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The Irresistible Miss Peppiwell

By:Stacy Reid

The Irresistible Miss Peppiwell

Stacy Reid

Chapter One

London October 1882

The Honorable Lord Anthony Thornton had never before seen such vivid golden-red hair. It shone iridescently under the candlelight of the crystal chandeliers in the glittering ballroom, the glorious hue of sunset. It belonged to a stunning jewel standing aloof amongst the dandies who were fluttering about vying for her attention, a cold, serene beauty. The lady was magnificent, with elegant carriage, fine cheekbones, slightly slanted eyes, and the most exotic full lips Anthony had ever seen.

His gaze traced the graceful length of her throat down to the gentle swell of her breasts, encircled her tiny waist, curved out toward hips that flared enticingly. As he moved to approach her, he realized why she stood out from all the other women. It was not her startling beauty. There were, indeed, more dazzling women laughing and twirling, soaking up the decadence of the ballroom, titillated by the vociferous nature of society that could chew them up like the sleeping monster it was.

No. It was her eyes. They stared blankly, devoid of enjoyment. Her lips curved in a smile of pure frost as she accepted a glass of punch from one of her many admirers. They seemed anxious to please her, though she remained uncaring.

Waylaid by his host, Anthony paused without taking his gaze from her.

“It seems the ice maiden has made another conquest,” Jason Fullerton, the Earl of Calvert, murmured.

Anthony finally shifted his focus from her and met the eyes of his friend. Humor kicked up the corners of Calvert’s lips, twitching his moustache.

“Ice maiden?” Anthony queried.

“Colder than the Arctic itself, enough to freeze a man’s vitals with thought alone. The fops are wasting their time. She has not deigned to show favor to anyone, and I, for one, am puzzled, since she has nothing to tempt a man with, save her fortune.”

Anthony thought Jason wrong as he watched her tuck away a tendril that teased her forehead. The raising of her arm stretched her gown across her breasts. Her cool feminine sensuality lured him. He did not think it deliberate, the way she arched her neck as she captured another loose wisp and tucked it behind her ear.

Her hair was pinned in some sort of knot, with tendrils cascading in loose spirals down to kiss her shoulders. The cut of her ball gown was mouthwateringly exquisite. The deep blue silken dress clung alluringly to her frame, hugging her curves. It bared the creamy expanse of her shoulders and drew his eyes to her barely there décolletage. His gaze lingered over the gentle swell of her breasts. She was not full-figured by any means, her silhouette more subtle and elegant. He decided the most glorious thing about the ice beauty was her hair, and he tried not to focus too much on the lush ripeness of her lips. She really had the most inviting mouth.

“Introduce us,” Anthony quietly demanded.

“Are you foxed?” Calvert retorted. “I was sure you were here for Lady Galveston. The on dit is that you are searching for a new mistress.”

Anthony ignored the laughter that taunted him from Calvert’s pale blue eyes. But on that point, the earl was correct. Anthony had attended the ball because he sought a distraction with whom he could sate himself. He wished to leave the cares of the world behind for the night—but he did not seek it from a new mistress.

“Look at the delightful curves of Lady Galveston,” Calvert urged. “She, my friend, is where your efforts would be more productively directed.”

He dismissed the earl’s sly whisper and stalked toward the ice beauty. He ignored those who tried to capture his attention, moving through the crowded ballroom without pause. As he drew closer he noted her eyes were golden brown, amber liquid with cold flashes of gold, the color of chilled Irish whiskey. They lingered on him for a moment and then flicked away dismissively.

He was intrigued.

He knew the effect his face normally had on debutantes and women of society. The married ones issued fawning salacious propositions, while the virginal misses behaved like complete swooning nitwits. He hated it, and did everything in his power to make his appearance more severe. He’d actually been well pleased with the scar over his left eyebrow he had recently been dealt from boxing.

“I am telling you, she will unman you with a mere glance,” Calvert drawled, strolling along beside him.

Anthony did not acknowledge the earl’s crude chuckle as they stopped in front of her. She glanced at them, her mien unreadable. She had freckles. They dashed over her nose and sprinkled her cheeks.

“Miss Peppiwell, may I present, Lord Anthony Thornton.”

She dipped into a shallow curtsy. “My lord.” Her murmur was flat, uninterested.