Always Proper, Suddenly Scandalous(12)

By: Christi Caldwell

Disregarding the fact that gentleman did not run, amidst their host’s home, no less, Geoffrey sprinted toward the double doors. He threw them open, and froze.

The young lady hissed and clawed like a cat cornered in Cook’s kitchens. She raked her nails over the side of Lord Carmichael’s cheek, leaving a streak of bloody tracks down his fleshy cheeks.

“You bitch,” Lord Carmichael spat, and shook her hard.

Some kind of savage beast stirred to life within Geoffrey’s chest. A primitive growl worked its way up his throat and spilled past his lips. He raced forward and ripped Carmichael off the woman’s struggling form.

She clawed at Geoffrey’s arms, a wild, haunted look in her eyes. Her chest heaved from the exertions of her struggles.

Geoffrey knew the moment logic replaced the horrified panic inside her. She blinked several times, and then sank to her knees, inching backwards, until her back borrowed support from the stone wall that overlooked the grounds.

“Redbrooke,” Carmichael wheedled. “What are you about? I’m just having a good time with the American girl. She invited me out here.”

“I didn’t,” the young lady said, her voice flat.

“She did. She motioned to the windows and led me a merry little chase out here. Now she’d have you believe she’s some innocent young miss. What proper lady would be out here unchaperoned, Redbrooke? Only a wh—”

Geoffrey punched Carmichael. The sharp jab to the older man’s fleshy cheeks knocked him to his knees. The lecherous bastard pressed a hand to his nose to staunch the blood flow. From around his hand, Carmichael glared up at Geoffrey. “What did you do that for?” he whined. “She wanted it. Led me out here—”

Geoffrey punched him in the nose and this time, the old reprobate’s eyes slid to the back of his head and he fell into a heap at Geoffrey’s feet.

Geoffrey stared down at his clenched, bloodied fists, and counted to ten. Except the insidious, loathsome remembrance of Carmichael’s sausage-like fingers upon the lady’s skin, twisted around his mind. He took a step toward Carmichael.

“Don’t,” she murmured, as if she’d anticipated Geoffrey’s intentions.

He looked back to the young woman. Several strands of her hair hung in long, wispy waves like a midnight waterfall about her shoulders and down her back. Geoffrey was certain he’d never seen a woman of greater beauty.

Also certain that in his twenty nine, three hundred and seventy-three, nearly seventy-four days, he’d never descended into this crazed, half-mad state.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, his voice gruff to his own ears. He closed the distance between them, and fell to a knee beside her.

A hand fluttered about the bodice of her gown, and he averted his gaze as she righted the material.

The air left Geoffrey on a hiss. “By God, I’ll kill him.”

“I’m all right,” she said with a shocking steadiness to her voice.

Any other lady would have descended into hysterics following such an attack.

Geoffrey brushed the back of his knuckles along her cheek. “Are you certain?”

“He didn’t…” She wet her lips. “That is, he didn’t…” She colored. “I’m fine,” was all she said.

Geoffrey reached inside the front of his evening coat and withdrew his monogrammed kerchief. “Here. Allow me.” He touched the fabric to the corner of her lip.

She winced and his gut clenched at having caused her pain. “My apologies.” He handed the cloth off to her, mourning the loss of contact between them.

“I know we’ve not been properly introduced but after your timely intervention, I imagine we’ve moved beyond rigid politeness. My name is Abigail. Abigail Stone.”

It was an unfamiliar name. An American name.

Somehow wildly exotic in its simplicity.

He wondered what this American woman was doing in London.

Geoffrey sketched a short bow. “Geoffrey Winters, Viscount Redbrooke.”

“Geoffrey,” she said, the word rolled off her tongue as though she tasted the feel of it upon her lips.

“Lord Redbrooke,” he corrected. “It’s not proper for us to refer to one another by our Christian names.” Even if there’d never been a sound more right than his name upon her lips.