Damon stood in the assembly, eyeing the single female attendees. He wandered among the crowd like a panther in search of a meal. The scornful gazes of the mothers in attendance attempted to warn unsuspecting daughters that he was not a good catch. He returned their glances with a polite nod and cordial grin, declaring they would not deter his advances. If one of their daughters appealed to his roving eye, no one would halt his quest for another wife.
The Fifth Baron of Wentworth, Damon Thorburn, had been unfortunate in love. Rumors explaining his misfortunes had been the talk of society. He divorced his first wife for infidelity, who later fled the district, so they say, with her lover. The second died from an untimely illness, the nature of which remained a secret.
Now in his late thirties, his ability to impress available spinsters had diminished. Due to the oddity of his situation, his considerable fortune, and renovated Norman castle, no longer held its appeal. Unfortunately, the younger female generation that flitted about the dance floor thought him too secondhand for serious consideration. His search would not be easy.
“You might soften that expression on your face. You look like Jack the Ripper, rather than a man in search of a wife.”
Damon felt a soft elbow jab from Rhys, his younger brother. He relaxed his tightened jaw, replacing it with a grin. The dark streak in his personality had a way of affecting his admirable traits when not controlled. However, slashing throats and disembowelments had never been his forte.
“Quite right,” he said, glancing at his brother. He shook his head in frustration. “This is the third time I have sought a wife. It is a grueling task, to say the least.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake spare me,” Rhys drawled, rolling his eyes. “Do not beg for my sympathy. You have a way of making women fall at your feet with a single touch. Exhausting as it may be, once the right one catches your eye, things shall swiftly turn in your direction as they always have in the past.”
As prideful as it sounded, Damon knew he possessed qualities women found irresistible. Dark shiny hair, chiseled features, toned body, enticing blue eyes, and a voice soft enough to melt the winter’s snow were his best assets. His controlling mother had done one thing well in life. She birthed a firstborn son who met her standards of excellence. Rhys somewhat missed the mark. As a result, his mother’s affections rested upon Damon, as she thought her firstborn superior of the two.
When their parents tragically died in the Tay Bridge rail disaster while vacationing in Scotland, it had been a shock. The manor house, emptied of an ill-tempered father and manipulative mother, transferred to Damon along with wealth and a dilapidated castle. He shared his good fortune in many ways with his sibling. As brothers, they never competed with one another. As far as their taste in women, they were vastly different. Rhys settled for less than perfection while Damon only sought the finest.
After strolling around the perimeter with Rhys, Damon came to a halt and made another sweeping glance. His eyes fell upon a young woman dressed in a dark blue evening gown, dancing in the arms of an unfamiliar male.
“Who is that?” he said, leaning in towards his brother. “The young lady in blue with brown hair.”
Rhys took a sip from a fresh glass of champagne he plucked from the tray of a server passing by. He cocked his head in the direction of his Damon’s inquiry.
“Eve Seymour, I believe.”
“Do you know anything else about her?” Damon asked, bringing his hand to his chin and stroking it thoughtfully while he examined a possibility.
“Unavailable, as far as I know. She is engaged to the chap she is dancing with now. His father is a viscount,” he replied. Rhys paused, attempting to recall his identity. “I’m sorry, but his name escapes me at the moment.”
“Her father had been Knighted by the Queen for his service to the crown but is deceased.”
“You’re such well of social knowledge,” Damon said, turning to him in surprise.
“Thanks to your edicts to investigate the landscape of available females for you, I keep abreast of current social affairs.” He shook his head. “Besides, she’s spoken for.”
“It matters not,” Damon disagreed. “The man is of no consequence.” His eyes narrowed at his rivalry.
“For heaven’s sake,” Rhys spoke with a harsh edge to his voice. “The entire room is filled with eligible females, and you set your eyes upon an engaged woman.”
Damon slowly turned his head and viewed his brother blubbering at him needlessly. “You love the tasks I give you to complete,” he cajoled. “You’re a boldface liar if you say otherwise.”
Rhys’ rigid stance relaxed and his shoulders slouched. “Oh, I’m sure that you will once again assign me a devious chore to carry out on your behalf,” he admitted with a Machiavellian grin.
“I need an introduction.” Damon returned his attention to the young woman who now stood in front of her beau conversing. As he studied her countenance, he perceived a subtle discontent in her facial expression. The posture of her body suggested an uneasiness as she allowed one hand to dangle limply at her left side. She folded the other, bringing it across her midsection. Her rigid stance while in her fiancé’s presence gave him encouragement.
Without speaking to Rhys, he stepped away and began a slow meandering stroll in Miss Seymour’s direction. Unaware his brother followed him a few feet behind, he halted when her beau abruptly departed with a scowl on his face. Damon smiled and shook his head in disbelief. The man left her alone and vulnerable. In an instant, he seized the opportunity and filled the unattended space by her side.
“Excuse me. I could not help but notice that you appear a bit lost. Might I be of assistance?” Using his smooth tenor vocal cords, the young woman raised her eyes. Her pink lips parted slightly, showing astonishment at his sudden arrival.