Baroness Antonia Thornton, outrageous beauty, and her companion, gentle Judith Winslow, discovered new ways to intrigue the ton. Which one was dashing Adam Yorke interested in? Then there was his friend Simon, Lord Launceston, divinely handsome and eligible. What were his intentions? The two young ladies and their two young gentlemen led each other on a merry dance of confusion—and romance. Regency Romance by Mary Jo Putney; originally published by Signetz.
Lady Antonia Thornton is a wealthy, beautiful bluestocking and quiet, widowed Judith Winslow is her companion and friend. Antonia’s cousin Adam Yorke is visiting after many years in India. With Antonia’s permission, Adam has invited his friend Simon, Lord Launceston, to stay at Antonia’s country house.
Simon Launceston, fifth Baron Launceston, arrived that afternoon. Like all great events, Lord Launceston's arrival was ever after indelibly etched in Judith's memory. When he was announced, they were taking tea in the small parlor, which commanded a splendid view of the lush gardens. In the distance the green Peaks floated. The afternoon sun was softly bright, illuminating the rich colors of the Persian carpet with unnatural clarity, causing Antonia's apricot hair to glow like a living thing as she laughed and poured tea for the others.
Then Burton entered, intoning solemnly, “Lord Launceston.”
All three of them looked up, Adam with pleasure that his friend had arrived, the two women welcoming.
At the sight of the man in the doorway, Judith drew in her breath, her eyes widening and her mouth forming a silent “0” of shock. Time seemed to freeze, as still and motionless as pollen suspended in the sun-drenched air. Next to her on the sofa, Antonia had gone rigid with the same awestruck reaction that Judith was experiencing.
Simon Launceston was, quite simply, the most beautiful man Judith had ever seen or dreamed of. His superbly tailored clothing would have drawn the eye in a lesser man, but for Lord Launceston clothing was no. more than a foil for his height and perfect proportions. Though he had wide shoulders and an elegant figure, what one noticed first was his eyes, deeply and magnetically blue. Then his face, the planes and lines shaped with a perfection that a Greek sculptor could only yearn for, a faint in his cleft chin adding charm to a countenance that might otherwise have been too flawless to be approachable.
Judith's first thought was of Apollo, but Lord Launceston's beauty was of a Celtic kind; surely the sun god would be golden, while the newcomer's hair was the shining black of obsidian, all the darker for the contrast with his fair skin. But Launceston was more than just handsome; he was the very image of the parfit gentil knight Judith had dreamed of when she was still young enough to dream. Even now, after a lifetime's knowledge that no handsome prince would appear to fulfill her fantasies, she felt a moment of irrational belief that her dream lover had found her.
Then common sense returned. Judith ruthlessly suppressed the absurd longing that coursed through her veins, telling herself that what she felt was simply admiration such as any woman must feel at the sight of such an attractive man.
While Judith worked on her rationalizations, Launceston paused on the threshold, his face cool and remote until his gaze fell on Adam. Then he smiled with a quiet charm that could have melted the heart of Medusa. Adam rose and greeted his friend, then performed the introductions after the men had shaken hands.
The new arrival took Judith's hand in his and bowed over it, speaking politely as his deep-blue eyes met hers. Judith barely comprehended his words as she struggled to act like a rational being; her real desire was to stare at him with her mouth open. His lordship's slow soft tenor was as wonderful as his face.
When she released his hand, Judith thought, dazedly that it was brave for his lordship to put any part of himself in a female's grasp; surely there was the risk that it would not be returned. If even a practical, unromantic woman like herself went weak and butter-kneed at the sight of Lord Launceston, it must be dangerous for the poor man to walk the streets.
Lord Launceston turned to Antonia, getting his first clear look at his hostess. He clasped her hand, then time stopped again as he simply held it, forgetting to bow, as mesmerized by her beauty as she was by his. Antonia was in her best looks today, her hair shimmering like sunset, her vitality drawing the eye, her splendid figure the stuff of male dreams.
Rallying more quickly than Judith had, Antonia said, “Welcome to Thornleigh,” in her husky contralto. Then her eyes met his and her next words caught in her throat. The two stared at each other, still hand-fast, the energy pulsing between them like a storm.
Though Judith had heard of love at first sight, she had not believed in it. But then, she had never seen anything like this. The beautiful of both sexes are not like the rest of the human race; Judith had never seen two people who were more obviously born for each other. There was something shockingly intrusive about witnessing their silent interchange, and she turned her head away.
As she did, her gaze fell on Adam, and the sight of the vivid, inarticulate pain on his face pulled her out of her disordered thoughts. Judith had guessed from the first that Adam Yorke was in love with Antonia. Now he faced the devastating knowledge that bringing his friend and his cousin together was disastrous for his hopes, and Judith ached for him.
“Would you care for some tea, Lord Launceston?” she asked, her pragmatic question shattering the spell that lay over the room.
Hastily releasing Antonia's hand, he said, “That would be very welcome.” A faint flush colored his fair skin.
The four people sat down and exchanged commonplaces as if that strange, lightning-struck moment had not occurred. Lord Launceston commented on the geological history of the Peak District, Antonia mentioned how old the manor house of Thornleigh was, Judith asked about his lordship's studies.
Adam Yorke said nothing at all, merely drank his tea, that strange, blinded expression on his face. Judith was acutely aware of the crosscurrents, of the way Antonia and Lord Launceston were making love to each other with every word and gesture, and finally she could bear no more. She needed to escape before she succumbed to a wicked envy of her best friend. Equally important, Adam must be taken away.