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She lifted her gaze to his. Her humor had fled, and though he did not detect her previous bitterness in her expression, he could not determine her mood. His own anger had cooled, leaving behind embarrassment and a growing arousal—and her proximity made him doubly aware of both.

With the barest of smiles, she said, "You have the most amazing countenance—I can read every thought you have."

His hands stilled, the handkerchief half-wound around her thumb.

Absently raising the fingers of her uninjured hand to his brow, she smoothed back the forelock that had fallen into his eyes and murmured, "The lift of your eyebrow, the crinkle of your eyes, the corner of your mouth: they all give you away." She touched each feature as she spoke; admiration filled her expression, surprise—as if this was the first time she had looked at him. "It is so rare for a man to have such finely drawn features as you, and yet there is no doubt of your masculinity."

The tilt of her head was assessing; dumbstruck, he could not reply.

"You are truly beautiful; it is no wonder Colin has always kept you close to his side. You are a magnificent accessory, the perfect complement to him." Though her words stung, he knew she intended no insult; and, taken aback by her compliments, he could find no reply. He finished tying off the makeshift bandage in silence.

She looked past him, her eyes soft and unfocused. "When we were younger, I used to wish that you weren't so unsuitable, that one day you would discover you were the long-lost son of a duke or—"

He drew a sharp breath, and the sudden heavy weight in his chest made his voice harsh. "Don't be ridiculous."

Her tiny smile froze in place and became brittle again. "Yes, it was ridiculous. All of my dreams were." Pulling away from him, she grabbed the sword and yanked it from the stone. It slid out easily, as if from liquid.

Anthony turned away from her, collapsing onto the sofa before his legs gave out beneath him. Even worse than not being noticed, he decided, was being noticed and found wanting.

Some masochistic impulse made him watch the sway of her hips as she walked toward the earl's mahogany desk and placed the sword on its display stand. She paused for a moment, cast him a calculating glance, and slid her forefinger along the flat side of the blade. He followed its progress, and the image of that simple touch on his skin rose, unbidden.

When had her movements become so sensual? Was it deliberate?

Do not be a fool, he admonished himself. He was unsuitable. Considering the hopelessness of a match between them, only a witless idiot would think there was a possibility of his having her.

And the proof, he supposed, was that the most brainless part of his body liked the idea of having her very much.

"Are you upset with my father?" she asked softly—too softly. As if she were planning something.

He answered her carefully, uncertain of the motive behind her question. "No," he said finally. "I'm disappointed in myself for expecting too much."

She nodded, and her cool smile did not fade. "I did, too. We make quite a pair." She tapped the sword with her fingernail and then stepped away from the desk. "Perhaps I should find a way to let him know how disappointed I am."

Anthony nodded absently, disliking the direction the conversation was taking and searching wildly for a topic that would ease the icy tension that lingered in the room, that would leave them on a better footing before he left.

Before he could speak, Emily said, "I did have one other astounding revelation today. A rumor came to my attention, and I had to ascertain its truth for myself. I have just come from Cranborne Street, off Leicester Square."

Grateful that he would not have to come up with a subject, and relieved that she had shifted her attention to gossip, Anthony grinned slightly and prepared to laugh at some entertaining on dit.

Her color high, she added, "While I was there, I learned that if a woman takes a man's organ into her mouth, she can make him do anything she wishes."

He blinked, his smile paralyzed on his face, his mind unable to comprehend that the statement had come from her, his body, however, understood perfectly. The sudden, superb ache of his erection broke through the numbing hold shock had placed on his other emotions: jealousy, concern, and desire fought to place words on his tongue.

Emily stole them away by lifting her skirts, straddling him, and capturing his lips with hers.

Chapter Two

There is not always a choice; alternatives are not always to be had;

there is not always a decision to make.

— The Doyen Scrolls

Surprise held Anthony's mouth immobile and closed under hers, and she slid her tongue along his bottom lip, demanding entry. The practiced caress brought Anthony to his senses; Emily shouldn't know how to kiss like that, and she certainly shouldn't be on his lap with her hemline bunched around her thighs.

He grasped her wrists tightly and pushed her upper body away from his. Her weight shifted against his rigid sex, and her name was a hoarse groan instead of a stern warning. "Emily!"

She stared at him, her face set. Her lips glistened from the kiss, but her expression was determined rather than passionate.

Deliberately, she rocked against him.

His breath hissed out from between clenched teeth as he fought for control. He should have tumbled her onto the floor, removed her from his person, and stopped this madness. He couldn't; she was a lady, a friend, and should be treated as such-even when she behaved as shockingly as this. Instead, he gave her a shake. "Do you wish to bring ruin to your family? Who taught you this?"

"A little bird," she replied; he shook her again for her flippancy and had to grit his teeth. Each movement of her body ground against his erection. "A bird of paradise," she added, her eyes flashing as if she dared him to reprimand her. "I had questions; she answered them."

"You went to a courtesan?" He couldn't begin to fathom it. He recalled her mention of a visit to Cranborne Street; though no longer a fashionable part of London, it had some claim to respectability. A courtesan—a very discreet one—could possibly pose as a widow and live among the gentry there. "Why?"

Her mouth pressed into a firm line. She turned her head and pulled against his grip.

Torn between relief and regret that she'd apparently abandoned her attempt at seduction, Anthony released her wrists. Her hands fell to her sides, drawing his gaze down; a strangled sound caught in his throat.

An ivory stripe of bare thigh peeked out above a garter of white ribbon. Pink silk stockings embraced her slim legs and trim ankles. As he watched, Emily's fingers curled around her hem, and she raised the dress higher, fine muslin sliding over satin skin.

Realizing that her seduction hadn't ceased and his resistance would soon fail, he wrapped his hands around her waist and began lifting her away from him. She countered by slipping her hand between them, firmly stroking his length, up and down.

Even with two layers of clothing between her palm and his shaft, he felt every inch of the scandalous caress burning into him. His hips jerked, nearly unseating her; he steadied her automatically, his hands trembling against her waist.

"Good God, Emily," he said desperately. "Stop this."

Her fingers plunged beneath the placket at the front of his breeches; without his being aware of it, she'd unfastened the buttons. She pulled at the front of his drawers as she nimbly untied the tapes.