Authors: Julie Johnstone
Tags: #historical romance, #love, #regency romance
Angry, she yanked the fan away. “I do not wish to ruin my reputation in the process of making him jealous,” she hissed.
Lord Thortonberry spread his hands apologetically. “I’m sorry. But it is dark in here, and no one else is watching us but him, I feel sure.”
And Lady Caroline,” Audrey inserted in a cool tone.
Yes, of course,” he agreed. “And Lady Caroline. Please don’t be angry. I did not mean to overstep any boundaries. I only wished to help you. Please.” He grabbed her gloved hand and raised it to his lips. “Say you forgive me.”
Audrey frowned at him and slowly pulled her hand away. “You are acting rather odd tonight.”
I do believe your prey is coming to find you,” Lord Thortonberry said in a dull voice.
A tremor of excitement ran through Audrey. She sat up straighter, pressed her shoulders back and said a silent prayer of thanks for Whitney’s ingeniousness.
Trent paused outside Drake’s box and took a moment to compose himself. His heart pumped at an unmerciful beat. Could worry kill a man? If so, Audrey was going to put him in his grave early with her apparent interest in Thortonberry. It had taken a moment to figure out who it was in Drake’s box sitting by Audrey, but the minute recognition struck it was like a knife plunged into his gut and deftly twisted when Thortonberry had whispered in Audrey’s ear.
Trent drew open the curtains and strode in to the box, making an effort to show no reaction when everyone turned to look at him.
He forced a casual smile to his lips and walked slowly toward the seats. Pausing near Whitney’s side, he inclined his head to his cousin, then gave Sutherland a cold stare. The man better have an excellent reason why he had invited Thortonberry to the theater.
Forcing a casual tone, he said, “Imagine my surprise when I looked over from Primwitty’s box and realized you had a little party in yours. I did not realize there would be four of you here tonight. If you had told me, I would have made arrangements to join you.”
Whitney giggled, capturing Trent’s attention. No doubt, his irrepressible cousin had something to do with Thortonberry being here. She patted the seat beside her, a definite pleased look in her shining eyes. “Come sit by me and enjoy the play.”
I’ll sit up front,” he said and strolled to the seat on the other side of Audrey. He dropped down beside her and faced her. Taking her hand as he had seen Thortonberry dare to do, he kissed it. Her smell of honeysuckle lingered on the silk of her white gloves. He inhaled deeply before releasing her and peering into her eyes. Audrey on an ordinary day stole his breath. Tonight, Audrey’s appearance rendered him speechless. He let his gaze soak up every aspect of her appearance. The way the lights lent a soft glow to her porcelain skin. The gentle slope of her high cheekbones. Her long thick lashes that could alternately veil her eyes like a seductress or make her look the picture of utter innocence.
He moved his gaze lower to the inviting slopes of her breasts displayed by her low-plunging iridescent blue gown. His blood thickened as he counted each beat of his heart. Shadows lay between her curves, taunting him, heating him and promising many nights of sinful pleasure in her arms.
A physical ache for her that rivaled the raw desire to escape that had plagued him the many months he had been imprisoned gripped him now. He stared, unable to look away and unable to speak yet. The jolt of his heart and surging of his blood was far from what he felt for any friend he had ever known. He did not know what to do. How to proceed with her. Yet he knew he would not get up and walk away. That was out of the question.
He cleared his throat. “Your beauty left me speechless. Forgive me.”
She grinned, but to the other side of her Thortonberry grunted.
The marquess leaned over and met Trent’s gaze. “I imagine you’ve said that before.”
Never,” Trent replied, supremely glad it was the truth. Gwyneth had been beautiful but in a calculated way. He had never been rendered speechless by her. Lust crazed? Certainly.
Audrey tsked at Thortonberry. “It’s not well done of you to accuse Lord Davenport of giving the same compliment to another woman that he just gave to me.”
I do apologize,” Thortonberry said, his tone bitter and leaving no room for doubt that he was anything but sorry.
I expect no less from a man of your caliber,” Trent replied.
Gentlemen, if you cannot behave nicely to each other, I am going to make one of you leave,” Audrey threatened.
Wanting to say more but believing Audrey might just do what she had said, Trent sat back. What he really wanted to do was reveal Thortonberry’s proclivity for sleeping with a different demirep every night, but then he would also need to explain why he had been at the hellfire clubs all those nights. He had a sinking suspicion once he did that it would make what he had to say about Thortonberry seem less credible or possibly false. Women could be unpredictable in their temperaments.
As Audrey relaxed back into her seat and trained her gaze on the play, Trent studied her and tried to plan the best course of action. He could not let her be seduced, or worse, end up married to Thortonberry. When she suddenly bursts out laughing at a scene in the play, his heart jerked and an odd warm feeling infused him. What the hell was that? Lust? No, not lust. He felt…happy. Damnation. Her laughter made him happy. When had that become possible?
She leaned forward in her seat and peered intently at the stage. Her face, filled with delighted rapture, made his blood warm further. Her emotions showed in a delightful display of half smiles, dimples and grins.
Gwyneth had rarely laughed and her face had exposed little of what she felt. Whitney had been partially right last night―Audrey seemed nothing like Gwyneth, yet that still did not mean he would ever want to allow himself to be vulnerable to her. One could never be certain what secrets a woman concealed behind her smile. What he did know was those secrets could be sharper than any blade he had ever felt when they cut into you.
