— Lily, dit-il d'une voix rauque. Regardez-moi.
Elle obéit, le visage empourpré et le regard empreint de méfiance.
Gideon parvint à sourire.
— On ne doit pas regarder son cavalier comme un ennemi, mademoiselle Masters.
— Oh ? murmura-t-elle. Et comment doit-on le regarder?
Sa voix tremblante fit à Gideon l'effet d'une caresse, et il fut tenté de répondre : « Avec désir, ou même avec chaleur... »
« Pense à Constance », s'ordonna-t-il. Constance si sûre d'elle, qui glissait sur le parquet avec la majesté d'un navire de l'amirauté et était la fille d'un marquis. Comment le regardait-elle lorsqu'ils valsaient ? Et lui, comment la regardait-il ?
— Avec un intérêt poli, répondit-il à Lily, surpris de n'avoir jamais songé que c'était ainsi qu'ils se regardaient, Constance et lui. Souriez, reprit-il, mais pas trop fréquemment. Ne froncez pas les sourcils, à moins que vous ne soyez gravement insultée. Ce qui est fort improbable dans une salle de bal londonienne. Et pensez à lever les yeux sur votre cavalier, et non à les baisser sur vos pieds, comme en ce moment.
— Juste ciel, Gideon, vas-tu te décider à danser? râla Kilmartin. J'ai les doigts gourds à force d'attendre de plaquer le premier accord !
— Excuse-moi, Lawrence. Lily, vous êtes prête ?
Pour toute réponse, elle leva le menton.
— Tu peux commencer, Lawrence ! lança Gideon.
Kilmartin entama une valse lente, et Gideon s'élança. Lily le suivait avec tant de raideur qu'il avait l'impression de sortir une noyée de la Tamise.
— Vous devez glisser sur le sol, Lily.-
Elle se détendit un peu, mais demeurait étrangement lourde pour une personne aussi mince. Quelle capacité de résistance ! songea Gideon dans un soupir.
Il ne pouvait continuer à la remorquer ainsi. Comment lui expliquer le mouvement de la valse ?
— Mademoiselle Masters, faites comme si vous étiez... un oiseau. Comme si la musique était un courant qui vous porte, et moi... les ailes qui vous servent à voler.
C'était le lendemain de l'entrée de Lily dans le monde, et ils assistaient à un autre bal chez lady Delloway. Celle-ci avait pris soin de disposer des fauteuils en petits groupes, afin de favoriser les conversations intimes. Lily était perchée au bord d'un sofa et badinait avec le jeune Willett, qui semblait sur le point d'exploser de bonheur.
Gideon trouva soudain fort irritant cette idée de disposer ainsi les sièges.
— Il y a encore mieux, reprit Kilmartin. Au White's, on parie que tu vas transférer ton affection de Constance à la belle Lily, et annoncer vos fiançailles avant la fin de la saison! Il y a aussi d'autres paris sur le nombre de demoiselles infortunées qui se jetteront des ponts et des balcons â l'annonce de ce mariage.
— Vraiment? fit Gideon d'un air distrait.
Lily riait après avoir donné un petit coup d'éventail sur le bras de George Willett, rouge de plaisir.
— À propos, Constance accouchera du bâtard de Sa Majesté cet automne.
— Parfait, répliqua Gideon du même ton distrait.
— Gideon! s'exclama Kilmartin.
Gideon se tourna vers son ami en fronçant les sourcils.
— Eh bien, quoi? Tu cries, maintenant? s'étonna-t-il.
— Tu n'as pas écouté un mot de ce que je disais.
— J'en ai entendu assez. Lily est populaire, bla bla bla...
— Il faut que nous perfectionnions notre stratégie si tu veux te fiancer avec Constance avant la fin de la saison. Et même gagner quelques livres avec les paris du White's, tant qu'à faire. Je sais que tu ne cracherais pas sur quelques billets.
Constance ? Où était-elle ? se demanda soudain Gideon en la cherchant des yeux. Il la repéra de l'autre côté de la pièce. Elle l'observait observant Lily...
Voyant qu'il la regardait, elle lui adressa un sourire éblouissant, comme si elle participait à un concours.
Extrait offert par Julie Anne Long
(Source : http://www.julieannelong.com)
Alice was snoring softly next to her, her grubby little doll clutched in her arms. But Lily could not sleep. She was a little too full of roast beef, a little too tired of being required to move sedately, and the silence of the house enclosed her like a great bell jar.
Perhaps she could light a candle and read?
