Home > Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)(6)

Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)(6)
Author: Lisa Kleypas

“I’m sure this must be amusing,” Pandora said cautiously, straining to see him through the carved woodwork. He was dressed in formal evening clothes. Definitely a guest.

“Not at all. Why would I be amused by the sight of a young woman posing upside-down on a piece of furniture?”

“I’m not posing. My dress is caught in the settee. And I would be much obliged if you would help me out of it!”

“The dress or the settee?” the stranger asked, sounding interested.

“The settee,” Pandora said irritably. “I’m all tangled up in these dratted—” she hesitated, wondering what to call the elaborate wooden curls and twists carved into the back of the settee. “—swirladingles,” she finished.

“Acanthus scrolls,” the man said at the same time. A second passed before he asked blankly, “What did you call them?”

“Never mind,” Pandora said with chagrin. “I have a bad habit of making up words, and I’m not supposed to say them in public.”

“Why not?”

“People might think I’m eccentric.”

His quiet laugh awakened a ticklish feeling in her stomach. “At the moment, darling, made-up words are the least of your problems.”

Pandora blinked at the casual endearment, and tensed as he sat beside her. He was close enough that she caught his fragrance, a spice of amber or something cedary, wrapped around fresh earthy coolness. He smelled like an expensive forest.

“Are you going to help me?” she asked.

“I might. If you tell me what you were doing on this settee in the first place.”

“Is it necessary for you to know?”

“It is,” he assured her.

Pandora scowled. “I was reaching for something.”

A long arm draped along the back of the settee. “I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific.”

He was not being very chivalrous, she thought with annoyance. “An earring.”

“How did you lose your earring?”

“It’s not mine. It belongs to a friend and I have to return it to her quickly.”

“A friend,” he repeated skeptically. “What is her name?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“A pity. Well, good luck.” He made as if to leave.

“Wait.” Pandora wriggled, and heard the sound of more stitches popping. She stopped with a sound of exasperation. “It’s Lady Colwick’s earring.”

“Ah. I suppose she was out here with Hayhurst?”

“How do you know about that?”

“Everyone knows, including Lord Colwick. I don’t think he’ll mind Dolly’s affairs later on, but it’s a bit soon before she’s produced a legitimate child.”

No gentleman had ever spoken so frankly to Pandora before, and it was shocking. It was also the first truly interesting conversation she’d ever had with anyone at a ball.

“She’s not having an affair,” Pandora said. “It was only a rendezvous.”

“Do you know what a rendezvous is?”

“Of course I do,” she said with great dignity. “I’ve had French lessons. It means to have a meeting.”

“In context,” he said dryly, “it means a great deal more than that.”

Pandora squirmed miserably. “I don’t give a pickle about what Dolly and Mr. Hayhurst were doing on this settee, I just want to be out of it. Will you help me now?”

“I suppose I must. The novelty of talking to an unfamiliar derrière is beginning to wear off.”

Pandora stiffened, her heart jolting as she felt him lean over her.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m not going to molest you. My tastes don’t run to young girls.”

“I’m twenty-one,” she said indignantly.


“Yes, why do you sound skeptical?”

“I wouldn’t have expected to find a woman of your age in such a predicament.”

“I’m almost always in a predicament.” Pandora jerked as she felt a gentle pressure on her back.

“Hold still. You’ve hooked your dress on three different scroll points.” He was pulling deftly at the silk pleats and ruffles. “How did you manage to squeeze through such a small space?”

“It was easy going forward. But I didn’t realize all these dratted swirla—that is, scrolls—were set like backward barbs.”

“Your dress is free now. Try pulling yourself out.”

Pandora began to ease backward, and yelped as the wood dug into her. “I still can’t. Oh, blast—”

“Don’t panic. Twist your shoulders to the . . . no, not that way, the other way. Wait.” The stranger sounded reluctantly amused. “This is like trying to open a Japanese puzzle box.”

“What’s that?”

“A wooden box made of interconnected parts. It can only be opened if one knows the series of moves required to unlock it.” A warm palm settled on her bare shoulder, gently angling it.

His touch sent a strange shock through her. She drew in a sharp breath, cool air swirling inside her hot lungs.

“Relax,” he said, “and I’ll set you free in a moment.”

Her voice came out higher-pitched than usual. “I can’t relax with your hand there.”

“If you cooperate, this will go faster.”

“I’m trying, but it’s a very awkward position.”

“The position was your doing, not mine,” he reminded her.

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