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“References,” he said firmly. “My mother has heard excellent things about your abilities when it comes to redecorating houses, yet I have heard nothing about your ability to kiss. You are sadly lacking in references. And if I am going to risk your wrath, and I suspect it could well be impressive, I should at least know precisely what to expect.” She glared. “I’ll have you know I have been kissed before. And quite thoroughly, too.” “Really?” He raised a brow. “Then there are men willing to provide references?” “I should certainly hope not!” Indignation rang in her voice. Indeed she had been kissed before. Any number of times. Admittedly, she had rarely been kissed by the same man more than once, as whatever man had been so daring in the first place had either been a rake she’d had no particular use for or deadly dull, in which case he had used up all his courage on the initial overture and had not hazarded a second attempt. “A gentleman would never speak of such a thing in regards to a lady,” she said in a haughty manner. “No, of course not,” he murmured. “And how many brothers do you have, Miss Effington?” “More than enough.” “All considered gentlemen, I gather?” “Point taken, my lord,” she snapped. “I thought it might be.” He smiled pleasantly. “Even disregarding your lack of references, while you are small as opponents go, I have no doubt your ire would add additional strength. A slap from you might well be fatal.” Her eyes widened in disbelief. “Fatal?” “Or do I give you too much credit? Very well. Not fatal then, but,” he thought for a moment, “most definitely painful.” “Oh, you can be certain of that,” she ground out the words. “Therefore, Miss Effington, you can rest assured you are safe from any untoward advances from me.” He favored her with a brilliant smile. “Excellent. I am most relieved.” “Besides, we have already determined I am not, nor shall I ever be, your Lord Perfect, and it follows therefore that you are not my”—his brow furrowed, then he brightened—“Miss Wonderful.” “Miss Wonderful? Miss?” She stared. “Why not Lady Wonderful? Or Princess Wonderful?” “Alas, I am not as much of a snob as you are.” She gasped. “I’m not a snob!” He raised a brow. “Lord Perfect.” “Might I remind you, you were the one who bestowed the title on him, but now that I think about it, why not? A woman’s position in life is tied to that of her husband. Why shouldn’t I prefer to marry Lord Perfect rather than Mr. Perfect?” “Why indeed?” Lord Berkley nodded sagely. “And I imagine Lord Perfect should have a tidy fortune. A nice home in London, an estate in the country, that sort of thing?” “Well, yes.” She frowned. “You needn’t make it tiffany jewelry store sound so mercenary.” “Did I?” His eyes widened in feigned innocence. Whether he kissed her or not, she might have to slap him anyway. He was certainly begging fo tiffany rings r it. “My apologies.” She ignored him. “And what of Miss Wonderful? Surely you have standards for her?” “I’m not sure if standards is the appropriate word. Far and away tiffany and co bracelet too harsh, but certainly there are qualities I would wish for in a wife.” “I thought as much.” She smirked. “I suspect your Miss Wonderful is as perfect as my Lord Perfect is.” “Not in the least. The last thing I would want to be shackled with for the rest of my life is perfection. I can’t imagine anything more boring. No, I want a woman with a few delightful flaws.” He thought for a moment. “She should be biddable but not too docile, I should like a bit of a spark in her. Intelligent but not overly bookish. A touch of independence would be nice. She should be confident without being obstinate and—” “And she should be pretty, no doubt.” “Pretty is always preferable to hideous. And as much as this will surprise you, it is not the most important thing on my list of qualities for,” he cleared his throat, “Miss Wonderful. But beyond all else, she should love me.” “Well, I wish Lord Perfect to love me as well,” Cassie said quickly. “I know I haven’t mentioned it before, but I do consider love to be important. I have always wished to marry for love.” “Yet you have never been in love, and I suspect it is because you have never allowed yourself to be.” He leaned toward her in a confidential manner. “You, Miss Effington, have never dared to plunge into the precipice.” “I shall dare when the time is right. When…when…” She huffed in annoyance. “When I meet Lord Perfect and not until then. Whereas you, my lord, apparently plunge whenever you meet a pretty face.” He laughed. “Plunge and plummet. Far too many times, and I confess, I am done with it. Although you have been too cautious in the past and I have not been cautious at all, at this moment, Miss Effington, it strikes me that we are more alike than different. I shall not plunge again until I can do so with Miss Wonderful by my side.” Cassie couldn’t help but think what a shame it all was. The two of them were both looking for the right match and everything that meant, including love. It was almost a pity that she had decided they would not suit for one another. At moments like this, she could completely ignore his reputation and believe wholeheartedly in reform. Why, if anyone could reform a rake like Lord Berkley, she could. Still, it seemed he had put any possibility of a match between the two of them aside when he had offered his friendship. And he certainly hadn’t pressed his attentions on her and kissed her when he’d had the opportunity to do so, which, for some odd reason, was still rather annoying. “Perhaps we could help one another, Miss Effington,” he said slowly. “Oh?” “I know any number of gentlemen who are interested in the pursuit of marriage. One might well prove to be your Lord Perfect.” She shook her head. “I scarcely think—” tiffany inspired jewelry “No, Miss Effington, it’s an excellent idea. I’ll find you Lord Perfect and you can find me,” he gr tiffany jewellery uk store inned, “Miss Wonderful.” “That’s absurd. I…” Why was it absurd? When it came to matters of this nature, matters of the heart, neither of them had done especially well on their own thus far. Perhaps it was time to join forces. Besides, what were friends for, if not to help each other? She did know a great many y jewelry shop oung ladies that might well fit his criteria. Regardless of his reputation, a viscount with a respectable title and fortune was still considered something of a