Gentleman's Trade
back comfortably in their chairs to watch the second half of the play.
    Vanessa sighed, her brow furrowing a moment with the effort of concentrating on translating the French dialogue. It was rumored the theater would soon begin producing plays in English as well as in French. She hoped the story was true. She would particularly enjoy seeing Shakespearean plays like Romeo and Juliet or Twelfth Night. She enjoyed the Moliere comedy, but the undivided attention necessary to achieve enjoyment could also engender throbbing temples.
    That was, perhaps, unfair. She was restless tonight, bound up by unknown feelings. She had toured the halls on Mr. Wilmot’s arm during intermission and felt content, almost proud to be seen in his company, for she’d noted many a considering eye turned in their direction. By the numerous nods and little waves he bestowed upon the different people they passed, he appeared to know all of New Orleans, and not, judging by their attire, strictly the elite. He would not stop, however, to introduce her to anyone. Nor did he choose to stay near Adeline, Paulette, and their escorts to converse. He seemed to desire her to himself. She didn’t know whether to be piqued or flattered by his possessive manner. Nonetheless, she admitted she did find satisfaction and a measure of delight in his company.
    Vanessa stiffened when she felt a light touch on the top of her shoulder. She looked over, shocked to see it was Mr. Wilmot’s hand resting there with a license she had never bestowed to him. And here she had just been thinking about how she liked him. His conceit was greater than Mr. Talverton’s if he believed that by returning his attention she was granting him license.
    Very slowly and precisely she raised her other arm to disengage his hand. He allowed his hand to be removed but clasped her fingers tightly in return. Stunned, she tugged, only to feel his grip tighten, though his thumb lazily caressed her knuckles. The blast of a cold, all-consuming fury shook her. Turning, she glared at him with frosted eyes, cold and glittering like icicles, and issued a silent, daring challenge.
    In answer he smiled, his dark eyes gleaming with something predatory flickering in their depths. Her eyes widened, her delicate nostrils flaring. Panicked, she tugged again at her captured hand. Suddenly she felt startlingly alone and helpless although they were surrounded by many people.
    Mr. Wilmot was a stranger, a man she didn’t recognize, and he frightened her.
    Hugh Talverton looked over in time to see Wilmot clasp her fingers and Vanessa turn toward him. Her expression was hidden from him by the deep shadows in the box, but by the rigid set of her body he knew she was not pleased with the gentleman.
    The situation amused Hugh, for he’d earlier thought she was no match for Wilmot. He turned the other way to poke Trevor in the ribs to share his appreciation of the scene. He was startled to see him already watching the encounter with outrage evident in the tight clenching of his jaw and of his white-knuckled fists resting on his knees. He had never witnessed Trevor in a rage. He was always friendly, and likely to be an arbiter of disputes, not a participant. Instinctively, Hugh knew he couldn’t trust his friend to act rationally. He’d heard duels were commonly fought in New Orleans over trifles, and this was no trifle. He had to diffuse the situation quickly. He saw Mr. Wilmot smile wolfishly at Vanessa while refusing to relinquish her hand. At any moment he expected Trevor to jump to his feet and mill Wilmot down, then demand satisfaction.
    He uncrossed his legs and swung his other leg up to change sides, letting the momentum of the swing carry his foot into the side of Vanessa Mannion’s chair with a resounding jolt.
    “Oh, Miss Mannion, I’m terribly sorry. It’s these confounded great long legs of mine. I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
    The jarring action took both Vanessa and Mr. Wilmot by surprise. The man’s

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