Lucy Ashbrook finds a pleasant diversion when she visits the Regent’s Park Bird Sanctuary to sketch the different birds that live there. Birds aren’t the only pleasing thing she finds, though. A certain Sanctuary worker, Oliver Barrow, has stolen her heart. But Lucy’s father will have none of it. No daughter of his will marry a common laborer.
Oliver Barrow loves everything about his work at the Sanctuary. The birds, the trees, the ponds… a certain young miss who mesmerizes him. Miss Ashbrook is beautiful and sweet and shares his love of birds. But Oliver has a secret that just might get in the way of anything more than friendship developing between them. And he can’t share that secret with her. Not yet.
How can Lucy ever convince her father of Oliver’s worth? That love isn’t just for the birds?
Cecilia Fletcher yearns for true love with the man of her heart. A life of her own away from her demanding mother would be an added benefit. But in order to do that, Cecilia must live a lie, making it necessary to use a false name in order to hide a family secret.
Barrington Radcliff was betrayed by a woman who he thought loved him. Because of that, trust is hard to willingly give. When he meets pretty Cecilia Fleming, his heart wants to give her a chance. Something about her doesn’t ring true, but Barrington allows love to overrule his good judgment.
Can Cecilia and Barrington get past their hurt and secrets long enough to find true love?
And there she was. The lavender dress was even more stunning up close. It fit her curves snugly, off the shoulders and dipping low over her breasts. Her cheeks had a rosy glow about them. Whether it was from the warmth of the room or excitement of the evening, he knew not, but found it quite appealing.
Her eyes… Somehow next to that particular shade of her dress, they had taken on the exact same color. Incredible. He could scarcely blink, afraid somehow the lovely vision she produced might be lost, not to be rediscovered.
Lord Lofton cleared his throat, startling Barrington from his reverie. “Mr. Radcliff, I’m sure you remember my cousin, Miss Fleming?”
“Indeed.” Barrington bowed to her. Had he appeared the buffoon, staring at her as if he were a love-struck boy of ten? “Lovely to see you again, Miss Fleming.”
She lowered her gaze, her long lashes sweeping against those rosy cheeks. “And you as well, Mr. Radcliff.”
Music from a different song began. Suddenly Barrington longed for nothing more than to hold Miss Fleming in his arms and never let her go. To sway to the music, twirl her dainty frame around and press his fingers to her waist once more. Would her hair smell like roses if he leaned close? Or would her scent of choice be lavender, as a nod to her color of dress? Would she place her hand on his shoulder, the other snuggly fitted in his?
Lord Lofton cleared his throat a second time.
He’d done it again. Get a hold of yourself, man! The only way to stop imagining what delights were in store for him with Miss Fleming was to actually ask her to dance. He held out his hand. “Miss Fleming, might I have the pleasure of a turn about the floor?”
She blinked. The corners of her lips rose, the left side a tiny bit higher than the right. Adorable. “Yes. I would like that. Very much.”
The full skirt of her gown swished against his trouser leg as she stood. A ripple of desire went through him. From her gown? He swallowed hard. Something about this woman grabbed hold of him down deep inside. It was as if he’d never truly lived until he met her. But how could that be?
In all his years spending time with Martha, the outings, the parties and events, he’d never, not once, experienced anything remotely like he felt right now. A hundred bees stinging his heart couldn’t give it more of a jolt. A thousand chirping birds signaling the coming of spring couldn’t equal the joy in his soul. A million sonnets sung of the purest love in existence surely couldn’t fill his mind with more wonder than standing there holding Miss Fleming’s hand.
Miss Fleming tilted her head and blinked. Someone tapped his shoulder. Barrington inwardly groaned, grief stricken that the magical spell had been broken. He peered behind him.
Lord and Lady Lofton stood quite close, both biting their lips as if trying not to smile. “We’re going out to the ballroom floor to dance and thought perhaps…” Lord Lofton pointed behind them.
Ah… Miss Fleming’s chaperones didn’t want to leave their charge unattended. With a sigh, whether of remorse for the end of the perfect moment or in splendid anticipation of the dance, he knew not. As long as he was in Miss Fleming’s company, he would be content.
Barrington offered his arm to his dance partner and they followed Lord and Lady Lofton. They didn’t, however, take a space very near them. Instead, Barrington lagged behind so he could have some privacy with Miss Fleming. If there is privacy to be had amongst several hundred people. At least her cousins’ ears wouldn’t be able to listen in on their conversation.
Miss Fleming placed one hand on his shoulder, the other in his hand. They began to dance but she appeared to be inordinately interested in her slippers. Were they new? Perhaps she was concerned they would get scuffed amidst all the moving feet close by.
