A Dash of Scandal(6)

So much for thinking I was concealed by the furniture.

Her gaze slowly rose past a strong-looking, cleanly shaved chin, glided over a smooth, slightly square jawline to lips that were so masculine and so close to her own that her heartbeat faltered, then quickened again. She held her breath for a moment before continuing her journey across the narrow bridge of his nose and the well-defined shape of his cheekbones. At last she looked into eyes so blue she wanted to melt into them.

Thick, dark blond hair was cropped short over his ears but fell longer at his nape. He stood perfect in stature and impeccable in dress, letting her study him. And she did, without guilt or shame. He was a magnificent-looking man who, without saying a word, spoke of power, privilege, and wealth.

The sharpened lead in her pencil snapped under the pressure from her fingers.

A knowing grin slowly made its way across his manly lips, intriguing her so she couldn’t take her eyes off them. In the depth of her abdomen a quickening started and shuddered all the way up to her breasts and lingered there before moving on to her throat, tightening it. Millicent was quite sure she had never felt this way before.

He watched her, and although not one word had been spoken between them, she sensed he knew she was not only startled by his arrival, but was attracted to him.

With his full lips crooked roguishly into a charming grin, she watched his gaze brush down her face and skim over her breasts and waist before returning to lock on her eyes. This was no shy gentleman standing so close to her that if she lifted her arm, she could touch him.

The narrow hallway suddenly grew hotter.

Millicent took a deep breath. She must shake off her unsettling reaction to this man. She was drawn by his confidence and the ease with which he perused her. This susceptibility was the very thing her aunt had warned her against. She had to deny his strong appeal and behave toward him with the same indifference she had employed with the other gentlemen she had met during the evening.

Feeling calmer and more in control, she confidently asked, “May I help you, sir?”

“Pardon me.” He bowed slightly. “I was passing by and happened to see you standing in here. I wanted to make sure you are all right.”

Unlike her usual sensible self, she wondered what she should say. When she looked into his eyes, an excited, tingling sensation washed over her. When she glanced at his lips, she wanted to trace their sculpted shape with the tips of her fingers. When she stared at his chest, she wondered how it would feel to press her cheek gently against the expensive fabric of his coat and savor the warmth and strength of power in his shoulder.

But denying those wayward thoughts and using her most prim voice she said, “I’m quite well indeed, thank you.”

“Have you lost your way?”

“Of course not, sir. I know exactly where I am.”

“Do you often retreat to such out of the way places when a guest at house parties?”

Millicent’s gaze darted around the tight space they were in, acutely aware of the cramped area they occupied and just how close he stood to her. This was not a good situation for her to be in at her first soiree.

“I suspect I retreat no more often than you happen to pass by these out of the way places, sir.”

An amused light glinted in his eyes, and he nodded his approval of her answer.

“If I may be so bold as to ask, what exactly is it you are doing back here in this area of the house?”

“Oh, making notes.” The instant she said it she realized that was the wrong thing to say. What had made her blurt that out without thinking? “That is to say I was writing thank-you notes,” she said, trying to clarify her answer, but knew the damage had been done.

His eyes studied her face for a moment before they lowered to the card and pencil she held in her gloved hand. His lips twitched with a half grin, half smile. “Is this the new rage? Writing thank-you notes on the back of a dance card?”

He was not helping her cause. “Oh, no. I’m sure it must look that way. But you see, I meant to say, I’m only making notes of things I want to include when I write them. I didn’t get all my thank-you letters finished today, and I was trying to catch up.”

She stopped, realizing she was making the matter worse, not better. Ordinarily, Millicent was not one to ramble, babble, or stutter incoherently, but this man had her behaving like a drunk ninny.

She looked down at her broken pencil lead and wondered where she could find another. All the names her aunt had given her were mixing with the names of people she had met over the course of the evening. She would be completely useless to her aunt without notes.

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