“Give that here.” Alex took control of the telescope and had a look for herself. Once she’d adjusted the instrument, she could make out the lady as well as if they were standing mere inches apart. The woman had golden hair tucked in an elegant upswept style, and she wore a gown of deep purple satin with matching elbow-length gloves. Jewels sparkled at her throat.
Daisy leaned over the window ledge. “She’s rather beautiful.”
“Take care, Daisy,” Rosamund murmured. “Or else Millicent might contract the pox.”
Alex was aghast. “You shouldn’t speak of such things,” she whispered. “You shouldn’t even know of such things.”
“I’ve chased away every governess and been sent down from three schools, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had an education.” Rosamund smiled. “And you told us yourself, ten is old enough to be a ship’s boy. They see a great deal more.”
From the street below, Alex heard a deeply male murmur of seduction. She couldn’t make out distinct words, but their intended effect was plain.
She burned with indignation. The scoundrel. How dare he parade his paramours directly beneath the noses of two innocent children. Well, perhaps one innocent child and one Rosamund.
“That’s enough.” Alex closed the telescope. “To bed with you both.”
Both girls stamped and pleaded. “Not yet.”
“We’ll continue another evening.” Alex herded them to bed. “I can’t permit you to witness this, and—”
Another giggle from the street below.
Alex cringed at the sound. “I just can’t. To bed with you, then.”
“No.” Daisy stood firm. “Are we pirates, or aren’t we? Pirates don’t retreat.”
Chase attempted to extricate himself from Lady Chawton’s arms. She’d had one or three too many glasses of champagne tonight, and her embrace was all gloves and no dignity.
“I,” she said in a breathy voice, “am going to do the most wicked things to your body. All. Night. Long.”
Chase sighed. He didn’t have “all night” in him. His plan had been “some of the night.”
And as of this moment, he was leaning toward “none of the night.”
This wasn’t turning out the way he’d hoped. Winifred was beautiful, no question. Witty, too. They’d been flirting for years at balls and parties, bringing their sensual tension to a slow simmer. Yet he’d always held off on making an advance. On reflection, he supposed—and God, it was a worrisome thing to admit—he’d been saving her for a special occasion.
Or, in this case, an emergency. He had never been in such desperate need of a good, hard bout of bedsport.
Now he teetered on the brink of calling it off. He just wasn’t in the mood, for some reason.
A small reason, really. One with black hair and eyes that swallowed up rooms. A reason possessing the most tender touch he’d ever known and a voice that curled softly in the air, like smoke.
He snapped to attention.
Winifred pouted. “Do let’s go inside.” She snuggled closer and gave a dramatic shiver. “It’s cold.”
The night was unseasonably warm, even for July.
“Perhaps you’re taking a chill, darling.” He motioned for the groom to remain, rather than leading the team back to the mews. “If you’re ill, I’d better see you home. We can do this another night.”
“Don’t be a bore.” She looped her arms around his neck and swayed like a pendulum in his arms. A pendulum on opiates. “You’ve kept me waiting a long time for this. Far too long.”
“Then what are a few days more? The waiting will make it all the sweeter.” He tried to peel her gloved fingers from the back of his neck, but just when he’d worked one hand free, the other clamped down. He began to wonder if her purple gloves were adorned with octopus suckers.
“What a cruel tease you are.” She leaned forward, falling against his chest, and whispered vampishly in his ear. “Be careful, or I’ll tease you back.” With a satin-gloved finger, she traced the whorls of his ear. A pleasant enough sensation, but it didn’t precisely send lust bolting to his groin. Then she slipped her finger in his ear. All the way to the knuckle. Probing and wiggling.
She murmured, “Do you like that, you naughty boy?”
Actually, no. No, he didn’t.
He batted her hand away, and her finger dislodged from his ear canal with a popping sound.
That was enough. The evening was over.
First, Winifred was drunk.
Second, her sexual overtures were decidedly strange. Chase didn’t mind strange. In other times and other places, he’d enjoyed far stranger. But not tonight.
Third, and most importantly, he couldn’t get Miss Mountbatten out of his mind. Oh, he could coax himself to try panting and sweating her out of his bloodstream. But that wasn’t his style. Chase liked to think he possessed too much respect for women to make love to one while thinking of another. He had too much pride, as well. Halfhearted encounters would tarnish his reputation—one he’d polished to a glossy sheen with hands and lips and tongue.