“I suppose I must dance with you, Miss Shepherd, for I fear you will remain hiding in the shadows if I do not.”
Dinah grimaced as Lord Whitehaven came near to her, a broad grin on his handsome face. He was teasing her again, even though he had behaved impeccably during their greeting one another back at the townhouse. In fact, he had been quite the gentleman in the way he had assisted both herself and then Lady Whitehaven into the carriage, asking after their health and commenting on how grand it was to be in London after such a long time away from it.
Now, however, out of earshot of Lady Whitehaven, Lord Whitehaven was to begin his teasing all over again.
“I do not wish to dance, Lord Whitehaven,” Dinah replied primly, turning her head away. “You need not trouble yourself.”
“Trouble myself?” Lord Whitehaven replied, putting one hand mockingly against his heart in feigned shock. “Dear lady, I am only doing my duty.”
Dinah closed her eyes momentarily and prayed for strength to endure his teasing without speaking sharply in response.
“As I have said, Lord Whitehaven,” she replied carefully. “I have no desire to dance with anyone this evening. I am only present because your dear mother has insisted upon it and I found myself quite unable to argue with her.” This was, of course, the truth, for Dinah could not have brought herself to be both insolent and argumentative, knowing that such an attitude would have brought a sorrow to Lady Whitehaven’s heart. She herself could not have behaved so, believing that it would have been wrong of her to show her such ungratefulness.
Unfortunately, Lord Whitehaven appeared quite determined to dance with Dinah, for he took a step closer and, before she could prevent it, grasped her dance card which dangled from her wrist. Lifting it upwards and bringing Dinah’s arm with it, he regarded it with interest, before laughing loudly.
“I am aware that there is no one as yet written on my dance card,” Dinah told him swiftly. “But I do not care for that. I am determined to–”
“The quadrille and then the waltz.” Lord Whitehaven’s voice was firm and hard, sending a shudder through her. “And of course, I must insist that you find other gentlemen to partner you for the other dances. I know I could take three, but…” He dropped her card and winked heavily. “We must allow other gentlemen the chance to become acquainted with you.”
Dinah jerked her hand back, a fire burning in her chest. “I do not want to become acquainted with anyone,” she hissed, wishing that her cousin would leave her alone. “Please, you must stop this.”
“Stop?” Lord Whitehaven repeated, still looking at her lazily. “What is it that you wish me to stop doing, Miss Shepherd? Stop trying to encourage you towards a gentleman or two? Trying to force this little bird to fly from her nest?”
Dinah went cold all over, looking up into Lord Whitehaven’s face and seeing his arrogant smile. He did not care for her. He wanted her gone from the house, from his estate, and from his life. The only thing he cared about was himself. If he wanted a quiet life without cousin nor sisters to care for, then the only way he could achieve that would be to encourage his cousin to marry. A cold hand grasped her heart. Mayhap he already had potential gentlemen in his mind, gentlemen who would be supposedly suitable for her. Was he about to introduce her to them?
“You say nothing, little bird,” Lord Whitehaven murmured, looking at her with a small, roguish grin on his face. “You did not think me interested in your Season, I think.” Leaning forward, he tipped her chin with one finger, making Dinah step back. “Oh, but I am very interested, Miss Shepherd. Once you are wed, you are no longer my concern. Can you not see how that thought encourages me?”
Dinah shook her head, going white hot with anger but forcing herself to keep her mouth closed so that she would not say anything at all. She had been brought up to act with decorum, to speak carefully and in accordance with how God wanted her to behave. Keep a watch over my lips, she prayed silently, aware of just how much she despised her cousin. Let me remain silent rather than speak with anger.
“Ah,” Lord Whitehaven said knowingly, shaking his head at her in mock dismay. “I see that you are doing your utmost to keep your temper in check, dear cousin. How very admirable.” He gave her a mock bow, still grinning at her as he lifted his head. “Most likely, I suspect, you look down upon me and think me both a fool and a disgrace. Is that not so?”