What she really wanted to do was run, expend her bottled energy. She was unaccustomed to confinement; it chafed at her, banked her restlessness. She smiled a little, picturing how the servants would react if they were to discover Miss Lily Masters, Lord Kilmartin's cousin from Sussex, racing through the hallways in her big dressing gown. Would an actual emotion register on Mrs. Plunkett's face?
She slipped out of bed, wrapped herself in her voluminous night robe, also on loan from Mrs. Plunkett, and lit a candle. Cupping the flame with one hand, she turned the chamber doorknob, slipped out and padded silently and swiftly up the stairs to the library, the marble sending little rivers of chill up her legs through her bare feet.
She peered in; a fire was burning low there, throwing soft light and odd, uneven shadows about the room. Surely this was wrong; surely a servant should have doused the fire by now? She hesitated in the doorway, listening. She heard nothing, so she took a step in.
She saw him then. His long body filled a chair, his legs casually spread, his hands cupping a small red book; he seemed absorbed in it. In a nod to comfort, his shirt was open a button or two at the neck; dark hair curled intriguingly up out of it. The firelight burnished his skin, deepened the hollows of his cheeks, revealed red glints in his lashes, much like the ones hiding in his hair.
Even in repose, there was something taut and expectant, perpetually vigilant, about Gideon Cole. It made Lily want to murmur to him, the way you might to a restive animal. Awareness washed her senses almost raw. How could anyone or anything be so beautiful?
And then Gideon glanced up and saw her. He went utterly still.
Their eyes held for an almost absurd length of time, but strangely, it was not the least bit awkward; his face, in fact, reflected the same gentle mystification she felt.
And then, as if shaking himself from a dream, Gideon abruptly began to rise to his feet.
"Oh, please do not stand Mr. Cole," she stammered. "I am sorry to disturb you. I'll just go back to my-"
"No," Gideon said quickly. "That is to say, don't go, Miss Masters. That is to say, you needn't go."
Lily paused. If she didn't know better, she would have said that Gideon Cole was flustered.
He sat down again and closed the book he was reading, turning it over in his lap. "There's very little of any value in this library, Miss Masters. You might perhaps try my uncle's study. There's some gold plate lying about, I believe."
But the goad seemed half-hearted; she smiled faintly. Perhaps he was fatigued from his day of tormenting her. "You don't consider books of value, Mr. Cole?"
"Some of them, yes." He paused, regarding her thoughtfully. "You enjoy stories very much, don't you, Miss Masters? Reading them, telling them?"
"Why do you suppose that is?"
"Well, very likely because they are amusing, Mr. Cole."
Gideon watched her for a silent moment. "Do you know why I read stories?" His words were slow, ironic. As though her answer had disappointed him. "I read them to escape the sordid, everyday difficulties of my life. To make it more…bearable."
Lily gave a shocked little intake of breath, and her face went swiftly hot. Was he mocking her?
When she spoke again, her voice was cold and formal, signaling her intent to take command of their conversation. It shook a little, however, and she cursed herself and him for it. "Mr. Cole, now that I am here, I would like to speak to you about Alice."
"Alice is delightful."
"Yes, she is. You arranged for her to have a doll."
"Are you jealous, Miss Masters? Would you like one, too?"
"Very amusing, Mr. Cole. I grant that it was kind of you to think of Alice. But she may become accustomed to such luxuries, and as you know, her life in St. Giles does not allow for them."
Again, he studied her quietly with those unfathomable eyes; she grew apprehensive. And his next words, gently delivered, stripped yet another layer from her.
"Does the issue lie, Miss Masters, in the fact that you cannot give her those things?"
Lily's breathing quickened with something akin to panic. He's probably a bloody good barrister.
"We were happy, Mr. Cole," she hissed. "Alice and I were doing quite well before you and your bloody thirty pounds."
"Oh, yes. Quite well," he repeated ironically. "What if something befell you in your 'daily rounds,' Miss Masters? What if I hadn't happened along when I did? What of Alice? Do you care?"
It was as though he had landed his fist in her gut. But before she could give vent to her fury, he surprised her.
"I apologize, Miss Masters." His voice carried a soft self-rebuke, and his hand went up to rub his brow absently, as though he wished he could erase the thoughts that had led to his words. "Truly. That was unworthy of me. I know how deeply you care for your sister. In fact, you should be congratulated on how well she has turned out. I just…I just want you to see that you should give some thought to your future. Not everyone who catches you will pay thirty pounds to free you."
It was not condescension, precisely, but Lily found it infuriating nevertheless.
"The future, Mr. Cole? You can plan all you like, but no one can truly prepare for the future. Not even you. Despite your desperate measures and your Master Plan and your bloody thirty pounds."
