She peered over again and then hazarded a guess. “Persia?”
“West Smithfield!” he said triumphantly.
“Yes, I will have some eggs, thank you,” Roberta told the footman. “And what’s interesting about West Smithfield?”
“That’s where the mermaid landed. And these rocks come from there, too.”
“Thank you,” Roberta said, accepting some toast as well. She felt unusually hungry.
“Master Teddy and I are thinking of going to see this mermaid,” her father said. “Would you like to come, dear? She’s at the Smithfield Market, as Teddy says. I’ve never seen a mermaid, though I’ve read Homer’s warning about their dangerous propensities, of course.”
“She speaks in verse, Rummer says,” Teddy contributed.
“Rummer says she speaks in verse,” Roberta corrected him.
“A real mermaid!” Teddy’s eyes were huge. “I hope Papa wakes up soon. I know that he will be so excited.”
Just then Damon walked in the room. Roberta’s heart sped up and she felt herself going pink. He bent to drop a kiss on Teddy’s head. “Why aren’t you in the nursery?”
“Nanny’s sick as a fish,” Teddy reported. “She says her stomach is turning itself inside out and”—he looked enraged—“she says it’s my fault!”
“Why?” his father said, looking unsurprised as he sat down just to the left of Roberta.
The moment he sat down, even though he hardly looked at her, Damon’s muscular thigh pressed against hers. Roberta took another bite of eggs. This would never do. She couldn’t survive with her heart beating so quickly; she felt as hot as a housewife boiling rags.
But that’s what the day was like. They set off to see the versifying mermaid, and though Damon paid her little outward attention, certainly nothing to attract her father’s notice, he kept touching her. She climbed into the carriage after Teddy, and a warm hand cupped her bottom. She sat next to Damon in the carriage, and somehow his hand got trapped behind her and started to caress her back.
Smithfield Market was crowded. “Mostly horses here,” Damon said cheerfully.
“Really?” her father said. “Is this a good place for horseflesh, then? I always thought that Tattersall’s was the best venue.”
“You were right. Smithfield is not a good place. You’ll find many an old horse with dyed hair, with an owner promising he’s a yearling.”
“Humph,” her father said, stumping ahead of them.
Roberta adjusted her parasol to keep off the sun.
“Can you see the mermaid yet?” Teddy asked.
“The marquess will see her first,” his father said. “Why don’t you walk with him?”
Teddy darted ahead and that very second Damon spun Roberta about and pulled her into a kiss. She gasped in surprise, his tongue slipped between her lips, and the kiss hardened. He kissed her lingeringly, possessively, as if they weren’t surrounded by crowds of farmers pushing their way toward the horse auction.
“Anyone can see us!” she gasped a moment later, staring up at him.
“I’m making a spectacle of you,” he said with a smile in his voice.
She blinked at him and then looked around. No one was showing the faintest interest in a pair of daft gentry kissing in the sunshine.
And even looking at his eyes made her feel hungry. Hungry…as if it didn’t matter how people stared at her. As if—
She came up on her tiptoes and kissed him.
A man pushed by them, and shouted back over his shoulders, “Get yerself a bed, then!”
Damon laughed, of course, but Roberta didn’t even flinch. “I feel like kissing you,” she whispered.
His eyes flared, but he shook his head. “No more kisses. There are spectacles and then there are spectacles. And I’m wearing a French cut-away.”
She frowned at him, and then followed his eyes…down the front of his body. Sure enough, his coat was cut back in a beautiful arch, the better to show off the twelve pearl buttons on his waistcoat, his breeches…and something else.
Roberta opened her mouth—but Teddy was on them like a tiny whirlwind. “Come on,” he cried. “What are you doing? The mermaid is in a boat!”
“A boat?” Roberta said, allowing him to pull her away. “But this is land.”
“I know, but she has her own boat anyway.”
She did, indeed, have a boat. It was a round little vessel, a boat-shaped cottage. It was painted a faded blue, with curly letters on the side that read Versifying Mermaid. A small line of people waited restlessly outside. A burly fellow was timing the line, and let another person in every few minutes.
“Where do they go?” Teddy asked.
“Out the back door,” his father said.
Roberta was looking at the line, which consisted solely of men. “Damon, go and ask that person in front if the mermaid is appropriately dressed for a young boy,” she said.
Damon looked down at Teddy, dancing on one leg. “You must be joking. We couldn’t leave, even if she is wearing nothing more than a fish scale on one toe.”
“Yes, we can,” she said firmly. So Damon made his way over to the guard in front.
“Where’s Papa going?” Teddy said. “And where’s your papa going?”
Her father was standing before a tent marked Harry Hunks, Performing Bear. He turned around and beckoned. “This bear can blow a whistle and dance a jig,” he shouted.
Teddy was there in a second, so Roberta followed them into the cool interior of the tent. The smell of bear was overpowering, however, and she backed out directly, straight into Damon.
His arms came around her from behind. “I like that,” he said. He pulled her more firmly against him.
“Your cut-away coat?” she asked, pulling away.
“There are some things a gentleman can’t control,” he said. “You should have seen me when I was younger.”
“Really? How so?”
“Fourteen was an interesting year.”
“Wasn’t that when Miss Kendrick began sending you perfumed letters?”
He nodded, a lock of hair brushing his eyes. “I had absolutely no control of my body.”
“You mean…” Her eyes slid down his front.
He nodded. “If someone had even mentioned a versifying mermaid, I would have thought about mermaid breasts and been rigid for the next hour. Maybe you and I can play mermaids later?” He grinned wolfishly at her.
She smiled, but said, “What of this particular mermaid? Is she adequately clothed?”
“Oh yes,” Damon said. “The man there indicated that this mermaid was pulled from the water twenty-two years ago and has been versifying ever since. He got a bit offended at the idea that she might not be proper fare for children and said that she was a vicar’s daughter. Now that I doubt, but if I were a thirty-year-old mermaid, I’d avail myself of some friendly seaweed. Is Teddy in there with the bear, by the way?”
“And the smell,” Roberta said.
Suddenly they heard her father’s voice, loud and clear through the tent flap. “Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Clay, that you starve the bear if he doesn’t behave?”