Beyond Scandal and Desire(10)

By: Lorraine Heath

Aslyn could sense Mick Trewlove’s gaze on her. Odd thing about that: it made her tingle all over as though he were touching her with his hands rather than his eyes. She couldn’t recall ever being so aware of a man. It was thrilling, frightening, confusing. It made her long to snuggle against him and jump out of her skin at the same time. It made it almost impossible to concentrate on the beauty of the magnificent fireworks bursting overhead.

And it made her feel guilty. Guilty because her reaction to Kip whenever he was near paled in comparison. She told herself it was because she was familiar with her childhood friend, had known him for most of her life, lived within his parents’ residence, frequently enjoyed meals with him, danced with him at balls, and had such a familiar relationship with him that her guardians didn’t require she travel about with a chaperone when in his company, because they knew he would not take advantage.

She suspected the sternest of chaperones would be no deterrent to Mick Trewlove if he wanted to take advantage of her in order to engage in some sort of mischievous behavior. He was no doubt quite skilled at slipping an untoward touch by the matronly as well as stealing kisses from willing lasses. She was unnerved by her horrifying realization she wouldn’t mind being one of those lasses. Only for a moment or two.

Blast it all! When had she become obsessed with kissing, with the yearning to experience the press of a man’s lips upon her own, to know the secrets of passion that had thus far eluded her?

She was a lady, and ladies behaved in proper ways. They did not allow themselves to be caught in compromising positions—indeed, they did not get themselves into compromising positions. They did not create scandals nor were they to be the object of a scandal created by someone else. They most certainly did not contemplate removing a glove and running bared fingers through a gentleman’s beard. The duchess would be appalled to learn all her dire warnings about how easily a gentleman could slip off the leash of propriety were being nudged into the corner of her ward’s mind where they could merely prick ineffectually at her conscience.

Or not so ineffectually. She should not be having these thoughts about Mick Trewlove. If she were to have them at all, they should revolve around Kip. She should yearn for him to break free of Society’s tether and kiss her. It was unconscionable to be so aware of the stranger standing behind her. Since her coming out, she’d been introduced to many young, eligible men but none had sparked her interest. Only Kip had ever held her attention—until now. And that was rather disconcerting.

“The fireworks are spectacular,” Miss Trewlove whispered on a sigh as though she feared if she spoke too loudly she would disturb others’ enjoyment of the fantastical display. “Do you watch them often?”

“This is my first time to visit the gardens.”

“Your brother seems as difficult to manage as mine.”

Aslyn furrowed her brow. “My brother?”

Miss Trewlove glanced back over her shoulder, gave her head a small jerk.

“Kipwick?” Surprised by the girl’s assumption, Aslyn laughed softly. “He’s not my brother.”

Miss Trewlove blinked repeatedly. “But you have no chaperone.”

Her tone was one of disbelief, echoing the possibility of scandal.

“I’m a ward of his parents. He’s practically a brother.” Even as she said it, it seemed wrong to refer to her future husband in those terms, to even consider him in a neutral sort of way. “I mean, he’s more than that, of course. But he wouldn’t take advantage.”

“Mick tells me all men will take advantage.”

“Kip wouldn’t.”

“How fortunate you are. My brothers would never let me step out with a man to whom I wasn’t related. Although if Mick has his way, I’ll never be allowed to step out with a man at all.”

“How many brothers have you?” she asked.

“Four. And a sister, who is older and granted far more freedom than I. It’s quite exasperating.”

Discreetly, Aslyn pointed over her shoulder. “Is he the eldest?”

Miss Trewlove nodded, rolled her eyes. “And the bossiest.”

Yes, she could well imagine that. She was accustomed to being around confident men, but none of them exuded self-assurance to such a degree that it seemed to overwhelm every other aspect of a person. Mick Trewlove did. She could practically see it coming from him in waves that had the power to encompass everything around him—including herself. She wanted to experience that power, be drawn into it, captured by it, seduced within it. All these untamed thoughts were remarkable, brought a self-awareness she’d never before experienced. For the first time in her life, she recognized a woman had needs—she had needs—that went beyond polite dances and courteous strolls through a garden. She wanted hands touching where they shouldn’t, lips gliding where they ought not. She wanted her self-control shattered, her morals in danger—