"What are you doing?"
She looked up, painfully aware that her expression was one of a deer staring down the barrel of a hunter's rifle. "Nothing?"
James strode across the room, his long legs carrying him to intimidating closeness in only five steps. “You're reading that book again, aren't you?"
"Not reading, precisely," Elizabeth stammered. She was a complete ninny to be so embarrassed, but she couldn't help feeling like she had just been caught doing something most unsavory. "It was more of a browse."
"I find myself remarkably uninterested in the difference between the two."
Elizabeth quickly decided that the best course of action was a change of subject. "How did you know I was here?"
“I heard your footsteps. Next time, if you want to engage in acts of subterfuge, walk on the carpet."
"I did! But the carpet ends, you know. One has to step on the floor for a few paces to enter the library."
His brown eyes took on a strange, almost academic light, as he said, "There are ways to muffle— Oh, never mind. That is not the matter at hand." He reached out and snatched HOW TO MARRY A MARQUIS away from her. “I thought we had agreed that this was nothing but nonsense. A collection of drivel and claptrap designed to turn women into brainless, sniveling idiots."
“I was under the impression that men already thought we were brainless, sniveling idiots."
"Most are," he grunted in agreement. "But you don't have to be."
“Why, Mr. Siddons, you shock me. I think that might have been a compliment."
"And you say you don't know how to flirt," he grumbled.
Elizabeth couldn't contain the smile that welled up within her. Of all his compliments, the reluctant ones touched her the most.
He scowled at her, his expression turning almost boyishly petulant as he jammed the book back on the shelf. "Don't let me catch you looking at that again."
"1 was only looking for a bit of advice," she explained.
"If you need advice, I'll give it to you."
Her lips pursed for a brief second before she answered with, "I don't think that's appropriate in this case."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"James," he snapped.
"James," she amended. "I don't know what has propelled you into such a temper, but I do not appreciate your language. Or your tone."
He let out a long exhale, appalled at the way his body shuddered as he did so. His gut had been twisted in knots for nearly twenty-four hours, and all over this little slip of a female. She barely reached his shoulder, for God's sake.
It had started with that kiss. No, he thought grimly, it had started long before that, with the anticipation, the wondering, the dreaming of what it would be to feel her mouth beneath his.
And of course it hadn't been enough. It hadn't been nearly enough. He'd managed to fake nonchalance fairly well the previous afternoon—with the help of her pot of well-aimed water, which had certainly taken the edge off of his need.
But the night had left him all alone with his imagination. And James had a vivid imagination.
"I am in a temper," he finally answered her, avoiding an outright lie by adding, "because I did not sleep well last night."
"Oh." She seemed surprised by the simplicity of his answer. She opened her mouth as if to interrogate him further, then closed it.
Good for her, he thought harshly. If she expressed so much as a vague interest in why he didn't sleep well, he swore he'd tell her. He'd describe his dreams in every last explicit detail.
"I'm sorry that you suffer insomnia," she finally said, “but I do think we need to discuss your offer to aid me in finding a husband. I'm sure you realize that it is highly irregular."
"I thought we had decided that we weren't going to let that guide our actions."
She ignored him. “I need a certain measure of stability in my life, Mr. Siddons."
"James." She repeated his name, the word coming out on a sigh. “I cannot be constantly on my guard, watching for you to pounce on me at any second."
“Pounce?'' One corner of his mouth tilted up in a hint of a smile. He rather liked the image pouncing brought to mind.
“And it certainly cannot be beneficial for us to be so, ah..."
"Intimate?" he supplied, just to annoy her.
It worked. The look she threw at him could have shattered a window. "The point is," she said loudly, as if that could drown out his interference, "our aim is to find me a husband, and—''
"Don't worry," he said grimly. "We'll find you a husband." But even as he said the words, he became vaguely aware of a strange distaste in his mouth. He could picture his tutoring lessons with Elizabeth—picture each and every perfect little minute—but the thought of her actually achieving her stated goal of marriage left him slightly sick.
"This brings me to another point," she said.
James crossed his arms. One more point and he might have to muzzle her.
“About this work, and your willingness to help me find a husband—I'm not sure I'm comfortable being in your debt."
"You won't be."
"Yes," Elizabeth said firmly, "I will. And I insist upon paying you back."
The smile he gave her was so potently masculine it turned her ankles to water. "And how," he drawled, "do you intend to pay me back?''
He blinked in surprise. She took a little pride in that. "Blackmail?" he echoed.
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