The Bareknuckle Groom - Holly Bush Page 0,1

to look at him, as if she knew he saw her subtlety and didn’t care. He was of little value and certainly of no consequence. He would like to show her his consequence, he thought, the bawdy comment ringing in his head. He could not deny that she was alluring.

“Would you care to dance, Miss Bartholomew?” Williams asked.

The woman cast a coy glance at James before turning to Williams with a smile and fluttering lashes. “It would be my honor, Mr. Williams.”

“Mrs. Pendergast,” Dundermore intoned. “With your husband’s permission, would you be so kind as to grace me with your hand for the dance floor?”

James caught Alexander’s pursed lips and raised brows and hid a smile. As if Alexander could stop Elspeth, or any of his sisters, if they really wanted to do something. Alexander would have said just that when Elspeth replied.

“Certainly, Mr. Dundermore. I am very interested to hear of your work with the Philadelphia Historical Society.”

“Excellent, Mrs. Pendergast,” he said and winged his arm to her. “You’ll have to tell me how you and your worthy husband met.”

James laughed as the couple walked to the dance floor, thinking of the day that Alexander and Elspeth had met in front of the whorehouse near Mrs. Fendale’s hat shop. He belatedly realized that it was just he, Alexander, and Miss Vermeal still standing together. She was gazing serenely at the dancers as they took their places for a waltz. Alexander was gesturing to the dance floor, intending, it seemed, to partner with her when Graham, the Pendergast head of security, stepped between him and Miss Vermeal.

“Ah, pardon me,” Alexander said. “Duty calls.”

James watched Alexander walk away and blew out a breath. “Well, I suppose that means you are stuck dancing with me.”

Miss Vermeal did not turn her head. “Or we could casually step away from each other, thereby negating the necessity for either of us to feel any obligation.”

“What if I want to dance with you because you are a beautiful woman who I’d like to hold in my arms, even if it is in the very public setting of this dance floor?”

She glanced at him with no expression on her face or in those pale blue eyes. “You’ve said that word, beautiful, based on a fallacious belief. Do you know what that word means? Fallacious? Would you like me to explain it to you?”

James stepped close to her and touched her elbow. “There is no mistaken belief in the idea that you are beautiful. You are.”

“The mistaken belief is that you think I care for your compliments or good opinion, Mr. Thompson.”

He smiled at her and waited until her eyes drifted away from his. “Dance with me, Miss Vermeal.”

She huffed a little breath of annoyance. “I suppose I must as you’ve been holding my arm for several moments and others are beginning to notice.” She moved away from his hand, turned, and walked toward the dance floor. She glanced over her shoulder. “Mr. Thompson,” she said loudly enough that several heads turned. “Do you no longer wish to dance with me, sir?”

James Thompson smiled at her, just one side of that full mouth of his lifting up, revealing deep dimples and a small chip on the corner of his front tooth. It was a devastating smile, she thought, and men smiled at her all the time and she was rarely, if ever, affected. He was not as easily manipulated as she was accustomed to, but then she’d never known a boxer before. How gauche! It was if she were dancing with Laurent, the Vermeal butler!

Thompson slid a hand around her waist and grasped her hand with his—calloused, strong, and large. She laid her palm on his shoulder and felt muscles bunch under her fingers. It was a wonder his finely made jacket did not split its seams. She was used to an entirely different sort of man. Her father was tall and slender, still handsome, even though he’d been a widower for nearly twenty years.

All the men she’d known in Virginia before her father had moved them to Philadelphia earlier in the year were the same. They were property owners and intellectuals, well-bred and mannered, certainly not working men. But even so, her father felt Philadelphia was more properly able to introduce his only daughter to a higher and more sophisticated society than what Virginia had been able to. He was sure his gem, his diamond, would be admired and courted and much sought after in the city