Felix, Lord Fenton has just gone in search of Fanny in a mysterious chamber beyond the ballroom …
There was something curiously affecting about Miss Brightwell’s combination of boldness and hauteur. If Fenton were to go on instinct alone, he’d venture that Miss Brightwell was only too well aware of her fragile foothold on the society ladder and that every reason she’d given regarding her conduct with Alverley was true.
Yet what else had she said? That she was betrothed to a man she found abhorrent? He needed to discover more. He needed to discover what steps to take to secure her for himself. After the experienced women whose pleasures he’d enjoyed during his two years abroad he was very responsive to Miss Brightwell’s charms. The European whores had flattered him, pandered to his every desire and exhibited the utmost artistry in their ability to raise him to ever greater heights of sexual gratification. He’d taken the Grand Tour to become the cultured man his mother required to take the reins and run the estate when he returned. Any culture he might have acquired had been incidental to the surfeit of lust that had consumed him after discovering how fascinating he was to women. Now it was time to settle down. He realised he was in danger of losing himself to vanity. He’d been given a long leash and he’d taken advantage of his opportunities until he’d felt tethered to nothing.
Now he wanted to return home to Grantham, the family seat for more than three hundred years, and start behaving responsibly. To do that, he needed a wife. Preferably one who would keep him interested and keep him in check.
Miss Brightwell showed every potential of fulfilling both criteria once he’d satisfied himself that Bramley spoke nothing but evil lies and that his mother had no reasonable grounds for her objections.
Shaking his head as he passed a depiction of bedroom sport that was, even to one of his jaded experience, extreme, Fenton was about to return to the entertainment when he was arrested by a short, sharp squeal and the sound of tearing fabric. He turned, his eyes quickly becoming accustomed to the gloom until he caught sight of movement.
After a pregnant silence came a deep sigh followed by Miss Brightwell’s dry, unmistakable tones. “Of all the inconvenient times to be disrobed.”
A little shocked, Fenton moved closer, following the direction of her voice. He melted into the shadows and watched her in a shaft of light cast by a candle set high on the wall.
She was at the bottom of the pit, sitting amongst a collection of brightly coloured silk cushions, staring with dismay at her gold-flecked skirts. The diaphanous fabric hung limply, torn almost entirely free of her bodice, exposing her chemise. The sight of the crisp linen undergarment thus revealed—so pristine, yet so shocking—was strangely erotic.
Fenton was torn, too—torn between what a real gentleman ought to do and what, in truth, he felt like doing.
The ladies’ sewing room was just down the corridor. A real gentleman would hasten there and return with needle and thread to render assistance.
By contrast, he wanted to hurl himself upon her and roll around in that pit of cushions, tearing the rest of her gown from her and running his hands over all her soft, fragrant body with all the passion of a first-time smitten green boy.
Such unadulterated lust was combined, however, with a healthy desire to atone. Therefore, a trip to the ladies’ sewing room and the prospect of two minutes’ conversation with hatchet-faced Miss Mortimer whose domain it was would hopefully have the required dampening effect.
He turned his footsteps in that direction. He wanted Miss Brightwell but he had no intention of repeating his rash overtures—albeit delicious—of the other night if it should in any way compromise her. She featured in his more long-term plans and he wanted her to know it. Delivering to Miss Brightwell the means to return to the ballroom with her dignity intact might be one way to reassure her that his intentions towards her were honourable.