“I’ll be so glad for a chance to talk with you properly, Jane, and it has been very good to see you. I think often of your poor mama and . . . well . . . Are you stopping here?” She gestured toward the glove maker’s shop beside them.
“Oh, no. I need to visit Madame Levant for Her Grace.”
I need to get away. I meant to think. When am I to have time to think?
“Well, I’m going to be a bit. Takes me forever to make up my mind these days.” Another idea struck Mrs. Beauchamp and she touched Sir Thomas’s arm. “Thomas, I’m sure you don’t want to be sitting around with a dithering old woman . . .”
“Not at all, godmother!” Thomas announced immediately, and with credibly sincere indignation.
But Mrs. Beauchamp dismissed his words with a wave. “Why don’t you escort Lady Jane to Madame Levant?”
Sir Thomas bowed toward Jane with a silent inquiry in his arched brows.
“I would not wish to take you out of your way, Sir Thomas.” Thankfully, Jane’s voice remained steady despite the fact her heart pounded fit to burst.
“It would be no trouble, I assure you,” he answered. If any hint of mischief showed in his manner, it was visible only to Jane’s imagination.
Exasperation surged through Jane, along with a healthy dose of fear. Her emotions were entirely disordered from the simple exchange of a few words with her . . . her lover. If she had to walk any distance with him, she’d surely faint, or run mad, or any of a dozen equally unacceptable things.
Jane opened her mouth to refuse, but when she saw little Mrs. Beauchamp looking so pleased with herself, Jane found she hadn’t the heart. “Very well then,” she said. “Thank you.”
Sir Thomas bowed, and turned one last time to his godmother. “Are you sure you’ll be all right . . . ?”
“Dear boy.” Mrs. Beauchamp patted his hand. “I’ve Chloe, and Dennis is right there with the carriage. I will be fine.” Suiting actions to words, she gestured to her maid, a plump woman of middle years, who immediately opened the shop door to allow the old lady entrance, and leaving Jane face-to-face with Thomas.
Thomas bent at the waist, courteously holding out his arm. Jane swallowed and laid her fingers lightly on his sleeve. He looked down at her timid hand, his face a study in disappointment. Jane bit her tongue and, after a swift glance to make sure Tilly and the carriage were still where they should be, she set off as rapidly down the street as the crowds and her skirts would permit.
“Are you in such a hurry to leave me, Jane?” Thomas asked lightly as he fell into step beside her. With his long legs encased in his gleaming hessian boots, he had no trouble keeping the pace she set.
“Please, sir, remember where we are.” Jane glanced behind her again. Tilly had brought some mending with her and was stitching away studiously as the carriage bumped slowly down the cobbles. If she was not truly oblivious to her mistress’s new companion, she put up a convincing show.
Unfortunately, Jane’s frosty tone quite failed to disconcert Sir Thomas. “We are on a crowded street in the middle of Mayfair,” he replied calmly. “Where absolutely no one is paying attention to us. I could say any number of things to you now, and they would be none the wiser.”
A flush touched Jane’s cheeks and her steps faltered. “I’m not certain I can do this.”
“Do what? Walk with me? Speak with me as a friend?”
“We are not friends,” she snapped.
“No,” Sir Thomas admitted, and Jane was sure she heard a trace of regret in the word. “We are both more and less than that, aren’t we?”
“Much more. And much less.”
“Jane.” As he spoke her name, she heard something new, a kind of tentativeness that had not been there before. “Are you ashamed?”
“No!” The word came out more quickly and with more force than she had expected. “At least . . . I don’t believe so. I’m not certain what I feel.”
“I understand.” She couldn’t hear him properly with all the traffic noise and the shouting street vendors, and it was vital that she hear him properly. Something was going on inside this man, something raw and real beneath the well-cultivated surface.
“You understand?” she prompted.
“Oh, yes. What we have shared is very powerful, and it can be confusing.” He wasn’t looking at her. He was far away in memory and what he found there had wiped the mischief and humor from him. Suddenly, Jane thought, he looked tired.
“Do you . . . do you find it so very difficult, Jane, to walk with me like this?”
Sir Thomas cast the question out like a lifeline from whatever sad place his thoughts had gone, trusting her to catch it and hold on. It was an unexpected moment of vulnerability. She had longed for a way out of this entanglement, and this could well be it. With a few seemingly careless words, she could put some distance between them.
But Jane looked up into Thomas’s tired, distracted face, and found she couldn’t do it. He looked . . . lonesome was the only word for it, and her heart went out instantly to that loneliness. She could not have stopped it, even had she wished to. She knew too many long days in dim, empty rooms, mourning yet another death, while her father locked himself in his study with his papers and his letters that detailed, she now knew, his mounting losses in the stock market. She had hoped to find some relief from her isolation in her marriage, even if it was only as the companion of a man’s age. But Lord Octavius had spent his time in his clubs, leaving her to the house and her own devices. He had never been unkind to her, but she had realized soon after their wedding he was not a man with whom she could ever share her mind, let alone her heart.
Jane curled her fingers more firmly around Thomas’s arm. “I . . . could become used to walking with you in time, I think.”
The tiny lines around Thomas’s eyes softened, and the tension in his jawline eased.
“You are a very special woman, Jane.” Sir Thomas pulled his arm in, bringing her minutely closer to him. “I would like to know you better.”
“As my tutor?”
“As your friend, if you will permit.”
His soft words touched Jane with a sensation that was nearly physical. Whatever else remained unsaid between them, this was the truth. She was sure of it. This mysterious man who had been so ready to give her pleasure, now offered her something far more rare, and she yearned to accept.
At the same time, memory furrowed Jane’s brow.
“Jane? Have I said something wrong?”
