The Earl folded his arms and waited. His frown did not diminish.
“If there is a shred of decency in you,” she began.
He lifted his brows. “I thought I was devoid of morals.”
She winced, regretting her earlier words, but there was nothing to be done. She could not retract what she had said earlier, so she forged ahead.
“You have no need of someone like Josephine. Someone of your, well, stature can command any number of other women. Josephine is not worth your time.”
“Rather harsh words for a cousin you adore.”
“I meant…” she bristled.
“I know what you meant, Miss Merrill, but my mind has not changed on the matter since last we met, and I do not appreciate attempts to meddle in my affairs. I wonder that your cousin approves of it, but I take it she does not realize you are here?”
Again, she flushed. “I am here on her behalf, even if she does not approve of what I do. I realize I risk her affection, but I could not stand idly by and watch her demise. She may not know it, but she requires my aid.”
“Noble if not condescending sentiments. Your cousin is a grown woman, not in leading strings.”
“She is young and does not appreciate the arts a man of your sort would employ.”
This time it was he who turned color. “A man of my sort?”
Would he have her explain all to him? Heloise wondered, feeling a dangerous pit opening up before her.
“I think you know to what I allude,” she evaded.
“If by that you mean your shallow view of my association with women…”
Heloise blinked. He was the rake and would yet criticize her character? The man was beyond monstrous.
He continued, “…I quite understand people of your sort and how threatened you feel by my enlightened position on women.”
“Enlightened? Is that how you defend your wanton ways?”
He clucked his tongue. “Tisk, tisk. You make it sound vulgar, Miss Merrill. Why scorn the innate urges, the natural passions of our bodies?”
Her heart began to pound once more. Something in the way he spoke, the rich tenor of his voice, the enunciation – as if he were caressing the words – made her skin warm.
“The rhetoric of one who lacks the resolve to resist the base desires…” she responded, but her tone lacked confidence even to her own ears.
He took a step towards her, and despite the lethargy she had felt from her journey and lack of sleep, every nerve in her body came to life.
“Are you possessed of such resolve, Miss Merrill?” he inquired.
His gaze seemed to probe into her past, and she was sure he saw it all.
“That is none of your concern and irrelevant to the matter at hand,” she said quickly.
“You made it my concern when you chose to meddle in my affairs,” he replied grimly, advancing another step.
“I think, I am not possessed of the same, er, passions as you,” she answered, taking a step back.
“Indeed? How sad. Perhaps that can be changed.”
“I have no wish to change.”
“You may feel differently in three days' time.”
Three days' time? What did he mean by that? Instinctively, she glanced towards the door, her escape, but it was too far. And he stood in her path.
“I have no plans to keep my own company for the next three days,” he elaborated. “And as you have deprived me of Miss Josephine, you will have to take her place.”
“I have no intention of staying,” she protested, trying to stave off the panic that gripped her heart. But it was not the fear of immediate harm that alarmed her. It was…the flush of excitement coursing in her own body, a sensation reminiscent of a time long ago when she did not ignore her curiosity or the urges of the flesh.
“Your intentions matter not. My coach will return you home only on my command.”
“You mean to keep me here? Against my will?” she cried.
“You came of your own free will, Miss Merrill. I would have advised against it.”
“I am to be your prisoner?” she attempted with what little indignation she could muster to mask her agitation.
He advanced towards her, but she stepped back until the back of her knees struck the bed. The nearness of his body took the air from her. The flush in her body grew.
“Do you know what I do with meddlers?” he asked.
Trapped between him and the bed behind her, all she could do was hold his gaze. Her mind grasped for a rejoinder but came up empty.
“I punish them, Miss Merrill.”
Em Brown © 2013 | All Rights Reserved
Em Brown © 2013 | All Rights Reserved