious dog is a pet. A snake isn't—"

"Are you ready yet?" Corinna arrived in the doorway and frowned. "A Lady of Distinction doesn't hold with wearing rouge."

Juliana's gaze flicked involuntarily to a book on her bedside table, The Mirror of the Graces by A Lady of Distinction. Their brother had given them both copies, hoping that learning deportment would help them find husbands more quickly.

"A Lady of Distinction is a twit." To emphasize her point, Juliana brushed more color on her cheeks before rising. "Yes, I'm ready. Have a spice cake while I deliver Emily home."

Corinna took one. "Aunt Frances is already waiting in the carriage. You know she abhors being late to balls."

"Aunt Frances abhors being late to anything." Aunt Frances liked everything just so. But she was an endearing lady nonetheless, and it was quite kind of her to act as their sponsor and chaperone for the season, so Juliana didn't grumble. She took Emily by the hand and led her downstairs, Corinna following in their wake.

It was raining—it seemed to rain every day this summer—but a quick walk next door brought Emily safely to the house she usually shared with only her father and a gaggle of aging servants. Emily had two older brothers, products of two earlier marriages, but one was married and the other was away at Cambridge most of the year.

Their gaunt butler, a man who must have been eighty if he were a day, swung the door open as they arrived.

Emily stepped inside. "When shall I see you again, Lady Juliana?"

Who could deny that adorable, pleading face, even if it was framed by a snake? "Monday," she promised the girl. Rain pattered onto her parasol and puddled at her feet. "I'm sure your father is looking forward to being with you tomorrow, but on Monday the two of us shall visit the shops and choose fabric for the baby clothes."

"Will Lady Corinna wish to come, too?"

"I believe she'll prefer to paint." Corinna always preferred to paint; she was happiest when filling her days with color, oils, and turpentine. "I shall see you Monday," Juliana promised softly and headed through the drizzle to the carriage.

Inside, Corinna waited with Aunt Frances, their matching deep-blue eyes impatient. The women's eyes, however, were their only similarity. Aunt Frances's peered from behind round spectacles in a face surrounded by clouds of soft, gray hair—prematurely gray hair, considering she was still in her forties. Corinna's hair was a swing of wavy brown, her face as fresh as only a twenty-one-year-old woman's could be. She had no need of cosmetics.

Juliana, on the other hand, figured she needed all the help she could get. Due to circumstances beyond her control—namely, several successive deaths in the family, which had kept her in mourning for several years—this was her first season. At twenty-two! And the season was more than halfway over already, yet she'd failed to find a man to catch her interest.

Not that her brother hadn't been trying his damnedest to locate one.

He was waiting at the ball when they arrived, looking over the crop of men. Unfortunately, this far into the season, Juliana had already met nearly everyone there was to meet. The ton comprised all the people who mattered in society, but that was a limited social group, after all. Yet he'd managed to line up candidates for her first three dances and was keeping an eye out for more.

Griffin was leaving no stone unturned in his quest to marry her off. Though she had no objection to marrying—or dancing, for that matter—she wasn't sure she appreciated her brother's efforts. But she knew his heart was in the right place, and she did enjoy dancing, so she dutifully danced with the three men, smiling and chatting pleasantly, even though none of them was even remotely what she was looking for.

Lord Henderson was too tall. Lord Barkely was too dark. And Mr. Farringdon was kind but a mite dim, not to mention he had a most unfortunate, distracting tic. She could hardly keep her eyes off his twitching cheek.

The spice cakes weren't going to help her choose wisely, she thought with a sigh, if no acceptable men bothered to attend this ball.


James Trevor, the Earl of Stafford, hadn't been to a ball in years. And he hadn't particularly wanted to come to this one. However, being a man who liked to look for the good in things, he'd decided to regard tonight as an opportunity to renew a few acquaintances. Griffin Chase, the Marquess of Cainewood, was one of them.

But his old chum didn't look very happy.

"Whom are you glaring at, Cainewood?"

"My sister." Cainewood's frown deepened. "She's not dancing."

James's gaze followed the marquess's across the ballroom, landing on what looked like a dainty sprite. He lifted his quizzing glass and squinted through it. "That wheaten-haired little thing?"

"Wearing yellow? Yes, that would be Juliana, wasting precious time."

"She's conversing with another woman—"

"Another sister. But Juliana is supposed to be meeting men. I despair of ever finding her a husband."

"Ah." Dropping the quizzing glass, James let it dangle on its long silver chain and focused on Cainewood, who'd been a boon companion in their days at Oxford. He hadn't seen the man in years, and he'd never met his family, but in an odd way he felt he still knew him. He couldn't help but smile at his old friend's consternation.

"Juliana is twenty-two," Cainewood added as though that explained everything.

"That doesn't sound particularly old." James himself was twenty-nine.

