Jeremy asked, “Might I request a dance with you, Lady Catherine?” noting her eyes were as deep a blue as the sapphires she wore.
He took her card before she could offer it to him and boldly struck through Morefield’s name. Her lips twitched in amusement.
“I’ll claim the supper dance since Morefield had to leave to attend to business.” He scrawled his name beside it and added, “I see you have two other slots open, including the final dance of the evening. Might I be presumptuous and ask for both?”
Her slow smile turned into a radiant one. “I’d like that very much, Lord Sather. But please, you may only have one of them. Not both. It’s bad fashion, you know, to dance with a partner more than twice.”
He returned her card, catching a whiff of vanilla. “Who makes such silly restricting rules? If I found an interesting partner, I would claim every dance from her,” he teased.
She cocked one eyebrow at him. “You would tempt the gossips of the ton?”
“I would, my lady. And give them something to gossip about,” he added suggestively.
Lady Catherine burst out laughing. Her rich laughter was contagious, causing him to do the same, drawing the eyes of those standing nearby. He swallowed, trying to contain his laughter and failing miserably. Inhaling deeply, he calmed himself, though his spirits soared.
Taking her gloved hand, he kissed her fingers. “Until the supper dance.”
With that, Jeremy left, his heart pumping wildly.
“As far as kissing you goes, I will be happy to teach you,” Evan promised.
“When? Now?” Rachel asked eagerly.
“Kissing is a part of flirtation,” he said. “You don’t quite appreciate it as much unless you build up to it. We shall start slowly.”
“You disappoint me, Evan. You’re putting me off.”
“Am I?” he asked softly and entwined his fingers with hers.
Rachel swallowed, suddenly feeling overwhelmed by merely holding his hand. She licked her lips nervously.
“Stop that,” he chided.
“Stop what?” she asked, clueless as to what he needed her to quit doing since she wasn’t doing anything annoying. “I’m not cracking my knuckles anymore,” she said defensively.
“You licked your lips.”
“What if I did?” she challenged.
“That’s a part of flirting,” he said.
“Most definitely,” he assured her. “It calls a gentleman’s attention to your mouth.” He stared at hers so intently that butterflies exploded in her stomach. “And it makes a man want to kiss you.”
“It does?” she asked breathlessly.
He nodded. “It does. So, that’s your first lesson tonight. If you do feel that spark with a man and want him to kiss you, you may lick your lips.”
Rachel did it again, testing him.
Evan laughed. “Stop. We’re going to work up to it.”
“How long will this take? The house party is only two weeks long,” she complained. “At the rate you’re moving, it will be Christmas before you even think to kiss me.”
His fingers tightened on hers, causing her to stop breathing again. Evan lifted their joined hands and pressed warm lips to her knuckles. A good kind of chill rippled through her. He released her hand and then his fingers lightly touched her wrist, turning her hand over so it faced palm up. Slowly, he moved his head toward it as Rachel watched in fascination. Just before his lips touched its center, he gazed up at her.
She swallowed. The heat in his eyes stole her breath. He lowered his gaze and brushed his lips against her palm. She thought they’d be warm but instead, they were scorching hot. Then he pressed a long, lingering kiss directly onto her palm. Rachel was glad she wasn’t standing for her knees would’ve have given out and sent her tumbling to the floor.
Evan lifted his lips and stared at her. She couldn’t help but stare helplessly back at him.
Then his mouth touched the underside of her wrist. Rachel froze. He pushed up the sleeve of her dressing gown, his lips trailing up her arm. Odd sensations ran through her. He stopped at the crook of her elbow and pressed a final kiss there before sliding the sleeve back down.
“That’s your first lesson in kissing,” he said softly. “Kisses come in many forms and on many places. Not just your mouth.”
He placed her hand back in her lap as she looked at him wordlessly.
“Will you meet me again at midnight for another lesson?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
The kiss now heated up considerably as Luke’s exploration continued. His tongue swept inside, tickling the roof of her mouth and gliding along her tongue. Her breasts grew heavy and she felt her nipples tightening. Caroline latched onto his waistcoat to anchor herself as she responded, allowing her tongue to mimic what he did. Luke emitted a low groan and his hands slid from her face and seized her waist, drawing her near.
He deepened the kiss, delving more into her, causing her heart to beat erratically and her bones to melt. If he hadn’t held onto her, Caroline feared she would have puddled at his feet. His intoxicating cologne filled her senses. From her scalp to her toes, a tingling sensation erupted. The place between her legs tightened and began to pulsate.
What was happening to her?
She couldn’t fall for him and be the woman she wanted to be. She wasn’t a typical woman of the ton. Her experiences in America had changed her in ways too numerous to name. Her father losing all of his money and virtually turning his back on his family had also shaped her outlook. She didn’t know if she could trust a man. Any man. Even one who held her so lovingly.
Caroline released her hold on Luke and nudged him away. Reluctantly, he broke the kiss and stared deep into her eyes. She saw raw need burning in them.
“This can’t happen again,” she said, her breathing rapid and shallow.
“I must focus on opening Evie’s. It will be my livelihood. I can’t throw away the opportunity I’ve been given to use Aunt Evie’s inheritance. I don’t want to disappoint my investors. I need to do this for myself.”
He gave her a crooked smile, stealing her breath—and a bit of her heart.
“Don’t you want more than a business, Caroline?”
Movement caught Anthony’s eye and he groaned inwardly. It was probably some couple, thinking they were madly in love, sneaking outside for a few stolen kisses while the rest of Everton’s guests ate and drank their fill. The door closed and a lone figure began walking toward him.
Anthony slunk deeper into the shadows, pressing his back against the wall of the structure, not wishing to be seen and having to speak to anyone.
It was a woman. A tall one. As she drew near, moonlight fell across her face and he recognized Laurel St. Clair. Usually, she stood with perfect posture. Now, though, her shoulders slumped as she moved to the edge and braced herself against it. She was only mere feet away from him and he held his breath, willing her to go away and leave him in peace.
Then he watched as her shoulders shook and a sob broke from her.
What did the chit have to cry about? It was her come-out ball. All of London’s ton had turned out for this night. She was like a fairy tale brought to life, elevated from the dregs of London society to the household of a wealthy and powerful duke. True, the circumstances of her birth were a strike against her in some people’s eyes but Anthony knew the entire St. Clair family had taken her in wholeheartedly. Likely, Everton had set aside a huge dowry. Someone would wed the girl, if not for the money then for the social connection to a duke.
She cried, though, as if her heart were rent in two. Had some other wicked gossips confronted her? He remembered the pair from last night and how they sought to slander her.
And how Lady Laurel had bravely confronted them.
Suddenly, a fierce urge to protect her—comfort her—filled him. His feet moved without thought and he came to stand next to her.
“What ails you, my lady?” he asked softly.