The Baron Next Door (Prelude to a Kiss)

Free The Baron Next Door (Prelude to a Kiss) by Erin Knightley

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Authors: Erin Knightley
young ladies at the dinner the other night.” She added two lumps of sugar and stirred.
    “I wasn’t speaking of the ladies.”
    Charity froze, teaspoon in hand, as her gaze darted to meet her grandmother’s. She sat there beaming, her skin crinkling at the corners of her eyes as she smiled with delight. Charity did
not
like where this was headed.
    She set down her spoon with supreme care. “Oh? I’m afraid I don’t know of whom you speak.”
    Grandmama chuckled. “There seems to be one gentleman in particular who has taken notice of you. The same gentleman, I should add, whom I spied chatting with you on the pavement just now, though you neglected to mention it. Unless I am very much mistaken, the two of you have a certain spark between you.”
    If Charity had taken a sip of her tea, it would be all over the table by now. A
spark
? Yes, it could be called that if one was referring to the unfortunate combination of a torch and a thatch roof. “Lord Cadgwith has no special attachment to me, nor I to him. He was walking past when I escorted the others to the door, and he politely”—
not
the word she wanted to use—“acknowledged us.”
    “Ah, to be young and naïve again,” Grandmama said wistfully, setting a wrinkled hand to her chest. Thin blue veins snaked beneath her papery white skin, reminding Charity of how delicate she truly was. “You may not realize it, but that young man has quite a bit of interest in you. Mark my words.”
    Charity grimaced. An interest in tossing her into the street, perhaps. “No, truly, I’m not being naïve. He and I . . . have very little in common.” Unless mutual dislike was considered a commonality.
    “And yet you were quite cozy at the Potters’ dinner, were you not? I wasn’t the only one to notice, either.” She sighed and leaned back against the cushions, her eyes taking on that faraway look of one deep in their memories. “My own marriage was arranged, but I was quite amenable to it. Your grandfather could make me blush with a single look. Your Lord Cadgwith reminds me of him, you know.”
    Superb.
Grandmama was developing a soft spot for the one man in all of Bath whom Charity could happily do with never seeing again. “Is that so? I wonder why.” She lifted the tea for a sip, anxious to move onto some other topic without sounding rude.
    “The wounded heart.”
    Charity’s gaze snapped up at the wholly unexpected words. “Wounded heart?” Yes, he was clearly scarred, but when it came to his heart, well, she assumed he simply hadn’t one.
    Nodding, her grandmother’s eyes went to the ceiling, though Charity suspected she didn’t see the fine plasterwork at all. “Raymond was orphaned at the age of ten, and he learned the hard way how many would happily take advantage of a young nobleman. By the time we were betrothed, he was nearly thirty and quite jaded.” She shook her head, a small smile emerging from her memories. “Handsome as the devil, and twice as shrewd. But behind it all was a kindness just waiting to come out.”
    Nostalgia relaxed her features as she stared back into time. As intrigued as Charity was to hear about this side of her grandfather, she simply couldn’t let her grandmother’s imagination run away with her when it came to Lord Cadgwith.
    “Grandmama, I know the baron was physically injured somewhere along the way, but I don’t think he is as deep as you may think. After all, we hardly know him.”
    The older woman turned the full force of her gray gaze on Charity, just as the first raindrops pinged against the windowsill. In that moment, the clarity in her eyes was arresting. “That is what you think. But when one is my age, one learns a thing or two about reading people. Trust me when I say there is something more to him than just handsome looks and reserved charm.”
    An odd feeling settled in Charity’s stomach, like a carriage suddenly lurching forward. She didn’t want to believe her grandmother’s observations.

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