Always Proper, Suddenly Scandalous(13)

By: Christi Caldwell

His admonition must have roused whatever sense of misguided guilt she had over Lord Carmichael’s attack. Her gaze shifted to the ground. “I cannot stay out here but,” she spread her arms wide. “I cannot return like this.”

Unbidden, his stare fell to her décolletage, previously exposed by Carmichael’s assault. He balled his hands into fists to keep from bloodying the bastard all over again.

However, with the exception of her still-torn hem from their earlier encounter in Lord Hughes’s ballroom and those glorious wisps of hair about her shoulders, she appeared largely un-mussed.

She shook her head back and forth. “My cousin will call him out. I’ll have caused a scandal. My mother will again be disappointed.”

Geoffrey resisted the urge to inquire as to what she’d done to have earned her mother’s displeasure. It would be the height of impropriety to delve into the young lady’s personal affairs. “Here,” he said, gentling his tone. He worked to arrange her long, silken strands back into a semblance of something her maid had attempted with the glorious crown of wavy, black locks. He studied his efforts.

“Do I look presentable?” The question merged hopefulness with resignation.

Geoffrey’s eyes traveled along the high lines of her cheek-bones, to the intriguing birthmark just at the corner of her lip. Glorious. Magnificent.

Instead, he said, “You’ll do.”

“I should go,” she said quietly.


They both should.

And yet, they both remained rooted to the spot, gazes locked.

Something strong, and powerful, a masculine hunger brewed inside him, until he wanted to toss aside his proprietary responsibilities and his commitment to strict decorum and make her his. As if a man possessed, Geoffrey’s hand came up of its own volition to stroke the silken curve of her cheek.

Geoffrey didn’t recognize the savage beast who’d taken down Lord Carmichael with his bare fists, and now longed to carry off this American stranger, take her someplace far away, where they’d both be sheltered from Society’s rigid expectations.

She leaned into his touch. “Dionysus,” she whispered.

His breathing settled into a smooth, steady cadence.

She looked up at him, her face bathed in moonlight; the full orb reflected in the irises of her eyes and placed her palm in his. “You saved me,” she breathed. Then, Abigail guided their joined hands upward, leveling them at the stars glinting above.

Geoffrey looked to their interlocked fingers, lit by the moon’s glow.

Lord Carmichael groaned, and jolted Geoffrey from whatever spell the American enchantress had cast upon him. He glanced down at Carmichael’s prone form.

A stark white scrap of fabric lay, partially obscured by the man’s foot. Geoffrey bent down and tugged it free. The length of fine Italian lace must have been concealed somewhere within the bodice of the lady’s gown. He cleared his throat. “I believe this must belong—”

Her gasp cut into his words. She reached for the lace with tremulous fingers. “Thank you.” Abigail leaned up and placed her lips along his cheek. “I…just, thank you.” The husky timbre of her voice washed over him.

Then, Abigail fled.

He swiped a hand across his eyes.

Christ. This was very bad, indeed.


Abigail hurried down the same corridor she’d walked only a short while ago, before Lord Carmichael’s attack, before Geoffrey Winters, Viscount Redbrooke, had rescued her from certain ruin, before he’d done the oddest thing to her heart’s rhythm.

“There you are!”

Abigail gasped, the soft pads of her white satin slippers slid along the marble floor.

Her cousin, Beatrice, reached out to steady her, a sparkle in her kind blue eyes. “Where have you been, Abby? My brother has been searching for you. I explained you had a tear in your gown. This isn’t where one goes to have her hem r…” Her words died. Of a sudden, Beatrice seemed to take note of the out of place locks that had fallen around Abigail’s shoulder. The warm, teasing light always found in Beatrice’s eyes flickered out, replaced by a hard fury better suited to a ruthless warrior than her gentle-spirited cousin. “What happened to you? Who did this?” she hissed.