Perhaps I could help,” Marcus suggested pleasantly, stopping beside her. “If you would tell me what you’re looking for.”
“Something romantic. Something with a happy ending. There should always be a happy ending, shouldn’ there?”
Marcus reached out to finger a trailing lock of her hair, his thumb sliding along the glowing satin filaments. He had never thought of himself as a particularly tactile man, but it seemed impossible to keep from touching her when she was near. The pleasure he derived from the simplest contact with her set all his nerves alight. “Not always,” he said in reply to her question.
Lillian let out a bubbling laugh. “How very English of you. How you all love to suffer, with your stiff…stiff…” She peered at the book in her hands, distracted by the gilt on its cover. “…upper lips,” she finished absently.
“We don’t like to suffer.”
“Yes, you do. At the very least, you go out of your way to avoid enjoying something.”
By now Marcus was becoming accustomed to the unique mixture of lust and amusement that she always managed to arouse in him. “There’s nothing wrong with keeping one’s enjoyments private.”
Dropping the book in her hands, Lillian turned to face him. The abruptness of the movement resulted in a sharp wobble, and she swayed back against the shelves even as he moved to steady her with his hands at her waist. Her tip-tilted eyes sparkled like an array of diamonds scattered over brown velvet. “It has nothing to do with privacy,” she informed him. “The truth is that you don’t want to be happy, bec—” She hiccupped gently. “Because it would undermine your dignity. Poor Wes’cliff.”
She regarded him compassionately. At the moment, preserving his dignity was the last thing on Marcus’s mind. He grasped the frame of the bookcase on either side of her, encompassing her in the half circle of his arms. As he caught a whiff of her breath, he shook his head and murmured, “Little one…what have you been drinking?”
“Oh…” She ducked beneath his arm and careened to the sideboard a few feet away. “I’ll show you…wonderful, wonderful stuff…this.” Triumphantly she plucked a nearly empty brandy bottle from the edge of the sideboard and held it by the neck. “Look what someone did…a pear, right inside! Isn’ that clever?” Bringing the bottle close to her face, she squinted at the imprisoned fruit. “It wasn’ very good at first. But it improved after a while. I suppose it’s an ac”—another delicate hiccup— “acquired taste.”
“It appears you’ve succeeded in acquiring it,” Marcus remarked, following her.
“You won’ tell anyone, will you?”
“No,” he promised gravely. “But I’m afraid they’re going to know regardless. Unless we can sober you in the next two or three hours before they return. Lillian, my angel…how much was in the bottle when you started?”
Showing him the bottle, she put her finger a third of the way from the bottom. “It was there when I started. I think. Or maybe there.” She frowned sadly at the bottle. “Now all that’s left is the pear.” She swirled the bottle, making the plump fruit slosh juicily at the bottom. “I want to eat it,” she announced.
“It’s not meant to be eaten. It’s only there to infuse the—Lillian, give the damned thing to me.