“No, no,” she replied hurriedly. “I just . . . another man today said something similar to me. But then it was rather less well meant.”
“I confess a great curiosity to know what man this was.”
“Captain Conroy, the duke’s secretary. There is something in his manner that makes me . . . uneasy.”
Sir Thomas watched the foot traffic in front of them for a long moment before venturing an answer. “You have good instincts, Jane. You should trust them.”
“Hmm. Most men dismiss feminine intuition.”
“Do you consider me most men?”
“Never that. But then I know nothing about you.”
He looked down at her, his face perfectly sober, but the by now familiar mischievous glow had returned to his eyes. Jane felt her cheeks burn as if touched by the sun.
“Please, Thomas,” she murmured.
He smiled and the results were devastating. Jane wished she’d thought to bring a fan. “I do so love to hear that word from you,” he said softly. Jane was certain she could feel his words brushing her cheeks, feathering across them like gentle, familiar fingertips. “Say it again.”
“Please.” She was very aware of how her lips felt shaping the word. She wanted to touch him, taste him, and for a wild moment, she didn’t care who might see.
“So very sweet,” Thomas whispered.
Jane squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. This really was a bit much. They were in her place now, not his, and he needed to learn they would not always be playing his games. “You are changing the subject, sir,” she said loftily. “I say I know nothing about you.”
Sir Thomas smiled. “Your persistence is one of your most excellent qualities, Lady Jane. Alas, there is not much to tell. I am the younger son. My father made his money in ships, and I followed him in the business. I’ve worked for the crown and for myself at various times, and mostly profited by the effort.”
“You do not seem old enough to have done so much.”
“You would be surprised.” His attention threatened to drift back to his memory, but he shook himself quickly. “Now, it is your turn, for I also know nothing about you.”
“I have not much to tell either. I am the eldest daughter. My mother had insisted I be well and widely educated. I think she knew my father’s high living would catch up with us eventually. He died two years ago, leaving behind a mountain of debt. It was Mother’s acquaintances and my husband’s that enabled me to get my place with the Duke of Kent.” Jane remembered the hours spent laboring over the letters, all her pride put into her pocket. She did not want to sound desperate, even as the bailiffs were carrying the furniture out of her husband’s house. Even when she’d had to beg them to allow her to keep her writing desk. “It was thought, you see, that the new duchess should have at least one English lady in her train. I speak German, and could teach her English and perhaps help her . . .”
“Cultivate English manners?”
“Just so.” She waited, but Thomas kept his thoughtful silence. He saw she had not told him everything. She had only a moment to distract him from probing further. “Aren’t you going to ask the question?”
“How do I find the duchess? It is the one thing everyone wants to know.”
“I am not everyone.”
“No,” Jane agreed, but now her impatience began to show. “Nor just anyone, nor most men. And nothing you have said explains the greatest mystery.”
“You want to know about the dreams.”
“Yes, I do. And how you called me to . . . to that room.”
“Naturally.” He stopped in front of a bay window filled with the latest silks and brocades from Paris, and decorated in flowing gold script. “But you see, here we are at Madame Levant’s.”
If she had not been the one setting the pace, Jane would have sworn Thomas had timed this. It was all too neat. “I will not be put off, Sir Thomas.”
“I know that, Lady Jane,” he said, his eyes sparkling. “You may be sure I will satisfy you.”
“You . . .”
“You do not wish to be seen standing in the street talking with a man, I think. But you may be assured,” he bowed over her hand, “you shall have all you want, and very soon too.”
Jane moved to protest, but Thomas slipped nonchalantly away into the traffic at a pace that meant she would have had to run to catch up with him, which would have caused enough of a scene to make even the busy shoppers around her take note.
But he had said, “You shall have all you want.” He’d said he would satisfy her. Desire curled tightly in Jane’s center and she turned toward Madame Levant’s door. She had to distract herself before thoughts of Sir Thomas’s style of satisfaction could congregate too closely.
He would surely call to her tonight. There would be time enough then to find answers to both her questions, and her need.
If only that time did not seem so far off.
elcome back, Sir Thomas.” Red Fiora, who was now called Fiora Beauchamp, smiled a little too eagerly as Thomas entered the small, second parlor of her Mayfair house. “Did you meet with success?”
“I believe I did.” Thomas took a seat in a wing-backed chair while his hostess rang for a cold collation to be sent up. “Lady Jane’s thrown off balance, which for our purposes is good.” He smiled, remembering how hastily Jane had darted into modiste’s shop and close the door behind her. As if a flimsy construction of wood and glass could truly separate her from him.
God’s legs, but Jane had been lovely today. The bonnet with its cheerful roses had been a perfect frame for her oval face. While they walked, a single chestnut curl had escaped its confinement and slanted across her brow. He’d been seized by the desire to reach over and tuck it back into place, and draw his fingers across her soft skin in the bargain. She’d like that, he was sure. She enjoyed the little touches that were intimations of affection at least as much as she did his erotic caresses. He’d been oddly aroused by seeing her all buttoned up to her chin in her demure blue coat as well. It had worked on his imagination, that coat, constantly reminding him of the lush and perfect curves it concealed, which, in its turn, lead him to consider the many ways he had yet to pleasure her.
Thomas realized he’d said nothing for at least a minute and that Fiora still looked at him expectantly. “I also think she’s that much closer to trusting me,” he went on.
“That’s good. No, that’s excellent.” Fiora’s sallow, wrinkled cheeks flushed. If Thomas looked closely, he could still see the young woman he had known in the Fae realms. Traces of that other life lurked in her watery blue eyes and he could even spy some red beneath the gray of her hair. “You must let me know at once what I can do to help.”