Wedding WagersBy: Donna Hatch & Heather B. Moore & Michele Paige Holmes
(Timeless Regency Collection Book 11)
Growing up the son of a duke had provided a few advantages, but being the brother of a duke came with definite challenges—especially if that brother was the famed Duke of Suttenberg, one of the most respected men in England and therefore every season’s most eligible bachelor, a paragon. Still, Phillip was nothing if not optimistic. Surely some young lady with discerning taste would view Phillip as every bit as desirable.
Phillip attempted to smile at the young lady twittering about how very pleased she was to meet him, but she never once looked him in the eye. Which was a shame, really, because she missed out on his handsome face and the dimple that so many women found irresistible.
“. . . hear you are an excellent dancer, Your Grace, and—”
Of course. Phillip should have known. He held up a hand to stop the chatter. “Pardon me, but it seems you have me confused with my brother.”
“. . . and I absolutely adore dancing . . . what?” She blinked, looking at him for the first time.
“I am Phillip Partridge, the duke’s brother.”
Honestly, if one more girl threw herself at Phillip because she wanted to be part of the Suttenberg ducal family—or because she mistook him for the duke, rather than because of the good looks and charm Phillip possessed in spades—he would put out an eye.
Since he had no desire to start sporting an eye patch—not that he couldn’t pull it off with style, but it sounded deuced painful—he managed a polite, curt bow and left before she asked him to introduce her to his so-much-more-eligible brother, the one with the title.
Looking over the heads in the ballroom, he spotted Michael Cavenleigh’s blond hair in the crowd. Phillip threaded through scores of ladies scented like flowers, dressed in cream or white silk, and flirting with gentlemen in brocade and superfine who would rather be at a card table.
Upon reaching his friend’s side, Phillip jerked his head toward the door. “I believe I’ll accept Tristan Barrett’s invitation to visit Vauxhall Gardens.”
Michael lifted a brow.
“It’s fine weather for an outdoor lark.” Did he sound desperate?
A corner of Michael’s lip twitched. His normally taciturn friend seemed even less talkative than usual tonight, but that smirk revealed his awareness of Phillip’s decision to make a strategic retreat.
Phillip tried again. “Barrett desires several gentlemen present—something about making sure there are enough male prospects for all the young ladies he has invited. Care to join me?” Not that Phillip had given the outing much thought until now, mind you.
A small huff that might have been a suppressed laugh escaped Michael’s lips. With a glance at the young lady who’d been batting her eyelashes at him, Michael bowed his head. “It seems I am needed elsewhere. Good evening.”
Phillip made a note to express his gratitude to his friend. For now, he contented himself with calling for his carriage.
“And where do you think you are going, young man?” His mother stood with all the dignity and authority of a duchess, for obvious reasons, and glared at him, also for obvious reasons.
Phillip inclined his head in a loose bow to the duchess. “Good evening, Mother.”
“Don’t you ‘good evening’ me. You promised you’d be attentive tonight.” She snapped her fan shut and pointed it at him as though she were a foot taller than him rather than the other way around. How such a diminutive lady could be so commanding remained a mystery.
Phillip put on his most conciliatory smile. “I danced a set.” And fended off three girls who implied they’d be wonderful wives to a member of a ducal family—or to the duke himself if he would kindly introduce them—but that did not bear mentioning. “However, I have other invitations this evening, as I am sure you do. Perhaps some of them will be less crowded.”
“The Season is in full swing. All of the soirees are crowded.” She touched her bandeau as if to assure herself it remained in place. The white feather contrasted with dark hair untouched by gray.
“Some parties are more crowded than others,” he said wryly.
His mother looked over Phillip’s shoulder at Michael. Her smile always softened for him, especially since he’d lost his fiancée in a tragic accident. “Why, Mr. Cavenleigh. Good evening.”
“Your Grace.” Michael bowed.
“How are things at your stable?” she asked. “Still breeding champions?”
“Come for dinner, won’t you?”
“Thank you.” Michael bowed again.
Phillip jumped back into the conversation, as it were. “Good evening, Mother. I hope you have a pleasant time.” Phillip inclined his head again and headed for the door.