So he decided that if Annabel wasn‘t going to be furious about Newbury‘s pinch, then neither would he.
At supper she was positively incandescent, which, given the two-seats-down-and-across-the-tableness of their positions, was somewhat irksome. He could not enjoy her radiance, nor could he take credit for it. She did seem to be enjoying her conversation with Edward immensely, and Sebastian found that if he leaned just a bit to his left he could hear almost half of what they were saying.
He might have heard more, except that also to his left was the elderly Lady Millicent Farnsworth. Who was quite nearly deaf.
As he would surely be by the end of the evening.
―IS THAT DUCK?" she yelled, pointing at a slice of fowl which was, indeed, duck.
Sebastian swallowed, as if the motion might somehow dislodge her voice from his ear, and said something about the duck (which he had not yet tasted) being delicious.
She shook her head. ―I DON‘T LIKE DUCK." And then, in a blessed whisper, she added, ―It gives me hives."
Sebastian decided then and there that until he himself was old enough to have sired grandchildren, this was more than he wanted to know about any woman over the age of seventy.
While Lady Millicent was busy with the beef burgundy, Sebastian craned his neck only slightly farther than was subtle, trying to hear what Annabel and Edward were talking about.
―I was a very recent addition," Edward said.
Sebastian presumed he was talking about the guest list.
Annabel gave him—Edward, that was; not Sebastian—another one of her brilliant smiles.
Sebastian heard himself growl.
He flinched. It was a natural reflex. He was fond of his left ear.
―Isn‘t the beef marvelous?" he said to Lady Millicent, pointing at it for clarification.
She nodded, said something about Parliament, and speared a potato.
Sebastian looked back at Annabel, who was chatting animatedly with Edward.
Look at me, he willed.
Look at me.
―WHAT‘RE YOU LOOKING AT?"
―Only admiring your fair skin, Lady Millicent," Seb said smoothly. He‘d always been good on his feet. ―You must be quite diligent about staying out of the sun."
She nodded and muttered, ―I watch my money."
Sebastian was stupefied. What on earth had she thought he‘d said?
―EAT THE BEEF." She took another bite. ―IT‘S THE BEST THING ON THE TABLE."
He did. But it needed salt. Or rather, he needed the salt cellar, which happened to be located directly in front of Annabel.
―Edward," he said, ―would you please ask Miss Winslow for the salt?"
Edward turned to Annabel and repeated the request, although in Sebastian‘s opinion, there had been no need for his eyes to travel anywhere below her face.
―Of course," Annabel murmured, and she reached for the salt cellar.
Look at me.
She handed it to Edward.
Look at me.
And then…finally. He gave her his most melting smile, the kind that promised secrets and delight.
She flushed. From her cheeks, to her ears, to the skin on her chest, so delightfully displayed above the lacy trim of her bodice. Sebastian allowed himself a satisfied sigh.
―Miss Winslow?" Edward asked. ―Are you unwell?"
―Perfectly well," she said, fanning herself. ―Is it hot in here?"
―Perhaps a little bit," he said, obviously lying. He was wearing a shirt, cravat, waistcoat, and jacket, and he looked cool and comfortable as an ice chip. Whereas Annabel, whose dress was cut low enough so that half of her bosom was exposed to air, had just taken a long sip of wine.
―I think my soup was overly warm," she said, shooting a quick glare at Sebastian. He returned the sentiment with a tiny lick of his lips.
―Miss Winslow?" Edward asked again, all concern.
―I‘m fine," she snapped.
―TRY THE FISH."
―I believe I will," Seb said, smiling at Lady Millicent. He took a bite of the salmon, which really was excellent—Lady Millicent apparently knew her fish—then sneaked a glance over at Annabel, who still looked as if she‘d dearly love a tall glass of water. Edward, on the other hand, had got that glazed look in his eyes, the one that appeared every time he thought about Annabel‘s—
Sebastian kicked him.
Edward snapped around to face him.
―Is something wrong, Mr. Valentine?" Annabel asked.
―My cousin," he bit off, ―has uncommonly long legs."
―Did he kick you?" She turned quickly to Sebastian. Did you kick him ? she mouthed.
He took another bite of fish.
She turned back to Edward. ―Why would he do such a thing?"
Edward flushed to the tips of his ears. Sebastian decided to let Annabel figure that one out on her own. She turned and scowled at him, which he returned with: ―Why, Miss Winslow, whatever can be the matter?"
―WERE YOU TALKING TO ME?"
―Miss Winslow was wondering what sort of fish we‘re eating," Sebastian lied.
Lady Millicent looked at Annabel as if she were an idiot, shook her head, and muttered something Sebastian couldn‘t quite grasp. He thought he heard salmon. Maybe beef, too. And he could have sworn she said something about a dog.
This concerned him.
He glanced down at his plate, making sure that he could identify every meat-like substance, and then, satisfied all was what it should be, took a bite of the beef.
―It‘s good," Lady Millicent said, giving him a nudge.
He smiled and nodded, relieved that she seemed to be speaking in a quieter voice.