Regency Romance Top Pick for February 1999, Romantic Times
Best Regency Romance of 1999, Romance Readers Anonymous List (RRA-L)
Grown-up Psyche Hathaway is sending her mother into fits with the way she has turned down one eligible suitor after another. Picky, picky, picky! But why should Psyche marry when she is having so much fun matchmaking her friends in the haute ton? Especially when her very best friend, Harry, comes back from his on-going quest for a visit.
But when Psyche finds out what that quest is about, matchmaking doesn't seem so fun any more. It is Harry for whom she must make a match, and that to his long-lost wife. Who is this mystery woman, where is she, and how soon can they find her before the world descends into chaos? Time is running out for Harry and the Greek gods, as well as for the storm-tossed world, and though Psyche and Harry pledge to find the right mate for each other, both are finding it much more difficult to do than they had first thought…
Psyche danced as many dances as possible until at last she grew breathless and thirsty. She returned to Cassandra’s side and was just about to suggest finding refreshment, when she looked up at Cassandra’s gasp and saw her sister’s face pale.
“What is it?” she asked. She turned, and for the first time in her life she felt faint.
It was Harry. Though he wore a mask that covered half his face, there was no mistaking him at all. His hair blazed in golden waves in the candlelight, his firm and stubborn chin was raised in a familiar tilt, and his lips were the same finely sculpted shape she’d known for most of her life. She knew the chiton he wore too well, as well as the wings, the familiar bow and quiver of arrows he had slung over one shoulder. She would have thought he had decided to come to the ball invisible—except it was all too clear he was very visible, if Cassandra’s open mouth and the gasps of various ladies were any indication.
She’d grown used to his mode of dress throughout the years and as a result had never thought it shocking, but she now knew it was quite shocking indeed. Where other gentlemen’s arms were covered in cloth, Harry’s arms were bare, showing every athletic muscle from shoulder to wrist. Where most gentlemen’s necks were covered up to their ears, Harry’s was not, the chiton draping low enough to show a broad and solid chest.
Psyche’s eyes drifted lower and she blushed as she never had before. Harry’s chiton only came down to his knees—she had always known it had, of course! But she could not help seeing that his legs were also bare and muscular. Heavens, why had she not noticed it before? Hastily she pulled her eyes away and met Cassandra’s accusing stare.
“I knew nothing about it, Cassandra!” Psyche whispered frantically. “Oh, how dare he! I hope he will not cause a scandal.” She groaned and looked distractedly about her. “Oh, heavens, he has recognized me and is approaching. What shall I do? How dreadful Lady Sandringham did not think to decorate the room with heavy draperies! There is absolutely no place to hide. Perhaps no one will recognize him, and oh, I hope no one laughs at his clothes, for he will become angry, and I do not know what he will do if someone were to offend him.”
“Little chance of that,” Cassandra said dryly.
It was quite true. Harry wore his costume naturally, totally at ease, as if he wore it all the time—which of course he did. The guests parted before him as if he were the Prince Regent himself, and if anyone thought of scandal, it was not apparent on the awe-struck or admiring faces in the crowd.
Psyche pressed her lips together tightly. Of course they would accept his outrageousness. He was completely shameless, and showed not one bit of self-consciousness or guilt; if he had, they would have turned their backs upon him, and his reputation would have been shredded between the teeth of every gossip. She watched as a dowager brought a lorgnette to her eyes. The lady gasped, but Harry merely bowed in a very elegant manner before her and kissed her hand, causing the woman to blush and smile, and flutter her fan like a young girl. Psyche’s earlier alarm turned to disapproval. How very vain he was, to be sure!
At last he bowed before them. “Lady Blytheland, Miss Hathaway.” When he rose, he gazed at Psyche and grew pale. “Why are you wearing that costume? Where did you get it?”
“You have no cause to question me on my costume!” Psyche whispered indignantly. “Not when you are so scandalously clothed. Why are you not wearing a proper costume?”
Harry lifted his chin and looked down his nose at her. Psyche’s temper rose. “Of course I am wearing a costume,” he said. “I have a mask, and obviously I have come dressed as the god of love.”
“But you are the god of love! How can being yourself be a costume?”
He grinned widely. “You are free to tell everyone in this room the truth, of course.”
“Oh, you are impossible! You know very well that I can do no such thing. Cassandra, tell him!”
Cassandra broke out laughing. “I am afraid I cannot, Psyche, for you are perfectly free to tell the truth...but whether you will be believed is another thing entirely.”
“Not I!” Cassandra said. “Indeed, I believe it is the perfect costume, for it suits him. No one would believe he is anything but Mr. D’Amant—should he stay for the unmasking. I believe even Lady Cowper and Lady Jersey are looking more amused than anything else.”
“You are as wise as you are beautiful, Lady Blytheland,” Harry said, and bowed over her hand. He cast a sly look at Psyche. “May I have this dance, my lady?” he asked Cassandra.
