Only darkness here, darling. Don’t waste your time.
“If my reputation worries you,” he said, as much for his own benefit as hers, “it needn’t. Seducing you would never even cross my mind.”
She nodded. “Thank you for your assurances, Mr. Reynaud. I appreciate them very much indeed.”
What a perfectly timed reminder. Really, the man had a way of withering Alexandra’s pride to a dried-up husk. One moment, he was listening to her babble away about comets, hanging on her words, and complimenting her earlobe, and the next, he left her with a few parting words to remind her that she was a fool.
Embroidery wasn’t her favorite hobby, but Alex planned to stitch those words on a sampler and hang it above her bed:
—Mr. Charles Reynaud, 1817
She no longer wondered at his popularity with women. Devilish charm simply radiated from him, like one of nature’s essential forces. Gravity, magnetism, electricity . . . Chase Reynaud’s masculine appeal.
His every lopsided grin or low, teasing word sent a frisson of excitement rushing along her skin. That alone wouldn’t be a problem. But then her brain caught up all those sensations, rolled them into a ball, and set it on a shelf. As if that quivering mass of feminine reaction was something that deserved to take up space. As if it needed a name.
Well, Alexandra would label it, right this moment.
She heard the creak of a door down at street level, and she gave in to the temptation to peer over her windowsill. There he stood, waiting on the pavement in that immaculately tailored black topcoat. He gave his cuffs a smart tug and ran a hand through his tawny brown hair. A pair of matched bays pulled a fashionable blue-lacquered phaeton around from the mews, and the groom handed him the reins.
Off he went to spend his evening enjoying the company of others. And here Alex was left mooning over him like a fool.
She readied herself for bed and put out the candle. And then she lay awake far too long listening for the sounds of a returning phaeton, or the creak of a door. Not that it was any of her concern what time he returned home, or whether he returned at all.
She must have fallen asleep at some point, because she woke to the sensation of someone poking her in the arm.
She opened her eyes halfway. “Rosamund? Is that you?”
Now Alex was awake. She sat bolt upright in bed. “Dead?”
“Millicent. The consumption took her overnight.”
The doll. She meant the doll.
“You gave me a fright.” Alex pressed a hand to her chest. Perhaps her heart would stop racing in a day or two.
“The funeral is prepared. We’ll be waiting on you in the nursery.”
Rosamund was gone before Alex could inquire further. She rose from bed and hastily dressed. Given her disorientation in a new room and the abrupt way she’d been roused from sleep, she didn’t do a very good job of it. After two attempts, she decided she could live with misaligned buttons for the moment, and three passes of the hairbrush would have to be enough. Clenching a few hairpins in her teeth, she made her way into the corridor, winding her hair into a knot as she went.
Alex hoped the standard of attire at this funeral wasn’t overly formal. She’d just jabbed the second pin into her haphazard chignon when she entered the nursery. Millicent lay in the center of the bed, staring up blankly from the swaddling of her shroud. The girls stood on either side. Daisy wore a scrap of black lace netting draped over her head as a veil.
Alex struggled, mightily, not to burst out laughing. If for no other reason than that doing so would launch the remaining hairpins in her mouth like missiles.
She completed her upsweep, composed herself, and approached the bed. To Rosamund, she whispered, “What happens now?”
A male voice breezed into the room. “Such a tragedy. Deepest sympathies. A grievous loss.”
Mr. Reynaud had joined the group.
Alex slid a cautious glance in his direction. He wore the same black coat and boots he’d been wearing the night previous. His cuffs were undone, however, and his cravat was missing.
Probably draped over an antler prong somewhere.
He walked toward Daisy and made a deep bow of condolences before holding out his arm so that she could pin something around it.
She recalled his words from a few days ago. Millicent is Daisy’s doll. She kills the thing at least once a day.
So this was why he’d been wearing the black armband a few mornings past, when they’d conducted that farce of an interview in his not-at-all-a-gentleman’s retreat. He hadn’t been in mourning. Not for a human being, at any rate. Perhaps she shouldn’t have judged him quite so harshly.