In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(54) by Lorraine Heath
Ladies lowered their gazes. Gentlemen looked away. Some stepped back as though they feared being contaminated by my presence.
And then I spied her.
Lovely, elegant, and daring, she not only met my gaze, but she held it as though she was as fascinated with me as I was with her. For the briefest of moments, I contemplated asking her for the honor of a dance, but I knew such an action would tarnish her reputation. That night, for the first time in my life, I understood the sacrifices that were required to truly be a gentleman.
With regret, I turned away, the wonder of her in my arms to remain a mystery that would often haunt me.
Catherine couldn’t sleep and it seemed a waste to lie in her bed alone with eyes open, staring at the canopy. She could at least be useful so she went to her father’s bedchamber and told his nurse to go rest for a bit. Catherine would wake her when she was ready to retire.
Her father appeared to be sleeping, but still she found comfort in holding his hand. Even if he were awake, she couldn’t tell him that she’d allowed Claybourne to kiss her three times now. Claybourne’s reasons for kissing her she understood: intimidation, distraction, frustration.
But her reasons for kissing him—because she had welcomed his kiss, all three times to her shame and mortification—were a mystery. It was only because she’d thought her legs were going to buckle that she’d pushed him away this evening. The truth of the matter was that she’d rather hoped he’d ravish her further. Even as she’d thought that, she’d remembered Frannie and Dr. Graves waiting for them to return to the dining room.
When they had finally returned, Frannie had refused to hold her gaze. Catherine wondered if something in her eyes or her swollen lips had screamed out that she was a wanton woman.
She didn’t want to desire Claybourne, but desire him, she did.
She shouldn’t have left the invitation, but she thought if she could just have one dance with him, she’d be content for the remainder of her life. Although she couldn’t imagine that a dance would be nearly as satisfying as his kiss.
“I’ve never known anyone like him, Papa,” she whispered quietly. “Sometimes I think he’ll break my heart. Not on purpose, because he doesn’t know how my feelings are shifting, but it will break all the same.” She stroked his hand. “Did you love Mother, I wonder? If so, how did you bear it when she was no longer here? I think that’s what worries me the most. I’ve grown so accustomed to being with him that I’m not sure how I’ll survive when he’s no longer a daily”—or more accurate, nightly—“part of my life.”
She pressed her cheek to the back of his hand. She would find a way to survive.
Catherine had thought it would be fun to bring Winnie’s son, Whit, to the Great Exhibition. Winnie had wanted to come along as well. Had insisted on it, actually, convinced that Catherine’s reputation would be irrevocably ruined if she were seen out in public without benefit of a chaperone, and as Winnie was married, she served nicely in the role.
They’d arrived at Hyde Park shortly after breakfast to wait in line. It was the cheap-ticket day, the day when tickets were only a shilling, and common folk more than the elite were about. Winnie’s bruise was almost gone, but still she didn’t want to meet up with anyone she might know. She thought it less likely if they came today.
The iron and glass building known as the Crystal Palace was an amazing twenty-six acres of exhibits, almost overwhelming with everything it had on display, especially for a child of four. The stunning glass water fountain in the center of the building had caused Whit’s eyes to widen, and Catherine had to hold tightly on to his hand to keep him from trying to climb in.
Now, three hours later, Whit was growing weary and grumpy because his legs were tired. Catherine had carried him for some time now, hoping to see more of the exhibits before being forced to leave because her arms were growing as tired as his legs.
Catherine understood now why the queen had come five times already. It was impossible to see everything in one go.
“Whit is getting so restless. Do you think we should go?” Winnie asked.
Catherine heard the disappointment in her voice, and she wondered if it was leaving the exhibition or returning home that left Winnie with regret. “Why don’t we push on for a little while longer? I’d really like to see the Koh-i-Noor diamond.”
“Do you think it’s really as spectacular as they say?”
“Everything else we’ve seen so far has been.”
“Even the people,” Winnie whispered. “Have you ever seen such an assortment? They’re from all over the world. Every time I look around—oh, dear Lord.”
Winnie had grown ghastly pale.
“What is it?” Catherine asked.
“Claybourne, and he’s coming this way.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I knew we never should have spoken of him in Lady Charlotte’s garden the other day.”
Catherine spun around. It was indeed Claybourne and Frannie. It was quite evident that they were strolling toward them—as though Catherine and her party were themselves an exhibit to be studied. She felt a little shiver of anticipation. She was safe here with people about and Frannie at his side. He’d not tempt her into thoughts of wickedness with a kiss. It would all be very formal, very proper.
“Ignore him,” Winnie said, digging her fingers into Catherine’s arm.
Ignore him? How could she when he looked so exceedingly handsome in his dark blue jacket and trousers. His cravat was also blue, but his shirt and waistcoat were a gray that almost matched the silver of his eyes. One leather-clad hand held his black top hat and walking stick. She knew what that walking stick was capable of. It was nearly as dangerous as its owner.
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