Midnight Pleasures with a Scoundrel(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 4)(26) by Lorraine Heath
“Oh, I say, you look lovely,” Mrs. Potter said, breaking the spell. She felt the heat creep along her cheeks, but her eyes never left him. “Thank you.”
“I have something for you,” he rasped, his voice husky, the way she imagined a man who’d only just awakened from a night of passionate lovemaking might sound. He extended a velvet box toward her.
Without even opening it, she said, “Oh, I can’t accept something like that.”
“You don’t even know what it is yet.”
“It looks to be jewelry. It would be improper.”
“It’s not for you to keep, only for you to borrow.”
“Is it from the Duchess of Greystone?”
His mouth curled up into a teasing smile. “It can be if it’ll make it easier for you to open.”
Laughter almost erupted from her, because she could tell that he thought she was being silly. What did it matter who it came from? Only it did. Especially if it came from him, if it was his thoughtfulness. Her hand was trembling as she took the box, opened the lid, and stared at the beautiful string of pearls.
“I thought it possible that you might not have jewelry to wear tonight,” he said quietly.
“I can’t accept this,” she repeated.
“As I said, it’s only a loan. A lady shouldn’t attend a ball without her pearls, should she, Mrs. Potter?”
“I daresay she should not.” Her landlady stepped forward and smiled kindly. “It’s a special night, Miss Watkins. I can see no harm in it.”
Before she’d even agreed, James was taking the necklace from the box. His hands were bare, no doubt so his fingers could better control the clasp. His warm flesh brushed along her sensitive neck, causing heated desire to pool throughout her. She thought if she were a candle, she’d most assuredly melt into a molten pool of wax.
He withdrew his hands and said, “Just as I thought. They’re as perfect as you are.”
Sidestepping around him, she went to the mirror in the entryway. They were perfect, resting just above the hollow at her throat. She had this absurd need to weep. “I feel like a princess.”
“Perhaps you are.”
“I never pictured you as the fanciful sort, Mr. Swindler. I hardly know what to say for so precious a gift, even if it will only be mine for a few hours.”
Suddenly, without making a sound, he was standing behind her, locking his gaze with hers in the mirror. “Reserve a dance for me.”
“You may have them all.”
“That, sweetheart, would create a scandal.”
An emotion flickered over his face too quickly for her to accurately read it, but if she had to guess, it seemed something about his words bothered him, and she wondered if it was the endearment, if it had slipped out with his giving it no thought, and he wasn’t entirely comfortable with it.
“We should be off,” he said, as though he’d decided he needed to put distance between them.
“Enjoy yourself, Miss Watkins,” Mrs. Potter said. “And Mr. Swindler, tell your sister that next time she simply must come in as well.”
As he ushered her through the door, he said, “Thank you, Mrs. Potter, I will. As I said, she’s a bit shy.”
Once they were outside, she said, “I didn’t realize you had a sister.”
“I don’t. But neither did I want Mrs. Potter to think you were traveling in the carriage without a chaperone.”
“What will you tell people at the ball?”
“I don’t think anyone will ask. Frannie is taking you under her wing, and she’s married to one of the most powerful lords in Great Britain. You could walk in wearing not a stitch of clothing and they’d all compliment you on your gown.”
The laughter bubbling up from her throat served to calm her nerves. She was scared to death of making a fool of herself tonight. But it occurred to her that with James by her side, she could get through anything.
As the carriage rattled to a stop, a footman standing in the drive opened the door and assisted her out. James quickly followed, put his hand beneath her elbow and escorted her toward the grand residence. Carriages were dropping off other couples and they were strolling more quickly toward the open doors.
But she wanted to take her time, to absorb every facet of the night.
“It’s almost like a palace, isn’t it?” she whispered.
“A little too large for my tastes,” James said.
She peered up at him. “I quite agree, but still I don’t mind visiting.”
He led her through the double open doors into the entry hallway where the massive chandelier glittered. A footman took her pelisse and James’s hat, then directed them toward the parlor.
“But everyone else is going up the stairs,” she said quietly to James.
“It’s all right. We’re special.”
In the parlor, a dark-haired gentleman and lovely blond-haired lady stepped forward. “Ah, you must be Eleanor,” the lady said. “I’m Lady Catherine and this is my husband, Lord Claybourne.”
The gentleman pressed a kiss to the back of her gloved hand. “A pleasure.”
“James has told me about you,” she said to Lord Claybourne.
“Not too much I hope.”
She couldn’t imagine that this man had grown up on the streets. Nobility was evident in his bearing.
“I didn’t tell her anything to make her think less of you,” James said.
Copyright © 2015 by Read Best Books Free Online