Thortonberry drew close to Audrey and whispered something in her ear. She tilted her head back, a smile gracing her lips and her chest shaking with her laughter.
Trent tensed. He did not like seeing another man make her laugh. He frowned, crossed his arms and waited for Thortonberry to try to speak with her again. It took less than a minute.
Thortonberry leaned near her and Trent spoke up. “Do you like the play so far, Lady Audrey?”
She turned to him. “Yes, very much.”
He eyed Thortonberry, gratified to see the man’s lips twitching. Ten minutes later, when Thortonberry shifted his body as if he was going to attempt to speak with Audrey again, Trent launched a countermove. He tapped her on the arm. When she looked his way, he said, “I particularly like this actress. I think she commands comedy very well. Tell me, who are your favorite actresses and why?”
Oh, that’s easy. I adore Sarah Harlowe. She has wonderful comedic timing. I also love Miss Maria Foote. She is wonderful. Do you care for either of them?”
He did actually. He nodded slowly. “I like them both a great deal. I think they are excellent at what they do and true ladies.”
Thortonberry snorted. “No true lady is an actress.”
Trent frowned. “I disagree. I find it small-minded to say a woman is not a lady merely because she is an actress.”
He stiffened when Audrey gaped at him. Belatedly he realized he had freely spoken an opinion he had never voiced. “I realize I’m in the minority.”
The minority,” Thortonberry exclaimed. “I’d say you are the only one in the entire
that holds that opinion.”
No, he is not. I too do not think an actress can not be considered a lady in the sense that being an actress means she is worth less than me. To me, she is the superior woman. She has a talent, whereas I have none.”
Shock rendered Trent unable to speak for a moment, but then a deep admiration filled him. “You are a constant surprise.” He meant it in the best way possible.
For once we agree, Davenport. Lady Audrey, I am shocked to hear you voice an opinion so contrary to what I know your father and brother believe.”
Trent watched Audrey. The smile on her face vanished and her lips turned down in a frown, then pulled into a tight line. He had the urge to throw Thortonberry out of the box for making Audrey lose her smile. He was contemplating actually doing it, when she spoke.
I fear you do not know me very well, Lord Thortonberry, but I cannot blame you for that. I do not voice my opinions on the matter of women overly much, because to do so would be to risk my father’s anger. I beg you not to mention this conversation to Richard.”
To Thortonberry’s credit, he nodded immediately. “I swear I will not. Perhaps I need to expand my views.”
Trent narrowed his gaze. Thortonberry said one thing with words, but his flared nostrils and tight jaw told Trent the man was lying. This was the perfect opportunity to cut Thortonberry out of the conversation for the rest of the night. “What do you think about the new acting techniques being displayed on stage?”
Audrey turned her body toward him and gave Thortonberry her back as she started telling him her views. He relaxed into his seat and listened to her melodic voice. He could sit and listen to her for hours. He had a sudden picture of them strolling in his garden arm in arm and talking for hours on subjects that interested them both such as the theater. His self-control was slipping.
When the theater lights rose, he blinked, surprised to realize that the play was over. Time had passed quickly while he talked with Audrey. He stood, wanting to see the night finished so he could put needed distance between himself and Audrey. “I assume you came here with Whitney?”
Audrey nodded and rose. On the other side of her, Thortonberry stood there like the nuisance he was. Trent pressed his teeth together, intent on removing Thortonberry’s ability to touch Audrey again or even walk beside her, for that matter
May I walk you to Sutherland’s carriage?”
She spared a glance at Thortonberry, which made Trent’s head pound. Biting her lip, she said, “Yes, that would be lovely. We can all walk together.”
Trent barely contained his growl. He moved swiftly and offered his left elbow to Audrey to maneuver her to his other side and away from Thortonberry. Damned if the marquess did not move right along with her. Thortonberry had bollocks. Trent would give the marquess that much, but not any more.
An awkward silence, made more pronounced by the excited chatter around them, descended as they made their way out of the theater and onto Catherine Street. Whitney strolled up to Lord Thortonberry, but Trent could not hear what they were saying over the sounds of clopping horse hooves, whistling wind and calls of farewells.
Whitney pulled Sutherland toward her and away from their group. “Darling, I’m freezing. Audrey, dear, make quick goodbyes and hurry to join us.”
Audrey nodded as Whitney and Sutherland walked a few feet up the row of carriages and disappeared into his.
The night was unusually cool, so when Audrey shivered Trent pulled her closer. The bright moonlight and blazing oil lanterns made spotting his carriage and Thortonberry’s easy enough. They stood one behind the other in the long row of carriages. He did not see Primwitty anywhere, but the duke understood Trent was on a mission and had likely headed home to Sally. Trent turned to dismiss Thortonberry since the man had not made a move to bid farewell. Thortonberry’s gaze lingered on the valley between Audrey’s breasts, exactly where Trent had stared earlier.
A fierce wave of possessiveness nearly choked him. He drew Audrey more firmly against his side. Her small frame pressed against his, and satisfaction coursed through him when she leaned into him and not away. When she swayed, he slid his hand to her back to steady her. The heat radiating off her skin singed his fingers and beckoned to areas of his body that needed to be oblivious to the soft feminine creature so near him.
With a ruthless determination born of hours of solitude in his small cell with nothing but darkness and a desire to live as his company, Trent turned his focus back to Thortonberry. “I’ve something I wish to say to Lady Audrey, Thortonberry. Alone. So good night.” Trent specifically eyed the man’s coachman, who stood waiting for the marquess.