“I beg your pardon?” he said, and she could hear that he moved closer as he spoke.
She slid her hands off the keys, gripping the bench she sat on. “I said that you were a liar, my lord. My playing makes me lovely. But I am…” she drew in a breath, searching her muddled thoughts for the correct word. “Plain.”
“Plain?” he whispered just behind her back. He was near now, his heat touching her skin. She gripped the bench tighter. “There is very little that is plain about you, Miss Cordelia Moorish. Hidden perhaps, even disguised. But not dull.”
Liar, she thought again but this time she didn’t voice it. Instead, she pushed the bench back, until it just brushed his knees, forcing him to take a half step back and then she stood, shuffling away from the pianoforte. Cordelia reached for her glass and plucked it off the top of the instrument just before the crystal stem was out of reach, and then she retreated to the other side of a settee before turning to look at him.
Which was a very smart plan if she did say so herself. Because every time she looked at him, she might swear that he grew more handsome than the last and tonight was no exception.
Her breath caught in her chest, making her head swim as she studied the broadness of his shoulders, the thickness of his chest, the way his torso tapered to his narrow hips, perfectly accentuated by his expertly tailored coat. “So kind of you to say,” she murmured taking another swallow, only to discover her glass was empty. Drat. She had drained it, hadn’t she?
He cocked a single brow and began crossing toward her again.
She started to back up, certain she was like a deer in the woods being stalked by a beautiful beast. “Lord Dashlane,” she said, holding up a single hand. He was too tempting, far too distracting, and she’d had too much mind muddling beverage to allow him any closer.
He ceased moving forward and instead smiled. That glorious smile that made her insides melt to pudding and her most intimate area ache and flutter with longing. “I only wished to offer you another glass of champagne.” And he held one of two glasses up to her.
She squinted, looking at the delicate little bubbles rising up in the glass. Her father ran a shipping company, and he imported some of the most wonderful wines from France. “I shouldn’t…” she started but her hand was already reaching for the stemware. Even she understood this was a terrible idea.
He was so handsome, a known womanizer, offering her more alcohol. Their fingers brushed as she took the glass and she couldn’t quite the hide the gasp that fell from her lips as a tingling spread up her arm from the touch.
He quirked a one-sided smile. “I thought we might toast.”
“Toast?” she asked, cocking her head to one side. “Why would we do that?”
His half smile transformed into full grin. “Because. All of my friends are marrying your sisters. You and I are the last men standing, so to speak.”
She tsked, a sound her sister Juliet was much better at. “I’m not a man.” It was a thought she’d had more and more often these days. If she had been of the male species, her life might be completely different. Then she nearly cringed but managed to just hold herself still. He didn’t understand her hopes and dreams. To him she just stated the obvious.
“No.” He gazed at her, cruising down her body and making it heat in all sorts of strange places as he looked at her from her head to her toes and back again. “No, you certainly are not.”
* * *
Why was he here? Lord Christopher Dashlane watched the fluttering little songbird standing on the other side of the settee, his body tightening. He’d been watching her for days. As his two best friends were marrying her sisters, he’d had to attend several events at the Moorish home.
Ash, as his family called him, had kept his distance. Because of Cordelia’s station in life and her status as sister to Bianca and Adrianna, he knew he should stay away and that was exactly what he’d done. He’d watched her from afar and barely spoken a word to her beyond the most basic of niceties. Until tonight.
He’d seen her slip from the ballroom with champagne in hand and a sudden fit of jealousy had propelled him to follow, thinking she’d gone to meet another man. He wasn’t certain why he indulged that particular urge. She’d never be his. Why couldn’t she sneak off to meet someone else? Ash would never give her a future. He had no intention of marrying ever.
And not just because he was a rake. Well more precisely, he was a rake because he had no intention of marrying. The order of those two circumstances mattered. But either way, he intended to stay away from the beautifully tempting Cordelia Moorish.
“Did you intend to be the last man standing?” she asked, fiddling with the stem of her drink.
He nearly started. That was the thing he’d learned about this woman already. She was quiet but her silence hid an intelligent and intuitive woman. Had she just read his thoughts?
“I did. And you?” He found himself stepping closer. For some reason, he was intensely curious about her answer. What did she want? Did she wish to marry and have a family?
She lifted the glass then, taking a delicate swallow. Her dark hair had been styled with an intricate coif at the back of her head which glistened in the candlelight. Her pert little nose turned up as those full lips gently cupped the rim of the glass. He swallowed, tightening his fingers on his own stem.
“I did too,” she said as she lowered the beverage.
He closed his eyes for just a moment processing those words. What? She’d intended to be the last of her sisters to marry. He couldn’t seem to help the next words that popped from his mouth. “But why?”
Her tongue darted out to remove a single bead of champagne that had pooled on the glistening skin of her full bottom lip. A delicate shade of pink, it slid along her full soft skin and nearly made him groan aloud.
But everything about this woman seemed to appeal to him. He’d memorized the sweep of her jaw, her long slender neck, the lithe lines of her body.
The way her dark brown eyes sparkled with flecks of gold and how she moved when she played her pianoforte, like a reed dancing in the breeze.