She gazed at Harry for a long moment, then smiled wryly. “Depending on my friendship with Lady Cowper, are you, Mr. D’Amant? Clever. And I suppose you wish me to speak with her directly after our dance, so that you may enter into a conversation with her?”
Harry widened his eyes innocently. “I? Have I said such a thing?”
“No, but I am sure you would have come round to it, Harry, I know you would have!” Psyche said instantly.
Cassandra laid her hand upon Psyche’s arm. “Really, Psyche, it probably would quiet any gossip later on.” She turned to Harry. “No thanks to you, Mr. D’Amant,” she said severely.
Harry heaved a great sigh and looked despondent.
“Incorrigible.” Cassandra shook her head. “No wonder you are so inclined to argue with him, Psyche.” Harry only grinned, and Psyche’s hand itched to slap him. “Come, Mr. D’Amant. The dance is about to begin.” He took Cassandra’s hand and led her out onto the dance floor.
“Your Mr. D’Amant has captured quite a bit of attention,” said a familiar voice.
Psyche looked up at the masked and dominoed figure beside her and smiled. “Lord Blythe—Paul, I mean. I am glad you are here! Cassandra did not tell me you were coming to the ball.”
“She did not know I was coming, because I didn’t think I would.” His smile widened. “The idea of my wife dancing with everyone except myself did not set well with me, so I came to claim a few for myself.” He glanced at his wife dancing with Harry. “A remarkable costume. One wonders how the wings stay attached.”
“Oh...w-well, Mr. D’Amant has always been very clever,” Psyche stammered. Heavens, Cassandra never said whether she had told her husband about Harry. A change of subject was definitely in order. “And he is not ‘my Mr. D’Amant,’” she said, frowning.
“No?” Lord Blytheland said politely and raised his brows.
“My, how I long to dance!” she exclaimed, and smiled sweetly at him. “I cannot imagine why anyone would wish to stand and converse when there is such lively music playing.”
Lord Blytheland’s lips twitched upward. “A set-down! Very well. Shall I dance with you, or shall I ask—oh, my dear friend Eldon to do so?”
“You must know that it is not the thing to dance with one’s brother-in-law when there are so many eligible gentlemen about. I cannot let anyone think I am desperate, you know.”
“In other words, you wish me to go away.” Lord Blytheland grinned and put his hand over his heart. “You have wounded me, sister-in-law. As you wish; I shall bring the lamb to the slaugh—that is, I shall hint Eldon your way.”
“Odious!” Psyche said, but could not help giggling. There was something lamb-like about Lord Eldon. It was not his looks, for he was quite tall and good-looking, and he dressed impeccably, for he was an acknowledged Pink of the Ton. He was well mannered and amiable, and the bow he made over Psyche’s hand as he asked her for a dance was exquisitely elegant.
Perhaps it was the ruminative air he had about him, as if at any moment he would crop grass, that made Lord Eldon seem rather sheeplike. Psyche liked him very well, and though he had formed part of her circle of suitors at one point, she was quite sure he had done so because at the time it was considered fashionable. Regardless, it was pleasant to have a friend who danced well and conversed amusingly.
He looked her over critically and nodded. “Very well done; the colors suit you, and the wings are quite clever.”
“Why, thank you, my lord,” Psyche replied. “I see however that you only wear a mask and domino.”
“‘Only’?” Even with his mask, Lord Eldon looked pained. “My dear Miss Hathaway, this ensemble was made by Weston. One does not apply the word ‘only’ to Weston’s tailoring.”
Psyche chuckled. “I stand corrected,” she said. Her former irritation fled, and she could even smile ruefully when she saw Harry conversing with Lady Cowper and Lady Jersey, winding both around his little finger.
When the dance ended, they were very close to where Harry was standing after speaking to Lady Cowper and Lady Jersey. Harry glanced up and saw Psyche immediately; he stepped toward her, clearly intending to speak with her.
And then there was a sudden hush from their corner, near the entrance of the ballroom. Psyche looked up and took in a quick breath, and so, it seemed, did many of the other guests—male, mostly, she noted wryly.
The lady was tall, with black hair and flashing dark eyes. On her head was a coronet of silver, with a crescent moon made of mother-of-pearl set in the center of it. She wore no mask, and it would have been a shame to have covered such wild beauty, for her skin was pearl-colored, her cheeks lightly touched with pink, and her perfectly formed lips were the color of coral.
Her dress—a chiton like Harry’s—was so scandalously short as to show her ankles and the lower part of her calf, her arms were as bare as Harry’s, and below her generous bosom her small waist was cinched in with a silver stomacher. On her back was a quiver of arrows, and she carried a long silver bow, and her feet were encased in silver sandals.
A long breath was released from beside her and turned to see Lord Eldon, mouth agape, fumbling with his quizzing glass before he put it up to his eye. “By Jove!” he murmured, and a dreamy smile formed on his face.
“No,” came Harry’s voice to the other side of Psyche. “Diana.” Psyche looked up at him. His mouth was grim and his eyes, furious. “Or, more accurately, Artemis.”