“Are you saying I need to practice?” she asked suspiciously.

“Something along those lines. And who better than with a family member?”

The glint in his eyes told her that his flimsy justification was nothing more than that. But there was nothing unpleasant about Damon, after all, and practice might be a good idea. So she leaned over to him and placed her lips on his, just as he had with her. And as Angus Pilfer had done, last year in the cow lane, and as the squire’s son had done at the village dance the year before that.

“Is that your best try?” he asked, pulling back.

She looked at him. There was something dangerous about this, but it was fun, not nearly as unnerving as talking to Villiers. “I gather you think my performance was inadequate?” she asked. “Then, sir, I defer to your teaching abilities.”

His eyes glinted at her. “Kisses are preludes. That couple we saw in the sitting room started with just a kiss, I’ve no doubt.”

The image flashed back into Roberta’s mind and she shivered.

“They both enjoyed the kiss,” he went on, “and so things progressed.”

“Well,” Roberta said, not wanting to sit there silently like a little girl, “I could certainly see they were enjoying the progression!”

He laughed. “Who would have thought Lord Gordon had it in him?”

“Who is he?”

“A horse-loving, stout Englishman. Did you see how his wig was askew?”

She nodded.

“An intelligent gentleman always removes his wig for a true kiss.”

She knew she was out of her depth; she knew it. He tossed his wig on a chair, and suddenly his hair swung forward, all bronzed brown and shining.

“So, kiss me,” he commanded.

She leaned toward him again. He smelled clean and fresh, not like some men she’d danced with this evening who smelled like lilac hair powder or, worse, sweaty locks. She put her lips onto his and kept them there for a moment. Was she supposed to do any different?

But then somehow his mouth yielded to hers, though she had not asked such a thing, had not understood such a thing. The sweetness of it clanged through her body and she pulled back. “What do you think?” he asked, as if they hadn’t—as if she hadn’t—

But Roberta’s mind was clashing with images. “That’s what you meant by a prelude,” she said, surprised to hear how very collected her own voice sounded.

“Precisely,” he said, sounding pleased, as if she were a good student who had solved a difficult mathematics problem.

He curled a large hand around the back of her neck. “Let’s do that again, shall we?” he said. His head came toward hers. She closed her eyes this time, smelling the maleness of him and tasting him at the same time. He was holding her still, and suddenly he was doing the kissing, rather than she, and this was different.

No prelude, this, she thought dimly, because he was part of her, he was inside her, he was tasting her—and how different it was. She had to stop kissing him. She was in love with someone else.

But somehow she leaned back against the sofa and he leaned toward her, and still he kissed her. His mouth was madness, like cherry wine in midsummer: sweet, intoxicating, drugging.

He kept kissing her.

It made her feel restless, as if small sparks danced between her legs, as if the pooling warmth she felt in her stomach after leaving the sitting room were turning into something altogether more embarrassing and more—more dangerous.

There was a dim question in her mind about the nature of kisses. And then, as if a curtain lifted, she realized that she was being kissed, and she rather thought she would like to kiss. So she curled her hands into the silky locks of his hair and pulled him a bit closer and kissed him.

It all changed again.

His body felt heavier against hers, hotter, charged with a weight that made her feel achy where she had felt warm.

As if he could hear that drugged thought whisper through her mind, he pulled back.

Roberta didn’t open her eyes immediately.

“Have I shocked you?” He didn’t sound in the least sorry, just curious.

She opened her eyes. “No,” she said, meaning to shock him for once. “I am interested in how kissing feels.”

His eyebrow flew up. “Feels?”

She smiled, and knew it was a siren’s smile, a gamester’s smile.

“You would appear to have learned something.”

“If not from you, from the sitting room,” she said. She stretched, knowing that the plumpness of her breasts above the stiff fabric of her bodice was tantalizingly close to his finger.

Being Damon, he did the unthinkable. He ran a long finger over the curve of her breast. “Very nice,” he said, and she heard the hitch in his voice with approval.

His finger burned a sweet trail. But she batted him away. “A salutary lesson, and I thank you for it,” she said, rising.

He rose too and she couldn’t help checking his breeches. But alas, the heavy line of his coat swung into place.

He caught her looking and laughed. “Well-designed coats, aren’t they? Any number of women can caress my legs under the table and no one will know if I respond. I hardly need say that I did not respond for Lady Piddleton, but if you stroke me under the table, it would be another story.”

Roberta walked over to a mirror on the wall rather than answer this nonsense. The glass was long enough to give her an excellent view of the way her silk gown had been crushed when he leaned against her. There was nothing to be done about that, but she tucked an errant curl back into place.

Damon appeared in the mirror behind her, bewigged once more. He was so warm that she could feel his body just behind her. “’Twas a dangerous game we played tonight,” he said to her reflection. “I am no Villiers, Roberta. If we ended up with a child, you’d have to marry me.”

“We were a long way from that!” she said.

“Not so very far. Trust me.”

She concentrated on repositioning a spray of apple blossoms that was hanging drunkenly over her ear. That ache low in her belly told her that he was right. He leaned close to her ear.

“You know how we watched that couple?” he said to her.

She nodded and repressed a shiver.

“It’s possible to watch oneself make love in a glass,” he said.

Rosy color flooded her cheeks. “I declare that you have made it your pleasure to shock me this evening!” she said, taking as sophisticated a tone as she could muster.

He met her eyes and her next sentence died on her lips. Still watching her, he bent his head and kissed her neck.

She shivered in his hands, as if she were a newborn bird fallen from its nest.

Then he held out his arm, and they left the room.

Chapter 12

I t wasn’t until nearly morning that Roberta was able to pull Jemma into the ladies’ retiring room. “Playing a simpering fool definitely won’t win Villiers,” she told her.

“We know that. But you did a magnificent job of it tonight,” Jemma said. “Everyone has told me how sweet you are. And most of them added the pious wish that I not corrupt you.”

Roberta smiled at that. “Since seduction will be ineffective, I’m going to have to trick him into marriage.”

Jemma looked thoughtful. “You think so?”

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