He wasn’t leading any longer, but overwhelming her instead.
Perhaps that was his intent. To hide behind intimacy. Draw her close as a way of holding her at a distance. Strange. She would have to ponder it further, once pondering was a viable option again. At the moment, his kisses were erasing her mind.
That was probably just what he desired.
Abruptly, he set her back on her feet. As they parted, her impulse was to lower her eyes and back away slowly. However, she forced herself to stand her ground and meet his gaze. She’d given it her best effort. She’d always have that much. If he found nothing memorable about this encounter, at least she would know that she’d held nothing in reserve. There was pride in that.
She searched his face for any hints of approval or disdain. His expression, however, revealed nothing but confusion.
He blinked down at her. “Christ.”
As reactions went, she couldn’t decide how to interpret blasphemy.
Maybe he didn’t know, either.
He took her hands from about his neck, placed them back over her eyes, turned her by the shoulders, and guided her out the kitchen door. “Go back to bed, Miss Mountbatten. This never happened.”
Not for him, perhaps. But for Alexandra . . . ? That kiss had happened. Really, truly happened, in every part of her body. In the days to come, the kiss occupied almost all of her mind, as well.
She now understood why his attentions as a lover were in such great demand. All reason had deserted her when his lips touched hers. Only feeling had remained. Heat and scent and strength and taste.
He’d tasted like . . . she couldn’t name it, precisely. What was the taste of a deep, masculine growl? Part brandy, part sin . . . and wholly intoxicating. Just the memory sent a languid drunkenness seeping through her limbs.
She gave her thoughts a shake.
She had to stop thinking of it and put the encounter behind her. Ever since last autumn, she’d been wondering how kissing him would feel. Now she knew, and her curiosity was satisfied. For him, it amounted to nothing. A boring evening at home.
She must concentrate on her duties instead. This was a brief period of employment. She had a future to finance.
“I’m hemming a handkerchief, Daisy. Would you like to join me?”
Daisy looked at her older sister. Rosamund shrugged in silent, grudging permission, as though to say, If you must.
“Now, then.” Alex beckoned the younger girl closer. “Why don’t you have a go?”
Daisy obediently took the half-finished work from Alex’s hand. Her stitches were hesitant and clumsy, but Alex showered her with praise and encouragement when she reached the corner. “Well done, Daisy.”
“No it’s not. It’s all crooked.”
“But an excellent start. No one should expect perfection on the first attempt. All you need is a bit of practice. After the edges are done, I’ll teach you to embroider letters. We’ll begin with this one.” She traced a letter in marking chalk. “Which letter is that?”
“And can you guess why I’m going to teach that one first?”
The girl smiled shyly. “Because it’s for Daisy.”
“Exactly so.” Alex was pleased. One letter of the alphabet learned, five-and-twenty to go. She would celebrate the smallest of victories. “And once you learn to embroider, you’ll be ready to take on all sorts of projects. Tablecloths, serviettes . . .”
“Serviettes?” Rosamund groaned. “Why would we embroider little flowers and monograms on scraps of cloth meant to catch spittle and dribbled soup? It’s repulsive, if you think about it.”
Alex had never considered it that way, but now that Rosamund mentioned it, it was a bit disgusting.
“It’s not all embroidered serviettes,” she said. “There are countless practical applications for needlework. Every girl should learn to mend a garment.”
“And why don’t boys learn to mend theirs?”
“Some do learn. It was a man who taught me to sew.”
Rosamund arched an eyebrow in skepticism. “Truly?”
“Truly. I was raised on a ship. No ladies aboard.”
“Tell us more,” Daisy urged. “And not about the sewing. Tell us something exciting.”
“What is there to tell?” Rosamund said. “She didn’t meet with any mermaids.”
Alex hesitated. Relating the story to Mr. Reynaud had been imprudent enough. She was supposed to be transforming these two girls into young ladies. Telling her charges about her own wild childhood would scarcely aid her goal.
And if she failed, she wouldn’t be paid.
That was it, then. No tales of the high seas.
Mrs. Greeley came to her rescue. “Miss Mountbatten, you have callers. Two young ladies. They’re outside, on the pavement. I would have asked them to wait on you in the drawing room, if not for the . . .” Her nose wrinkled in disgust. “The animal.”
Two young ladies and an animal? That could mean only one thing.
“Thank you, Mrs. Greeley.” Alex rose to her feet. “Rosamund, if I go down to visit my friends for a half hour, may I trust that I’ll return to find you, your sister, and this room unscathed?”