"I see that at long last you have a fan, Miss Morcatt," Lord Rustington bowed over her hand.
His grace was the envy of all the aspiring gentlemen of the ton; all eyes in the crowded drawing room of Viscount and Viscountess Casterton were upon them, Chloe sensed it.
"It was given me, my lord. 'Twould be churlish not to use it." Chloe snapped open the topic of their conversation with a surprisingly practiced flourish.
"You have been loud, in the past, in your condemnation of the articles. 'Pretentious' I think you called the fan. 'Showy', 'superficial', even 'vulgar', I believe." He seated himself beside her on the striped satin sopha without asking her permission. In a nearby candelabra beside one of the many vases of hot-house roses, a candle guttered out with a sibilant hiss.
Chloe could only nod. They had been her words. She peeped over the edge of the offending item. Slowly she fluttered her long eyelashes--one of her best features, she had always thought.
He laughed. She always thought he looked exceeding attractive when he laughed, when humour lightened the dark intensity of his gaze and the harshness of his features.
"Oh, indeed, you have the knack of it already, a born flirt. And who presented you with this trifle?"
He indicated the 'trifle'--which sported silver guards, intricately pierced sticks, and finely painted parchment leaves. The flowers limned upon it exactly matched in colour the delicate blue of her evening gown.
"A gentleman...a kind and generous sort of person." She teased further, fanning herself until the golden curls at her temples feathered across the pale, smooth skin of her forehead.
His gaze followed the curls' movement even as he shook his dark head. "A fool," he said.
With a quick movement, she snapped the offending article shut, and rapped him across the knuckles of his gloved hand which rested between them on the striped silk sopha.
He raised the hand with some reproof in the gesture. "You..."
"They do say you can send messages with the fan." Chloe had spread the fan and was hiding behind it again. "If both sender and recipient have agreed upon the language, of course."
His expression told what he thought of that idea.
Chloe gazed about her aunt and uncle's drawing room. The level of conversation was such as to deafen...an hundred voices all speaking at once. Attention had fallen away from them. No one seemed to notice that the Earl of Rustington--noted Corinthian and scholar--was seated beside her and flirting with her in a most intimate manner. In fact, despite the new fan, she was--unusually--attracting no attention at all.
She looked at the spread fan thoughtfully. "If I opened and closed the fan quickly, then opened it again, it could mean that I wanted you to come to me...if you were across the room."
The earl snorted in a manner decidedly lacking in charm.
"If I closed it, and left it closed, it could mean that I wish you to go away!" She suited her action to the words and stared at him challengingly.
He returned her stare. "If you open it, and lift it to your face..." He slid closer to her on the sopha.
She did not move other than to open the leaves and assume an elegant pose with the fan raised.
He leaned toward her until his warm lips nearly brushed her cheek. She turned her head with a languid little smile, and kissed him. After a long moment, the fan which had neatly hidden them from view, clattered to the polished floor. It narrowly missed the Persian carpet which would have muffled its landing.
Now everyone in the over-heated, rose-scented chamber was staring at them.
Lady Casterton, Chloe's aunt, broke the sudden silence with a laugh. Mrs. Morcatt, standing with her, said to her daughter, "You see, I knew how it would be. I told you Rustington sent the fan only to make mischief."
Rustington was laughing again, his expression relaxed as he lounged on the stiff sopha. He openly held Chloe's gloved hand, his thumb unobtrusively caressing her wrist.
"Then, as I replied this morning, Mama, it is fortunate we are betrothed." A roguish twinkle, and a smile that neared a grin, displayed Chloe's happiness.
The gathering laughed along with her, and returned their attention to gossip of matters more urgent than the month old betrothal of Miss Chloe Morcatt and her Earl.
"I suggested fans could be most useful, did I not, my love?" Rustington asked her in an undertone. "But you should not drop yours at such a crucial moment; now I shall have to wait at least until this rout is over before I can kiss you properly." He bent to retrieve gleaming device and when she would have taken it from him, he retained his grip. "I should dislike it greatly if you were to use this fan to flirt with anyone other than me."
Chloe spread the leaves and peered over it once more at him. "So should I, my darling." She waved the fan gracefully. "So should I."