"I'll have to marry Corinna off after her." Cainewood gestured toward his other sister, a pretty girl with long, wavy brown hair. "I'd hoped to get them both settled this season, but Juliana isn't cooperating. And unfortunately, I believe she's already met everyone here, except…" His green gaze narrowed on James. "Perhaps you."

"Me?"

"Yes, you," Cainewood said with the easy smile that had won him so many women in their university years. "Will you at least suffer an introduction to Juliana? You're an earl now, aren't you? An earl needing a wife."

An earl needing a wife…the same exact words James's mother had used to describe him earlier this evening as she'd all but dragged him from the carriage into this house.

But although James had inherited the title nearly three years ago, he still had a hard time thinking of himself as an earl, let alone an earl needing a wife.

A second son raised in a close family, James had never thought he'd become the Earl of Stafford. That had been his older brother's future, not his. Following university, James's father had bought him a commission in the army. He hadn't ever minded being an officer. It was expected. He wasn't drawn toward the clergy, and many of his friends—Cainewood included—had embraced the military life. After less than two years, though, James had been wounded and sent home.

Thinking back to those days now, he shifted and flexed his left knee, which always ached in the sort of cold, wet weather London had seen this summer. On days like this he still walked with a slight limp, but he was profoundly grateful the army surgeons had managed to save his leg rather than amputating it. So grateful that, needing another profession after his recovery, he'd become a physician. He hadn't been long out of medical school before he'd realized he'd found his true calling. In the years following his return to England, James had been a man completely happy with his choice of work and his life, especially after he fell in love and married.

Then everything had fallen apart.

His brother had died first, leaving James reeling with the realization that he'd someday be the earl. He didn't want to be an earl—he liked being a physician. He liked helping people, and he liked feeling that he made a difference. Every day was unique and challenging, and there were always successes to balance the disappointments. Managing an earldom seemed such a tedious, thankless task in comparison.

Then, while he was still coping with the loss of his brother, his father's heart had stopped, and suddenly James was the earl, like it or not.

The first months after that had passed in a dark, painful blur, but his young wife had helped him through those days and weeks, until one morning James had awakened and realized he was happy. Perhaps a bit guiltily happy—he still mourned his brother and father, after all—but happy nonetheless. He'd found he quite liked sitting in the House of Lords—it was another chance to make a difference—and managing the earldom wasn't as thankless a task as he'd believed. And, in addition, his wife had convinced him that he could be a physician as well as an earl, regardless of the narrow views of society, and help more people than ever, now that he had no need of the income. Utilizing the vast fortune left to him, James had opened a facility in London where children whose families were too poor to pay for doctors could get smallpox vaccinations, an endeavor dear to his heart. Life had been good again. And he and his wife were expecting a baby, their first child.

What man wouldn't have been happy?

Then his wife had died in childbirth, and their baby, born too early, had died along with her. All the physicians, James included, hadn't made a bit of a difference. And James had wondered if he'd ever be happy again.

Now, two years later, he was still wondering. But his mother was pressuring him to remarry and sire some heirs, and although he didn't expect to find happiness or love again, he figured he might as well at least consider making her happy. She was a good, caring mother, after all, and perhaps a wife, even one not loved, would ease some of the loneliness he'd suffered these two years past. So he'd allowed himself to be dragged to this ball. And now he forced himself to smile and answer Cainewood.

"Yes, I'm an earl. And I'd be pleased to meet your sister."

Cainewood wasted no time marching him across the room and introducing him to both of his sisters. As James bowed over Juliana's hand, he caught himself gazing into dancing eyes that were full of life. He'd thought he'd be immune to Cainewood's sister, so he found himself surprised. Or perhaps shocked would be a better word.

And it felt wrong somehow.

But Cainewood's sister was a pretty thing, and he couldn't seem to wrench his gaze from those eyes. Green eyes. No, blue. He couldn't decide. They seemed to change as he watched.

"Will you honor me with a dance?" he asked, bemused.

"It would be my pleasure," she assured him.

He hadn't danced since his wife died. He wondered if he remembered how. But there was a waltz playing, and Juliana fairly melted into his arms.

He remembered.

"What color are your eyes?" he asked.

She laughed, a joyful, tinkling sound. "Hazel. Why?"

"I couldn't tell. They looked green at first, but now they look blue."

"Well, they're hazel," Juliana repeated, wishing he would stop staring at them. It seemed almost as though he could see right through them, as though he could see into her head. As though he could glimpse her very soul. And that was an unnerving thought, no matter that she had nothing to hide.

She glanced away, her gaze landing on her married sister. Alexandra had come to town for the season while her new husband claimed his seat in the House of Lords. How happy they looked dancing together, Alexandra's dark eyes locked on Tristan's steady gray gaze. Their road to romance had been a rocky one, but they'd been fated to be together from the first—and Juliana had known that, of course.

If only she could find such a love for herself.

Still feeling Lord Stafford's gaze on her, she shifted in his arms and met his eyes, mentally daring him to look away. He didn't. His eyes were a warm brown, and she had to look up to see them. Way up.

