Beyond Scandal and Desire (Sins for All Seasons #1)(7)

By: Lorraine Heath

“You implied he was interested in the lady.”

“She is the sort he marries. You are the sort he beds.”

Her eyes widened, her cheeks reddened. “And the lady on his arm? Is she the sort you wed?”

“Never in a million years.”

She stopped walking, causing him to do the same. “Yet you’re going to strive to take her away from him. What has he done to earn your wrath?”

He’d been born, protected, loved. Although in truth, he wasn’t the one with whom Mick found fault, but he was the means to achieving satisfaction. Not that he was willing to explain any of his reasons to his sister. She’d find fault with him. Generally he didn’t care what people thought about him, but from the moment she was born, she’d been the only pure thing to ever love him. He’d do whatever necessary to ensure nothing ever tainted that purity. “For tonight, simply enjoy the fireworks.”

“But I’m part of your scheme now.”

“Not after tonight.”

“I gained you an introduction. I can do more—­”

“You were correct earlier, Fancy. You were merely to serve as part of my disguise. What is going to transpire beyond tonight is not for a lady of your sensibilities.” Not for anyone with a shred of kindness or civility, but his education in the streets had ensured he grew up to possess neither of those irritating and limiting qualities. If they lingered about at all, he was unable to locate even a remnant of their existence within his character, his soul, his heart.

“I despise the way you discount me so easily with so little care.”

“I’m not discounting you, I’m protecting you.”

She opened her mouth, no doubt to protest more, reminding him of a dog he’d once owned that never released his hold on a bone once he had it clamped between his jaws. “We can leave now if you prefer,” he said curtly before she could give voice to more objections.

Her face fell, no doubt because she’d realized to argue with him was a losing battle. Men with far more worldly experience could not stand up to him, so how could a mere slip of a girl? “I want to see the fireworks.”

He was impressed she managed not to sound too churlish or petulant. “Then let this go.”

She quickly stuck her tongue out at him before marching forward. Her short legs were no deterrent for his longer ones, and he easily caught up with her. Odd that she didn’t realize her childish actions proved his point: she was not made for the world in which he survived.

Kipwick and Lady Aslyn were waiting in an open area that would give them a clear view of the sky. The lady moved to greet Fancy as though they were long lost friends, which left the earl and Mick standing behind them. He should have used the opportunity to study his foe, but he couldn’t seem to drag his gaze from Lady Aslyn’s profile as she smiled and spoke with his sister.

Her features were not perfect. The end of her nose tipped up ever so slightly as though she’d spent her youth with it pressed up against a shop window, longing for something she’d spied on a shelf. A distant light glinted off her eyelashes, which were unusually long, and he suspected when she slept, they fanned out over her cheeks. Her eyes tilted up slightly as though the corners near her temples were shoved into place by her overly high cheekbones. Yet each imperfection wove into the fabric of her face to give her the appearance of perfection.

Her alabaster skin was flawless, not a freckle in sight, and he doubted she’d ever allowed the sun to touch her face. Nor a man for that matter. Beneath her frilly hat, a few blond tendrils, curling and loose, had broken free of their pins. He suspected they were the most rebellious part of her. Her posture, the way she held herself stiffly, the lack of animation in her movements spoke of a woman who understood she was continually on display and must constantly portray control and a proper bearing.

He was quite looking forward to the challenge of destroying that control.

“Have we met before?” Kipwick asked quietly.

Mick slid his gaze over to the man, who was perhaps an inch shorter than he and much more slender. But then his lordship had never had to haul rubbish out of the city in order to earn a few shillings so his family didn’t go hungry. “No.”

The earl’s thick dark eyebrows drew together, causing a deep crease to form between them. “You look familiar. I could swear our paths have crossed at some point.”

“I don’t move about in your circles, my lord. And I doubt very much you move about in mine.”

Kipwick blanched, averted his gaze. Mick wasn’t surprised. He’d learned enough about the earl during the past few months to have a relatively good idea of the circles he preferred. Before summer drew to a close, they would be his downfall.