Chapter Forty-Two: Part 2

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Gills sat beside her. Looking at her face, and into her eyes, he studied her. With the tip of a finger not quite touching her, he traced her jaw line. "You are a stubborn minx, but I'd bet you fight fair."

She raised one eyebrow, a trick she had from her father. Better than she expected. "True," she acknowledged.

Following the arch of her brow, he said, "I will say haughty, but it is only a mask you wear. At heart, you fight on behalf of the underdog."

"I am my mother's daughter," she replied. "Anyone who knows of her work could have guessed that."

Barely touching the lines starting at the corners of her eyes, he said, "you are a wit, my lady, and I will await with bated breath the first time you make me laugh until my sides ache. And..." He lightly touched her temple with the barest caress of his fingertip. "Politics or Sciences or Arts? You will have chosen at least one to excel at in your studies, and still keep up with."

"Mathematics," she found herself blurting out.

"Mathematics. Perfect. A subject that requires strict logic and a keen intellect. Very like you, if I do not miss my guess."

She put her head on one side as she studied him in return. Much better than she had expected. For the first time, she saw him as a person rather than a tool to her own ends. "You are very good at this, are you not? There is more to you than meets the eye, Gills."

"Very good at what, Sally?"

"Seduction, Gills. Is that not what this dance is about?"

"Is it?" he asked, sitting up a bit straighter.

"Shall I be honest with you?"

"By all means, Sally. Be as honest as you like."

"I came with you because I wish to be kissed. I do not wish to be compromised, and I appreciate your skill at finding a hidden spot. I trust you are also skilled at returning maidens to the ballroom after a kiss? For in all fairness, I must insist you do."

He chuckled. "You wish to know if any other man will set you aflame as he does. The answer, my dear, is no, I cannot make your eyes glow like they do when you think of him, as you are doing right now. But I can make you burn... differently." He leaned closer again and slid a hand down her shoulder.

She tipped her head to one side again, watching with interest.

"And I do not give a whit if you think of him every second I am touching you. It shall be my challenge to drive him from your mind for as long as I can. All of moments at a time, I am certain."

Would it be enough, though? Surely if even another skilled rake could not make her forget Toad, she would be wise to give up any idea of marrying? "Do your best then, my knight in somewhat tarnished armor," she commanded.

He touched her cheek, just below her eye. "You love him, Sally. That will always burn hotter than a bit of lust in a garden. But I am happy to share a bit of warmth this night. He is a fool." He leaned in, one hand behind her head and touched his lips to hers.

Sally shut her eyes, the better to feel the press of lips on lips. There. That was his tongue, running along the seam of her mouth. David did that, too. She parted her lips, enjoying the sensation. He was gentle, but implacable, wrapping his arm around her waist and pulling her close. She moulded herself to his firm chest, giving herself over to the embrace, all the time imagining it was David's arm pulling her closer. His hand traced her hip, then her thigh, his fingers pulling, inch by inch at her skirt.

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