A Lady Can Never Be Too Curious(6)

By: Mary Wine

There was a flicker of heat in his eyes, a hint of enjoyment that made his statement more personal. A twist of excitement went through her belly, shocking her with just how affected she was.

“I see.” Apprehension tried to rise inside her, but she shook it off. “Surely you can see the compliment in my desire to attend one of your lectures.”

He raised a dark eyebrow, appearing too rakish by far. There was a hint of something in his eyes that sent her eyelids fluttering. It was pure response. She failed completely to control it, and it undermined her determination to meet him with boldness. His gaze settled on the blush staining her cheeks.

“Tell me, does it concern you to be here unescorted?”

He waved a hand, and the two men behind her turned to leave. Amusement glittered in his dark eyes, rubbing her temper enough to help her recover her poise. The man was clearly toying with her.

And she was enjoying it…

But she shouldn’t. She folded her hands primly.

“Mr. Lawley, I simply cannot stand for this…well…this—”

“Lack of formality?” he supplied in a tone rich with suggestion. “You have willfully entered my world. Do not be so naïve as to think I will conform to your high-society ideas of what my behavior should be.”

Her mind was happy to offer several ideas of just what he might be suggesting too. She shook her head to dispel her wild imaginings. Boldness might be fine to toy with, so long as she wasn’t facing a man such as this one. She could not trust him or her reaction to him. The Solitary Chamber truly was another world, and she felt the change dramatically.

Yet there was something about him—something she felt more than had evidence to support—that made her believe he was only trying to play on her fears.

“I really am not a rabbit to be frightened off with any hint of impropriety. If that were so, I’d have stopped reading your science circulars years ago, or likely never begun, given my father’s disapproval of anything to do with your order. I find the circulars fascinating.”

His head cocked to one side as he studied her. “Brave words, easily spoken when you clearly believe your behavior will never be found out by anyone in your corner of the world. Perhaps I should keep you here and send a message to your father to come and collect you.”

“How unkind of you to threaten me like a child.” The man was trying to unnerve her. It should have bothered her; instead, she was beset by the need to stand firm in the face of his threats.

“If you want to be treated gently like a lady, you should remain in your dress and petticoat.”

Maybe she was tired of being treated like a lady…

Her thoughts shocked her, making her struggle to find the correct words to reply. There was too much expectation in his tone, and part of her truly wanted to surprise him. “I never thought the title Illuminist implied your kind were not honorable.”

“Really?” He stood, and she felt her breath quicken. His devil-may-care attitude fascinated her when it should have sickened or shocked her at the very least. She needed to find her discipline—and quickly.

“You are amusing yourself at my expense. Even if you persist in accusing me of wrongdoing, you shouldn’t try to frighten me like some dockside bully.” She nodded, satisfied with her reply. At least she sounded confident, even if it was pretense. Even an Illuminist couldn’t see into her thoughts.

And yet there was a flicker of something in his dark eyes that hinted that he knew just how unsteady she felt. But she maintained her composure, staring straight back at him, and he abandoned his playfulness.

“And what, pray tell, would you have to say if you had discovered me in your kitchen, Miss Aston? Would the excuse that I was curious as to the pattern of china you keep be sufficient to appease you?”

He was mocking her, his voice deep and rich. But she felt a prick of guilt.

“There is a difference between walking up to a door to see if it would be opened and discovering you in my home,” she muttered. “Your man opened the door for me. Go and deal with your doorman for allowing me in without one of your pins.”

“He only did so because you are a—never mind.”