The blasted man will not stop following her. Well, he isn’t following her . . . not exactly. They are just always thrown together, and he is everything she wants but cannot have. It is downright infuriating—especially when he kisses her.
Lady Grace Abernathy has been ravished and left pregnant (and thoroughly unsuitable for any honorable gentleman). This would not be such a gargantuan problem if Lord Alexander Hardwicke would simply stay away from her as she asked. But leave it to her meddling Aunt Dorothea—who means well, of course—to continually thrust the two into each other’s company. Against both their wishes. These distractions are almost more than a reasonable lady should be forced to bear, let alone one who is dealing with all the difficulties inherent with both an unwanted pregnancy and a dire lack of a husband.
Alex left London to visit his deceased father’s oldest friend, Lord Rotheby, and to get away from his mother and her matchmaking schemes, only to run into more of the same at every turn. Why can he not determine for himself the course his life will take before everyone pushes him to take a wife? But the more time he spends in the company of Lady Grace, the less he finds himself able to ignore his growing attraction—and his burgeoning need to protect her. Must he cause a scandal in order to protect her from one?
Her silence lasted just a touch too long. His aggravation finally got the better of him and he snapped, “Am I thoroughly disagreeable to you, ma’am? Am I so horrible you are unable to converse with me at all, or is something else wrong? I’ve apologized to you repeatedly for taking liberties in Lord Rotheby’s garden, and for everything else under the sun. I don’t know what else I can do to convince you to speak to me. You could at least make some effort at being civil. Lord knows I have made enough efforts for the both of us.”
Her eyes grew wide, and then slowly filled with heat. “You…you…how dare you! May I remind you, sir, you are the one who took those very liberties you speak of with me.” She stood with her hands haughtily on her hips and her icy eyes turned to deep, blue flames of anger. “I didn’t ask you to do so, I didn’t encourage you to do so, and I most certainly didn’t want you to do so. That was entirely your choice. You’ve made it abundantly clear you only suffer my presence as a favor to Lord Rotheby and my aunt and uncle. Yet you continue to stare lasciviously at me, leaving me thoroughly baffled as to what, precisely, you want from me.”
Her voice rose no more than a whisper as she built a head of steam. Now that she had started, Alex worried she might never stop her tirade. Yet this harangue of hers was intriguing. She suddenly had so very much to say.
He stood in the middle of the Pump Room with his mouth agape, unsure of how to proceed other than allow her to continue her verbal assault. So he did.
“I do not know how to act around you. I’ve tried to ignore you, as you seemed disinclined to my company, and I therefore assumed you would prefer that reaction. So how, pray tell, am I supposed to react? I’ve tried to stop you from making a gargantuan mistake, but you seem to have an aversion to accepting my assistance. I would very much like to help you by doing whatever it is you want, but I’m quite incapable of interpreting your thoughts. So, my lord, why don’t you tell me what to do and save us both a good deal of trouble? It would alleviate the ache that is rapidly building in my head.”
Lady Grace finally took a breath, and waited. By this point, most of the room openly stared at the two of them, some with their jaws hanging open, others seeming to note every word said so they could rush to the nearest gossip and fill them in on these newest, juicy on-dits. Her words, while hardly more than a whisper, seemed to echo in the spacious area.
Alex, too, heard every word she’d hissed at him. Yet he had listened to only a few. The passion she displayed entranced him. She was normally so cold and collected, never losing the veneer of control she kept such tight rein over.
Yet that had all gone by the wayside, and he could think of nothing but how beautiful she looked when angry. Her eyes had flashed and flared, and some strands of her hair had pulled free from the exacting knot and whipped about her face. He wanted to capture her passion, to hold onto it for a later moment when she resumed her cold demeanor.
Alex yearned to touch her.
Maddening. Most men would do anything to avoid infuriating a lady, but he was formulating ways he could do so again. He loved seeing her out of control, reckless and passionate. He wanted more. So much more.
Without a thought to the consequences of his actions or the audience that had gathered, he closed the distance between them and kissed her. Greedy this time, he took more than he gave. One hand fisted in the knot of hair at the nape of her neck and worked to free more of it than was already framing her face, while the other drew her closer to him so he could feel her length against him.
Their audience drew in a collective, scandalized breath, which appeared to register with Lady Grace. She struggled against him, but he would prefer to ignore them. However, she increased her struggles and pushed hard against his chest to separate them. Reluctantly, Alex relinquished his hold.
She took a calming breath, then another, and a third, all while glaring daggers of ice-blue fire into his eyes. Then she reached a hand up and slapped him across his cheek. “You forget yourself, sir,” she spat out. Then she turned on her heels and fled, with the Kensingtons close behind.
Alex started to follow her as well, but Gil appeared as if from nowhere and placed a hand on his arm. “Let her go, Alex. This will all be sorted out. Just let her go for now.”
So he did.
Catherine Gayle has been an avid reader of romance novels (and almost anything else she can legally get her hands on) for as long as she can remember. Her mother might say it started in the womb. When she is not writing or reading, she can often be found buried beneath her sleeping cat or chasing the Nephew Monster. She’s a reality TV junkie, a hockey addict, and experimental cook.
Catherine Gayle’s books are available from: Second Wind Publishing, LLC