Until You (Westmoreland Saga 3) - Page 11

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“It doesn’t, and speaking of the maid, where the devil is she? I specifically said you were not to be left alone at any time.”

“I sent her away.”

“Because of her reaction to your hair,” he assumed aloud. “I’ll see that—”

“No, because she’d been with me since dawn, and she looked exhausted. She’d already tidied the room, and I certainly didn’t want to be bathed as if I were a child.”

Stephen heard that with surprise, but then she was full of surprises, including her next announcement, which was stated with a great deal of resolve and only a tremor of uncertainty. “I’ve been making some decisions today.”

“Have you now,” he said, smiling at her fierce expression. She was not in any position to make decisions, but he saw no reason to point that out to her.

“Yes. I’ve decided that the best way to cope with the loss of my memory is to believe that it’s merely a passing inconvenience, and for us to treat it that way.”

“I think that’s an excellent idea.”

“There are a few things I’d like to ask you, however.”

“What would you like to know?”

“Oh, the usual things,” she said, choking on a laugh. “How old am I? Do I have a middle name?”

Stephen’s defenses collapsed, leaving him torn between the wild urge to laugh at her wonderful, courageous sense of humor and the wilder urge to pull her off the sofa, shove his hands into that mass of gleaming hair and bury his lips in hers. She was as enticing as she was sweet, and more sexually provocative in that robe and curtain cord than any gorgeously dressed—or undressed—courtesan he’d ever known.

Burleton must have been in an agony to take her to bed, he thought. No wonder he intended to marry her the day after she arrived . . .

Guilt abruptly doused Stephen’s pleasurable contemplation of her appealing assets, and shame ate at him like acid. Burleton, not he, should have been sitting across from her. It was Burleton who should have been the one to enjoy this cozy moment with her, to see her curled up on the sofa, barefoot; it was Burleton who had the right to be mentally undressing her and thinking of taking her to bed. No doubt he’d been thinking of little else while he waited for her ship to arrive.

Instead of all that, her ardent young lover was lying in a coffin, and his killer was enjoying the evening with his bride. No, Stephen corrected himself with savage self-disgust, he wasn’t merely enjoying a pleasant evening with her, he was lusting after her.

His attraction to her was obscene! It was insane! If he wanted diversion of any kind, he could choose from among the most beautiful women in Europe. Sophisticated or naive, witty or serious, outgoing or shy, blondes, brunettes, and redheads—they were his for the asking. There was no reason on earth to feel a wild attraction to this woman, no reason to react to her like some randy adolescent or aging lecher.

Her quiet voice jerked him from his furious self-reproach, but his feelings of revulsion lingered. “Whatever it is,” she said half-seriously, “I don’t think it has very long to live.”

Stephen’s gaze snapped back to her face. “I beg your pardon?”

“Whatever it is that you’ve been glowering at over my left shoulder for the last minute—I hope it has legs and can run very quickly.”

He gave her a brief, humorless smile. “My thoughts drifted. I apologize.”

“Oh, please do not apologize!” she said with a nervous laugh. “I am vastly relieved to know you were thinking of something other than my questions with that black scowl on your face.”

“I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the questions entirely.”

“My age?” she provided helpfully, her delicate brows lifting. “Do I have a middle name?” Despite her lighthearted tone, Stephen realized she was watching him very, very closely. He was disconcerted by the way her eyes were searching his, and he hesitated for a second, still struggling to switch his attention to the topic at hand. She broke the silence before he could, by heaving a great, comical sigh of dismay and warning him in an exaggerated, dire voice, “Dr. Whitticomb told me this malady I have is called am-ne-si-a, and it is not contagious. Therefore, I shall be very much aggrieved if you mean to pretend you have it too, and thus make me look quite ordinary. Now, shall we start with something a little easier? Would you care to tell me your full name? Your age? Take your time, think about the answers.”

Stephen would have laughed if he hadn’t hated himself so much for wanting to. “I am three and thirty,” he said. “My name is Stephen David Elliott Westmoreland.”

“Well that explains it!” she joked. “With so many names, it’s little wonder it took you awhile to recall them all!”

A grin tugged at his lips, and Stephen tried to negate it by chiding as sternly as he could, “You impertinent baggage, I’ll thank you to show me a little more respect.”

Unchastened and unrepentant, she tipped her head to the side and inquired curiously, “Because you’re an earl?”

“No, because I’m bigger than you are.”

Her peal of laughter was as musical as bells and so infectious that Stephen’s face hurt from the effort to keep his expression blank.

“Now that we’ve established that I am impertinent and you are larger than I,” she said, giving him a laughing, innocent look from beneath her lashes, “would it be equally correct to assume that you are also older than I?”

Stephen nodded because he couldn’t trust his voice.

She pounced instantly. “By how many years?”

“Persistent little chit, aren’t you?” he said, caught between amusement and admiration at how neatly she’d twisted the subject back around to her questions.

She sobered, her gray eyes infinitely appealing. “Please tell me how old I am. Tell me if I have a middle name. Or don’t you know?”

He didn’t know. On the other hand, he didn’t know the ages or middle names of many of the women who’d occupied his bed. Since she’d spent very little time with her fiancé, the truth seemed safe and even reasonable. “Actually, neither of those issues ever came up.”

“And my family—what are they like?”

“Your father is a widower,” Stephen said, recalling what he’d learned from Burleton’s butler, and feeling quite capable of handling th

e discussion, after all. “You are his only child.”

She nodded, absorbing that, then she smiled at him. “How did we meet?”

“I imagine your mother introduced you to him shortly after you were born.”

She laughed because she thought he was joking. He frowned because he hadn’t anticipated questions like that, he didn’t feel capable of either answering or evading them, and no matter what he did or said, he was still going to be a fraud.

“I mean, how did you and I meet?”

“The usual way,” he said curtly.

“Which is?”

“We were introduced.” He got up to avoid the puzzlement and scrutiny in those wide gray eyes of hers, and walked over to a sideboard, where he’d seen a crystal decanter earlier.

“My lord?”

He glanced over his shoulder as he pulled the stopper out of the decanter and raised it to the glass. “Yes?”

“Are we very much in love?”

Half the brandy sloshed over his thumb and ran down the side of the glass onto the gold tray. Swearing silently, he realized that no matter what he told her now, she was going to feel duped when she recovered her memory. Between that and the fact that he was also responsible for the death of the man she did care for, she was going to hate him thoroughly when this was over. But not as much as he hated himself for everything, including what he was about to do. Raising the glass, he tossed down what little brandy he’d actually managed to get into it, then he turned around and faced her. Left with no choice, he answered in a way that he knew would destroy any good opinion she had of him. “This is England, not America—” he began.

“Yes, I know. Dr. Whitticomb told me that.”

Inwardly Stephen winced at the reminder that she’d had to be told what country she was in, which was also his fault. “This is England,” he repeated curtly. “In England, in the upper classes, couples marry for a variety of reasons, nearly all of which are purely practical. Unlike some Americans, we do not expect or desire to wear our hearts on our sleeves, nor do we prose on and on about that tenuous emotion called ‘love.’ We leave that to the peasants and the poets.”


Tags: Judith McNaught Westmoreland Saga Romance
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