‘Her son was injured assisting Lord James Albright to put right an unpleasant situation—I am sure you know to what I refer. The Dowager blames me for some reason.’ But not as much as she blamed herself.
Isobel lingered, working to dampen down the speculation, turn it towards gossip about the scandalous Widow and away from her own affairs. She felt reasonably confident she had succeeded when she left the retiring room, but her mother would be aghast, she knew it.
‘I had best go and find Mama and warn her of that little incident,’ she said to Pamela. ‘If we do not see each other again tonight, you must call, very soon.’
‘I will most certainly do that.’ Pamela was still wide-eyed with speculation. ‘And I expect to hear all about the shocking Mr Harker. But now I suppose I had better go and rejoin my party in the supper room.’ She hurried off.
Thoroughly flustered, Isobel took the other right-hand corridor. It was deserted, badly lit, but she thought it might lead to the end of the ballroom where she had last seen her mother. The temptation to tell her nothing at all was strong, but the gossip would be certain to reach her ears, so she had no choice but to warn her.
She hurried on, head down, trying to think of a way to break the news that she had been accosted, in public, by the Scarlet Widow. ‘Ough!’ The man she had walked right into caught her by both arms to steady her, then, as she looked up, the grip tightened. ‘You!’
‘Me,’ Giles agreed. He did not release her and she stood still in his grasp, not knowing whether that was because she wanted to have his hands on her or because struggling would be undignified.
‘Your face is healing well.’ It was the first thing that came into her head that she dared say out loud. I love you or You abandoned me or Take me away with you or I hate you were all impossible. ‘How long have the stitches been out?’ The scars were still red, but the swelling and bruising had gone—soon they would begin to fade.
‘You look...it makes you look dangerous.’
‘So I have been told.’ Something in his tone suggested that whoever had said so had been female. ‘You appear to be enjoying yourself, Isobel.’
‘Do I? You have been watching me?’
‘You are hard to miss in that gown and when you are so ubiquitous. Dancing every dance, flirting with so many gentlemen. Your heart has quite recovered, I see.’
‘And also whatever of yours was engaged.’ Isobel twisted her right hand out of his light grip and flicked at the trace of face powder on his lapel. ‘The lady favours Attar of Roses, I think.’
‘One of them, as I recall, yes.’ He sounded bored, like a tomcat who could hardly be bothered with the hunt. With his newly broken nose and the scars above the immaculate white linen and complicated neckcloth, he looked like a pirate playing at being a gentleman.
‘Such a bore for you, all these women throwing themselves at you,’ Isobel said, her voice dripping with false sympathy. ‘Still, I suppose you can hardly afford to neglect your admirers—who knows, one of them might be about to persuade her complaisant spouse that she needs her boudoir remodelled.’
‘The lady with the Attar of Roses wants a new library as a present for her husband.’
‘And I am sure she will be at home the entire time to supervise.’
‘Probably.’ He was angry at her jibes. The colour was touching his cheekbones and the green eyes were cold, but the drawl was as casual and as insolent as before. ‘What are you doing in town, Isobel?’
‘The Season. What else?’ She shrugged.
‘I thought that was the last thing you wanted.’
‘That was before a certain gentleman reminded me about the pleasures of the flesh,’ she said, smiling at him when his brows snapped together in a frown. A demon seemed to have taken control of her tongue. ‘I thought perhaps I might be...entertained if I came to London.’
‘And I thought you did not want to marry again.’
‘Were we discussing marriage, Giles?’
‘You little witch. If it is fleshly pleasure you want—’ He tugged on the wrist he still held captive, pulling her against his exquisite silk waistcoat. The lingering scent of roses warred with his citrus cologne in her nostrils and under it was the faint musk of a man who was hot with temper.
And lust, she realised as his mouth came down and his hands trapped her and his lips punished her for defiance. She knew his body and he knew hers. She found she had clenched one hand on his buttock, holding him tight against her. The pressure of his erection sent tongues of flame to the core of her as his mouth left hers and he began to pull at the neckline of her gown, his lips seeking the nipple, his tongue and teeth wreaking havoc with her senses.