In Bed with the Devil(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 1)(58) by Lorraine Heath
“I’m glad, Winnie.”
“I should tell him that most of it is your doing.”
“No, don’t. You helped with the planning. Allow him to think it’s all you.” If it makes him easier to live with, she added to herself. She squeezed her friend’s hand. “Go enjoy yourself. I won’t be long.”
She walked onto the terrace. With the lanterns in the garden, she could see a few couples strolling along the numerous paths. She’d never had a gentleman take her on a turn about the garden. Not entirely true, she realized. Claybourne had walked through a garden with her the night they agreed to their bargain.
She wandered over to the side of the terrace where the glow from the lights didn’t reach.
She wanted solitude, she wanted—
“Will you honor me with this dance?”
Her heart very nearly stopped at the sound of Claybourne’s voice. She spun around to see him lurking in the shadows like some miscreant.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I was invited.”
“No, yes, I mean, I know you received an invitation, but you’ve not made your entrance.”
“Why should I go through that bother when you’re the only one I care to dance with? I assumed sooner or later you’d step outside, so I’ve been waiting.”
And Luke had almost given up on her coming out. He’d been peering discreetly through a window, watching her. She was so beautiful this evening, her gown revealing the gentle swells of her breasts. The music drifted onto the night, and for the first time in his life, he wanted to dance with a woman.
He was aware of her watching him, studying him. He’d dressed as though he intended to attend, but once he’d arrived he’d no longer seen the point in going through the annoyance of actually being in the company of those he didn’t favor. All he truly wanted was a dance with Catherine. And now he would have it.
“You’ve been waiting in the shadows”—she peered around the corner—“looking in the windows, like some sort of voyeur?”
“It’s not as bad as all that. I was simply waiting for you to appear, and my patience has been rewarded.” Taking her hand, he drew her nearer. “Dance with me.”
“My God, you’re a coward.”
She might as well have slapped him. He released her hand. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Walk in through the front door. Dance with me on the dance floor. Attend this ball like a gentleman.”
“I have attended a damned ball like a gentleman!” he hissed. “I know what they think of me. I saw the way they all looked away…except you. They think I’ll steal their souls and their children.”
“Because they don’t know you. You’ve not given them a chance to come to know you. I daresay all they know of you is that you take their money at Dodger’s gaming hell. Of course, gossip, speculation, and unease circles you. Your past guaranteed that it would be so. As long as you cower, as long as you hide and run—”
“I am not a coward,” he ground out.
She raised her chin. “Then prove it. Or do you need Frannie by your side first? Is that what you’re waiting for? To have a wife strong enough to stand beside you so you are strong enough to step out of the shadows? Do you think it will make it easier? Will you honestly lead her into the lion’s den without first making certain that it’s safe?”
“You know nothing at all about this, about what I will or will not do.”
She wrapped her hand—the hand that had possibly saved his life—around his, offering comfort, support. It was almost his undoing. He didn’t want her sympathy, he didn’t want her understanding. He didn’t even know any longer why he was there.
“It’s like drinking whiskey,” she said quietly. “The first sip is bitter, the second not so much. And eventually, you come to anticipate the flavor.”
“You can drink whiskey in the privacy of your own home. Let me dance with you here in the privacy of the garden.”
She studied him for a moment while the music drifted into silence, and another refrain finally began to waft out into the garden.
“Very well. If that’s how you wish it to be,” she said softly.
And he saw in her eyes, heard in her voice, the disappointment that he would choose the easier road.
“Even if I were to make an appearance, I’d not be able to dance with you.”
“Why ever not?”
“Your reputation would be ruined.”
“Perhaps in the beginning, but once they come to know you better, I daresay I’d be viewed with a great deal of awe, as a visionary.”
“You have an inordinate amount of confidence in my ability to win them over.”
“I do.” She touched her gloved hand to his cheek. “You’ve won me over.”
She held his gaze for only a heartbeat longer, before it wavered, as though she’d revealed too much.
“Damn you,” he growled.
Then he spun on his heel and strode away. How dare she challenge him? How dare she
How dare she make him regret that he was not a better man.
As she returned to the ballroom, Catherine realized that she’d pushed too hard, and in the pushing, she’d shoved him away.
She should have taken the dance in the garden—joyfully, gratefully, but she was weary of everything involving him being done in the shadows as though their relationship was shameful. Even their encounter at the Crystal Palace was not without its deceptions.
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