“Well, good night then, Lord Banbury.”
Stephen St. John, Viscount Banbury, eventually to be Earl of Stafford if his recalcitrant, impossible father ever dropped dead, glared at the interloper who’d now been his wife for all of ten hours. The silence extended; the farewell grew awkward.
What repartee, precisely, was a man supposed to express at a time such as this? Sleep well? Pleasant dreams? See you in the morning? Or how about more aptly, What was I thinking, marrying a woman I don’t know? Have I gone mad?
Nothing seemed appropriate. Astoundingly, he blushed, his cheeks heating with an embarrassing dose of discomfort.
The wedding guests were gone, the house had been tidied by what was left of his domestic staff, and he’d been about to leave too, when he’d stumbled upon her floating down the stairs. She was scarcely dressed, clad in a diaphanous green negligee and robe that hardly covered anything that ought to be covered. Apparently, as she’d concluded that he was already off to his merrymaking, she’d believed herself to be alone in the massive, drafty domicile. Unable to sleep, she’d descended to fetch a relaxing refreshment.
Her hair was blond, the shade of ripened wheat. It was unbound and hanging down her back to brush her bottom, and he was gravely troubled by the display. She was much too forward and assured, prancing about in her nightwear before an unfamiliar man, yet she didn’t appear perturbed.
Yes, he was her husband, but nevertheless, they were strangers.
Even though he hadn’t meant to, he evaluated her graceful figure. He was only human! He couldn’t be expected to avoid looking at what was flaunted in plain sight.
She was much too shapely, and he squirmed uneasily and inspected the floor, only to be confronted by her feet.
Her toenails were painted red! The splash of bright crimson in the dull salon seemed immoderately sexy, out of place, incongruous and irreconcilable with the individual he pictured her to be.
Ordinarily, he was an urbane, sophisticated fellow, renowned and lauded for his aplomb, his polish and poise and, most particularly, for his way with the ladies. Yet with his new bride, he’d been transformed into a bungling, gauche oaf.
From the moment earlier in the day, when she’d waltzed into the parlor, promptly at eleven, he’d behaved like an ass. Throughout the abbreviated ceremony, then the afternoon of toasting and celebration, and the interminable meal that had wrapped up the festivities, he’d constantly tripped over himself, saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, and generally making a fool of himself.
She likely presumed that she’d wed a moronic buffoon.
He was dawdling in the doorway, acting like a simpleton, powerless to depart, but incapable of maintaining any sort of intelligent conversation.
“Don’t let me keep you,” she obligingly said. Showing him her back, she strolled to the other side of the room, where surprisingly, she helped herself to a stout glass of brandy.
During the excessive, protracted gala, he’d covertly watched her. When his rowdy, wild friends had still been in attendance, she’d had naught to drink. While she’d ceaselessly had a beverage in her hand, he’d never seen her take so much as a sip. So why now?
He was used to consorting with a rather decadent type of lady, so he normally wouldn’t have heeded whether she’d imbibed or not. Usually, he paid no heed to what a female did or didn’t do. But it bothered him to discover that she was so nonplussed by events that she could blithely delight in a nightcap.
“Enjoy your…revelry,” she added. “I’m sure it will be mostentertaining.”
From the beginning, he’d recognized that she had a husky, come-hither voice. When she talked, she always sounded as though she were on the verge of mentioning an indecent proposition. Thus, it was difficult to focus on the content of her speech, because the words kept getting lost in the sensual timbre of any utterance.
Narrowing his gaze, he studied her rounded behind, trying to deduce if she was mocking him with her flip adieu. Was she jesting? Was she serious?
She had to be joking. She had to be!
Though she’d readily and freely yielded to his ultimatum that theirs would be a marriage of convenience, how could she blandly acquiesce to his rushing out to cavort with others on their wedding night? Had she no feelings in the matter? Was she genuinely unconcerned about where he went or what he did? What woman—what wife!—could be so tolerant, so unmoved? What kind of person was she?
There was the crux of his problem. He had no idea.