catch. In addition, he’d have a nicely refurbished house. “Surely you’re not reluctant to take on such a challenge? Or better yet,” he grinned, “a wager. For oh, say —” “Forty pounds,” she said before she could stop herself. “I have a spare forty pounds.” She nodded thoughtfully. “I shall bet forty pounds that I can find you your Miss Wonderful.” “And I’ll wager forty pounds that I can find you Lord Perfect.” She studied him carefully. “How do we determine a winner?” “Obviously you would have to agree that the gentleman I name is indeed Lord Perfect, just as I would have to agree on your choice of a Miss Wonderful.” “Of course.” “Therefore, I should think if we’re both successful, there is no winner of the wager—it would be a draw, although I daresay in that case we would in truth both be victorious. No, the money should not change hands unless one Tiffany and co canada of us concedes defeat and gives up the quest for Miss Wonderful or Lord Perfect.” He held out his hand. “Is it agreed, then?” “Agreed.” She nodded and took his hand. He grinned down at her. “I can’t remember when I’ve looked forward to a competition as much as I am looking forward to this one.” She grinned back. “I warn you, I shall not be as easily defeated as my brother was.” “When it comes to you, Miss Effington, I am confident nothing is ever easy. I propose we begin our quest tomorrow night at Lady Puget’s ball.” “An excellent place to begin. I daresay there should be any number of potential Miss Wonderfuls present.” “And a possible Lord Perfect or two as well.” He laughed, then studied her in a considering manner. “I have always enjoyed playing for high stakes, although I cannot recall ever playing for stakes quite this high.” She raised a brow. “Forty pounds?” “Not at all. We’re playing for our futures, Miss Effington, and more than likely, our hearts.” Six bell I shouldn’t say a woman’s face and figure are of paramount importance. Indeed, a clever mind and easy manner are far more desirable. Still, I should hate to shackle myself for life to a lady I can only abide in the dark of night. L. Effington “I ’ve got her right where I want her, Marcus.” Reggie watched Miss Effington and her current partner over the rim of his champagne glass and tried claddagh ring to keep a too satisfied smile from his face. “Does she know you have her exactly where you want her?” Marcus said idly, his gaze following his friend’s. Miss Effington laughed and flirted with her partner for the quadrille in the midst of the other dancers at Lady Puget’s annual ball. Her blonde hair glowed in the candlelight, and there was a blush on her cheeks from the dance and unrestrained enjoyment. Her gown was a lovely greenish-blue color that suited her eyes and reminded him of seawater. Indeed, she could well be a nymph from the sea or a mermaid come to land to enchant mere mortals. “Reggie?” “She has no idea,” he murmured, his gaze still focused on Miss Effington. Cassandra. He did so love how her name sounded on his tongue. She was nothing sort of magni real tiffany jewelry on sale ficent, and he was annoyed with himself that he had never especially noticed her before and annoyed on her behalf with every other man in existence who hadn’t snapped her up long before now. “Nor would she be overly pleased to hear such a thing. Besides,” Reggie watched her execute a difficult step flawlessly, “she’d deny it.” “And where, precisely, is it that you have her?” Marcus’s words were measured. “She’s confused, off balance, uncertain. And even better,” Reggie grinned at his friend, “she likes me. I can tell. She doesn’t want to like me, but she does. And she likes me quite a bit more than she expected.” “How very interesting,” Marcus said thoughtfully. “A scant few days ago, you said you and she had agreed to be friends.” “We did. We are. I’ve never been friends with a woman before, not really, but it seems an excellent place to start.” The dance ended and Cassandra’s partner escorted her off the floor. Reggie pushed aside a twinge of jealousy at the way she gazed up at h Tiffany co im. He knew full well that her flirtatious manner was little more than a game she and everyone else played at functions such as this. Nor was the gentleman any particular threat. He was certainly no Lord Perfect. Although it would take something far different than mere perfection to engage the affections of Miss Cassandra Effington. She simply did not yet realize it. Yet. It would take the fifth Viscount Berkley, although she did not realize that yet, either. “Dare I ask what has changed between our last conversation and tonight?” Marcus chose his words with care. “You swore to me you were not falling back into old habits. You said you would not permit it. You said this time would be different.” “This time is different.” Reggie drained the last of his wine. “You said that too. In fact, you’ve said that many times before.” “This time—” Marcus raised a cynical brow. “This time,” Reggie said firmly, “it is different. She is different from any woman I’ve ever met before. And I, old friend, am different.” Marcus snorted in disbelief, signaled a passing waiter, and exchanged their empty glasses for full ones. “And exactly how are you different? This time?” “I know you’re skeptical, and you, of all people, have every right to be, but I have given this a great deal of consideration.” Reggie searched for the right words. “In the past, I have always offered my affections with-outthinking and far too soon. I have never taken the time to truly know a lady before man jewelry declaring myself. In doing so, I have made one mistake after another.” “So you are being cautious with Miss Effington?” Marcus studied him carefully. “You are not rushing in without due deliberation? You are cultivating patience rather than surrendering to impulse? You are thinking before you act?” “It sounds rather daunting when you put it like that, but yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing.” “Good God, I stand corrected.” Marcus shook his head. “This is different.” Reggie sipped his champagne. “And it’s bloody well difficult to do, too, I tell you. It goes against my very nature.” He turned his attention back to Cassandra. Yet another partner was leading her onto the dance floor. “I’ve never known a woman who a jewellery store nnoys me quite as much as she does.” “Oh, that’s an fashion rings auspicious beginning,” Marcus said wryly.

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