Rogue in the Regency Ballroom: Rogue's Widow, Gentleman's Wife / A Scoundrel of Consequence - Хелен Диксон - Chapter Six Читать онлайн любовный роман

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Диксон Хелен

Rogue in the Regency Ballroom: Rogue's Widow, Gentleman's Wife / A Scoundrel of Consequence

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Chapter Six

Dinner was a splendid affair—which was all down to Caroline. When she had married Henry she had brought with her that well-bred way of life she had known and been trained to from birth.

The long mahogany table had been polished to a mirror shine. Small bowls of attractive and colourful flowers marched down the centre, adding a light and graceful effect, and the white crockery with a narrow margin of gold was of the best and most expensive English china. Places were set with silver cutlery on white damask place mats edged with the finest Honiton lace, and to the right of the setting, four differently sized, cut-crystal wine glasses. The food was the best of its kind—plain and simple and cooked to perfection.

Throughout the meal, Amanda was aware of Kit seated on her father’s right hand on the opposite side to her. He was constantly within her sights. Their eyes would meet, his full of meaning and seduction. Heat would suffuse her cheeks and she would look away, trying, often without success, to appear serene and composed.

When dinner was over the ladies rose and followed Caroline to the drawing room. Fluttering and cackling like hens that have seen a fox in their coop, they plumped themselves down on cushioned sofas and chairs and began to discuss frivolous matters as freely as they would in their own homes. When the gentlemen joined them, they began drifting back into the library, where the musicians were playing a waltz. Couples began taking to the floor.

Of their own volition Amanda’s eyes sought out Kit. When she couldn’t find him, disappointment washed over her, but then he was there, standing only an inch behind her. She instantly felt his presence as if it were a tangible force. She even recognised the elusive sharp scent of his cologne. Her heart gave a leap and missed a beat. His breath, when he spoke, was warm on the back of her neck.

‘Dance with me, Amanda.’

Before she could raise a protest, he slid his hand about her slender waist, and, capturing her hand and drawing her close, swung her into the dance. The unbelievable pleasure of his touch, of being in his arms, took her completely by surprise, but, as light as his grip was, she felt the steel beneath and she knew he wasn’t going to let her go.

Caroline’s face, showing pleasant surprise on seeing her dancing with Kit, flashed by in a haze, and Amanda’s concerns were for the speculation of being seen dancing with her father’s horse trainer. After a moment everything was forgotten as she found herself being whirled around in time to the music by a man who danced with the elegance and the easy grace of a man well trained. Beginning to relax, she sank into the dance with an enjoyment that Kit couldn’t help appreciating.

‘Look at me,’ he murmured. She did as he bade, and, when he looked into her eyes, he felt his chest tighten. ‘Has anyone told you that you dance divinely, Mrs Claybourne?’

‘Yes, frequently. Thank you for the compliment. So do you, Mr Benedict. I am surprised.’

He lifted an eyebrow. ‘Why? Do you find it such a strange phenomenon for a horse trainer to be able to dance?’

‘No, and I meant no offence. Are you having a pleasant evening?’ she asked in an attempt at polite conversation, while trying to ignore her pounding heart.

‘Not really. I’m only here because of you and you know it.’

‘Then perhaps you shouldn’t be so selective,’ she remarked flippantly. ‘There are lots of attractive ladies who are dying for you to ask them to dance. I know most of them. They are the very souls of amiability. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that their hunting instincts are at fever pitch with such prime prey in sight.’

Kit’s gaze shifted over the brunettes and blondes about the room, registering heightened colour and eager gazes as they looked his way. Considering them of no consequence, he gazed down through half-closed eyes at the woman in his arms.

‘Then I am sorry to disappoint them. I am already committed to an exquisite redhead who I hope will develop a tendre for me in a very short time. What I want is to be alone with you, my love.’

‘And do you always get what you want?’

‘I got you,’ he pointed out, as if that ended the argument.

In the hazel depths of his eyes, which rested upon her as boldly as ever, Amanda saw something relentless and challenging. She looked away, trying to clear her mind of the warm, intoxicating haze his nearness inspired.

Kit’s smile was one of satisfaction when he saw the soft flush to her cheeks that his words had invoked.

‘Relax,’ he murmured.

‘I am relaxed.’

‘Your body tells me otherwise. Give yourself over to the music and enjoy yourself. I am sure you will survive to the end of the dance.’

‘It’s difficult to do that when there are people to observe and gossip.’

‘And that bothers you?’

‘No, I suppose not.’

‘I observe several males drooling for your attention. I can imagine their disappointment when they learn you are no longer available.’

