James smiled back at her, finding her nearness disarming. He felt almost giddy. “Do you know him?''

"Cedric?" She drew back slightly so that they could converse at a more comfortable distance. "Oh, I suppose I should call him Lord Danbury now, shouldn't I?"

He lifted his shoulder in a lopsided shrug. "You can call him whatever you like in my company. I, for one, like to call him a—"

She shook her finger at him. "I think you must have a very naughty streak to you, Mr. Siddons. And you're trying to coax me into saying something I might regret."

He smiled wolfishly. "I'd much rather coerce you into doing something you might regret."

"Mr. Siddons," she said reprovingly.

He shrugged. "Forgive me."

"As it happens, I do know the new Lord Danbury," she said, dipping her chin as she looked at him to signal that the subject had been officially changed. "Not very well, of course. He's a bit older than I am, so we did not play together as children. But he does come back to visit his mother from time to time, so our paths do occasionally cross."

It occurred to James that should Cedric decide to visit his mama anytime soon, his disguise would be completely ruined. Even if he or Aunt Agatha managed to warn him of the situation ahead of time, Cedric absolutely could not be trusted to keep his mouth shut. The man had no notion of discretion and even less of common sense. James shook his head unthinkingly. Thank goodness stupidity didn't run in the family.

"What's wrong?" Miss Hotchkiss asked.

"Nothing. Why?"

"You shook your head."

"Did I?"

She nodded. "I probably wasn't being gentle enough. I'm terribly sorry."

He captured her hand in his and caught her in a hungry gaze. "Angels could not have been more gentle."

Her eyes widened, and for a fleeting moment locked with his before shifting to their hands. James waited for her to object, but she did not, and so he let his thumb trail along her wrist as he released her. “I beg your pardon," he murmured. "I don't know what came over me."

"It's—it's quite all right," she stammered. "You've had quite a shock. It's not every day one finds oneself pushed into a rosebush."

He said nothing, just turned his face as she ministered to a scratch near his ear.

"Here, hold still," she said in a soft voice. "I need to apply this on the deepest scratch."

He closed his mouth, and Elizabeth held her breath as she leaned in close. The cut was to the left and below his mouth, curving into the hollow under his lower lip. "There's a bit of dirt here," she murmured. "I— Oh, hold still another moment. I need to ..."

She bit her lower lip and bent her legs so that she was right on level with his face. She put her fingers to his lip and gently stretched it upward so that the small scratch was exposed. "Here you are," she whispered as she cleaned the wound, amazed that she was able to make a sound over the pounding of her heart. She'd never stood so close to a man before, and this one in particular did the oddest things to her. She had the most absurd desire to let her fingers drift over the sculpted planes of his face, and then smooth across the elegant arch of his dark eyebrows.

She forced herself to exhale and then looked down at his face. He was staring at her with an odd expression, half amused and half something else entirely. Her fingers were still on his lips, and somehow the sight of herself touching him seemed more dangerous than the actual touch.

With a little gasp she pulled her hand away.

"Are you done?" he asked.

She nodded. "I—I hope that didn't hurt you too much."

His eyes grew dark. "I didn't feel the cut at all."

Elizabeth felt herself smile self-consciously, and she took another step back—anything to regain her equilibrium. "You're a very different patient than my brother," she said, trying to turn the conversation to tamer topics.

"He probably didn't flinch half as much as I did," Mr. Siddons joked.

"No," Elizabeth said with a breathy laugh, "but he screams much louder."

"You said his name is Lucas?"

She nodded.

“Does he look like you?''

Elizabeth's eyes, which had been studying a painting on the wall in an effort not to look at Mr. Siddons, suddenly flew to his face. "That's an odd question to ask."

He shrugged. "Like you, I'm a curious sort."

"Oh. Well, then, yes, he does. We all look alike. My parents were both very fair."

James held silent for a moment as he contemplated her words. It was hard not to notice that she'd spoken of them in the past tense. "They have passed on, then?" he said gently.

She nodded, and he couldn't help but see a slight stiffening in her face as she turned her head to the side. "It's been over five years," she said. "We're used to being on our own now, but still it's"—she swallowed—"difficult."

"I'm sorry."

She was quiet for a moment, then let out a small, forced laugh. "I thought we agreed that we weren't going to utter those words."

"No," he teased, trying to weave humor into the conversation. He respected her desire not to share her grief. "We agreed that you would not say them. I, on the other hand..."

"Very well," she said, clearly relieved that he wasn't going to pry, "if you truly wish to apologize, I shall be happy to write out a list of your transgressions."

He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Would you, now?"

"Oh, indeed. Of course, I only have three days worth of transgressions to document, but I'm fairly certain I can at least fill a page."


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