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.A way to keep his inner demons occupied.Marco looked around, and seeing that no one was near, he quickly crossed the marble tiles.“Enjoying the evening, bella?”Startled, Kate fell back a step.“Don Juan is a very wicked man, is he not?” he murmured, making reference to the Mozart opera arias.“He should be a lesson to all young ladies that the world is fraught with danger.” Sidling closer, he added, “So you ought not venture into dark corners at night.Especially when you are alone and unprotected.”“Thank you for your concern, sir,” she replied slowly.“But I can take care of myself.”“Ah, yes, the iron fist in the velvet glove.” Marco brushed the back of his knuckles along her jawline.“You throw a very pretty punch, cara.However, I must warn you that it wouldn’t prevent a true cad from having his way with you.”Kate recoiled.“There are other ways to stop a man in his tracks.”“There are,” he agreed, edging closer.“For example, if you were to hook your finger in your bodice and inch it down to give me a peek at your perfectly shaped curves, I would find myself riveted to the stones.”Kate touched her tongue to her lower lip.“Ah, do that again,” he murmured.“It’s incredibly provocative.”“As if you need any provocation for playing your wicked games,” she rasped.“This is only light foreplay, bella.If I chose to be truly wicked, you wouldn’t still be wearing your clothes.”A muscle jumped on her jaw.“Though it is a lovely gown,” he went on in a whisper.“The fabric is exquisite and the cut flatters your figure.I particularly like the way the bodice accentuates your beautiful breasts and creates an enticing cleavage.”“Stop it.” Though she tried to sound firm, her voice was a little ragged around the edges.“Why? Because it is making your nipples harden?” Marco dropped his voice a notch.“Do I arouse your innermost naughty instincts?”Kate quickly crossed her arms over her chest and slid a step deeper into the shadows.“You are an uncivilized beast.”“And yet you respond to me.What does that make you, Miss Woodbridge?”Her mouth parted in shock, then quickly thinned to a prim line.“Don’t flatter yourself, sir.There is a simple scientific explanation for the phenomenon you have just observed.Cold air makes skin pucker.”“So does heat,” he replied.It was evil to tease her.Truly evil to taunt her with his dark, debauched thoughts.And yet he couldn’t help adding, “Are you feeling a lick of fire between your legs?”A swirl of the night air ruffled through the overhanging ivy.“The intermission is almost over.” Her hands clenched.“I must be going back inside to my grandfather.”Marco slowly stepped aside.“Yes, run on back to the bosom of your family, bella.As I said, it’s not safe for young ladies to wander around alone at night.”“And as I said, sir, you might be surprised to find that some ladies know how to defend themselves,” she replied.“You wouldn’t have a chance,” he said softly.She moved past him, but not before leaving a last word hanging in the air.“Don’t be so sure of that.”Chapter ThreeRepressing a sigh, Kate settled herself into the plush velvet seat of her grandfather’s carriage.Like all his possessions, it was of exquisite quality, but rather oppressive in its opulence.She preferred simpler things—all the gilding and gold-threaded draperies made her eyes ache.Which matched the dull throbbing at her temples.The musical program had been even worse than she had anticipated.Lud, where did Lady Hamden find such egregiously awful singers? Opera was an art form, but she had heard a more melodic baritone from the rattle of rusty anchor chain.And then, of course, there was the intimate interlude with Marco.Dear God, how dare he keep bedeviling her with his presence.She squeezed her eyes shut.How dare he tease such terrible longings to life inside her! Even now, a moist heat was lingering between her legs, an uncomfortable reminder of how little she had in common with the innocent young ladies of London.The iron step shivered and a moment later the Duke of Cluyne eased his broad shoulders through the doorway.A liveried footman quickly fastened the latches and signaled the driver to set the team of matched grays in motion.The harness jingled, the wheels rolled.Like clockwork, thought Kate.The duke’s servants functioned like a well-oiled machine.“It was good of you to come tonight, Katharine.”Kate looked up in surprise.Cluyne took obedience for granted.He expected people to bow to his wishes.Unsure how else to respond, she merely murmured, “Of course, Your Grace.” Not ‘Grandfather,’ not ‘Cluyne,’ but the far more formal ‘Your Grace.’ His knees were just inches from hers, but in her mind he was distant, detached.A stranger in spite of their shared blood.“Not that I imagine you enjoyed it,” he said gruffly.“Dreadful singers, dull conversation.But Lady Hamden is an old friend.”“Of course,” repeated Kate.“Her grandson and several of his friends were supposed to be in attendance.The fellows all belong to some sort of scientific society, so you might have found their company interesting.But I suppose the music scared them off.”“That says something in favor of their intelligence.” She usually tried to temper her tart humor in the presence of her grandfather.However, the fact that he was taking it upon himself to find her a husband set her teeth on edge.Until now, Great Aunt Hermione had been in charge of finding a suitable match.But the poor lady must have thrown up her hands in despair.“Be that as it may, Your Grace,” she went on.“Please do not feel obliged to act as matchmaker for me.I fear you will only be wasting your time.” And mine, she added to herself.“Harumph.” The duke cleared his throat, as if trying to dislodge an irritant, and folded his arms across his girth.But rather than speak again right away, he turned his gaze to watch the moonlit mansions of Grosvenor Square roll by.Lowering her lashes, Kate studied his profile.Austere.Autocratic.Arrogant.Those were the first adjectives that came to mind.Despite his advanced years, Cluyne was still a very imposing figure.His silvery hair was thick and showed no signs of retreating from the broad plane of his forehead.His brows were bushy, accentuating piercing green eyes and an aquiline nose.And though his mouth was usually set in a grim line, his lips were full and well-shaped.As for the jaw, its square shape and stubborn jut were all too familiar a sight—Kate saw them reflected each morning in the looking glass.“Harumph.” This time the sound was followed by speech.“Aye, it’s clear you have a mind of your own, gel.”“Which clearly drives you to distraction,” she said none too softly.“I am only trying to do what is best for you,” countered Cluyne.“It is my familial duty to see you well settled.”To Kate’s ears, the words were eerily similar to what he had said to her mother so many years ago [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]