stormy persuasion Page 39

“You should be asking yourself why your daughter isn’t thrilled with any of these young lords,” Roslynn warned.

“I already know why. She and Jack made a pact. They’re not getting hitched this year. Thank God.”

“That’s not why and I think you know it. She’s in love with someone else. I just haven’t met him yet.”

“An infatuation, that’s all that was, and it was nipped in the bud. She’s over it.”

“I happen to know otherwise. And it’s high time I met Mr. Tremayne.”

“I’m happy to say he’s gone and good riddance.”

“Are you now?” she said sternly. “Happy? That your daughter isn’t?”

He snorted. “Look at her, Ros. She’s laughing. Does it look like she’s pining over that blighter?”

“She hides her feelings well, but she confided in me. So let me ask you this. Would you stand in the way of her happiness?” He didn’t answer, so she added, “You should track him down for her.”

He actually laughed. “No, I will not. We’re not interfering for one simple reason. The man doesn’t want her. If he did, he’d be here asking me for her hand before someone else does, but he’s not, is he?”

“Because you obviously don’t like him and he knows it.”

Anthony shook his head, disagreeing, “No, he’s actually not afraid of me, Ros, not even a little. That’s the one thing I do like about him.”

“That’s some progress.” She smiled.

He rolled his eyes. “One sterling quality does not make him acceptable to me as a son-in-law.”

“No man is ever going to be acceptable to you for our daughter. I’m not even surprised this is turning out to be so difficult. But you have to think of Judy, not yourself. You knew this day would come.”

“But it hasn’t come yet. I repeat, he doesn’t want her, and she’ll just have to—”

“Would that be him?” Roslynn suddenly asked, nodding toward the entrance at a handsome man with white-blond hair.

Anthony hissed, “Of all the bloody nerve.”

“Well, you did say he wasn’t afraid of you,” Roslynn smirked.

Chapter Fifty

Judith saw Nathan the moment he entered the ballroom only because her eyes kept venturing in that direction, hoping he would. But when he did, it took her a moment to believe it. Dressed in black evening attire tailored to perfection, blond hair queued back for the occasion, he fit right in as if he belonged here. Well, didn’t he? He had the credentials to be here, but how had he finagled an invitation? He must have one, she supposed, to have gotten through the door.

As if she cared how he’d managed it. He was here! Her heart was already racing with anticipation. He’d come to his senses, finally. He’d come to find her. But to do it this boldly? When he could have just come to her home? He would have been let in. Every day since she’d been back, she’d warned the butler to expect him, then had dealt with the disappointment when he didn’t show up.

Their eyes met across the room, but she couldn’t hold the look because she was still dancing with Hadley. But the moment the music ended, she hurried back to her mother to make herself available for Nathan to approach her. Her father was conspicuously absent. Thankfully! But then she noted Anthony on the edge of the room. He’d gone to join forces with James. Those two had better not chase Nathan off, not tonight. Tonight was going to be magical now, the veritable highlight of her Season, of her life, for that matter. Nathan would make it so.

Roslynn wasn’t alone. The two beaux Judith hadn’t danced with yet were still waiting for her, and two others had joined them, one she knew, one she didn’t. Three of them asked to have the next dance, which she promptly declined. Yet they didn’t leave!

Roslynn whispered to her, “I suggested they find other partners while they wait for a turn on the floor with you, but I think their feet have grown roots.”

Judith was flattered, but right now it was quite vexing. Would Nathan even come forward with so many lords presently vying for her attention? She couldn’t see where he’d gone.

But then Roslynn said in an even lower tone, “Perhaps you are thirsty? Lady Spencer has laid out extensive refreshments to suit everyone’s tastes.”

Judith guessed, “You saw him?”

“Your father confirmed your Mr. Tremayne is here, yes.” Roslynn added with a grin, “I’ll hold down the fort and tender your excuses.”

Judith beamed a smile at her mother and started toward the other side of the room. But she’d barely gone ten feet before she saw Nathan dancing by with someone else. She stopped as it dawned on her that he might not be here to see her at all. This could merely be his introduction to high society, a means to an end, since he intended to take his guardianship of his nieces more seriously. Just planning ahead for the connections he would need when his nieces came of age? Or was he just making sure that Anthony would leave him alone if he devoted his attention elsewhere for the moment? Or worse, making sure that she knew he was done with her. But in any case, she didn’t like his tactics, not one little bit.

She returned to her beaux and said to the newcomer, “We haven’t met. Shall we rectify that with a dance?”

He didn’t decline, even though he hadn’t asked her for one when he’d had the chance. “I’m Robert Mactear,” he said once he began to waltz with her. “I was just paying my respects tae yer muther. She’s vera good friends wi’ mine.”

She heard no more than the name, which sounded familiar, for her eyes and attention were elsewhere. Nathan passed within a few feet of her. The pretty chit he was dancing with was talking his ear off. He appeared raptly interested in her every word.

“She had a handful o’ invitations sent tae me long afore this Season started. I ken she had high hopes for us.”

Judith blinked. “You and I?”

Had her mother really looked for another Scotsman when Ian Cullen got snatched up by another debutante? But this would have been while Judith was in America—before her mother knew about Nathan.

“Aye,” Robert confirmed it. “I had tae return tae London on business, so I thought I should let yer muther know I’m already taken, well, as soon as my lass says yes tae me.”

She might have laughed. Roslynn was simply not destined to be a matchmaker. But she grouched instead, “So am I, though my lad appears to want to ignore me tonight.”

“In that case, ye might want tae laugh and pretend yer flirting wi’ me? Just tae nudge him a wee bit. I know from experience how bluidy well that works.”

She did laugh. “You’re a good sport, Robert.”

