To her startled horror, his hand clamped on her elbow like a vise and forced her toward the open door of his coach. "Get in!" he said in an awful voice, "before you make a greater spectacle of yourself than you already have tonight."
Belatedly realizing that beneath his smooth veneer of bland sophistication, Stephen Westmoreland was burningly furious, Sherry cast an anxious glance toward Miss Charity and Nicholas DuVille, who were already pulling away. Several other groups from Almack's were waiting for their own carriages to be brought round, and rather than make a useless scene, she got into the coach.
He climbed in behind her and snapped an order at the groom as he put up the steps. "Take us the long way, through the park."
Seated across from him, Sherry unconsciously pressed back into the luxurious silver velvet squabs and waited in tense silence for what she was certain was going to be an explosion of fury. He was staring out the window, his jaw clenched, and she wished he would get on with it, but when he finally turned his icy gaze on her and spoke to her in a low, savage voice, she instantly wished for the return of the suspenseful silence. "If you ever," he bit out, "embarrass me again, I will turn you over my knee in front of everyone and give you the thrashing you deserve. Is that clear?" he snapped.
She swallowed audibly, and her voice wavered. "It's clear."
She thought that would finish it, but he seemed to have only begun. "What did you hope to accomplish by behaving like an ill-bred flirt to every ass who approached you for a dance?" he demanded in a low, thunderous voice. "By leaving me in the middle of the dance floor? By clinging to DuVille's arm and hanging on to his every word?"
The reprimand for her behavior on the dance floor was deserved, but the rest of his tirade about her behavior with the opposite sex was so unjust, so hypocritical, and so infuriating, that Sherry's temper ignited. "What would you expect except foolish behavior from any woman who was stupid enough to betroth herself to the likes of you!" she fired back and had the satisfaction of seeing shock momentarily crack his mask of fury. "Tonight I heard all the disgusting gossip about you, about your conquests and your chérie amie, and your flirtations with married women! How dare you lecture me on decorum when you're the biggest libertine in all England!"
She was so carried away with her own furious humiliation over the gossip she'd heard tonight, that she didn't heed the muscle that was beginning to tick in his tightly clenched jaw. "No wonder you had to go to America to find a bride," she scoffed furiously. "I'm surprised your reputation for profligacy didn't reach there, you—you unspeakable rake! You had the gall to engage yourself to me when everyone in Almack's has been expecting you to offer for—Monica Fitzwaring and a half dozen others. No doubt you've deceived every unfortunate female you've cast your eye at into believing you plan to offer for them. I wouldn't be surprised to find out you did exactly what you did to me—engage yourself to them 'in secret' and then tell them to find someone else! Well," she finished on a note of breathless, infuriated triumph, "I no longer consider myself betrothed to you. Do you hear me, my lord? I am breaking our engagement as of this moment. Henceforth I shall flirt with whomever I please, whenever I please, and it is no reflection on your name, so you have nothing to say about it. Is that clear?" she finished, mocking his own phrase, then she waited in angry triumph for the satisfaction of his reaction, but he said not a word.
To her utter disbelief, he lifted his brows and gazed at her with enigmatic blue eyes and an impassive expression for several endless, uneasy moments, then he leaned forward and stretched his hand to her.
Unnerved completely, Sherry jerked back thinking he intended to strike her, then she realized he was casually offering his hand to her—a handshake to seal the end of their betrothal, she realized. Humiliatingly aware that he hadn't protested in the least to the breaking of it, her pride still forced her to look him right in the eye and place her hand in his.
His long fingers curved politely around hers, then abruptly tightened like a painful vise, yanking her off her seat. Sherry gave a muffled scream as she landed in a sprawling, uncomfortable heap on the seat beside him, her shoulders against the door, his glittering eyes only inches from hers as he leaned over her. "I am sorely tempted to toss up your skirts and beat some sense into you," he said in a terrifyingly soft voice. "So heed me well, and spare us both the painful necessity: My fiancée," he emphasized, "will conduct herself with proper decorum, and my wife, " he continued with icy arrogance, "will never discredit my name or her own."
"Whoever she is," Sherry panted, hiding her terror behind scorn as she squirmed ineffectually beneath his weight, "she has my deepest sympathy! I—"
"You outrageous hellion!" he said savagely, and his mouth swooped down, seizing hers in a ruthless kiss that was meant to punish and subdue while his hand gripped the back of her head, forcing her to hold the contact. Sherry struggled in furious earnest, and finally managed to twist her head aside. "Don't!" she cried, hating the terror and plea in her voice. "Please don't… please!"
Stephen heard it too, and he lifted his head without relaxing his grip, but as he studied her pale, stricken face and realized that his hand was on her breast, he was amazed by his unprecedented loss of temper and control. Her eyes were huge with fear, and her heart was racing beneath his palm. He had merely intended to tame her, to bend her to his will and force her to yield to reason, but he had never meant to humble or terrify her. He did not want to do anything, ever, to break that amazing spirit of hers. Even now, when she was pinned beneath him and completely at his mercy, there were still traces of stormy rebellion in those long-lashed gray eyes and stubborn chin, a courageous defiance that was gaining strength in the few moments he'd been still.
She was magnificent even in her defiance, he decided as he noticed the flaming curls covering her cheek. Impertinent, proud, sweet, courageous, clever… she was all of that.
And she was going to be his. This delectable stormy titian-haired girl in his arms was going to bear his children, preside at his table, and undoubtedly pit her will against his, but she would never bore him—in bed or out of it. He knew it with the experience gained from two decades of intimate dalliance with the opposite sex. The fact that she didn't know who she was, or who he was, and that she was not going to like him very well when she finally recovered her memory did not concern him overmuch.