His expression changed then, his features tightened; her words had struck home. His lovely long fingers restlessly plucked at the arm of the chair.
"And why," she added, near tears, which infuriated her further, "do you care?"
A log, nearly devoured by flame, tipped into the lowering fire. Lily's bare feet once again felt the chill of the floor; she absently chafed one against the other.
And the silence stretched.
Gideon shifted restless in his chair, took in a deep steadying breath, released it. "I'm not sure why I care, Miss Masters," he admitted softly. He sounded genuinely puzzled. Almost irritated with himself. "But…I do."
And then he smiled. And it really wasn't much more than a slow, rueful lift of the corner of his mouth, but there was a vulnerability to it, and a hint of defiance, as though the confession had been made reluctantly but he'd had no choice about it, really.
And God help her, that smile spiraled right around Lily's heart and tugged it nearly clean out of her chest.
Her anger evaporated. Lily studied him, and he met her gaze evenly; her heart tripped oddly. Something was taking shape between them; it was like standing at the entrance of a dark room, she thought, in the moment before your eyes adjust and the outlines of things become clear. She was afraid to step any farther into that room, for fear of crashing clumsily into something.
I could walk into his eyes, Lily thought. Happily disappear right into them.
Gideon cleared his throat, as though he wanted to speak before she could say anything. "What sort of book were you after, Miss Masters? Perhaps I can direct you to it." His tone was gentle; a truce had been called, and something else acknowledged.
"Oh!" His solicitousness on the heels of her thoughts made her blush. "Would that be…would that be all right?"
" 'Tis a library, after all." He sounded faintly amused. "Are you fond of novels? Or perhaps of…" He faltered almost imperceptibly. "of…of poetry?"
Odd. It was as though he feared he was making some sort of prurient suggestion.
"I don't know much of poetry. Though I've a book of Shakespeare's works."
Gideon smiled faintly, and then he tilted his head back, his eyes on the shadowy ceiling; the firelight gilding this throat. " 'The sun's a thief, and with his great attraction, robs the vast sea…' " he murmured.
Lily's heart gave an astonished kick. Hearing those familiar words in this place, in his voice… She waited. But he didn't seem inclined to continue.
" '…The moon's an arrant thief, and her pale fire she snatches from the sun…' " she encouraged softly. She could have recited the rest to him, but she wanted to hear it in his voice.
Instead Gideon slowly lowered his head and regarded her wonderingly. "You know it."
"It's beautiful," Gideon admitted, after a brief silence. He sounded almost…shy.
Lily hated to ruin the moment for him, but she couldn't resist an opportunity to make a point. "And it's all about how everything is a thief."
Gideon laughed a surprised laugh, and she laughed, too, because she couldn't help it: he had a wonderful laugh. It was full of the boy he must have been, and she wished he didn't ration it the way he seemed to. Their eyes met again, lingered; faint smiles curved both of their mouths, and Lily could think of nothing to say.
And then, as if freed by the laughter and darkness and firelight, Gideon's gaze began, gradually, to lower. It followed the length of Lily's bare throat, went to the loosed hair spilling over her chest, dropped to her waist, where a cord wrapped twice around her closed her robe. Slowly, slowly, his eyes traveled the curve of her hips, down her thighs, down her calves, to where her bare feet touched the floor. A most deliberate and thorough and unsubtle perusal.
And as surely as if his open hand were skimming over her bare skin, gooseflesh rose beneath Lily's robe; her skin felt stung with heat, her breath came short. Again, that sense of lamplight blooming below her belly, spilling into her veins.
And he was only looking at her.
I'm out of my depth with this man.
He'd pulled at her like a swift current from the moment he'd locked his hand around her wrist on Bond Street. And Gideon Cole was not a Nick, who could be kissed out of curiosity and pushed away and forgotten. If Gideon Cole were to deign to reach for her now, she knew there would be no knees or elbows. She would come to him. And promptly be swept under. It was terrifying, really, how quickly pride and reason had deferred to the urges of her body in the presence of this man.
Gideon returned his eyes to her face, his expression again decidedly unreadable. And now Lily understood: Gideon's Cole's thoughts were most active when his expression was least readable.
She was reminded of a story in her French book: a man and a woman made love as they watched one another in a mirror, mindless with, pleasure. And Lily thought…I would love to see Gideon's Cole's face when he makes love… to be the person who makes his eyes change…who makes him lose himself in pleasure...
Gideon drew in a long breath, as though steadying himself. "Miss Masters. I think you should return to your chambers now."
His tone acknowledged a danger to them both.
And wordlessly, in silent agreement, Lily spun about and padded quickly out of the library.
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