“What an unnatural creature,” Millson said as they stepped into the carriage.
“Mm.” Justin was irritated by the man’s tone, but he didn’t trouble himself to contest the point. She was an odd woman; as bright and perceptive on business matters as Nikola had said, but impenetrable as a person. He touched the back of his hand, where her fingers had caressed, wondering at the contrast between that intimate gesture and her expressionless features. Are you indeed too honest, Miss Vasilver? In business matters, perhaps. But it seems one of those personal cues is intended to deceive. Which one, I wonder? If she’d been a man, he would have thought her expression meant to fool any watching eyes while the touch communicated with him alone. But a woman flirting with a man – in private, at that – would have no need to worry about observers. Unless she wanted to signal an interest in a clandestine affair rather than a marital alliance. A curious notion; married women had flirted with him thus, on occasion, but an eligible single gentlewoman? All of them prized marriage above all else. Would this one be different? Justin smiled to himself. Why wouldn’t she? She’s unusual in every other way.
And she was a remarkably handsome woman, for all her peculiar ways. Justin found himself curious what she would find out about the companies he’d left her to evaluate, and whether his initial impression of her abilities would be borne out. If she was as clever as she appeared – hmm. Justin had never seriously considered or desired marriage. The miserable sham of his parents’ marriage was not something he ever wanted to inflict on children of his own. Beyond that, the well-born and eligible girls he’d met over the years were, at best, amusing company for an evening. They aroused little sexual interest in him and while fawning attitudes were entertaining at a ball, such were unlikely to survive a wedding and would grate after continual exposure in any case. They had not all fawned or simpered, but none had engaged his interest in any but the most superficial way.
Miss Vasilver was entirely different. The idea of marrying her was not immediately repugnant. Intriguing, even. Justin roused himself from his reverie. Let’s not get ahead of myself. First impressions can often mislead. For that matter, perhaps she prefers her affairs without attachment. He briefly imagined Miss Vasilver as irritated by the presumption of one-time-lovers as he was. It didn’t seem likely, but it was an entertaining notion.
On the opposite side of the carriage, Millson was still sulking. “Are you sure it’s wise to have business dealings with such a strange individual?”
Justin favored him with a dry look. “No doubt those are her thoughts exactly, but the poor unfortunate girl is committed now.”
Flustered, Millson stammered out an unnecessary apology and explanation – “I meant she was strange, my lord!” Justin ignored him to gaze out the window, wondering what Miss Vasilver’s exact thoughts truly were.
If she closed her eyes, Wisteria could almost feel the weight of his hand on her shoulder, the smoothness of his skin beneath her fingertips, his body near enough to warm her with his heat.
Wisteria leaned back in her desk chair, eyes closed.
If she was honest with herself – and she was not in the habit of self-deception – she had to admit she’d liked it. A great deal. Not just as a companionable gesture – much the way Byron might look over an account with her – but as the touch of an extraordinarily handsome and definitely not-related man.
Who was unlikely to regard her in any way as an eligible match.
On the other hand, it’s not his estate or his title that I’m craving. She thought again of Lord Comfrey’s golden-brown face framed by that perfect fall of long black hair, and wondered what it would be like to kiss those narrow lips. If only I were a man, no one would care in the slightest if I gave my virginity away.
Of course, if I were a man, other men wouldn’t want me anyway.
Not that they want me now, as far as I can tell. Wisteria opened her eyes and pulled the Ellesex binder closer. She’d been told all her life that young men were akin to rutting beasts, interested in women for only one thing and always eager to get it. Young women, on the other hand, were supposed to be chaste, pure beings, untouched by desire. As far as she could tell from personal experience, the exact opposite was the case. Not that I’d notice if it weren’t. Also, if I have to obsess over men, couldn’t I do it one man at a time? She conjured up mental images of Lord Comfrey and Lord Nikola, trying to decide which was more attractive, Lord Nikola’s tall fair-haired lean grace or Lord Comfrey’s powerful dark frame. It was like deciding which was more intoxicating, red wine or white. I would gladly become drunk on either. Though I suppose at least Lord Comfrey hasn’t said to my face he’s not interested in marrying me.
If it came to a choice between the ineligible, Wisteria preferred Lord Nikola, who was easier to make sense of. More straightforward. She did not know what to make of Lord Comfrey. “You take me too seriously”. Wisteria wasn’t sure she knew how to take people lightly. Maybe she ought to practice sometime. Dismissing the whole chain of thought as unproductive, Wisteria opened her notebook on one hand and the Ellesex binder on the other, and set to work.
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