"Hmmph," she said. "It's not nearly as purple as I would have expected."

"I told you it wasn't a serious injury."

She frowned. "I did knock you to the ground."

He arched his neck a little farther, silently daring her to put her mouth within kissing distance again. “Perhaps if you looked closer."

She wasn't falling for it. "I'm going to be able to see the color of your bruise better by moving closer? Hmmph. I don't know what you're up to, but I'm far too smart for your tricks."

That she was too innocent to realize he was trying to sneak a kiss both amused and delighted him. After a moment of thought, however, he realized that it horrified him as well. If she was that ignorant to his true motives, what the hell was she going to do when faced with libertines whose aims were considerably less noble than his?

And she would, he knew. He might possess a rake's reputation, but he tried to live his life with a certain modicum of honor, which was more than he could say for much of the ton. And Elizabeth, with that moonbeam hair of hers, not to mention those eyes, and that mouth, and—

Hell, he hadn't meant to sit here and total up her attributes. The point was, she had no powerful family to defend her, and thus gentlemen would try to take advantage of her, and the more he thought about it, the less convinced he was that she would be able to make it to the altar with her purity—and her soul—intact.

"We're going to have to have another boxing lesson tomorrow," he blurted out.

“I thought you said—''

"I know what I said," he snapped, "but then I started thinking."

"How very industrious of you," she murmured.

"Elizabeth, you must know how to defend yourself. Men are cads. Scoundrels. Idiots, one and all."

"Yourself included?"

"Especially me! Do you have any idea what I was trying to do right then when you were inspecting my eye?"

She shook her head.

His eyes grew hot with fury and need. "If you'd given me one more second, just one more blessed second, I would have had my hand behind your neck, and before you could count to one, you would have been in my lap."

She made no comment, which, for some asinine reason he couldn't quite define, infuriated him. "Do you understand what I'm saying?" he demanded.

"Yes," she said coolly. "And I shall regard this lesson as a critical part of my education. I'm far too trusting."

"You're damned right about that," he grumbled.

"Of course, it does present an interesting dilemma for tomorrow's lesson." She crossed her arms and regarded him with an assessing look. “After all, you told me that I must study the more, er, amorous aspects of courtship."

James had a feeling he wasn't going to like what was coming next.

"You tell me I must learn to kiss, and"—here she shot him a look that was dubious in the extreme—"you tell me that you must be the one to teach me."

James couldn't think of any words that might possibly present him in a flattering light, so he kept his mouth shut and tried to maintain his dignity by glowering at her.

"Now you tell me," she continued, "that I should trust no one. So why should I trust you?"

"Because / have your best interests at heart."

"Ha!"

As set-downs went, it was short, to the point, and remarkably effective.

"Why are you helping me?" she whispered. "Why have you made this bizarre offer of your services? Because it is bizarre, you know. Surely you must realize that."

"Why have you accepted?" he countered.

Elizabeth paused. There was no way to answer his question. She was a terrible liar, and she certainly couldn't tell him the truth. Oh, he'd have a fine time with that—learning that she wanted to spend one last week, or if she was lucky a whole fortnight, in his company. She wanted to hear his voice, and breathe his scent, and catch her breath when he drew too near. She wanted to fall in love and pretend it could last forever.

No, the truth was not an option.

"It doesn't matter why I've accepted," she finally replied.

He stood. "Doesn't it?"

Without even realizing it, she took a step back. It was so much easier to fake bravado when he was sitting down. But at his full height, he was the most intimidating male specimen she'd ever come across, and all her recent ramblings about feeling so comfortable in his presence seemed rather foolish and premature.

It was different now. He was here. He was close. And he wanted her.

That easy feeling had fled—the one that allowed her to be so true to herself in his company, to say whatever was on her mind without fear of embarrassment. It had been replaced by something infinitely more thrilling, something that stole her breath and her reason and her very soul.

His eyes never left hers. The rich brown color smoldered and darkened as he closed the distance between them. She couldn't blink, she couldn't even breathe as he drew ever nearer. The air grew hot, and then electric, and then he stopped.

"I'm going to kiss you now," he whispered.

She couldn't make a sound.

One of his hands settled at the hollow in the small of her back. "If you don't want me to, tell me now, because if you don't..."

She didn't think she moved, but her lips parted in silent assent.

His other hand slid behind her head, and she thought she heard him murmur something as his fingers sank into the silk of her hair. His lips brushed against hers, once, twice, then moved to the corner of her mouth, where his tongue teased the sensitive skin of the edge of her lips until she was forced to gasp her pleasure.

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