“Your slippers are lovely, Miss Fleming.”
She inhaled sharply and raised her gaze to his. “Oh. Thank you.”
“I thought perhaps you were concerned for their well-being.”
She shook her head, but the hint of a smile played at her lips.
“Are you enjoying your stay with your cousins?”
“Have you done anything of particular enjoyment while there?”
She lifted one shoulder. “No.”
Would he be required to have the whole conversation on his own? Maybe she was nervous. Sometimes crowds did that to people. He’d never particularly liked them. Perhaps if he could find something about which she was interested, she would be more willing to speak. Barrington twirled her around and sighed when she was rested once again in his arms. “Do you enjoy dancing?”
“How about… card games? Have a particular favorite?”
Wisps of hair danced around her face as she shook her head.
This wasn’t going at all as planned. There must be something. He had a feeling that conversing about a topic as benign as the weather wouldn’t coax any more from her than a shrug. “Are you fond of animals? Have any pets?”
Her eyes sparkled and her entire face lit from within. “Oh, I adore cats.”
“Do you? Splendid.” Finally, something had caught her interest.
“My cat’s name is Henry.”
“Named after a king?”
She laughed. “No, although I’m sure he thinks of himself as royalty.”
“Does he perhaps sport a tiny crown?”
“Carry a tiny scepter around in his paws?”
Her eyes crinkled at the corners. “I’m afraid not, although if I could procure something of that nature, it would be fun to try.”
“The cats I’ve known over the years never struck me as being malleable and complacent enough to allow something to be placed on their heads, much less in their paws.”
“You’re probably right. I suppose I’ll have to settle for using my imagination when it comes to dressing Henry in anything other than what he already wears.”
Barrington lowered his brow. “Your cat wears clothing?”
She sputtered a laugh and then covered her mouth with her hand. “No. But he does wear fur, you know.”
“Good point. I’m sure he’d get quite cold in winter otherwise.”
She stumbled and he pulled her close. But only for a moment. Any more than that and the whole room full of attendees would murmur and stare. Barrington stepped back to an acceptable distance.
“Pardon me.” She glanced up, her gaze resting on his. Those eyes… so incredible in color and surrounded by long lashes.
“For what, may I ask?”
She looked down again to her slippers. “I’m afraid I’m rather clumsy.”
“Nonsense. You dance beautifully.” She did seem a trifle unused to the steps, but of course, he would never make comment. Surely she’d been brought up learning to dance, as all of his peers had.
“Now you’re just being kind.”
He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “If I’m being kind, it’s only a natural inclination to your sweet disposition.”
An attractive tinge of pink appeared on her cheeks. “Thank you, Mr. Radcliff.”
Barrington stared at her lips as she spoke. He couldn’t help it. Their fullness rose and fell with each syllable, alternately exposing and covering her tongue as if playing a game of hide and seek.
Miss Fleming tilted her head and blinked as if waiting for something.
Waiting… What was she—? Oh. “You are quite welcome.”
She shifted her gaze to the left and then right. Had he said something inappropriate so she was choosing not to engage him further? Barrington tried to recall their short conversation. Nothing stood out as being off-putting or rude. What could it be?
Someone tapped his shoulder. Who would have the gall to interrupt a dance when—? He whipped his head around to see… Lord Lofton?
With a chuckle, the earl indicated the area from which Barrington had collected Miss Fleming. “Since the dance number is over, we thought perhaps you might join us in refreshment.”
Over? What in the—? Barrington glanced about the room. He and his Miss Fleming were the only ones still dancing. A glance down showed him that his feet were indeed still moving. Stop that at once! He paused and swallowed hard. Only then did he notice the absence of music and people grinning at him as they passed by.
Good heavens. I’m losing my faculties.
Miss Fleming bit her lip and her face reddened. The color spread to her neck and all the way down to her—
He snapped his chin up. You can’t stare at a woman there. Especially not in public! “P-pardon me, Miss Fleming. W-would you care for some refreshment?” Good gracious! He sounded like a bumbling buffoon.
She gently extracted her hand from his and placed it on his arm. “That would be quite lovely. Thank you.”
I hadn’t even let go of her hand yet. Barrington’s legs were as quivery as pudding when they made their way from the ballroom floor. What was happening to him? The tiny wisp of a girl brought him practically to his knees.
Lord and Lady Lofton preceded them. The latter peeked over her shoulder at Miss Fleming and then giggled. Barrington wasn’t brave enough to look at his partner, but was fairly certain her polite cough covered a tiny laugh as well.
Oh the horror.
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