A drop of sweat dripped between his shoulder blades, tickling his skin. Julian Parker resisted the urge to roll his shoulders, and instead kept the charming smile in place. "Yes, my mother quite enjoys Philadelphia. I, however, missed England too much to stay away any longer. Philadelphia society, while pleasant, cannot hold a candle to the beauty that can be found in London."
The compliment did its duty. The haughty elegance, that air of bored condescension of one just barely tolerating another's presence, slipped away. A smile spread across Lady Whitley's plain, round face. "London is fortunate to have you back, Mr. Parker."
Julian tipped his head. "I consider myself fortunate to be back."
She glanced to his cousin, Lord Benjamin Parker, standing at his shoulder, then back to Julian, her gaze quickly raking the length of his body, from the elaborate cravat that took him a good half hour to tie, the knot secured by a gold pin with a respectably sized stone, to his freshly polished shoes. "I am at home Monday afternoons, if you would care to call."
Relief washed over him. Maybe it would not be so difficult after all. "Thank you for the invitation."
His cousin shifted his weight. "If you'll excuse us, Lady Whitley, the card room calls."
"It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, my lady," Julian said, giving the woman a half bow.
He and Benjamin took their leave of her. Weaving around the other guests who had already arrived at the ball, they made their way toward the card room.
"She is a recent widow?" Julian asked, just loud enough to reach Benjamin's ears.
"A widow with twenty thousand pounds. Are you hoping for more, or would that do?"
Julian pretended not to notice the undercurrent of sarcasm in Benjamin's tone, though it did cause some concern. Of all his relations in England, Benjamin was the only one who had once cared to have him around, yet his cousin did not seem all that pleased with Julian's plans. Perhaps he should not have confided in Benjamin, but a man who had a fortune of his own and a secure place in Society surely could not understand being without. That bitter taste of wanting, of being close enough to touch but relegated to only admire, of never living in one place long enough to call it home. "It could possibly do," he replied.
Twenty thousand equated to about a thousand a year. Far more than he had ever had, but it still didn't feel like nearly enough. And she was a widow, a plain one at that, who looked to be a couple of years older than his five-and-twenty. Though what did that matter? It wasn't as if attraction would or could play any part in his decision. She had seemed somewhat interested in him, however, so it wouldn't do to turn his back on the possibility altogether. For all he knew, she would be the only woman who wouldn't snub her nose at him once she found out he was one of those Parkers.