It was nearly noon and Elizabeth was finally leaving for a long-anticipated walk. Sketchbook under her arm, she was descending the main staircase when she saw him framed in the front door. Not Lord Holden. No, this was the most handsome man she had ever set eyes on. He was tall, nearly six and a half feet of lithe muscle. His shoulders were broad, narrowing to slim hips and long legs encased in grey breeches tucked into mud splattered walking boots.
Her eyes travelled back up to his face. Her cheeks bloomed scarlet to find his eyes locked with hers, a sardonic lift to a black-winged eyebrow. And what eyes they were! Bright peridot green! She was mesmerized. Her chest constricted, and she wondered in panic if her serviceable walking dress rendered her too plain to this god in flesh.
“Lizzy!” Lord Holden’s voice was replete with cheerful affection.
Elizabeth started at her inattention. She had not even noticed him. Her eyes darted away to find Lydia standing at the door of the blue salon looking decidedly amused.
Elizabeth walked down the stairs, feeling sheepish. She wanted to look anywhere but at the visage of the stranger in the front hall. But, against her will, her eyes kept returning to that handsome face. His nose was a sharp, straight blade under a high, wide forehead, his cheekbones high, his mouth sensual over a stubborn, clefted chin. His hair was black as pitch, hinting at mysterious origins, his skin an olive not native to England.
She completely missed any introductions that might have been made, so hard was she fighting to control her visceral reactions to this remarkable man. She could not stop the shiver which ran through her as she felt the sensual gravel of his voice caress her, while he bowed and murmured, “It is indeed a pleasure to make your acquaintance, my lady.”
I do not know his name. She was obsessed with the idea of finding out. But she could hardly ask Lydia. Not only would she look ridiculous, but she did not want Lydia to know of this unaccountable attraction she felt, this awareness which informed her of his every movement when he was in her vicinity, whether she looked at him or not. It felt as if suddenly her hearing had become more acute, her sense of smell and touch sharper. She felt every breeze that caressed her skin, raising goose bumps for no other reason than the same breeze had touched his skin. She was intoxicated by his mere presence.
She could not ignore the titillated whispers of the other women as they discussed this newcomer in their midst. His face was English, they said. But his colour, oh no! He was surely a half-breed bastard. He was said to be fabulously rich, for one so young. What was he, twenty? Five and twenty? And if he had graduated from Oxford, surely his family or guardians must have had some influence to get him admitted to such a hallowed institution.
Mr. Caswell, someone called out to him. But that was not enough for Elizabeth. She wanted to know his given name; the name she might whisper when he came to her in her dreams.
He was known to be extremely intelligent said the men, having graduated from Harrow with honours. His career through Oxford was also spoken of in awed whispers. He was said to be fluent in Greek and Latin as well as classical Sanskrit; he was a gifted speaker of French, Italian, and German, as well Hindi and Urdu. A career in diplomacy awaited, everyone opined. And he was much sought after in every discussion as the themes centred more and more on the East India Company and its exploits in the East Indies.
By the end of the day, Elizabeth despaired of ever capturing his attention. She had never met a man who had the charisma, the self-possession of Mr. Caswell. Whereas she could not find a way of shutting down her awareness of him, he did not seem to be aware of her existence. She didn’t think he had looked at her even once throughout the day.
So much for being an Incomparable!