Dinah lifted her chin, looking up at her cousin with a firm gaze. “I know your character, Lord Whitehaven,” she reminded him. “You do nothing but mock me, tease me, and treat me as an unwelcome guest rather than accepting me into your family’s embrace, as your mother and sisters have done. I do not know why you have done such a thing nor why you appear to dislike me so, but in behaving in such a way, Lord Whitehaven, you have ensured that my opinion of you is, in fact, very low indeed.”
“Hmm.” Lord Whitehaven rubbed his chin, his eyes now appearing somewhat thoughtful. Dinah held her breath, not knowing what it was he intended to say next and silently pleading for him to leave her side so that she would not have to endure his company any longer.
“I think then, Miss Shepherd, that you will think all the worse of me when you hear that I have come to London to not only secure your future, but to also ensure that I have a most enjoyable few months,” he continued, making her frown as he spoke with an almost airy confidence. “You will think that my enjoyment of gambling is quite improper; you will look down on me for my drunkenness and idleness. Of course…” He took a step closer to her, his grin becoming something of a leer. “Of course, should I frequent a bawdy house, then you shall pray for my damnation, shall you not?”
Repulsed, Dinah moved back, turning her face away and beginning to slowly sidle away from her cousin. Lord Whitehaven had become a good deal more repugnant than before, making her wonder if whether or not seeking out a husband would be more tolerable than living under his house any longer.
“If it were not for mother’s insistence that your father and mother would wish you to marry well, I would send you off to marry some old parson,” Lord Whitehaven hissed, his brows lowering now and his mouth dropping into a sneer. “Apparently you have some fortune or other that shall soon be yours, and therefore Lady Whitehaven is quite determined that you shall marry a titled fellow.” He snorted. “Not that your father held any such title.”
“My father was an admiral and a respectable gentleman.” Dinah wheeled around, her hand raised and one finger shaking in front of his face. “He had a good deal more respectability and firmness of character than you have ever disp
layed, Whitehaven. Do not think that you can ever come close to being the sort of man my father was. He loved me and gave me more consideration and compassion than you have ever shown.” Her voice was low but her words forcible, making Lord Whitehaven’s eyes round just a little, evidently surprised by her ferocity. “You are not worthy to speak his name, as far as I am concerned. He was a greater man than you shall ever be.”
So saying she pulled the dance card from her wrist, her face hot with both anger and upset. Ripping it into two pieces, she threw it at Lord Whitehaven, turned around, and stalked away. He had gone too far, speaking about her father in such a way. Lord Whitehaven might mock her, and she would allow him to do so for as long or for as much as he wanted, but one thing she would not tolerate would be his mockery of her father. She would not dance with him, she would not go near him, and she would not even converse with him. Lord Whitehaven was one of the most disgraceful gentlemen she had ever met, and regardless of the fact that he was her cousin, she would not tolerate his company any longer. Their relationship, as little and as broken as it was, was now entirely at an end. Dinah could only hope that Lady Whitehaven would understand.
Grayson gritted his teeth as Dinah walked away from him. The two ripped pieces of her dance card were at his feet. He had said too much, pushed her too hard, and now she was gone from him.
Closing his eyes, he leaned back against the wall of the ballroom and tried to take in a few steadying breaths so that he could easily push down the feelings of guilt and shame that were biting at him. Unfortunately, he knew only too well why he was treating Dinah so, but he did not want to admit it even to himself. She had spent the last few years in his manor house, in his estate, and his emotions had become slowly more and more tangled.
It was utterly ridiculous. Dinah was everything he was not. He was loud and outspoken, whereas she was quiet and thoughtful. He was brash; she was calm. He spoke without thinking, cruel and almost intolerable, whereas she was always measured, always kind, and practically invisible at times. It made no sense that he wanted to pull her out of her quietness, wanted to know what she hid underneath her piety.
And yet, all he found himself doing was being cruel and unkind. It was as if, in doing so, he could convince himself that he felt nothing for her and that in pushing her as far from him as possible, his own feelings would fade. He had meant every word when he had told her that he wanted to find her a husband. If he managed to do so, then that would be a huge relief, for it would mean that he could continue on with his life without any fear that he might allow his heart to draw out to her, or that he might end up blurting out his confusing feelings of affection for her when she felt nothing but anger towards him.