Tabitha had decided on a plan to thwart the wager by the time she was dressed to go downstairs the next morning. Annoyed that a respectable earl would participate in such a game, she decided to challenge him. She’d show him not to be so arrogant as to expect every woman to fall at his feet.
Having read several books her mother and father would not approve of, Tabitha possessed quite a bit of knowledge on the subject of seduction. Of course, she had no experience, but decided to have a bit of fun. Lord Sterling would be her experiment. She would seduce him. This was likely her one and only chance to experience what she’d read, since she didn’t plan on marrying. Her audacious thoughts made her cheeks flush and her heart trip faster.
First, she’d let Mama think she’d had a change of heart. On Monday, they would travel back to London for the last few weeks of the season. Once there, she’d ask for new gowns and bonnets. She’d also stop wearing her eye glasses except to read. But, why wait? She’d put part of her plan into action today.
She surprised Hilda when she suggested wearing her green gown this morning. Her mother had the dress made for her last season. Tabitha had never worn it. The low-cut bodice, small sleeves, and light, flowery material did not appeal to the studious Tabitha but suited her new seductive personality just fine. Hilda, pleased with Tabitha’s notion, immediately took the gown out of the wardrobe. After Tabitha had dressed, Hilda arranged her hair in a loose twist, leaving small curls to flutter around her face.
Tabitha removed her spectacles and stared at herself. Her hazel eyes reflected the color of her gown, and her skin appeared softer, more of a creamy color against the green dress.
Still, she reached for her eye glasses. Her hand hovered above them. She felt unprotected, naked, as though something important was missing. If she planned to do this, she had to be strong and adventurous. They were only spectacles. She didn’t need them, except to read. Looking back into the mirror, she practiced her smile, one she’d seen her sisters use on admirers. Yes, this would be fun.
Her first opportunity to try out her performance came as she walked down the curving staircase. Lord Sterling and several of his friends had stopped at the foot of the stairs to talk. They all raised their heads and glanced up as she descended. She smiled slightly and almost laughed out loud at their expressions. They looked closer, as though they didn’t recognize her.
She waited until she was at the last step and stumbled. Lord Sterling was the closest. He quickly stepped forward to catch her. She leaned her body against him, briefly.
“Thank you,” she said in a breathy voice. “I don’t know what happened.” She blinked her eyelashes at him.
Lord Sterling helped her regain her balance and stepped back. He bowed. “I’m glad I was here to prevent your falling, Miss Bartley.”
“I am, too.” She smiled at him and the rest of the group before heading toward the small dining room. Turning back for a second, she added, “I moved too hurriedly down the stairs. I’m a little late for breakfast." After that comment, she left them. A flash of pleasure at their stunned expressions almost sent her into a peal of laughter, but not yet. They continued to gaze at her until she turned the corner.