“May I escort you to my suite?”
In lieu of an answer, she merely took up her dress and tucked her arm in the crook of his elbow. They kept companionable silence until he’d seated her in the private sitting room of his suite, lit only by a dim end table light. Her dress and crinolines took up almost the entirety of the sofa, and she looked to be drowning in a sea of taffeta and lace.
A quick stop in his room to ditch his coat, collar, tie, waistcoat, and Oxfords made him feel infinitely more relaxed. At least as relaxed as he could be with a beautiful woman in his room. “May I get you something to drink?” he inquired as he strode out to join her in his stocking feet.
Seraphina shook her head and began tugging at the fingertips of her gloves. “Thank you, but no. Pretty sure I’ve tapped out this evening.”
Not wishing to bring to mind their earlier conversation and his asshattery, he demurred. “As you wish,” he answered, pouring a whisky rocks from his private reserve for himself and bringing out a bottle of water from the mini-bar in case she changed her mind. When he returned to the sofa, he found her clutch on the coffee table underneath her folded gloves and her shoes, ridiculously sexy high heels he hadn’t known she’d been wearing until that moment, placed directly beneath them on the floor.
She reached for the bottle of water the moment he set it on the table. “You could’ve told me, you know,” she started, her voice barely above a whisper as she deftly cracked the seal on the cap and took a long draught.
Colin sighed, a deep sound that seemed to wring all the energy out of him like an old rag. “I…would it have made a difference?” Lord, I hope not, but then, I have a feeling that if it had, we wouldn’t be together in my suite now.
“I don’t know, maybe…” she harrumphed and set the plastic cap on the table next to her bag. “It was pretty embarrassing to find out that way, you know. I don’t pick up men.”
While he could concede the first point readily, the second was a bit of a non sequitur. “I’m sorry?”
Now she was the one with flaming rosy cheeks. “I mean, I don’t pick up men in bars. I’m not the girl who gets picked up either.” She paused for a drink and a deep breath of her own.
“A damn shame,” he intoned as he sipped his drink and watched her carefully. Seraphina was building to something, he knew not what, but wanted to make sure he didn’t trip over his ego this time and make another colossal blunder where she was concerned.
Her smile was fleeting as her eyes met his briefly before resuming their in-depth analysis of her dress’s fabric weave. “I mean, I go home with you, a fling, really. And not only are you in the same wedding, you have an Earldom to your name. Do I know how to pick ’em, or what?” She stopped her tirade only long enough to drain her bottle and slam it on the table next to her. “You probably have a wife! Kids! Public obligations! You’re related to the bride, my friend, for chrissakes, and I’m… I’m a trollop!”
Colin had a rebuttal for every one of her assertions but the last, and the last one had him sputtering his drink as he laughed. Damn, but she is different. She wasn’t worried about his place in the aristocracy; she was worried about his fictitious wife and children. “In all fairness, love, I am the one who spilled the beer on you in the first place.”
Her dark eyes widened as she leaned over and lightly slugged him in the arm. “You’re not helping!”
That set off another round of giggles, this time with her joining him. This felt so much better than the gnawing concern that she was like the rest of the women who’d shared his life, his bed. “You’re not a trollop,” he offered as he reached across the ocean of purple and black fabric to take her hand. As comforting words went, it was weak to his thinking, but it was all he had.
She squeezed his hand, either in gratitude or reflex he didn’t know, and grumbled, “Says you.”
Unable to resist the urge, he kissed her naked fingertips before releasing her hand and rising from the couch. “You’re not, I promise.” Taking her empty bottle to the trash, he dug through the mini-bar for another bottle of water and a refill on his whisky. “No wife, no kids, and only the responsibilities of a normal, functional adult.”
* * *
Colin’s reassurances did little to calm her skittish nerves. Especially when she could still feel his touch on her skin, and it had only been as chaste as a schoolyard crush. “I tried being a normal, functional adult once. Overrated.”
His gentle chuckle floated over the bar with the faint clink of fresh ice cubes. He came around the bar and handed Seraphina a fresh bottle of water. “Quite.”
Sitting here, stranded in the miles of fabric, in this oh-so-fabulous room, with this oh-so-sexy Earl, she suddenly felt every inch of discomfort and awkwardness weigh her down like every shred of the fabric that surrounded her. Fina looked over her hands, her fresh manicure, her grandmother’s antique jewelry. This was all make believe and the ball was over. She should be turning back into a pumpkin presently, a frumpy little pumpkin that was more wart-y gourd than potential Halloween decoration.
“So I’m curious, Seraphina.” The way he said her name was the most intimate caress she’d ever had with her clothes on, salacious syllables falling from his perfect lips.
Colin twitched a little when she said it, and she couldn’t help teasing him just a bit. It was still so new and mind-boggling to her; it added a layer of humor to her otherwise bleak ruminations.
“How would that have gone, exactly?” he asked as he stared at the ice swirling in his tumbler.
“How would what have gone?”
Tugging at his cufflinks and button covers, he removed them individually and set them on the glass coffee table next to him, before opening his shirt entirely. “Where would I have fit that information in, before or after I spilled the beer all over you? ‘I’m sorry I’m a clumsy bastard, but I have a castle,’ would that have done it?”
It was all Fina could do not to snarf her drink all over her dress. “I suppose not.” Concentrating on swallowing, and not the lovely way his undershirt clung to his chest, she attempted to claw her way back to some sense of level emotional ground. “It was a lot to take in at once.”
He nodded vehemently and threw back a hearty swallow. “Tell me about it. You standing there with my aunt who’d be just as happy to marry me off to the highest bidder, I didn’t know what to think.”
“I’m nowhere close to the highest bidder, but I was a bit of an ass,” she conceded readily. It was good to hear she wasn’t the only one thrown by his revelation.