Seduced by His Touch(7)

By: Tracy Anne Warren

A crumpet and a slice of meat pie later, Terrence wiped his mouth on his napkin, then laid his plate aside. “So will I see you next Tuesday at the theater? They’re doing Midsummer, I think.”

Grace returned her teacup to its saucer. “Oh, did I not tell you? I am to go to my aunt Jane’s in Bath for a few weeks. Apparently she wrote to Papa asking if I could stay with her. She wants to take the waters and hates the idea of being in the city alone, despite her wide circle of friends. I didn’t see any way I could refuse.”

“No, nor should you,” he agreed, a slight frown on his brows.

“Not to worry,” she assured him. “I shall take everything I need to begin work on the flower illustrations. You needn’t have any concern that I shall be late in completing the new renderings.”

“I know you won’t. If there is anyone upon whom I can count, it is you. I will only miss you, that’s all.”

“Ah.” She knew she should not encourage him. Still, he was her friend. “And I you,” she said with sincerity. “And I you.”

Late the following evening, Jack claimed his release, his body shuddering, as he lay locked inside his mistress’s arms. She glided her hands over him, her satisfaction plain. He’d taken care to make sure she peaked first, her cries of satisfaction loud enough to awaken the entire household. Luckily her servants were far too well-trained to react, even if they had noticed.

Striving to recover his breath, he rolled onto his back in the wide, satin-covered bed, unabashedly naked, the sheets and counterpane kicked to the floor long ago.

“Heavens, darling, you do that so-o-o-o-o well,” she cooed, reaching out a delicate hand to smooth over his chest. “How soon do you imagine we can do it again?”

He chuckled. “Give me a minute and we’ll see.”

She smiled, her fingers drifting downward with the obvious intent of helping him along. For a moment, he allowed her to play, his interest only mildly reawakened. Then with a gentle touch, he captured her hand and folded it inside his own. “Philipa,” he began, “about the country party next week…”

“Yes?” she said, leaning up so that he had an unobstructed view of her bare breasts and the tendrils of long, dark hair that cascaded over her shoulders in a most enticing way. “Just think of all the fun we’re going to have. I can’t wait to sneak into your room. Or would you rather sneak into mine?”

“I am sorry, but there isn’t going to be any sneaking at all. At least not with me.”

“What do you mean? Of course it will be with you.”

He shook his head. “Not this time. I am afraid something else has occurred. I won’t be attending the party.”

Her smile fell away. “But I don’t understand. You always go into the country this time of year.”

“This year is different.”

Sitting up, he propped himself against the pillows. As he did, he thought about the message he’d received this morning from Danvers advising him about Grace’s plans for the remainder of the summer and fall. Considering all the implications, he set another few inches between himself and Philipa.

“I am going to Bath,” he stated on a solemn rumble.

A hearty laugh rolled from her bow-shaped, cherry-pink lips. “Bath! As in the city? Oh, you’re joshing me. Jack Byron in Bath, that will be the day. I suppose next you’re going to tell me you are journeying there for the waters.”

He lowered his gaze. “Actually, I’m going there for a bride.”

Philipa’s green eyes grew wide. “What! You’re getting married?”

“So it would appear.” Careful to make no mention of names or share the specific details of the agreement he’d struck with Danvers, he confided the basics of his situation to her.

“As you see,” he concluded, “it’s the only viable solution. I wish I could have found an easier way to tell you this, but the unvarnished truth seemed best.”

Sliding from the bed, she retrieved her cream, flowered silk dressing gown from the floor and slipped into it. Tying the fastening at her waist, she turned back. “I can’t say I am glad of the news, but I understand. Obviously, it is the prudent choice. I just never envisioned you entering into a marriage of convenience. This girl. What is she like?”

“She’s…” He broke off, finding himself oddly reluctant to talk about Grace Danvers. She’s interesting, he thought. And unusual, not at all like the women he knew. She was…complex.

Realizing the direction of his thoughts, he brought himself back to the topic at hand. “What does it matter what she’s like?” he said in a cool tone. “I am marrying her because it’s what I must do. Anything else is irrelevant.”