North pulled her into the shadows of the balcony with a chuckle.
"How easily you take offense."
Emmie jerked her arm free. "How easily you give it, my lord." She moved toward the doors again, but he put his arm out to stop her.
"Don't go. You can't blame me for being surprised."
He had moved closer, but it was so dark she could see only the line of his cheek and the brilliant white of his shirt. She had already allowed him to stand there too long. Ladies kept a distance from gentlemen.
Emmie edged a step away from him. "I do blame you. All women are not the same."
"No, they're not, and you've proved it tonight. Will you honor me with this next waltz?"
"I believe Adelaide and her mother are leaving."
North offered his arm. "They can't leave without you, and you will be dancing the last waltz with me. Come, Miss de Winter. It will be your triumph."
"It will? Why?"
At this, North stared at her in a puzzled manner. "Surely you know the marriage market game. You said you were here to be shown off and married off."
"Those are my family's plans, my lord. It does not follow that they're also mine."
There. She had regained mastery of herself. A short silence ensued during which Emmie calmly adjusted her gloves.
"Dear God, you mean it."
"I mean it, or I wouldn't have said it, and since we're being familiar, my lord, I'll tell you this. I'm not marrying a fool or a wastrel or anyone distasteful to me simply to be married. I'd rather be alone than spend my life in respectable misery."
North slapped the balustrade and uttered a sharp laugh that made Emmie jump.
"Upon my word, you're the first young lady I've ever met with conversation of substance and an honest and forthright manner. Is this the result of French boarding school?"
His grin softened the severity of his face, and Emmie smiled. "I think it's the result of my own obstinate character." She turned to go. "Now, if you will excuse me, I've been forthright enough for one evening."
"Then you won't waltz with me."
"Haven't you danced enough with simpering young ladies and ambitious mamas?"
"But you just said you're not ambitious."
"I'm not, and I shan't remain on this balcony with you any longer, my lord."
"Ha!" North swiftly stepped in her way. "So you do fear Society's censure."
"I know what honor requires of me, my lord."
"Honor. What a tiresome word," North said softly.
It was the rough quality of his voice that alarmed her. He caught her gloved hand and kissed it before she could protest. Then, without her understanding how it happened, she had backed against the balustrade, and he was much too close. A dark shadow against the lights of the ballroom, he seemed to grow taller than his already substantial height. Confusion descended upon her once more, and she began to feel most odd.
He was moving again! If she wasn't careful, he would touch her, and then something dreadful would happen. Her wobbly knees might give way. To stop him she began to chatter.
"A lady's honor is never tiresome--"
Words stuck in her throat when North ignored her and touched the backs of his fingers to her cheek.
"Forget about tiresome propriety," he whispered. "Your honesty and frankness are more fascinating than the greatest beauty."
His breath in her ear caused exotic feelings to erupt in her body. Emmie dropped her fan. He wasn't supposed to try to seduce her! Where were her audacity and courage? She was known in the rookeries for her audacity and courage.
Feeling herself begin to tremble under his touch, Emmie blurted out, "One's good name is beyond price." He only smiled and bent down, his lips parted. Emmie gasped, dashed sideways, and rounded on him.
"Drat if I'll allow you to ruin my good name for a whim, my lord marquess."
Leaning against the balustrade, North gave her a mocking smile and said quietly, "I felt you trembling, Emily Charlotte de Winter."
"That's quite enough liberty of conversation," Emmie said. She whirled around and marched to the doors, but stopped to glare at him over her shoulder. "I may not want to get married, but I'm not a fool. ". . . He that filches from me my good name/ Robs me of that which not enriches him,/ And makes me poor indeed.' And it's I who will suffer from its lack, not you."
"You can't hide behind quotations forever."
"Good evening to you, my lord." The heels of her slippers tapped loudly on the marble floor as she stamped away.
"Good evening, my lady coward."
Emmie kept walking and didn't look back. She was sitting beside Adelaide in the carriage as it drove away before she realized she'd forgotten to pick up her fan.From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from The Treasure by Suzanne Robinson. . Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.