The meal had passed by dreadfully slow. Margaret had listened to polite conversation and made the appropriate responses throughout, but her mind unwillingly kept returning to thoughts of the duke. She knew she had no right to be thinking about another man while she was engaged to Henry, but she had never felt anything like what she felt when the duke kissed her hand. It made her wonder what it would be like if he kissed her somewhere else....

Her father giving a toast interrupted Margaret's thoughts. The elderly gentleman stood to his feet and all eyes were on the graying, thin man with violet eyes and a friendly smile. "I would like to make a toast to my daughter. She has given me sixteen marvelous years with a lifetime full of memories. You are the finest daughter a man could have."

Glasses were raised and everyone replied "To Margaret!" before sipping from their goblets.

"I would also like to make a toast to the Lady Margaret, my betrothed. You are my best friend and my one true love. I look forward to sharing my life and home with you."

The glasses rose again and "Hear, hears" echoed.

Margaret smiled appreciatively at Henry and gently smoothed the edge of her dress as she prepared herself for the dancing part of the evening. But before anyone could stand and move towards the ballroom, one additional, unexpected person stood to make a toast to Margaret.

Her eyes grew wide with surprise as she watched the Duke of Witherton rise from his seat and say, "Since we are making toasts to the fair Lady Margaret, I too would like to make one. Here is to one of the most exquisite ladies that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. You bring light and radiance with you wherever you go, and I find myself utterly enchanted with how you do it. You are truly as majestic as the rumors have said."

Several guests looked back and forth between Henry, Margaret, and the duke while moments ticked by in awkward silence. Finally, the glasses rose a final time in honor of Margaret. The discomfort in the room was thick. It was unusual for someone of the duke's stature to single out someone of Lady Margaret's status, and even more bizarre that he did it while she was betrothed and in front of her intended.

In those moments directly following Richard's toast, she felt more embarrassment than she had in a long time. But the most irrational part of it was that she secretly had to admit that it flattered her a great deal that Richard had made his toast in the first place. The entire situation made her blush from the fact that he would make his interest known so openly.

The earl rose to his feet again. "I would like to thank both the Viscount Rolantry and the Duke of Witherton for making their toasts in honor of my daughter. I would now like to invite everyone to join my family in the ballroom so the dancing may commence."

She could always count on her father to make an uncomfortable situation more bearable. She smiled at him with a look of relief that only he could register. He smiled back and came around, taking her by the arm.

"I feel it is my duty to escort you to the dance floor, for I fear that those two young men are about to have words over you. I hope it does not result in a row," he snickered. Then he remarked dryly, "I daresay, what a scandal that would cause."

"I fear that you are right, Father, and I do not like it at all."

But before the earl and Margaret could leave the room, Margaret saw Henry stop the duke from heading towards the ballroom.

In a determined tone, Henry proclaimed, "I know what you are about, Witherton. Do not fool yourself into believing I am unaware of what you are trying to do. And let me be the one to guarantee you that it will not work. Lady Margaret is mine! I have courted her for years, waited for her to come of age, and she will marry me! Do not think for a moment that you can or will change that."

The English ProposalRead this story for FREE!