"Nothing of import," she said, trying to speak lightly but succeeding only in sounding stiff. "Just a family squabble."
She curtseyed and Julian bowed, and he took her in his arms. His hand was firm on her back, guiding her easily as they danced.
Julian's touch reawakened memories of the clinic, the way he had encouraged and helped her, the times he had been stern when she had needed it, and the times they had celebrated when she had reached another milestone in her progress. He was a good, kind, high-minded man. A handsome man. Win was hardly oblivious to the admiring feminine gazes he attracted. Most of the unmarried girls in this room would have given anything to have such a splendid suitor.
I could marry him, she thought. He had made it clear that all it would take was a bit of encouragement on her part. She could become a doctor's wife and live in the south of France, and perhaps help somehow in his work at the clinic. To help other people who were suffering the way she had… to do something positive and worthwhile with her life… wouldn't that be better than this?
Anything was preferable to the pain of loving a man she couldn't have. And, God help her, living in close proximity. She would become bitter and frustrated. She might even come to hate Merripen.
She felt herself relaxing in Julian's arms. The bleak, angry feeling faded, soothed by the music and the waltz rhythm. Julian swept her around the drawing room, guiding her carefully among the dancing couples.
"This is what I dreamed of," Win told him. "Being able to do this… just like everyone else."
His hand tightened on her waist. "And so you are. But you're not like everyone else. You're the most beautiful woman here."
"No," she said, laughing.
"Yes. Like an angel in an Old Masters work. Or perhaps the Sleeping Venus. Are you familiar with that painting?"
"I'm afraid not."
"I'll take you to see it someday. Though you might find it a bit shocking."
"I suppose Venus is unclothed in that work?" Win tried to sound worldly, but she felt herself blushing. "I've never understood why such depictions of beauty are always in the nude, when a bit of tactful drapery would yield the same effect."
"Because there is nothing more beautiful than the unveiled female form." Julian laughed quietly as he saw her heightened color. "Have I embarrassed you with my frankness? I'm sorry."
"I don't think you are. I think you meant to disconcert me." It was a new sensation, flirting with Julian.
"You're right. I want to set you a bit off-balance."
"Because I would like for you to see me as someone other than predictable, tedious old Dr. Harrow."
"You're none of those things," she said, laughing.
"Good," he murmured, smiling at her. The waltz ended, and gentlemen began to lead their partners out of the dancing area, while others took their places.
"It's warm in here, and far too crowded," Julian said. "Would you like to be scandalous and slip away with me for a moment?"
"I would love to."
He took her to a corner partially screened by some massive potted plants. At an opportune moment, he led her out of the drawing room and into a huge glass conservatory. The space was filled with paths and indoor trees and flowers, and secluded little benches. Beyond the conservatory, a wide terrace overlooked the fenced gardens and the other mansions of Mayfair. The city was outlined in the distance, bristling with chimneys that frosted the midnight sky with streams of smoke.
They sat on a bench, Win's skirts billowing around them. Julian turned partially to face her. The glaze of moonlight gave his polished-ivory skin a slight luminescence. "Winnifred," he murmured, and the timbre of his voice was low and intimate. Staring into his gray eyes, Win realized that he was going to kiss her.
But he surprised her by removing one of her gloves with exquisite care, the moonlight shimmering over his black hair. Lifting her slender hand to his lips, he kissed the backs of her fingers, and then the fragile inside of her wrist. He held her hand like a half-open flower against his face. His tenderness disarmed her.
"You know why I've come to England," he said softly. "I want to know you much better, my dear, in a way that wasn't possible at the clinic. I want-"
But a sound from nearby caused Julian to break off, his head lifting.
Together, he and Win stared at the intruder.
It was Merripen, of course, huge and dark and aggressive as he strode toward them.
Win's jaw sagged in disbelief. He had followed her out here? She felt like a hunted creature. For heaven's sake, was there no place she could evade his outrageous stalking?
"Go… away," she said, enunciating each word with scornful precision. "You are not my chaperon."
"You should be with your chaperon," Merripen snapped. "Not here with him."
Win had never found it so difficult to master her emotions. She shoved them back, closing them behind an expressionless face. But she could feel the temper seething impatiently inside her. Her voice shook only a little as she turned to Julian. "Would you be so kind as to leave us, Dr. Harrow? There is something I must settle with Merripen."
Julian glanced from Merripen's set face to hers. "I'm not sure I should," he said slowly.
"He's been plaguing me all evening," Win said. "I'm the only one who can put a stop to it. Please allow me a moment with him."