Chapter Eighteen (completed)
“Say it again. Humbly so.” Alex’ words were like the quick, lethal bite of a viper. Their utter coldness wrenched Rowena back to the present.
“I humbly ask for your forgiveness, Rowena.” Her half-brother was beet-red in the face, which always occurred when he did not have the upper hand. How many times had she seen that same expression on Roderick’s features when her father admonished him in soft tones.
“I did not give you permission to use my wife’s Christian name, sir, so you will repeat it once more.”
“But she is my sister!” Roderick exploded.
“Still you do not have the right to call her so,” Alex stated. “You lost that right when you chased her from her home, last winter, in harsh weather and dire circumstances.”
“I humbly ask for your forgiveness, Lady Ketteridge.” The words seemed to be wrung out of him, and Alex lifted one eyebrow, upon which Rowena gently touched his arm. He looked at her enquiringly but desisted when she very slightly shook her head.
“Well, my dear,” Alex said jovially, “I promised you a dance. Good evening, Daveston.”
He pulled her hand through his arm and set out for the dance floor. It was very crowded with barely room for moving, let alone dancing, and certainly not for waltzing, yet Alex managed to twirl Rowena around the floor’s perimeter in a steady rhythm. Rowena, still shaken by the encounter with her brother, moved stiffly at first.
“Rowie, look at me.” Velvety words which made her raise her head to meet her husband’s penetrating gaze. “Relax.”
And she did and instantly felt like she was floating. Her feet touched the floor only lightly yet she did not loose her balance in the strong grasp of her husband’s arms. Heavens, but he knew how to waltz.
Merciful heavens, but she loved Alex. When had that come about? And why? He was handsome and charming and strong and … he was everything she had always secretly longed for in the man who would be her husband. Everything she thought Peter had been.
Good gracious, but she had to desist! Now was not the time to reflect on her disturbing feelings. Rowena closed her eyes and let herself be swept away in Alex’ arms.
Struggling hard to overcome the fury that was still trying to overwhelm him, Alex concentrated on the slender body in his arms. One, two three, one, two three … watch out for the others, hold her tight … She was trembling, blast it all, she was still overcome by that blackguard’s rude behaviour. He had to comfort her, calm her, and he had not a moment to loose.
“My dear, why do you deny me your beautiful eyes? I cannot know if I am dancing correctly if I cannot revel in those chocolate eyes of yours.”
With a delicious little stab of male satisfaction, Alex watched Rowena’s eyes fly open. She suddenly stumbled, and it was all he could do to cover the faux pas.
“Oh, forgive me, Alex. I was not paying attention.” A rosy pink flush crept up her slender throat, instantly enflaming him. By Jove, what was he doing here? He should be making love to her in their bed at the hotel.
“Perhaps we should leave,” he croaked, astonished by the sound of his own voice. “We have finished what we came here for.”
“Yes, please …” Oh, what longing lay in those two words.
With a skill he did not know he possessed, Alex guided them off the floor, then led her to the entrance hall.
“Send for our carriage and fetch our coats.” Short, hard barks made the footman scurry away.
Dressed in nothing but his silk night shirt, Alex was pacing up and down his bedchamber at the hotel, unrest tugging at him. His wife, confound her, was making him wait. Emma’s wailing greeted them when they entered the sitting room, causing Rowena to rush to her daughter. The infant’s cries were so piercing that she did not even have the time to go to her own room. She began nursing the babe on the sitting room sofa.
It was more than Alex could bear to see those lush breasts revealed.
With a frustrated sigh, he sank into the straight-backed chair near the fireplace and fairly gasped for air while he was waiting, impatient and very aroused. How had it come to this humiliating situation where he could barely refrain from keeping his hands off her? She was just one woman he had bedded, an exquisitely beautiful woman, to be sure, but still only a woman. Only one woman. Rowena …
A realization dawned on him and made him sit down abruptly near the fire place. For the longest of times, Rowena had been the one and only woman he had taken to his bed, since he returned from Waterloo. He had, after all, been gravely injured in the battle. However, what struck him at that moment was the undeniable fact that Rowena, his wife, had become the only woman he ever wanted to bed, from that moment on. How odd …
He tried to remember some of his former bedpartners over the years, tried to recall the gratification they had given him. There had been Daisy, the scullery maid at Ketteridge House, who had deflowered him when he was sixteen. She was twice his age and had introduced him to a few naughty ways to pleasure a woman, which he had not come to appreciate to the full until he was much older. He wondered what had come of her. She was gone when he came back from Waterloo, and nobody seemed to know her whereabouts.
Then there had been Annie, his landlady’s daughter at Cambridge. She was almost forty and very plain, and did the housework chores for her aging, widowed mother. That was a lonely and unfulfilling task, as Alex understood it, for Annie had lured him into her bed one time. It had been a degrading experience which he had never repeated. Instead, he turned to the lightskirts of which there were plenty in a town full of young, healthy men. Yet the doxies were but a poor and shameful way of attaining succour to his manly needs, so he had left off after a while.
It was not until he was on campaign, first in the Peninsula and later in Brussels, that his appetite for women returned. Short, and disappointingly shallow pleasures, that left him longing for something vague and unattainable, a bright light that seemed to retreat ever farther from him over the years. Until Rowena came along and changed everything.
All of a sudden, he recalled their waltz and the strange glance she had given him. He had never seen that unusual light in her deep brown eyes before, and it had shaken him to the bone. How very odd …