Chapter 23

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Dinner was indeed a boisterous event, and as everyone exchanged conversations on varying topic amongst themselves, a certain new guest at Brockenhurst decidedly took conversational matters into his own hands.

"I suppose Portsmouth is not where you come from, my lady," Mr William Percy deduced carefully as he examined the lady sitting opposite to him on the dining table, occasionally fussing over her little cousin who sat by her side. She was alluring and definite in every way, and Percy noticed this glow on her, a glow that ladies in these parts hardly possessed. In her dark maroon dress, cream gloved hands and her raven hair done up elegantly, Mr William Percy could not help but think of an exquisite glass of elder wine. Elder wine was the most desired wine in his business, and this lady seemed perfectly equivalent to that. It was on rare occasions he'd ever compare a lady to wine, mostly because almost every lady he'd met before was far less worthy, but this particular one made it seem that even elder wine would appear dull in comparison.

The lady looked up to him and put on a smile. "You suppose correct," Diana responded, dropping her gaze to her plate as she lifted a small bite of the roasted potatoes to her mouth. Having thought about it, she had figured that making conversation with this new gentleman was an assured way to get to know more about him, and that way she could successfully find the odds in her favor, or Lord Buxton and Lord Algernon's favor.

"Then where might you be from?" The gentleman inquired further, his tone anything but interrogating. Mr Percy had always prided himself in getting anything out of almost anyone. He had collectedly casual tone when asking a question, which seemingly gained his company's trust without much effort, especially when the company in question were ladies. His skills lay in conversation, a category where most gentlemen fail miserably at, "From heaven perhaps?" he added the last part with a sly grin on his face as he played with his tongue inside his mouth, his gaze fixed on Diana.

Diana let out a single laugh as she tilted her head and her eyes shot up at him with taunt playing in them, "I may be."

William Percy smiled, ah, so she is intoxicating as elder wine as well, he thought. During this brief duration of acquaintance, he had successfully unraveled the details of her character. She was definite and knew her own mind, and all he had to do was to win her favor if he was to secure Frank Templemore's investment, because he'd rather anything than let his competition win. The Templemore heir was young and as inexperienced as could be, surely if William Percy had the man's family on his side, the money would soon follow.

Diana put a blueberry in her mouth, her eyes following Mr William Percy's movements carefully, so this Mr William Percy was an incorrigible flirt as well, perhaps more so from his demeanor than his words. His manner was very flirty yet his words used in the prospect, plain. Lady Diana Beaumont held back a sarcastic scoff; even cousin Oscar Seymour had better words at his disposal than that.

"I knew it," Mr Percy responded, swallowing a spoonful of beef, his knowing expression changed to a teasing one as he bent his head forward and his irises floated upwards to his eyelids, "Knowing I belong there as well, I'd recognize a heaven's angel anywhere."

Diana could not stop the loud giggle that bubbled from her at his predicament and she quickly covered her lips with her gloved hand. She'd never before been part of a flirtatious conversation that being one sided, went both ways. "You are a different kind of flirt, aren't you Mr Percy?" she solicited, her lips curved into a taunting smile as she removed her hand to tend to Theodore, who in his attempt to reach for a spoon was about to knock off a crystal glass.

"I may be," he responded, raising his brow and smiling at her. Looking at him, Diana observed his countenance. He was charming, any lady would be easily swayed by him, but for some reason he didn't seem to make her feel even a one third of things Lord Buxton's mere smile could do to her. She tried to think why that was, why could a lady not pick whom she'd want to give her heart to? Why was it suddenly reserved for someone else, without her even realizing till later? It wasn't that if she could pick, she'd choose Mr William Percy, it was just that if she really could pick, it would be someone entirely different from both of these men.

As her thoughts drifted, Diana looked around the dinner table, purposely ignoring the event Mr William Percy was narrating to her about how he had discovered an entirely new flavor for elder wine and how it had blown his business profit through the roof. The gentleman, little knowing the fact that Lady Diana Beaumont did not entirely care for business conversations over dinner, despite The Countess having mentioned the fact to him, continued on with his ramble. Diana's eyes landed on Lord Buxton as though it was he who they were searching for. From a distance of two chairs to her left, their eyes met and Diana noticed that he was sporting a different yet familiar demeanor. He had a hard expression on his face and he had been gripping a silver spoon so tightly his knuckles had whitened. His dark eyes softened considerably as she held their gaze, yet his grip on the spoon seemed to be rapidly tightening, so much so that Diana was sure the piece of cutlery would bend in an unrepairable way. He broke off their gaze and his eyes dropped to his plate as he let out a breath in frustration. Diana's lips parted in confusion and she blinked, her brows furrowed slightly.

"Is something amiss, my lady?" Mr William Percy's sudden voice interrupted her as she swiftly turned to face him, her expression softening as she put her best smile on and shrugged her discomfort off. To her dismay, Mr Percy traced her initial gaze to Lord Buxton, before landing his eyes back on her in a questionable stance.

"Have you been acquainted with Lord Buxton for long?" He asked slowly, but casually, trying to appear as though he did not entirely care for the answer. That was, really, the way Mr Percy had been successfully able to drill out answers from anyone he met.

"I have," Diana found herself answering without hesitation as she glanced at Alicia, Aunt Frederica and The Countess having a rather enjoyable conversation with Frank to her right, before focusing her attention on her plate.

"No wonder you aren't interested in business conversations as much," The gentleman let out knowingly after swallowing and dapping his lips with a napkin.

"Pardon?" Diana cast him a stern glance. It always irked her when men in her family claimed to know her mind, and the proposition coming from this entirely new acquaintance made her twice as irked.

"I mean, the gentleman has most probably made business conversations tiresome for you," Mr Percy smirked, "Indeed, you should seek the company of those who are experts in the field, for instance, me."

"You have a very high regard of yourself, sir," Diana mused lifting a brow in observance. It appeared that Mr William Percy was already acquainted with Lord Buxton, with something or the other against the man.

"A real gentleman ought to, my lady. Or else he shan't receive a high regard from others around him," Mr William Percy declared, as though his statement was something he had always lived by, as though it was some sort of sacred wisdom he had acquired after years of living as a hermit in the mountains, something which Diana was entirely sure he hadn't done.

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