Hunger rose deep within him and he almost kissed her right then and there. To hell with his neighbors, to hell with his new leaf. But while no scandal could fully erase a lord’s standing in society, the ton would not be so forgiving to a woman already on the periphery.
“Careful,” he growled softly. “I may no longer be a rakehell, but I will never be a saint.”
“I doubt you were ever as bad as they say you were.”
“I was,” he promised. “And worse.”
“But only with those whowantedyour particular brand of wickedness. Likely because of similar predilections of their own. When passion is of mutual consent, where is the problem?”
He stared at her in consternation before recalling just whom he was speaking to. The daughter of an earl, yes. But also the daughter of a courtesan. Miss White’s mother had made a comfortable living indulging in wickedness by mutual consent. Lord Quinseley had inarguably been happier in his relationship with his mistress than in the frigid marriage that awaited him at home.
Miss White was the last person who would judge Harry for pleasuring. If anything, she would be disappointed to learn he had chosen to repress that side of himself in order to attract names on a list.
Names he could no longer remember. When in Miss White’s presence, he could think of nothing but her.
She gave him a pert look. “My legs are growing quite wet, my lord.”
He swallowed. She understood the double entendre very well. “Your legs, or what is between them?”
She arched her brows. “Either find out, or flag a hackney.”
It took every ounce of strength he possessed to lift his hand and summon one of the many waiting carriages.
He slanted his gaze down at her. “I quite like you, Miss White.”
“In that case, you may call me Bianca, my lord.”
“And you may stop with the ‘my lord’. You can call me Eagleton, or Harry.”
“Not ‘the Huntsman’?”
He lowered his voice and leaned closer. “Do you like to be hunted?”
“Maybe I’d like to be caught.” She touched his lapel. “By the right beast.”
Just then, the hackney stopped in front of them.
Harry bundled her into the carriage, then handed her the umbrella. Rain sluiced down his face. “Don’t give that back to my sister. It’s my thinly veiled excuse to see you again.”
“You don’t need an excuse.” She blew him a kiss.
The door slammed closed before he could respond, and the driver set off over the muddy cobblestones with his gorgeous—and slightly damp—passenger inside.
Harry stood and watched the carriage recede, oblivious to the cold rivulets of rain sliding down his neck and face.
“That woman needs a protector,” he murmured, before realizing he’d made an unconscious double entendre of his own.
A protector could mean a man who paid his mistress for her attentions, keeping her in creature comforts in exchange for satisfying him beneath the sheets. A protector could also mean a true gentleman, someone who kept the unsavories at bay and ensured the safety and continued wellbeing of the protected.
Thatwas the new Harry. The gentleman, not the rogue.
Even if it took every ounce of his willpower.
At last, the moment had come for the St. Trevelyon ball. The theme of Starry, Starry Night had been chosen because the viscountess saw mention in an almanac of a meteor shower predicted for the wee hours of the morning.
According to Bianca’s new friends, virtually none of the predictions in almanacs came to pass. This was simply an excuse to throw a party. The point of the fête wasn’t the heavens up above, but the debut of Miss Fulvia here on Earth.