Meet Me Atmidnight

By: Suzanne Enoch
Chapter 1

Lady Victoria Fontaine threw back her head and laughed. "Faster. Marley!"

Below her, Viscount Marley tightened his grip around her legs and began spinning around even more
recklessly. The other dancers fled to the edges of the ballroom despite the beckoning notes of the
quadrille, their glares and envious whispers just a whirling blur. This would be thelasttime her parents kept
her housebound for three days. Teach her restraint—ha! Chuckling breathlessly, she flung out her arms.

"Faster!"

"I'm getting dizzy, Vixen," Marley panted, his words muffled in her gown's rumpled green silk. He hefted
her higher in the air.

"Then spin the other way!"

"Vix… damnation!" Marley lurched sideways, tottered, and dumped them both to the polished ballroom
floor.

"Oops!" Vixen laughed again as her herd of admirers swooped forward to assist her to her feet. Poor
Marley had to scramble out of the way to avoid being trampled. "Gadzooks, that was fun." She
staggered sideways, blinking as the room continued to swirl and dip.

"Whoa, Vixen," Lionel Parrish crooned, catching her up against him. "You nearly showed off your
unmentionables to the Duke of Haw ling. We can't have you falling again and giving him an apoplexy."

"I feel like a whirligig, Lionel. Please help me to a seat."

With Vixen back on her feet, several of her herd took pity on Marley and pulled him upright, as well. He
dropped into the chair beside her as they found seats at one side of the room. "Dash it, Vixen, now
you've made me seasick."

"You need a steadier constitution," she said, laughing and out of breath. "Someone fetch me a punch, if
you please."

Immediately half the herd scattered for the refreshment table, while the other half moved in to take their
vacated places. The musicians rallied to begin a country dance. As the ballroom floor refilled, Lucy
Havers escaped from her mother's view and hurried over to sit onVictoria's other side.

"My goodness! Are you unhurt?" she exclaimed, grabbing Vixen's hand.

Victoriasqueezed her fingers. "Quite. Marley broke my fall."

He sent her a glare. "If you were a large woman, Vix, I'd be dead right now."

"If I'd been a large woman, you wouldn't have lifted me into the air like a victory flag." Grinning, she
returned her attention to Lucy. "Is my hair at all salvageable?"

"Mostly. You've lost a comb."

"I have it, Vixen," Lord William Landry announced, holding up the delicate ivory piece. "I'll return it to
you… in exchange for a kiss."

My, that's a surprise. Trying to straighten hermidnightringlets, which did have a definite droop on one
side,Victoriafavored the Duke of Fenshire's third son with a speculative smile. "Only a kiss? That is my

favorite comb, you know."

"Perhaps we might negotiate for more later, but for the moment a kiss will suffice."

"Very well. Lionel, kiss Lord William for me."

"Not for five hundred quid."

Everyone laughed, while inwardlyVictoriasighed. The longer she put it off, the more he would gloat
about it and insinuate she owed him—and dash it all, thatwasher favorite comb. She stood, straightening
her skirt, and stepped up to William Landry. On tiptoes, she brushed her lips against his cheek before he
could intercept her for a sounder kiss. He reeked of brandy, but that was no great surprise.

"My comb, please," she said, holding out her hand and unable to keep the smug look off her face. He
should have known by now; no one bested the Vixen.

"That hardly counts," William protested, scowling, while the rest of the herd guffawed at him.

"It looked like a kiss to me," Marley said helpfully.

"Hush," Lucy said. "Lady Franton's glaring at us again."

"The old witch," William muttered, and handed over the comb. "If she were any more stiff, she'd be six
feet under."

"Perhaps she needs to be spun," Lucy suggested, giggling.

"I could suggest several things she needs," Marley added darkly. "Though I'd have to be six feet under
before I'd give any of it to her."

Lucy turned crimson.Victoriadidn't mind frank speech, but neither did she want her few civilized friends
driven away. She rapped Marley across the knuckles with her fan. "Stop that."

"Ouch! Defending the downtrodden again, are you?" He rubbed his knuckles. "Lady Franton's more
elevated than your usual charity cases."

"You're a bad influence, Marley," she said, beginning to become annoyed. She was used to the flirtations
and the insults to her civic-mindedness, but her herd never seemed to come up with anything new to
discuss. "I don't think I'm going to speak to you any longer."

"Hm. Bad luck for you, Marley," Lionel Parrish said. "Make way for the next fellow."

Immediately the herd began jostling for position, andVictoriawasn't quite certain whether they were
joking or were utterly serious. They expected her to be flattered by the attention, but in truth, it was
becoming very, very old. Being behind locked doors at Fontaine House almost seemed attractive in
comparison. Almost. "I've decided to make a vow," she stated.

"Not of chastity, I hope," Lord William returned with another guffaw.

Lionel Parrish frowned through the laughter, taking a step closer to Lucy. "This is hardly the place for
that sort of talk."



"Watch your knuckles, William," Marley agreed, removing his own hands fromVictoria's reach.

"My vow is just as bad for you, Lord William,"Victoriaretorted. Thank goodness her parents were in
Lord Franton's portrait gallery admiring his new acquisitions. William's was only one of several remarks
this evening that would help convince them to send her to a convent. "From now on, I intend to converse
only with nice men."

Shocked looks greeted her pronouncement, until Stewart Haddington began laughing. "But who else do
you know besides us scoundrels, Vixen?"

"Hmm," she mused, trying to regain her equilibrium and her sense of humor. Perhaps Marley had spun
her right out of her usual self. "Thatisa problem. Marley, you must be acquainted with a few nice
gentlemen. You know—the ones you're always avoiding."

"Certainly I know a moldering corpse or two. But they'd bore you to tears in an instant."

He moved closer, obviously trying to reclaim his usual place at her side, but she made a show of looking
for Lucy and stepped aside. She didn't know why, but tonight she couldn't seem to shake the feeling that
she'd done all of this before, and that it hadn't been very amusing even then. "How do you know I'd be
bored?"

"Nice men are dull, my dear. That's why you're here with me."

"With us," Lord William corrected.

Victoriascowled at the lot of them. Unfortunately, Marley was correct. Nice menweredull—and stuffy,
constrained, and narrow-minded. And their repertoire of compliments to her looks and insults to her
thoughts was the same as anyone else's. At least rogues agreed to spin her. "I only tolerate you gentlemen
because you obviously have nowhere else to go," she said haughtily.

"Sad, but true." Lionel nodded, unrepentant. "We're to be pitied."

"I know I pity you," Lucy said with a giggle, blushing again.

He kissed her knuckles. "Thank you, my dear."

"We… good God," Marley hissed, his gaze on something at the far end of the ballroom. "I don't bloody
believe it."

Victoriastarted to censure him on his language again, until she spied what—or rather, who—had caught
his attention. "Who is that?" she breathed, suddenly conscious of her heart beating fast and hard against
her ribs.

Lucy turned to look, as well. "Who is… oh, my. Vixen, he's looking right at you, isn't he?"

"I don't think so." Her pulse thudded. "Do you?"

"The bastard," Marley growled under his breath.

He seemed familiar, yet she knew she'd never set eyes on him before. She had the forceful sensation that

a Greek god had strolled into Lady Franton's stuffy old ballroom. His elegant dark gray clothing and
confident stride as he moved through the crowd proclaimed him a noble; the way he kept his attention on
her while greeting acquaintances proclaimed him a rake. But she knew every rake inLondon—and none