43. Twice Surprise

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The men in front of us parted, and out from between them stepped another man. I blinked in surprise. He was lean, and he was tall, just like Mr Ambrose – but there was still no way this man could be mistaken for my employer. He had longish blonde hair that was combed back in elegant waves, a slightly curvy, hawk-like nose and light, steel-blue eyes.

Even if all this could have been faked and underneath that inviting exterior somewhere lurked the brooding self I had suspected to find here, there was one characteristic which definitely identified this man as somebody other than Mr Ambrose: he had a broad, inviting smile on his face.

"Ah, good evening, Wilkins. What a pleasure to see you again." The blonde man bowed to Ella's admirer, who in turn bowed back. "And who, if I may ask, are these lovely ladies you have brought with you?"

His voice, too, was nothing like Mr Ambrose's.  It sounded smooth and eloquent, like a public speaker who could move whole crowds, or maybe a young, dashing general who by his voice alone could persuade men to follow him into battle. For some reason, I felt a blush creep up my cheeks.

"Of course, where are my manners?" Wilkins let go of my hand, so he could point us out in turn. "Lord Dalgliesh, may I present Mrs Brank, Miss Linton, Miss Linton, Miss Linton, Miss Linton, Miss Linton and Miss Linton. Ladies, this is Lord Daniel Eugene Dalgliesh."

He bowed to each of us in turn, slowly and elegantly.

"I am charmed. Who knew that such bewitching company would await me at this ball."

It hadn't escaped my notice that Wilkins had introduced us to him, and not the other way around. Normally, men were introduced to women. For it to be done in reverse, the man must be presumed to be ten times more important than any woman.

With any ordinary man, this would have sent me into a fit of rage. Yet as Lord Dalgliesh bowed to me and for a moment I met his steel-blue gaze, I knew without doubt that this was no ordinary man.

There was an aura about him, a presence that bespoke of greatness. I felt as though those steel-blue eyes could analyse every bone in my body and gaze into the darkest recesses of my soul. Which was complete bilge, of course. My soul didn't have any dark recesses! Did it?

I was ripped from the contemplation of my soul by my loving sister Maria, who shoved me out of the way to be closer to her target.

"It is I who am charmed to meet you, My Lord. Tell me how it is that, though I have been a frequent visitor to many balls in the city, I have yet never had the pleasure of making your acquaintance? Such a great Lord as yourself should surely be the life and soul of every ball."

Bravo, Maria, Bravo! I really had to admire her. She had flattered him, depicted herself as a worthy object of his undying love, fished for information, and flattered him again, and that all in one sentence. She really knew how to catch her fish. Only I had a suspicion this one would prove to be a little bit too big for her nets.

Lord Dalgliesh gave a light, pleasant laugh. "The matter is susceptible of a ready explanation, Miss Elliot. I assure you that I am no recluse or social outcast. In fact, I have been away from the Metropolis, even from Britain, for a long time now, looking after various matters in the colonies." He shrugged apologetically, and smiled a smile so charming, it could maybe even have charmed a fairy queen. "It was very unfortunate, considering what I was missing here."

My sister wasn't a fairy queen. She didn't have a hope.

"Oh, Lord Dalgliesh," was all she managed to whisper.

"What brought you back?" Sir Philip wanted to know. "I would have thought you had enough out there to keep you busy for a lifetime."

Seeing our questioning looks, he added with a smile, "Lord Dalgliesh is the main Shareholder of the East India Company."

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