Desperate Duchesses

Page 26


“How sad,” Roberta said softly.
“Jemma had to return from Paris and do her wifely duty.”
The words wouldn’t have meant much to Roberta before this, but now she could feel herself getting pink again.
Damon’s mouth curled into a wicked smile. “I don’t imagine Beaumont doing the business in the sitting room with his breeches at his ankles, do you? He’s far too proper.”
A mad choke of laughter came from Roberta’s chest. “No!” Now Villiers…She felt almost feverish at the thought. Villiers she could easily see dragging down his breeches and turning someone over the arm of a chair.
There was a touch on her cheek and she turned, to find Damon looking at her. “You’re not thinking about my brother-in-law,” he said, his eyes slightly narrowed. “So who, my dear Roberta, cousin and relative, are you thinking of?”
She gasped but said nothing.
“It’s Villiers, isn’t it? I forgot that you’d already found the love of your life.”
He still held her chin and it seemed to Roberta as if the world stopped spinning and froze, with the two of them but a hair’s breadth from each other.
“Of course I was thinking of Villiers,” she said, pulling backward. Pulling herself together.
He raised his glass to hers. “To many lazy afternoons spent in the drawing room with your husband.”
“You shouldn’t say such things,” she scolded, taking another delicious sip from her glass.
“Why not?”
He had green eyes. She’d never realized that before; she thought they were blue, like those of his sister. But no, they were green, and beautifully shaped, with a little turn upward at the corners. “Because I am a young lady,” she said, looking at the fire again.
“I suppose that young ladies don’t think about disreputable people tupping in drawing rooms?”
“But you, Roberta, aren’t you rather extraordinary among young women?” There was a thread of laughter in his voice.
She shook her head. “Not at all.” She almost choked when a large sip of fiery liquor went down the wrong way.
“I thought you were…For one thing, I thought you told the truth.”
“Well, of course I tell the truth,” she said. She dared to look at him again. There was something different in his eyes, something daring and delicious and altogether not like the Damon of yesterday. She was shivering with excitement, and yet she hadn’t the faintest impulse to leave the room. Which she ought to.
“As to the truth,” he said, stretching out his legs again, “I found the whole scene rather arousing. Didn’t you?”
She couldn’t think what to say. One had to suppose that arousing covered feelings like the queer warmth in her legs.
“Look at that,” he said, obviously thinking the conversation was no more important than an exchange over muffins. “Lady Piddleton ran my stockings.”
There was a large snag running through the clocks splashed on the outside of his stocking. And then she noticed that higher up, where his tight breeches turned into a waistband, there was—
One had to pretend to be a virtuous young lady and not have even seen that.
“What was she doing in such a position as to scratch them?” Roberta asked, and then felt herself going purple as all sorts of thoughts as she’d never had before came to mind. She stared at the mantelpiece so that she wouldn’t accidentally gaze at his breeches again.
He let out a peal of laughter. “Lady Piddleton, Roberta! Coming into fifty years old, with a face like the back of a rusty saucepan?”
“I merely wondered how it came to pass,” she said with dignity.
“Jeweled heels,” he said. “Belying her age, she rubbed her shoe against my leg under the table at supper.”
Roberta blinked at him. “In an invitation?”
“Are you so surprised? That’s a notable insult!” He made a mock scowl.
For a second, she saw him as Lady Piddleton undoubtedly did, a big muscled man who moved lazily but in perfect control, whose eyes had a wicked, laughing tilt to them.
“No,” she said. “I suppose not.”
“These are things you will have to learn quickly if you wish to marry Villiers—you do wish for marriage, don’t you? Because—”
She was quite sure that Villiers would do her quick honors in the sitting room as well. “Marriage,” she said firmly.
“You’ll have to trick him into it,” Damon said.
“I will?” She had been thinking the same thing.
“You’re beautiful, and you’re in a fair way to being the most delectable young lady on the market this year. But Villiers isn’t on the market. He shows no sign of wanting a bride, not at all. And there’s all those children of his to take into account.”
Roberta nodded. “Four?”
“I think it’s only two,” Damon said. “But one of them was fathered on an unmarried girl, daughter of Lord Killigrew. So it’s not as if you could just let him spring you a babe, and hope that would get him to the altar.”
She nodded.
“Seduction is out of the question, then,” Damon said, and she felt him turn toward him. “But you don’t know a thing about that business, do you? Have you ever kissed anyone?”
“Actually, yes,” she said, enjoying the tiny shadow of surprise in his eyes. “I may not have seen anyone tupping before, but I have certainly been kissed.”
“And have you kissed, as well?”
“Of course,” she said, though frankly she wasn’t sure what the difference was.
He put down his glass of brandy on the floor next to the couch. “Being kissed is like this,” he said. His mouth came down on hers gently, persuasively.
“You shouldn’t be kissing me,” Roberta said a second later. Her heart was thudding in her chest over the impropriety of it all. “You’re my cousin—”
“Not really,” he interjected.
“Well, you know what I mean,” she said. “I’m in love! I’m really in love, Damon. You have to understand that. Ladies don’t sit around and kiss other people when they’re in love!”
“Ah,” he said thoughtfully, “I’ve met so few people in love that I likely haven’t learned that particular lesson yet.”
“Well, it’s true,” Roberta said, feeling rather regretful because he looked disconsolate. “I can’t kiss you. I’m supposed to be kissing Villiers.”
“Did he offer?”
Roberta blinked at the intense green of his eyes. “Not yet. We just met and danced but one time.” She couldn’t help smiling. “He’s coming to the house to play a chess match with Jemma and he said he would see me as well.”
“Ha,” Damon said. “I suppose you’ve heard about the dual chess matches?”
Roberta nodded.
“Trust my sister to add yet another utterly disreputable story to a long and checkered career in my family.”
Roberta thought it was very nice of Jemma to lure Villiers to the house, but she kept her mouth shut.
“Now I kissed you,” Damon said, “so why don’t you kiss me? Because you’re going to have to understand kissing in order to catch Villiers. The man has slept with most of the women in London.”