A Dash of Scandal(7)

Millicent noticed that the gentleman’s gaze was on her dance card and broken pencil, too. Angels above! She opened the fancy-laced reticule that dangled from the drawstring handle on her wrist and slipped the card and pencil inside with the unused spectacles before continuing.

She wasn’t sure there was any way to keep him from thinking she was an imbecile, but she had to try. “I do believe you startled me so that I wasn’t thinking properly.”

“That wasn’t my intention.”

“I’m sure. Let me say, I was writing down ideas for the thank-you notes that I will write tomorrow, when I have proper paper, quill, and ink.” That sounded better.

He reached into the pocket of his frock and extended to her a stubby pencil.

She cleared her throat and said, “Oh, no, I couldn’t take your writing instrument.”

“You must allow me to do this. After all, it was my fault the lead broke in yours.”

“What do you mean by it was your fault?”

“For startling you.”

“Yes, of course. But no, I don’t need it. As you can see, I’ve finished writing and have put my notes away.”

He continued to hold the pencil out to her. Worse yet, he continued that knowing grin that should have irritated her but instead, thoroughly intrigued her. Heavens, could he possibly know that she had been completely enchanted by him?

Millicent tried to take a step back but was brought up short by the wall.

“I insist,” he stated again.

In an effort to hurry him along, she kept her voice level and said, “All right. Thank you.”

She took the pencil, and as she did his fingers boldly caressed the inside of her palm. Even through her gloves and his a shiver of awareness shuddered inside her. Her breath snatched in her throat. The touch was no innocent, accidental brushing of her hand. He had orchestrated it so that she would be certain it was a brash, deliberate act and not an unintentional one.

Millicent did the only thing a proper young lady should do. She pretended not to notice the contact and gave him the benefit of the doubt. She was, however, truly grateful to get the pencil so she could continue making her notes. Not that this man would ever know that.

Eager to change the subject, she quickly said, “Now that I’ve given my perfectly reasonable explanation for being in this hallway, tell me what brought you to this secluded section of the house.”

He took his time in responding to her, and when he did, it was with a question of his own. “Were you forthright in your answer to me or did you color the truth a little?”

His question was direct and the implication was clear, so she answered honestly. “If I colored it at all, sir, rest assured it was only with a hint of shading and not with a painter’s heavy brush.”

His smile deepened, lightened. “I thought as much and to answer your question with the same dash of shading, I was looking for someone. I thought I saw a person turn down this hallway. Obviously, that was you.”

“Yes, it must have been me for there are no others here that I am aware of.”

He leaned forward just a fraction and lowered his voice as he said, “You’re the only one I see.”

No doubt as handsome as the gentleman was he had planned to have an assignation with a young lady. Millicent had heard that secret liaisons were quite common among members of the ton. But she couldn’t afford being caught having one. Either the lady hadn’t arrived or she had seen Millicent and hurried away. In either case, Millicent did not need to be seen in the dim hallway with a dapper gentleman. That would surely bring the attention her aunt insisted she avoid.

“Well, no doubt she will be along shortly, so if you will excuse me, I’ll take my leave so you can have the privacy you desire.”

In a gentle, fluid movement he placed his hand on the candle stand, preventing her from passing. His head dipped lower, bringing his face even closer to her eyes, her lips, her nose. They were so confined she felt his warm breath, heard his shallow breathing, and caught the masculine scent of him.

This time, his forward behavior should have frightened her or at the very least upset her, but it didn’t. He tantalized her in a way that no man ever had. In another time or place she would have been eager to match wits with his mischievous deportment, but here in London, doing her aunt’s work, she could not.

In a low-pitched voice that sounded far too intimate, he smiled ruefully and asked, “What makes you think I was looking for a lady?”

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