Amanda bristled at his words, wishing he would stop reminding her at every opportunity that she was his wife. ‘Since I have no wish to argue about that particular issue on a crowded dance floor, I shall ignore that remark. I am acquainted with all of them and most of them are extremely charming.’

Kit glanced past her, eyeing the would-be competition with withering scorn. ‘I wouldn’t bother with them,’ he said drily.

For a surprised moment Amanda wondered if it was jealousy she heard in his voice, and then she dismissed it as preposterous. ‘Why, what do you see when you look at them?’

‘Envy,’ he answered, scowling suddenly when he glanced around at the hungry, expectant, hopeful male faces looking at her as they would a banquet about to be served up to a tribe of cannibals. ‘For what those scoundrels are thinking about when they look at you they ought to be horse whipped.’

‘Why, I do believe you are beginning to sound like a jealous suitor,’ Amanda remarked, slanting him an amused look from the corner of her eye. ‘And doesn’t what you’re thinking about when you look at me also merit a whipping?’

‘No. A man has a right to look at his wife any way he chooses.’

‘In the hope of attracting a husband, my father wants me to be nice to them. So unless you want to draw attention to yourself, I would advise you not to object when I dance with them.’

‘Just so long as you remember that you belong to me—and for that you can thank yourself.’ He smiled infuriatingly. ‘I blame you entirely, my love. However, you will soon come to realise that when I set my mind on having something—be it of material value or a woman—I am not easily dissuaded from that end.’

‘I am beginning to realise that you can be a mite persistent.’

‘Steadfastly so. I never waver far from my purpose.’

‘And do you always win the object of your attention?’

‘Through relentless pursuit—always,’ he said, whirling her round in the final movements of the waltz.

‘Then since I find myself the thing you propose to have, it would seem there is to be a struggle of wills ahead—mine pitted against yours.’

‘I am glad you get the picture.’

The dance ended and there was no time to say more because Henry chose that moment to claim Kit’s attention.

Deeply uneasy about the conversation she had had with Kit, and rather than dance with anyone else, Amanda had escaped to her room to sort out her thoughts and to freshen up, spending longer than she intended. When she returned to the festivities, reluctant to join the gathering, she went out on to the moonlit terrace. She stood there, near the stone balustrade, staring out over the dark shapes of the trees. She didn’t know how long she stood there, not thinking, not moving, just letting the peace wash over her, when something—not a sound, just a feeling, heightened her consciousness and caused her to turn—and she saw the end of his cigar, glowing like a firefly in the shadow of the house.

Kit came forward to meet her, out of the dark into the light of the moon.

‘Is the company not to your liking?’ he asked calmly.

‘Yes, I just wanted some air, that’s all. And you?’

‘The same—and something else.’

‘And what is this something else?’

Tossing his cigar into the flowerbed, he studied her for a long time before he spoke. ‘Do you really want me to tell you the truth—or make polite noises?’

‘The truth, naturally.’

He moved closer, capturing her eyes with his own. ‘When you came to my prison cell you took me off my guard—it’s not often anyone succeeds in doing that. To see my visitor—particularly a woman as young and attractive as you, Amanda—was, frankly, disturbing. It wasn’t the first time a woman had insinuated herself into my company, but the object was usually more of a passionate nature. But with you it was more than that.’

‘More?’ she echoed.

He nodded slowly.

‘Much more. I am a man of scruples, and I’d never met a woman as self-assured or as presumptuous as you. Until then I’d lived on the assumption that all women are sisters under the skin. You are different to any woman I have ever met. You are no fool and I believe will forgive yourself for things you condemn in others. Your father has placed you on a pedestal—you know that and I have seen it—which is why you have an air of reserve about you, which would explain your difficulty and reluctance to enter into any kind of close relationship with any of the adoring males who attempt to get too close. Maybe it would pain you to discover that you have blood in your veins and passion in your heart.’

Slightly offended by his remarks, Amanda stared at him coldly. ‘I’m flattered that you’ve taken the time to try and analyse me, Mr Benedict. In fact, I hardly know how to answer you. Perhaps I am like I am because I haven’t had the advantages of a mother’s love and rearing. You are right when you say that my father has placed me on a pedestal, but I never sought it. Indeed, I’ve shocked him no end at times, and he will be outraged if he should learn of this latest escapade of mine. It’s by far the most daring, scandalous thing I’ve ever done, but there’s little I can do about it now. However, for the time being, discretion is required.’

‘And honesty.’

‘Yes, that too. No doubt Father will lock me up with nothing to eat or drink but bread and water for a week for my shameful behaviour.’

Kit grinned. ‘As your husband, he would have to ask my permission first.’

‘Nevertheless, he will be furious with me. There are times when I don’t behave or express myself as a lady is supposed to.’


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