She glanced toward Ian and saw him standing perfectly still beside the table, watching her. Something in his expression made her hastily drop her hands, and the spell was broken, but the effect of that warmly intimate look in his eyes was vibrantly, alarmingly alive, and the full import of the risk she was taking by being here made Elizabeth begin to quake inside. She did not know this man at all; she'd only met him hours ago; and yet even now he was watching her with a look that was much too . . . personal. And possessive.
He handed her the glass, then he nodded toward the threadbare sofa that nearly filled the tiny room. "If you're warm enough, the sofa is clean." Upholstered in what might have been green and white stripes at one time, it had faded to shades of gray and was obviously a castoff from the main house.
Elizabeth sat down as far from him as the sofa permitted and curled her legs beneath the skirt of her riding habit to warm them. He'd promised she would be "safe," which she now realized left a great deal of room for personal interpretation. "If I'm going to remain," she said uneasily, "I think we ought to agree to observe all the proprieties and conventions."
"Such as?'' "Well, for a beginning, you really shouldn't be calling me by my given name." "Considering the kiss we exchanged in the arbor last night, it seems a little absurd to call you Miss Cameron."
It was the time to tell him she was Lady Cameron, but Elizabeth was too unstrung by his reference to those unforgettable-and wholly forbidden-moments in his arms to bother with that. "That isn't the point," she said firmly. "The point is that although last night did happen, it must not influence our behavior today. Today we ought to be twice as correct in our behavior," she continued, a little desperately and illogically, "to atone for what happened last night!"
"Is that how it's done?" he asked. his eyes beginning to glint with amusement. "Somehow I didn't quite imagine you allowed convention to dictate your every move."
To a gambler without ties or responsibility, the rules of social etiquette and convention must be tiresome in the extreme, and Elizabeth realized it was imperative to convince him he must yield to her viewpoint. "Oh, but I am," she prevaricated. "The Camerons are the most conventional people in the world! As you know from last night, I believe in death before dishonor. We also believe in God and country, motherhood and the king, and. . . and all the proprieties. We're quite intolerably boring on the subject, actually."
"I see," he said, his lips twitching. "Tell me something." he asked mildly, "why would such a conventional person as yourself have crossed swords with a roomful of men last night in order to protect a stranger's reputation?"
"Oh, that," Elizabeth said. "That was just well, my conventional notion of justice. Besides," she said, her ire coming to the fore as she recalled the scene in the card room last night, "it made me excessively angry when I realized that the only reason none of them would try to dissuade Lord Everly from shooting you was because you were not their social equal, while Everly is."
"Social equality?" he teased with a lazy, devastating smile. "What an unusual notion to spring from such a conventional person as yourself."
Elizabeth was trapped, and she knew it. "The truth is," she said shakily, "that I am scared to death of being here."
"I know you are," he said, sobering, "but I am the last person in the world you'll ever have to fear."
His words and his tone made the quaking in her limbs, the hammering of her heart, begin again, and Elizabeth hastily drank a liberal amount of her wine, praying it would calm her rioting nerves. As if he saw her distress, he smoothly changed the topic. "Have you given any more thought to the injustice done Galileo?"
She shook her head. "I must have sounded very silly last night, going on about how wrong it was to bring him up before the Inquisition. It was an absurd thing to discuss with anyone, especially a gentleman."
"I thought it was a refreshing alternative to the usual insipid trivialities."
"Did you really?" Elizabeth asked, her eyes searching his with a mixture of disbelief and hope, unaware that she was being neatly distracted from her woes and drawn into a discussion she'd find easier.
"I did." "I wish society felt that way." He grinned sympathetically. "How long have you been required to hide the fact that you have a mind?"
"Four weeks," she admitted, chuckling at his phrasing. "You cannot imagine how awful it is to mouth platitudes to people when you're longing to ask them about things they've seen and things they know. If they're male, they wouldn't tell you. of course, even if you did ask."
"What would they say?" he teased.
"They would say," she said wryly, "that the answer would be beyond a female's comprehension-or that they fear offending my tender sensibilities."
"What sorts of questions have you been asking?"
Her eyes lit up with a mixture of laughter and frustration. "I asked Sir Elston Greeley, who had just returned from extensive travels, if he had happened to journey to the colonies, and he said that he had. But when I asked him to describe to me how the natives looked and how they lived, he coughed and sputtered and told me it wasn't at all ?the thing' to discuss ?savages' with a female, and that I'd swoon if he did."
"Their appearance and living habits depend upon their tribe," Ian told her, beginning to answer her questions. "Some of the tribes are ?savage' by our standards, not theirs, and some of the tribes are peaceful by any standards. . . ."
Two hours flew by as Elizabeth asked him questions and listened in fascination to stories of places he had seen, and not once in all that time did he refuse to answer or treat her comments lightly. He spoke to her like an equal and seemed to enjoy it whenever she debated an opinion with him. They'd eaten lunch and returned to the sofa; she knew it was past time for her to leave, and yet she was loath to end their stolen afternoon.
"I can't help thinking," she confided when he finished answering a question about women in India who covered their faces and hair in public, "that it is grossly unfair that I was born a female and so must never know such adventures, or see but a few of those places. Even if I were to journey there, I'd only be allowed to go where everything was as civilized as-as London!"
"There does seem to be a case of extreme disparity between the privileges accorded the sexes," Ian agreed.