Pamela was very conscious of the warm thigh brushing against her light blue skirts and the strength of the shoulders so very near to hers. Watching his hands controlling the reins with an ease born of long practice, she recalled distinctly what it felt like when those long fingers brushed her cheek. She trembled at the direction of her thoughts. The day was pleasantly warm, but her warmth had little to do with the sun.
Watching him from beneath her lashes, she was unaware they had reached the outskirts of the city until Kitt slowed the team. She looked around her.
They stopped near a village. Whitewashed cottages huddled together around a picturesque open green with a tidy little church off to one side. The village was so small, you could see from one end to the other. She noted the obviously busy inn at the other end and wondered why he hadn't stopped there.
Kitt disembarked and came around to help her down as the tiger ran to the horses' heads. Once she was on the ground, Kitt flipped the man a coin, told him to walk the horses back to the inn to let them cool off, and wait for them there. Then he turned and led Pamela in the other direction, along a path that disappeared into a small meadow ending at a copse of trees. Daffodils, daisies, buttercups, violets, and more spread out before them.
"Where are we?"
"Just outside of Town. I thought you might prefer to rip up at me in private." He grinned, and his amusement was infectious.
She smiled in return. "Why would I want to rip up at you?"
"Because I want to know why you think the ton won't believe we're betrothed even if they see it in The Times?"
She looked away, off across the meadow of colorful flowers. The sky was a brilliant blue, the sun bright and warm. For a moment she allowed herself to imagine what it would be like if she were truly Kitt's betrothed. They could stroll like this in the park or along the riverbank. They would talk with their heads close together, ignoring the world around them. He would smile at her and his eyes would be warm and tender.
She sighed. If only.
Startled, her gaze flew upwards to his.
"My godmother wants to give you the Season your mother wants you to have, but it will not be easy."
"We could save ourselves the worry over your grandparents and sister."
"There would be little reason to question your presence in her household rather than with them."
Pamela considered this. It hadn't occurred to her anyone might wonder why she wasn't with her grandparents. They hadn't paid her much attention when she was growing up. She hadn't considered what others might think to find her living with a person to whom she was not related. Why would it matter, anyway?
"They will have to make excuses to cover up the reason you are not with them, or the ton will speculate and who knows what kind of story will emerge."
"What kind of story could come out?" she asked. "It's not as if anyone knows the truth."
His laughter took her by surprise, but she couldn't stop the thrill that went through her as his deep voice rang out.
"Unfortunately, the last thing the ton will care about is the truth. They will believe what they will, unless the truth is worse. Then they will gladly sacrifice your reputation and your sister's reputation on the altar of righteous indignation. The only thing worse than making a fool of the ton is the ton thinking they've been made to look foolish."
They stopped beneath the branches of a large oak tree.
He turned and pulled her into his arms. "But if we were betrothed, we could explain we did not want to burden your grandparents further. And with the knowledge of your mother's acquaintance with my godmother, few will question it."
Pamela knew she should not let him hold her like this, but his arms were strong and comforting. She knew she should not crave the feeling of security she experienced, nor should she wish she was different, and truly eligible to be his wife. But she did. And when his head dipped to hers, she knew she shouldn't lift her face willingly and yield her lips to his. But she did.
A soft brush of his lips against hers was all it took to send her reservations flying. His large hands splayed against the small of her back, burning through the thin layers of material. His mouth was gentle--insistent but not demanding. Silvery sensations washed through her; a sigh escaped and she sank into the kiss. She could not wish for more at this moment. Except that he not stop.
She was floating when he raised his head. Her arms were wound around his neck, her fingers threading through the inky blackness of his hair. The muscles beneath the material of his jacket shifted and she felt it clear to her toes.
"You did not answer my question." His lips traced the sensitive shell-shaped skin of her ear.
Sliding her hands down from his neck and resting them against the broad planes of his chest, she slowly brought her thoughts back to order.
"Very well, but with two conditions." She was thrilled to hear her voice was steady.
He stiffened, but said nothing.
"First, you must break it off at the end of the Season, gracefully or no. I will not trap you into marriage just to save my own reputation."
"Perhaps it won't be a trap."
"Which leads to my second requirement," she continued as if she hadn't heard the softly spoken words. "You must swear never to tell me you love me unless you truly mean it."
His smile nearly caused her heart to stop beating. "That should not be a hardship."
"I count on you being a man of your word, my lord." She was a little breathless. His body, intimately pressed against hers, was still playing havoc with her senses.
"Very well." Dropping his arms and stepping back from her, he bowed and took her hand in his. Raising it to his lips, he brushed the back, then turned it over and placed a kiss in the palm. "You have my word the betrothal will disappear at the end of the Season, regardless of the scandal, and I will never utter those three little words it seems every woman but you wants to hear."
"Unless you mean them." She hoped her voice didn't sound as shaky as she felt.
He acknowledged her with a slight nod of his dark head. "Unless I mean them."