He tried to focus on reading the title of the
book she was holding, anything, anything, to avert his attention from her
She was the daughter of an earl, the sister to
his most trusted friend, not some common doxy. His reaction was entirely
inappropriate, not to mention highly disconcerting.
"It's because of my mistress, isn't it?"
Ravensley was saying, and Hawk wondered what else of the conversation he might
have missed, what had led to that assumption. "You don't approve, you never
have, and yet you must realize all gentlemen of good breeding have a
"I don't," Hawk said laconically, which brought
two sets of blue eyes to bear down on him. He wasn't certain why he'd felt a
need to defend himself, to offer up something that might cause him to gain a
bit of favor with Lady Louisa. He was attempting to pursue his matrimonial
goals, and she served as the shortest, least bothersome path to his
destination. Or at least those had been his thoughts before this fiasco of a
"Lady Louisa, you had stated earlier, before
tempers began to flare, that you did not consider us worthy of an
introduction. Would you care to elaborate on how you arrived at your
assessment? After all, it is quite possible you have misconceptions where we
She hugged the book to her chest as though it
could serve as a shield. "When my brother returns home at dawn, after spending
an evening in your company, he reeks of alcohol and cheap perfume. He must be
assisted up the stairs, and his tongue is quite loose. I shall not embarrass
either of us by repeating his utterances. Suffice it to say I know no lady is
safe in your presence, you value only the conquest, but not the prize, and are
usually quick to discard what you have won. How can I recommend you to a lady
for whom I have been given the responsibility of ensuring her life-long
Rubbing his index finger below his lower lip, he
studied her solemnly. She knew quite a bit more about him than he realized.
Little wonder she'd not favor him with an introduction. "I thought her
happiness was dependent upon her acquiring a title. What lady wouldn't be
thrilled by the prospect of becoming a duchess?"
"And when the novelty of being a duchess wears
"Hopefully by the time that happens, I shall have
my heir and my spare, and I will not fault for her for seeking her happiness
"And her pleasure?"
He was taken aback by her question. What did
ladies of quality know about pleasure? In particular what did Lady Louisa
know? Was her knowledge acquired through experience or hearsay? What exactly
had Ravensley mumbled as he was carted up the stairs to bed and what questions
might she have asked him in his vulnerable state when he was most likely to
have a loose tongue? Seemed it was so loose, Hawk was surprised it hadn't
Hawk cleared his throat. "Of course. I would
never deny a woman the opportunity for pleasure."
She regarded him closely as though trying to
determine if his words should be taken at face value or had an underlying
meaning. If she were any other woman, he would have intended a
double-entendre. He was balanced on a fine edge here, feeling as though he
were only just seeing her for the first time, and he could not deny he was
intrigued . . . was in danger of flirting with her, enticing her to see things
his way. Seduction was a great convincer.
"How terribly generous of you," she finally
"I thought so."
"I'm sorry, Your Grace, but you've said nothing
to convince me that I should recommend you. If anything, you have managed to
reinforce my belief you would be entirely unsuitable."
"Your stance seems a bit harsh."
"Be that as it may, it is my stance. However, on
the off-chance I have misjudged your suitability, I won't do anything to
undermine your--or my brother's--attempts to win the ladies over, but neither
will I encourage you to seek their favor, nor shall I encourage them to favor
"My mind is set, Alex," she said, effectively
cutting off whatever plea Ravensley was on the verge of delivering. "Now, if
you gentlemen will excuse me, I have a great many matters that need my
attention before I leave on the morrow."
Hawk came to his feet easily, bowing slightly. "I
appreciate your forthrightness, Lady Louisa."
"I did not mean to be cruel."
"I do not believe you could be cruel if you
tried. I further appreciate that you take your responsibilities so seriously."
"If I may be so bold, Your Grace, perhaps it is
time you did the same."
"I am trying, my lady."
"There are Americans for whom I'm not
"But none so wealthy. And while you may find
fault with me, allow me to reassure you I'm not one to settle for less when I
can have more."
"Yes, based on my brother's ramblings, I
understand you are a man who prefers excess in all things."
Hawk was tempted to snatch the book from her
hands and hurl it at her brother. It was not often he was speechless.
"I believe my point has been taken," she said
quietly. "I bid you a good night." Without waiting for them to reply, she
strolled gracefully from the room.
"I don't believe her refusing to help us,"
Ravensley said, once the door closed behind her.
"I have to wonder exactly what you might have
said while you were bumbling up the stairs," Hawk countered.
"Nothing of any consequence, I assure you. Late
nights, drinking, carousing . . . I suppose I can't blame her for thinking
poorly of us. But no matter. We are still the best of the lot, and we should
have no trouble winning the hands of the Rose sisters. Some brandy to toast
the challenge that awaits us?"
"By all means."
Hawk glanced back toward the door. He feared a
greater challenge than gaining the attention of a Rose daughter might be
hovering on the horizon. For him, the challenge might turn out to be ignoring
the Rose chaperone.