A Notorious Vow (The Four Hundred #3)(7)

By: Joanna Shupe

At first, he had believed her repulsed by him, unwilling to even meet his eyes. Then he’d noticed her avoiding the eyes of the other men in the room, too.

People must think you are lonely but it sounds like heaven to me.

That comment had burrowed between his ribs to lodge somewhere in his frozen chest. What on earth could a society girl—an aristocrat, no less—have to complain about? The city was hers to conquer if she wished. No doubt the young men fell all over themselves to gain her favor.

So why did he sense her unhappiness?

And why did he have this ridiculous urge to make her smile?

A string of curse words paraded through his head. Nothing good could come of this. Nothing good at all. His stance on visitors had not changed—especially unmarried, unchaperoned visitors.

Years ago, he’d felt differently. After returning from school in Connecticut, he had been determined to take his place in society. He’d refused to hide or restrict his social activity because of his deafness. He went everywhere: the opera, the theater, dinner . . . Until he had realized what people were saying about him, not knowing he could read lips.

He is one of those imbeciles.

Have you seen the way he moves his hands?

His voice is so strange.

Even his lover, Adrianna, had turned on him. He’d caught her talking to her friends when she thought he was unable to see her. Oh, Oliver is fine for right now, but we won’t be together long. He is ridiculously rich, you know.

He had been devastated. Was that all they saw, either an imbecile or a large bank account? Would his accomplishments and interests never count for anything? He’d worked so hard at school to fit in with the hearing world . . . and all that painstaking effort had failed. No matter what he did, they still saw him as deficient.

Then his parents died. First, his mother from cancer and then his father from heart troubles not even a year later.

Hurt and anger had embittered Oliver, and he had retreated into a world of his own making. He sent his sister off to boarding school, ensuring she would receive a proper education instead of solely being groomed for the role of future society hostess. That had left him with the house, his laboratory, the staff . . . and those were the only things he needed.

The rest of the world could fuck right off.

And then this woman had injured herself in his gardens. The back of Oliver’s neck prickled, an eerie sensation that things were spinning out of his control. He did not like it, not one bit.

There was no need for him to change . . . nor did he need change forced on him.

Therefore, it was imperative that Christina left and not return—not even to meander through his gardens.

He strode toward her, his steps full of purpose and fury. She skimmed around a hedge and then her head snapped up, probably from the sound of his shoes on the gravel. Nearly stumbling, she came to a stop and gave him a shy wave. He narrowed his gaze. “Follow me,” he signed, an easy enough motion to understand.

Spinning on his heel, he made his way to the greenhouse laboratory, not bothering to make sure she followed. He knew she would. Because, if she didn’t he would chase her down.

He turned the latch and held open the door for her. She passed through and he closed them in, grateful for the warm humidity inside his workshop. Now they would not freeze when he took her to task.

“Good morning,” she said, removing her gloves. Apollo bounded in behind her, his dog suddenly more interested in Christina than in his owner. The traitor.

Oliver withdrew his pencil and ledger. What are you doing here? He held it out to her.

She stopped petting Apollo to read the words. Then she passed the ledger back to him. “I did not intend for you to see me. I merely wished to cut through your gardens.”

I told you not to come here again.

“No, you said you preferred to be left alone. I left you alone.”

Semantics. You knew I did not want you to come back here.

“I had no intention of disrupting your day. I know you do not wish to be disturbed.”

This is inappropriate. You should be chaperoned for visits such as this, even in the gardens.

Her brows lowered. “Are you planning to ravish me?”

If I were, I would hardly admit it to you.

She rolled her eyes when she finished reading. “You do not seem like the ravish type.”

He blinked, uncertain he had read her lips correctly. Looking down at the paper, he wrote, I am unable to ravish because I am deaf?

“No.” Horror washed over her expression. “I did not mean it that way. I am certain the deaf are competent ravishers when the mood strikes. I meant because you seem too nice.”

Nice? Him? No one had ever called him nice, not any of the times he had gone out in public. Prickly yes. Often dumb. Stubborn, most definitely.