Beyond Scandal and Desire(4)

By: Lorraine Heath

Fortunately—or unfortunately depending on one’s perspective—Aslyn had always possessed a rather active and creative imagination. She assumed the music that filled the air after ten o’clock was not something found among her music sheets nor would her fingertips be allowed to coax it forth from ivory keys. The gowns worn by the ladies who strolled with the gents would reveal a good deal more than the hint of a bosom. The women would certainly be snuggled against their escort’s side—not walking along as she was with her hand merely resting on her escort’s arm as lightly as a butterfly might settle upon a rose petal. There would be nothing proper, nothing decent in the other ladies’ actions. But there her imagination ground to a halt, because she couldn’t quite envision what the indecent activities might entail. Might a gentleman press his lips to her bared shoulder? Might he nuzzle her neck?

And what would that feel like?

For all of Kip’s interest in her, he’d never been untoward, never even tried to steal a kiss. He respected her, honored her, fought his baser instincts to ensure she came to the marriage bed untouched. Which the duchess assured her was how it should be between a man and a woman—if a man truly cared for her. Only the most morally inept would seek to take advantage of a lady, would seek to seduce her outside the bonds of marriage. Aslyn didn’t want to admit what it said about her own morals that she was rather hoping tonight Kip might ask for permission to place his lips against hers, to remove his glove and touch her cheek, to whisper sweet passionate words in her ear.

She was all of twenty and had never been kissed. Not that she knew any not-yet-betrothed maiden who had been. Ladies in her position were to guard their virtue and be above reproach at all times. Still, there were moments when being morally upright chafed. One could flirt innocently but was never to engage in any questionable action. Buttons were to remain buttoned, lacings laced and skirt hems hiding ankles.

She wasn’t about to place herself in a compromising position, but she did often wonder if Kip found all the rules as bothersome as she did, if he yearned to do more than simply stroll along beside her. Guilt pricked her conscience because she should be grateful he was such a considerate, upstanding beau so she never had to ward off any untoward advances.

“I hear the siren call of a soprano,” Kip said suddenly, placing his hand over hers where it rested on his arm and squeezing ever so slightly. “Shall we head in that direction?”

“If you like.”

He glanced down on her. While the shadows were moving in so his hat cast shade over his face, she could still make out his handsome features. He’d inherited his father’s brilliant blue eyes, thick black hair and the distinctive cleft in his chin. It had fascinated her as a child, and she’d often poked her finger into it, especially when she caught him sleeping. It had become more pronounced as he’d aged and left no doubt he was indeed his father’s heir. Not that anyone would doubt it really. The duke and duchess were devoted to each other, so much so that, at times, it was as though no one existed beyond them.

“Are you not enjoying yourself?” he asked. “Is there something else you’d rather see?”

Not anything she could voice aloud without gaining a disapproving glare from him, so she kept her thoughts to herself as she was wont to do and smiled up at him. “I am indeed having a jolly good time. It’s just that it’s a bit tamer than I was expecting.” It had taken her weeks of cajoling to get him to bring her, and she knew it unlikely he would escort her here again. The duchess had been vehemently opposed to the outing, fearing it would place her ward in some sort of danger. Kip had spent a good deal of dinner the evening before convincing his mother that he’d keep Aslyn safe. She didn’t know if she’d ever cared for him more than she had at that moment when he’d fought to give her something she wanted: an evening at Cremorne. While she was enjoying it, she couldn’t help feeling something was missing. “Have you ever been to the gardens when it’s not quite so cultured?”

“A gentleman does not speak of activities that are not suitable for a young lady’s ears to hear.”