"In what way—" Sherry asked, watching his gaze drop to her lips and feeling her heartbeat triple.

"I'll show you," he murmured huskily, and his lips seized hers with violent tenderness.


He kissed her slowly, urging her to participate this time, not merely to yield, and Sheridan sensed the subtle invitation. His hand curved round her nape, stroking it softly, while his other hand drifted up and down her spine in an endless caress. His parted lips moved back and forth on hers, urging them to open for him, and Sheridan responded with tentative uncertainty. She matched the stroking movements of his mouth, and felt his lips part more; she touched her tongue to them, exploring the warm male contours, and she felt his hand clamp tighter against the base of her spine.

She leaned up on her toes, sliding her hands up the hard muscles of his chest, over his shoulders, arching her body as she brought him closer to her… and suddenly his arms went around her like iron bands, and the kiss became fiercely hard and urgent. His tongue caressed hers and then drove into her mouth, sending shivers of primitive sensations through Sheridan's quaking body, and she clung tighter to him, kissing him back. His hands shifted, sliding up the sides of her breasts, starting to caress them…

Warned by an instinct she didn't understand and didn't challenge, Sheridan tore free of his mouth and shook her head at him in a near-panic, even though a part of her desperately wanted him to kiss her again.

Stephen reluctantly loosened his grip on her and dropped his arms to his sides. With a mixture of disbelief and amusement he gazed down at the exquisite young beauty who had just managed to drug not only his senses, but his mind. Her face was flushed, her chest was heaving gently with each apprehensive breath she drew, and her dark-lashed eyes were wide with confusion and desire. She looked as if she wasn't certain what she wanted to do. "I think it's time we did something else," he said, making the decision for both of them.

"What do you have in mind?" she asked shakily.

"What I have in mind," Stephen replied wryly, "and what we are going to do are very far apart." He decided to teach her the rudiments of chess.

It was a mistake. She beat him twice in a row because he couldn't seem to keep his mind on the game.


Stephen scrupulously avoided all thoughts of her the following day, but as his valet laid out his clothes for the evening, he found himself looking forward to supper with Sherry more than he could remember anticipating a meal in a very long time. He'd ordered some decent clothing for her from Helene's dressmaker and insisted that at least one gown be delivered to her later that day with the remainder to be delivered as they were readied. When the modiste had reminded him hysterically that the Season was about to begin and her seamstresses were all working night and day, Stephen had politely asked her to do the best she could. Since Helene's purchases at the exclusive shop resulted in astronomical charges, he had every faith the dressmaker would manage to put a decent wardrobe together and that she would charge him exorbitantly for the added haste.

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Within hours, three seamstresses had arrived at the house, and although he wasn't naive enough to suppose that, on such short notice, his dinner partner would be garbed in the highest fashion, he was rather eager to see how she looked in a proper gown. As he tipped his head back so his valet could brush lather under his chin, Stephen decided that no matter what Charise Lancaster wore, she would do it with her own special flair, whether it was a golden drapery cord or a ball gown.

He was not disappointed in that, or in their evening. She walked into the dining room, her titian hair tumbling over her shoulders and framing her vivid face, looking like an exotic ingénue in a soft aqua wool gown with a low, square neckline and fitted bodice that managed to call attention to the tops of her full breasts and accent her narrow waist before it fell in simple folds to the floor. Shyly avoiding Stephen's frankly admiring gaze, she nodded graciously at the footmen standing at attention near the sideboard, complimented the silver bowls of white roses and banks of ornate silver candelabra on the table, then she slid gracefully into the chair across from him. Only then did she lift her face to his, and the smile she gave him was so warm, so filled with generosity and unconscious promise, that it took a moment for Stephen to realize she was merely thanking him for the gown. "… you were much too extravagant, though," she finished with quiet poise.

"The gown is far from extravagant and not nearly as lovely as the woman wearing it," Stephen replied, and when she looked away as if she were truly embarrassed by his remark, he reminded himself very firmly that she didn't intend to seduce him with that melting smile of hers, or the graceful sway of her hips, or the swell of her soft breasts, and that this was a very inappropriate time, place, and woman to evoke thoughts of satin pillows beneath glossy titian hair and full breasts swelling to fit his seeking hands. In view of that, he turned his thoughts to safer topics and asked what she had done with her day.

"I read the newspapers," she replied, and with candlelight shimmering on her hair and glowing in her laughing eyes, she began to regale him with a hilarious commentary about the gushing reports she'd been reading in the back issues of the newspapers about the doings of the ton during the London Season. Her original intent, she explained, had been to learn all she could from the newspapers about his acquaintances and all the other members of the haut ton before she was introduced to them. Stephen's conscience rebelled at letting her do that when she wasn't going to meet anyone at all, but, he reasoned, the endeavor seemed to have cheered and occupied her, and so he asked her what she had learned thus far.

Her answers, and her facial expressions, kept him amused, diverted, and challenged throughout the entire ten-course meal. When she talked about some of the outrageous frivolities and excesses she'd read about, she had a way of wrinkling her pert nose in prim disapproval or rolling her eyes in amused disbelief that invariably made him feel like laughing. And while he was still struggling to hide his amusement, she could turn thoughtful and phrase a quiet question that took him completely aback. Her damaged memory seemed to have random blanks when it came to understanding how and why people in his social stratum—or her own in America, for that matter—did things in a particular way, and so she asked pointed questions that made him reevaluate customs he'd taken for granted.

"According to the Gazette," she laughingly informed him as the footmen placed a serving of succulent duck on their plates, "the Countess of Evandale's court gown was embellished with three thousand pearls. Do you suppose that was an accurate tally?"