"Do you think vile men only pray on women of ill repute?" he asked. "You are very young in the ways of the world." The hot, sharp edge to his tone stopped her cold. "Like so many women." He removed his hat and placed it on the seat.
Heat rose in her face as she reminded herself she relied on this man. Without him she would be in the street. Her fate might be as sealed as Martha Tabram. Death ran through Alexandra's imagination. Cold, hard, death. She shivered.
"I didn't realize you had an abhorrence for women. You found them rather diverting at the theater."
"Diverting? Your reticence surprises me, Alexandra. Say what you mean. I find women fascinating. Women may be perplexing creatures to most men, but they intrigue me no end."
Her ire went up, and she didn't understand it. Ross had proven to her from the first day she met him, years ago, that he didn't mind frank speaking. How many men would talk with her like this without freezing in shock at the subjects and her blunt honesty? Few, if any. She admired his candor at the same time it irritated her.
Choosing to say nothing, she subsided against the seat. She hadn't realized until then how tense she'd been. Taking a deep breath, she allowed the carriage's sway to lull her.
"Whatever you do, Alexandra, do not go out at night alone."
Startled, she glanced at him through the gloom. "Am I likely to have a reason to go out alone at night?"
"Not likely. But do not."
"Are you trying to frighten me?" She balled her hands into fists. "It is not possible, sir."
"Would you stop calling me sir?" he asked wearily. "Makes me feel old."
His soft snort of derision could have been a laugh. He leaned forward, and in the sudden illumination of a gas lamp, she saw his visage.
Implacable. Unrepentant. The granite, handsome countenance held anger. But was it savagery born of defense or offense?
"If you believe eight and twenty is decrepit, you have but seven years to enjoy life," he said, his tone a purr that promised a sensual punishment she never experienced before.
In the bleak night his eyes revealed nothing. His big frame pressed forward until he was too close. Without thinking she migrated slightly toward him and drank in his warm scent. A scent far more untamed than any man she'd been near before.
Time expanded as he held her gaze. She had to speak or be devoured by the moment. "I never said I was young."
"Then we shall be old together." One of his thick brows winged up, and a flicker of a smile went over his wide mouth. "Or kill each other trying."
"Has anyone ever told you that you speak in riddles?"
"Often. My father was especially good at defining my idiosyncrasies. At least once a day."
After a significant pause, she moved a little, feeling stiff and cramped. Tension drew her muscles tight and her right calf knotted painfully. She gasped and reached down, pulling her skirts up and rubbing her smarting limb.
"What is wrong?" Ross leaned closer, bringing that maddening masculine scent with him. "What have you done?"
She kneaded the muscle while flexing her ankle and foot. "I've done nothing. My leg is cramped."
Rather than berate her again, he slid forward on his seat. Slipping off his gloves and laying them on the seat next to him, he then gripped her leg with his warm, hard hands.
She let out a small protest. "What--"
"Never fear, Alexandra Rose. I am not trying to compromise you." He grinned, surprising her even more. The wide, endearing smile held mischief and maybe a little male interest.
He shifted from the seat across from her to sitting next to her. Her heart started a nervous drumming.
Speechless for once, she couldn't look away from his gaze. Could she be imagining the glint in his eyes? Heat gathered in her stomach. His smile faded, but not the regard in his expression.
His powerful hands drew attention from his frown. She looked down and watched him manipulate her stocking clad leg. Through the thin material his intimate touch generated ripples of fire. Seconds turned to a minute, then two as rhythm built into rhythm. She saw Ross as the young man he'd been at twenty, mischievous and adventurous. Could he be both gentle and dangerous at the same time? She'd never realized two such traits could reside in one man until she saw Ross again after all these years.
And if he was like this with all women he met, how did they resist him?
She should put a stop to his totally inappropriate behavior. Shameless...no scandalous. What would her friends think if they could see her? An American in a big city like London with a handsome man holding her almost naked leg in his hands?
The excitement of it shook Alexandra to the core.
His big hands inched a little higher until they caressed under her knee.
Stop him. Stop him.
Desire drew her closer, as she looked up, half afraid of what she'd see. He stared at her. How long had he been staring while she reveled in the cadence of his motions? Delighted in the perfect sinfulness of what they did?
His gaze told all. His nostrils flared slightly, and she wondered if he could smell her lavender soap or the rose water Flora had shared with her.
In the dim light she felt exposed under his scrutiny. Maybe it wasn't his money, connections, or handsome form that mesmerized females. For as his hands continued their touch, his gaze hunted her. A shiver rolled through her frame.
"Cold?" he asked, the sound gossamer against the creaking carriage and clatter of hooves on cobblestone.
"No. Far from it. "