there no better than any other right now. Her mind proved incapable of being sensible while he touched her and while that kiss still stirred her so powerfully. “I expect no answer today. I only ask that you consider my offer of this other choice. I realize that you have much to weigh. I know that you never expected to marry a man like me when you were a girl, but much has changed since then.” His fingers lightly caressed her face in that careful, thoughtful touch he had used in the field. “Tell me that you will think about it.” It was not really a request. Nor did she possess enough of a will to disagree. He removed a paper from his frock coat. “This is where I live in London. When you decide, send for me. Or write if you prefer. If I do not hear from you in ten days, I will return.” He set the paper beside the washbasin. His bootsteps sounded loud in the barren house as he strode to the door.
A few drops of water smeared the address on the paper while she washed the dishes. Bending awkwardly, she pushed the paper aside with her dry elbow so the writing would not get ruined. Mr. Bradwell had been gone a long while before she even moved. An hour had passed before she retrieved something of her normal composure. She guessed it would be days before she could think clearly about what had transpired today. She had capitulated with shocking quickness—so shocking that she would not blame him if he rethought her character now. She had not expected to actually like that deep kiss, however. His artistry had been a revelation that put her at a disadvantage. Her lack of virtue probably had too, she suspected. Evidently it was very easy to fall if one had already fallen. Didn’t the older women warn as much? Warm enough for me. He did not know that. The intimacies in marriage involved more than kisses in a kitchen. She had not liked that part of being Norbury’s mistress. The kisses were somewhat fun, but the rest—she made a face at memories of embarrassment and discomfort and awkwardness. She knew that some women did not receive much pleasure, but no one had warned her how distasteful it was to remain unmoved while her lover lost all reserve. Finished with her chore, she dried her hands on a towel. The low sun revealed the roughness of their skin. She had slathered her hands in creams when she was a girl, and still did when she could afford the lotions. She had washed and scrubbed enough in her life, however, that she no longer had a lady’s hands. Much has changed since then. Heavens, but that was the truth. Her inclination was to reject this proposal. All the ways in which such a marriage could be horrible clamored for attention with their warnings. He had probably been offered money, but soon that money would be spent or forgotten, and they would still be bound forever. At best he had offered only out of an impulse to save her again. He thought she meant to go abroad with another scoundrel, so he felt obligated to sacrifice himself. Still, the offer had been made. It was another choice. She would be a fool to decline it outright. She doubted that she could sort through the resentments and worries and prejudices that already were lining up to discourage her, however. She wished Alexia were here. Alexia was so sensible and wise. Alexia could help her to think clearly about this unexpected development.
T he summons to Norbury’s house came four days after Kyle had visited Miss Longworth. Since Norbury’s note did not indicate the subject of this meeting, Kyle wondered if the viscount had somehow heard about the proposal. He rode his horse from his chambers in Piccadilly to Mayfair. He had not seen Norbury since the night of the auction, and the events at that party were enough to cause a strain of their own today. He did not expect his presumption in now offering marriage to pass without a few scathing words. Of course, Miss Longworth had not accepted. She had