She could get a crick in her neck dancing with such a man.

"I haven't seen you at any other balls," she commented. "You must take your duty to Parliament seriously."

The corners of those warm eyes crinkled when he smiled. "That and my profession."

"Your profession?"

"I'm a physician."

"I thought you were an earl," she said.

One of his dark brows went up. "Can I not be both?"

"Of course you can," she said quickly, although she'd never heard of an earl-physician. "What do you do, exactly? Have you many patients?"

"Some, although I'm not taking on any new ones. Most of my time is spent at my facility, the New Hope Institute."

"New Hope," she mused. "I've heard of that. Something to do with smallpox?"

"I provide vaccinations, yes. To anyone willing to receive one, regardless of the ability to pay."

"That sounds like very important work," she allowed. He was a most unusual man. And an excellent dancer. Having noticed a slight limp as he'd initially approached her, she wouldn't have thought he'd dance so gracefully.

However, much as she enjoyed dancing, finding a man who excelled at it wasn't her priority. After all, it wasn't as though she had a shortage of dance invitations—she danced her feet off at every ball, with or without Griffin in attendance. She had no problem attracting men; the problem was finding one she considered husband material. And Lord Stafford had many shortcomings.

When the music came to an end, he led her by the hand off the dance floor. "It was a pleasure, my lady."

His voice was warm like his eyes, low and smooth as rich chocolate. The very sound of it seemed to weaken her knees. "Thank you," she said.

The musicians struck up a country dance, and as he was still holding her hand, she half expected him to lead her straight back to the dance floor. Instead, he raised her fingers toward his mouth. Then, rather than pucker his lips in the customary salute in the air above her hand, he lowered them to actually touch her glove.

Scandalous. She could have sworn she felt the kiss through the white silk. A tingly sensation.

"Thank you," she repeated more faintly.

"Thank you," he echoed with a smile.

A smile that looked as dazed as she felt.

No sooner had he turned to leave than Griffin descended, snapping her back to reality. "Well?" he asked.

She watched Lord Stafford walk away, shoulders broad beneath his tailcoat. Loose, tousled curls grazed his black velvet collar. Many fashionable men achieved a similar look with pomade and curl papers, but his hair looked naturally tousled. Like he was too busy to bother to control it.

"He's too dark," she said.

"Pardon?"

"You know I prefer golden-haired men. And he's entirely too tall—I felt like a child dancing with him."

Griffin looked down on her, both literally and figuratively. "Face it, Juliana—you're short."

As though she hadn't noticed most of the world towered over her. "He works," she said. "He has a profession."

"And this makes him unacceptable as a husband?"

"Should I marry him, he wouldn't have any time for me." She wanted a grand love, like Alexandra and Tristan's; she wanted a husband who loved her to distraction. She wanted endless hours spent in passion with the man she decided to marry. And for heaven's sake, this man couldn't even find a few minutes to comb his hair. "I'm sorry, but he just won't do."

The fact that Lord Stafford's work was important was hardly a mitigating factor—and the fact that her heart had stuttered when he'd so impertinently kissed her hand had no bearing whatsoever.

Griffin released a long-suffering sigh. "I shall keep looking."

"You do that," she said, patting his arm and silently wishing him luck. The spice cakes had clearly been a waste. Poor Griffin. "In the meantime, I must speak with Alexandra."

She scanned the ballroom in search of her older sister and finally found her talking to Aunt Frances.

"Who was that you were dancing with?" Alexandra asked as she approached.

"Lord Stafford."

"He's very handsome."

"His hair is too dark." At Alexandra's blank look, Juliana shrugged. "Can you come to the Berkeley Square house this Wednesday afternoon?"

"I expect so. Why?"

"I need help making clothes for the Foundling Hospital babies."

"Your newest project, I take it?" Alexandra's brown eyes sparkled with mischief. "What have you got yourself into this time?"

If only she knew. "Corinna wanted to see the Hospital's art gallery, but oh, the poor foundlings were heartbreaking. And their mothers." Just thinking back on the balloting, Juliana wanted to cry. "I must do something to help them."

"Of course you must," Aunt Frances said. "With you, it's always something."

That much was true; Juliana couldn't deny it. "And what does that make me?" she wondered. "Impulsive? Melodramatic? Judgmental, overwrought, overemotional?" She stopped there, knowing she was all of those and more. Honestly, she could go on and on.

Which was why she wanted to hug Alexandra when she said, "No. That makes you compassionate, giving, hopeful. Kind and unselfish and vulnerable." Her perfect, responsible, married sister gifted her with a quiet smile. "It makes you lovable, Juliana. That's what it makes you the most."

She did hug her sister then, and her aunt, too, her heart not broken now but aching with warmth and affection instead. Yet all the while she was wondering: If I'm so lovable, why can't I find a husband to love?


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