She thought about it for a moment. ‘Yes, I believe I am.’
‘I have to tell you it is not very erotic.’
‘It is not intended to be erotic!’ Infuriating man, to be able to make me blush even more deeply than I already am. ‘I am not talking about that kind of seduction.’
‘Your arguments have their merits, but for other men, I think. And I have to tell you that successful seduction requires passion and recklessness and surprise.’ His lips were twitching now. It was not laughter directed at her, she guessed. Hoped.
‘I would need to catch you unawares?’ Tess suggested. There was a flicker of something inside her, a warm, fidgety glow. ‘Be more passionate with my arguments?’
‘Indeed you would. And I am not easily caught with my guard down.’
* * *
Tess pondered on seduction over the next week in the intervals between ordering supplies, puzzling over whether one goose, one turkey and a ham would be enough for the Christmas meals and negotiating the use of the boiler in between wash days in order to dangle the cannonballs of plum pudding in the cavernous pot.
Alex had been amusing himself by teasing her and, perhaps, flirting a little, she guessed, although she had no experience of such a thing. According to the nuns seduction applied to sin, to devils luring souls into doing wicked things. In Minerva Press novels seduction was all to do with love and lust. Between the pages wicked women dressed in trailing silks lured the hero into their toils and then...the chamber door closed with a resounding thud, even in the most daring tale. Tess very much doubted she’d know a toil if she fell over it; she possessed no trailing silks and Alex would probably laugh himself sick at the sight of her slinking about in her very sensible flannel wrapper.
I am thinking about seducing him into bed, not into happiness, she thought. But that would be sin, not because she truly believed that making love was wrong, but because his conscience would hurt him if he took her virginity.
But if he was convinced it would do no harm... It was a delicious daydream, one that brought back the heat and the tingling feelings and the ache to be held, very close, very tight.
How would one go about seducing Alex Tempest? It was safe enough to weave fantasies, surely? Laughter seemed to lower his guard. Laughter and being close enough to touch might work. Catching the man at home and alone, though, that would the first step, and Alex was very, very good at being elusive.
‘What I want for Christmas is an earl,’ she informed Noel, who was in her room helping her to wrap Christmas presents by tangling the ribbons and hiding in boxes. ‘Just the once. I know I’d have to give him back. I only want to borrow him. I suppose I would be quite hopeless at making love, but all the gossip says that men enjoy being with virgins. Which seems strange. But then men are strange, I’m beginning to find.
‘I suppose I shouldn’t be telling you this. You are much too young for such wicked conversation.’ Tess scooped up the kitten, who was trying to eat silver paper, and tickled him until he was a limp, purring handful of fur. ‘But I wish I could make Alex happy. He isn’t, you know, not deep down. He’s angry and hurting. I wish I could give him his family for Christmas, then he might settle down and find a wife and have children of his own.’
Noel made an ambiguous noise somewhere between a mew and a yowl. Tess lifted him up so his pink nose was inches from hers and his eyes crossed as he looked at her. ‘You think we need a fairy godmother? They are in short supply in London, I fear.’
‘What is in short supply?’ Alex’s voice said from behind her.
Tess spun round on her knees and ended up on her bottom in a tangle of ribbons. ‘You made me jump.’ How long had Alex been standing there, one shoulder against the door frame of her room, listening to her? ‘If you have been eavesdropping, then you’ll know.’
‘I have just arrived, was about to knock and the door swung open onto you complaining about shortages. What do you need?’
Unless he was an actor good enough for Covent Garden Theatre then he had only heard those few words. Tess offered up several prayers of thanks, one in Latin. ‘Fairy godmothers. They are scarce, you must agree.’
‘Why do you need one of those?’ Alex pushed the door right open with his foot, but stayed where he was, pleasingly framed in the space. ‘Just ask and I’ll sort out your Christmas wishes.’