Someone to Care (Westcott #4)(11)

The mere sound of his voice sent chills up her spine. Just because it was so soft? And because he spoke unhurriedly, with the absolute certainty that no one would dream of cutting him off?

“Jollificating?” she said. “Is it a word?”

“If it is not,” he said, his eyebrows lifting, “then it ought to be. Perhaps I should give serious consideration to writing a dictionary. What do you think? Do you believe it would rival Dr. Johnson’s?”

“With a one-word entry?” she said. “I very much doubt it, Mr. Lamarr.”

“Ah, but you do me an injustice,” he said. “I could think of ten words without having to frown in thought and pummel my brow. But why is it you will not answer a direct question? Was there a time limit? And are you stranded? All alone?”

“The axle of the carriage in which I am traveling came perilously close to breaking,” she said. “The coachman does not believe we will be able to resume the journey until tomorrow morning at the earliest.” Why was she explaining?

“I took a glance out into the innyard before stepping in here,” he said. “There is no sign of a private carriage. Has yours by chance made off without you, the imperiled axle story just one big hoax to be rid of you? But that is unlikely, I must admit. You did not—surely—arrive here in that apology for a conveyance that is listing hard to the northwest and looking for all the world as though it will not be fit to go anywhere for the next eternity or two. Or did you? A hired carriage, Lady Riverdale?”

“That is no longer my name,” she said.

“A hired carriage, Miss Kingsley?” He sounded pained.

“How are the mighty fallen?” she said. “Was that your meaning, Mr. Lamarr? Then why not say so?”

Long, elegant fingers closed about the handle of his quizzing glass, but he did not raise it to his eye. “Riverdale was a blackguard,” he said. “If it was your idea to completely disassociate yourself from him, even in name, then I congratulate you. You are better off without the connection. Kingsley is your maiden name, I assume?”

She did not answer. She looked down at her coffee in order to break eye contact with him. There was still half a cup left. It would be cold by now, though. Besides, she was not sure her hand would be steady enough to lift the cup without revealing her agitation.

“Miss Kingsley,” he said after a few moments of silence had passed. “Are you going to send me away again? And spend the rest of the day alone?”

“How I spend the rest of the day is none of your concern, Mr. Lamarr,” she said. “I do not suppose you are stranded here. I will not keep you, then. You must be eager to be on your way.”

“Must I?” His eyebrows rose again and he rotated the quizzing glass in his hand a few times. “But I am stranded. My brother was eager to be back on the road and left all of fifteen minutes ago. Too eager, perhaps. One wonders how long it will be before he realizes he has forgotten me, and whether when he does so he will deem it necessary to turn back to retrieve me. It is doubtful. The young are ever careless of their elders, do you not find? André is still in his twenties. A mere puppy.”

What? Whatever was he talking about?

“Your carriage has left without you?” She stared at him in disbelief. If it was true, then there could be only one explanation, and the absurd story he had just told was not it. “You sent it and your brother away? Because of me?”

His eyebrows rose again and he turned his glass once more. “But yes,” he said. “Why else?”

Her head turned cold. For one nasty moment she thought she was about to faint.

“Having done so,” he said, “I hope you will not force me to spend the rest of the day alone. The thought of attending a village fair unaccompanied is singularly unappealing. The prospect of whiling away the hours by trudging along country lanes trying to identify flora and fauna has even less appeal. If you are willing to suspend your dismissal of me, even just for today, Miss Kingsley, then perhaps we may step outside together either to jollificate or to wander and thus save each other from a day of unutterable boredom. Assuming, that is, you do not find me unutterably boring. Or worse.”

She stared at him and wondered, as she had done numerous times before—even after she had sent him away, even as she had avoided him and studiously averted her eyes from him whenever they happened to be in the same ballroom or theater—what it was about him that both powerfully repelled and attracted her. He was not a classically handsome man. His face was surely too thin and angular and unamiable. Instead he was . . . gorgeous. But that said almost nothing at all about him, only about her reaction to him. She had never been able to come up with quite the right word to describe him accurately. For with him it had never been just looks. It was . . . everything. Presence. Charisma. Power. Ruthlessness. Sexuality—though that was not a word very common to her vocabulary.

He expected her to spend the rest of the day in his company. Yes, expected. He had gambled on her compliance by sending his carriage on its way without him, though it was altogether likely it was waiting somewhere nearby and would return for him later tonight or tomorrow. It would be madness for her to comply, especially given the mood she was in.

Or perhaps it was exactly what she needed given the mood she was in—to do something unexpected and outrageous to fill in the hours and take her mind off herself. The alternative was to hide away in her room and brood. And it was not as though she were going to be deceived or seduced or left brokenhearted tomorrow.

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