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Colin peered in the same direction as his hostess and stared once again at the woman who had captivated his interest. He thought she was indeed exquisitely beautiful but had no desire to confess his beliefs to his good friend’s matchmaking wife. “She is…rather lovely.”

Alice angled her head and gazed upward at the six-foot tall lord. “Colin, the word ‘lovely’ is far too tame a choice of word to describe Lady Eliza. She is breathtakingly beautiful and based on the way you have stared at her for the past ten minutes, I know you agree.”

The left corner of Colin’s mouth tilted upward, hinting of a smile. He could not deny Alice’s observations for the mysterious lady had certainly taken his breath away when first he spied her conversing with two gentlemen. She and her overly solicitous companions gleefully watched the croquet game being played by other guests invited to the afternoon soiree to celebrate Alice and Edward’s anniversary. “Very well, Alice, I agree. She is quite beautiful.”

“Now, was that so very difficult to admit? It has not committed you to anything other than a candid observation.”

The hint of a smile on Colin’s face blossomed into a full grin. His left eye twinkled as he playfully responded, “Not in my mind but I have just made said remark to a woman who is notorious for matchmaking.”

Alice giggled. “You needn’t worry. I am fully aware of how comfortable you are in your bachelorhood, Colin, and the lady herself has no desire to remarry.”

“Remarry…?” Colin repeated the word almost without thought. He suddenly felt a strange disappointment both in the knowledge that the woman had once been married and over her present reluctance to remarry.

“Yes, my dear friend, Eliza, is widowed.”

“I am truly sorry for her loss.” Colin could barely get the words passed the lump in his throat. He feigned a sympathetic air but in truth he was relieved that she was not currently married. “Is she so grief-stricken that she cannot contemplate the possibility of another marriage?”

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