Besides, if you wouldn’t duel with Lord Everly when he called you a cheat, you certainly wouldn’t harm poor Lord Howard merely for touching my arm.”
“Wouldn’t I?” he asked softly. “Those are two very different issues.”
Not for the first time, Elizabeth found herself at a loss to understand him. Suddenly his presence was vaguely threatening again; whenever he stopped playing the amusing gallant he became a dark, mysterious stranger. Raking her hair off her forehead, she glanced out the window. “It must be after three already. I really must leave.” She surged to her feet, smoothing her skirts. “Thank you for a lovely afternoon. I don’t know why I remained. I shouldn’t have, but I am glad I did…”
She ran out of words and watched in wary alarm as he stood up. “Don’t you?” he asked softly.
“Don’t I what?”
“Know why you’re still here with me?”
“I don’t even know who you are?” she cried. “I know about places you’ve been, but not your family, your people. I know you gamble great sums of money at cards, and I disapprove of that-“
“I also gamble great sums of money on ships and cargo-will that improve my character in your eyes?”
“And I know,” she continued desperately, watching his gaze turn warm and sensual, “I absolutely know you make me excessively uneasy when you look at me the way you’re doing now!”
“Elizabeth,” he said in a tone of tender finality, “you’re here because we’re already half in love with each other.”
“Whaaat? she gasped.
“And as to needing to know who I am, that’s very simple to answer.” His hand lifted, grazing her pale cheek, then smoothing backward, cupping her head. Gently he explained, “I am the man you’re going to marry.”
“Oh, my God!”
“I think it’s too late to start praying,” he teased huskily.
“You-you must be mad,” she said, her voice quavering.
“My thoughts exactly,” he whispered, and, bending his head, he pressed his lips to her forehead, drawing her against his chest, holding her as if he knew she would struggle if he tried to do more than that. “You were not in my plans, Miss Cameron.”
“Oh, please,” Elizabeth implored helplessly, “don’t do this to me. I don’t understand any of this. I don’t know what you want.”
“I want you.” He took her chin between his thumb and forefinger and lifted it, forcing her to meet his steady gaze as he quietly added, “And you want me.”
Elizabeth’s entire body started to tremble as his lips began descending to hers, and she sought to forestall what her heart knew was inevitable by reasoning with him. “A gently bred Englishwomen,” she shakily quoted Lucinda’s lecture, “feels nothing stronger than affection. We do not fall in love.”
His warm lips covered hers. “I’m a Scot,” he murmured huskily. “We do.”
“A Scot!” she uttered when he lifted his mouth from hers.
He laughed at her appalled expression. “I said ‘Scot,’ not ‘ax murderer.”
A Scot who was a gambler to boot! Havenhurst would land on the auction block, the servants turned off, and the world would fall apart. “I cannot, cannot marry you.”
“Yes, Elizabeth,” he whispered as his lips trailed a hot path over her cheek to her ear, “you can.