A while later Jack found her and asked, “What the devil is he doing here?”

“Causing a stir,” Judith said. “The ladies can’t take their eyes off him, if you haven’t noticed.”

Jack peered at her. “You’ve obviously noticed. Why don’t you just tell him how you feel?”

“That’s not how it’s done.”

Jack’s brows shot together. “You’re joking, right? That’s how we do it.”

No, that might be what Jack would do, but Judith wasn’t nearly that bold. She wished she were, though, and visited the refreshment tables a few times to see if that might give her more courage, but it didn’t. It did allow her to flirt outrageously with her beaux though, per Robert’s suggestion, but that didn’t help either. Nathan didn’t notice because he was too busy dancing with every debutante but her. Bloody blighter, he was going to take his anger to the grave?

But when she saw him heading for the exit, she actually ran across the room to stop him. “You’re leaving? Really? Without a bloody word to me?”

He turned. “Yes. This is your world, darlin’. Not mine.”

She didn’t know what to say to that, but it was coming back, that pain in her chest, constricting her heart, squeezing. Yet, he seemed to be waiting for her to say something, but all she could do was stare at him, at his handsome face that she hadn’t seen for nearly a month, the bruise on his cheek that was barely discernible, but she noticed it, the tight line of his lips, his stiff jaw, and the intense emotion in his eyes. Hot or cold? She couldn’t tell!

But the only words she managed were “What’s that bruise from?”

“Unfinished business finally put to rest.”

“And is that your only unfin—?”

The question died off. He’d walked away and right out of the ballroom! Oh, God, why did she flirt so hard with the other men? Had he just given up because of it?

She got through the rest of the night. More champagne helped, perhaps too much champagne because she was aware of being a little foxed when she found herself in bed and didn’t even remember the ride home.

But she went right to sleep that night. She was sure she was still foxed when she heard his voice, felt his hand on her cheek, a touch that healed all her wounds. But of course she wasn’t sleeping.

Now she was wide-awake. “How did you get in here?”

“Through your window.” He was still caressing her cheek. Like their kitten, she felt the need to lean toward his hand and tilted her head slightly so she could. “It’s not the first time I’ve stood below it.”

That surprised her. “But how could you know which was mine?”

“Earlier this week I found one of your kitchen maids out back and convinced her that I wanted to throw pebbles at your window to get your attention. She was happy to point it out to me. She thought I was one of your many swains trying to impress you with a private serenade.”

The idea of him singing to her made her giggle. “You wouldn’t have.”

Enough moonlight was in the room that she could see his smile. “No, I wouldn’t.”

“You could have just come to the front door.”

“Knowing your father, I couldn’t. But I threw some pebbles tonight, so many of them I was afraid the glass would break. You just didn’t hear them.”

Damned champagne—no, she was glad the noise didn’t wake her, glad that he must have found the ladder leaning against the apple tree in their garden. But why did he? What little he’d said at the ball suggested she’d never see him again, certainly not like this.

“What are you doing here?” she asked breathlessly.

“Tell me you didn’t expect me.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Deep down, you did.”

She didn’t correct him again, yet he’d assumed something that wasn’t so, while she’d been crushed by his seeming indifference tonight, sure he was still angry. Had they both fallen prey to false assumptions? When mere actions could speak much louder, as his were doing right now?

But remembering that hurt, she said, “We should have spoken at the ball, at least, more’n we did.”

“I thought we would. I even thought we would dance. But when I got there, I was a bit stunned by how beautiful you looked—and how perfectly you fit in that glittering room. And I was afraid I would kiss you, right there in front of everyone, if we—”

She sat up immediately to kiss him, cutting off his words. It’s what she’d wanted to do from the moment she’d heard his voice. He’d been at the ball, for her. He’d come here tonight for her. She didn’t need to hear another word. But she needed to feel again what only he could make her feel. She’d longed for this, cried for this, for him. She ought to take him to task for that, but not now when he was showing her the depth of his feeling, crushing her to his chest, devouring her lips.

So when he pushed her back to her pillow, she could have cried, until she heard, “Give me a moment, darlin’, please. I don’t want to hurt you, but you can’t imagine how much I want you.”

She understood. She could have said the same thing. But she didn’t want a moment. “Take a deep, calming breath if you must, just do it quickly,” she insisted, demanded.

He laughed shakily, saying, “That worked, your silly humor.”

It was no time to tell him she wasn’t joking. But he stood up and shrugged out of his evening jacket, then took off his cravat and shirt. She kicked her covers away so she could kneel on the side of the bed in front of him. Within close reach of him, she slid her hands over his bare skin. So fascinating to all her senses. He had such a magnificent body, perfectly proportioned, big, lean, rock hard. Just looking at him had always affected her on a primal level she never quite understood. But right now, he was the flame and she was the moth, finding him a lure that was impossible to resist, and her body was on fire for him.

He was undressing quickly, yet not fast enough for her. Her nails scraped over his nipples, not intentionally, yet she heard the groan. Arrested, she wasn’t sure what she’d just done to him, caused him pain or pleasure? But she tossed off her loose nightgown to find out and scraped her own nipple to feel what he’d just felt . . . oh, God!

He said it aloud, “Oh, God,” as he tumbled her backward on the bed.

They rolled together. She laughed and ending up beneath him, gave him a brilliant smile. He appeared transfixed by it. She was caught by his eyes and the wealth of feeling in them. He loved her! She wished he’d say so, but she was content just seeing it. His lips were gentle on her now, her face, her shoulders, her neck. His love for her was in every touch. Even when he entered her a while later, it was with such tender care. They were like two pieces of a whole that were meant to rejoin, fitting together perfectly.