Aiden hadn't realized Nate was attending in the capacity of an IN officer, but before leaving the castle Cony had informed them Father and Nate had gone to the ball early for The Fallen Warriors ceremony. Since then, Aiden had been dying to see Nate in uniform.
All day Aiden's mind played over the scene this afternoon and Nate's flirting with him. He didn't quite know what to make of it, but he was excited nonetheless.
"Lord Aiden, how are you this evening?"
Aiden turned to find the Duke of Keithman's second son, Christian Morris, standing next to him, all decked out in his black and silver dress uniform. Aiden bowed. "Lieutenant Commander Lord Christian."
Christian smiled and gripped Aiden's hand. "I'm sorry to disturb you." He wasn't conventionally handsome, but he was attractive in a rugged way-the IN uniform only enhanced that. He brought to mind an avid outdoorsman, with his tanned skin and reddish-brown hair.
"You didn't. I was only watching the dancers while I wait for the next dance."
"Were you stood up?" Christian frowned. "I'd love to dance with you. It's such a shame you should have to sit out. Whoever your dance partner is, they must not be very smart giving up the chance to dance with such a fine young man."
"I've no partner for this set, but thank you for the offer. I'm catching my breath, waiting for the next one." Aiden spotted his friends Rupert and Bannon heading toward himself and Christian. Dipping his head in greeting, he realized Lord Christian was doing the same.
After pleasantries were exchanged, Bannon turned to Aiden. "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"
"No, of course not." He may not have seen Bannon for a few days, but they were friends. Like Aiden and Rupert, Bannon was a fellow artist.
"The gentleman staying at the castle, Lord Deverell? What is his given name?"
Aiden had no right to feel pride, but he did. "Lord Deverell's name is Nathaniel Hawkins."
The lieutenant commander smiled. "I met Captain Hawkins during my service with the IN. Surprising to find out he's an earl. The man is practically a legend. His war record is phenomenal."
"Oh yes, I've been meaning to ask you ..." Rupert's grin should have warned Aiden what was to come. "What happened on Platt Street today? I've heard everything from fisticuffs to a marriage proposal."
Aiden's eyes widened. They were saying he and Nate were engaged?
Lord Casey, one of Christian's acquaintances, stepped up beside the lieutenant and answered before Aiden got the chance. "My brother says he saw you and Lord Deverell walking together this afternoon. He said Deverell called Lord Braxton out for trying to kiss you."
Good Galaxy, the gossip had made the rounds already. Aiden shook his head. "No, that wasn't it at all. It was a misunderstanding. Braxton was trying to rescue me thinking I'd lost my chaperone. And then Na-Lord Deverell rescued me from Braxton." At least according to Braxton that was the story. Aiden wasn't convinced. Braxton had seemed ... different today, threatening.
"Speaking of rescues. I heard Lord Deverell rescued a Regelence ship that was under attack and in flames," Bannon stated.
"My father told me he's a mustang captain, that he was promoted the first time every time. He was one of the youngest men to make captain in IN history," Lord Casey said.
Christian nodded. "Yes, he got his commission while he was enlisted, worked his way up the ranks."
"Amazing considering he's an earl, surely his family could have easily bought him an officer's commission." Rupert touched his chest dramatically.
Aiden was fascinated. He'd already surmised that Nate was an honorable, noble man, but he had no clue that Nate had such a well-known reputation here on Regelence. Nate may not be an earl, but his rank and status as an IN captain made him more than acceptable consort material. Keeping quiet, Aiden soaked it all in. A man like Nate would never leave his career as an IN captain for marriage. It made Aiden's spirits drop a little-which was ridiculous, Aiden didn't want a consort-but he could not help but admire the man even more.
Bannon grabbed a drink off a passing tray. "Captain Fitzgerald said it was his ship Captain Hawkins saved."
Leaning close to Aiden's ear, Rupert whispered, "He's so handsome."
Aiden was about to agree when an opening formed directly in front of him, and through a chasm of people, a vision appeared.
Nate. Aiden's heart began beating so hard he was certain it could be seen through his waistcoat and evening coat. Like tunnel vision, his entire focus centered on the man walking toward him. Whispers and gasps sounded all around him, but Aiden barely heard.
Nate was covered head to toe in brilliant almost blinding white. The uniform hugged his body as he strode forward. It accentuated his powerful frame, making him seem even bigger somehow. Which was something, because Nate was a very big man. He wore gold cords over his shoulder and under his arm proclaiming him an Admiral's aide, likely the Admiral in command of Aries Fleet, the fleet in charge of protecting Regelence's system. That and the colorful ribbon bars on his chest marked him as the highest decorated officer at the ball, out of IN and Regelence officers. He was the most beautiful and masculine thing Aiden had ever seen.
Aiden would have given almost anything to have had his sketchscreen at that moment. He had to capture Nate like this. This was Nate. He was the embodiment of military authority and strength. He took Aiden's breath away.
When Nate finally stopped in front of him, Aiden just stared. He wanted to touch Nate, yet at the same time he was afraid to. Nate was so ... perfect.
Looking up into the chestnut eyes, Aiden caught Nate's gaze. It was like the entire assembly disappeared and the two of them were alone. They stood there for several seconds, neither of them saying a word-they didn't have to. It was then that Aiden knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted Nate.
The side of Nate's mouth turned up, as if he knew, then he offered Aiden his hand.
Aiden got the distinct feeling if he grasped it he was accepting much more than a dance. Which was fine by him. He inhaled deeply and took what he wanted, seizing Nate's hand.
Arching his right brow, Nate gave Aiden a full-fledged smile. "You promised to waltz with me."
"I did indeed."
Aiden's group of friends began murmuring at once.
Bending over Aiden's hand, Nate kissed the knuckles. "Forgive me, but after seeing you tonight, I must command all three."
Excerpted from My Fair Captain by J.L. Langley Copyright © 2007 by JL Langley. Excerpted by permission.
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