Chapter 14

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"You look awfully flushed, shall I fetch you a cool towel, my lady?"

"Yes, Sally, that would be wonderful," Olivia murmured.

"If you don't mind me saying so, you've been a little out of sorts lately. Is everything alright, my lady?" she asked returning with the cloth, a frown marring her sweet face.

"Of course, I am. You worry needlessly," Olivia assured her, pressing the cool cloth to her warm cheeks.

Goodness gracious, she'd seen Mr.Townshend naked-splendidly, gloriously naked. She blushed anew at the thought. It was too bad that she hadn't seen all of him. From her vantage point, she'd only been able to see his chest and the tops of his knees peeping out from the tub which was clearly a tad small for a man of his stature.

"What are you wearing to dinner tonight, my lady?"

Olivia blinked, snapping out of her thoughts of Mr.Townshend and his sculpted body.

"Anything will do-no, I shall wear the emerald lace."

Sally nodded bemusedly, used to her mistress's disregard of fashion.

"This will do splendidly my lady," she smiled and held up the green gown that complimented the colour of Olivia's eyes. She nodded, still distracted.

Olivia found him the moment she entered the room. He stood straight and proud, his black tail coat cut in a way to emphasise his beautiful physique. She actually sighed aloud. And her companion heard her.

"Mr.Townshend has his way of putting our petticoats in a twist, doesn't he?" Lady Winifred Huntington winked.

"Wini!" Olivia glanced at her fellow spinster in shock before letting out a completely out of character giggle.

Her friend merely grinned, her eyes twinkling with mischief. Wini was a year or two older than Olivia and a lot more scandalous. Olivia turned her attention back to Mr.Townshend and his splendid back.

Jacob knew the moment she entered the room. His back tingled with awareness and he fancied he felt her gaze on him. But he didn't turn, he didn't try to find her.

When he'd agreed to come here, he'd had no idea that Olivia would be in attendance too. After she'd fled his chamber, Jacob realised that he simply couldn't stay away from her. He'd ordered Marcel to pack his bags, readying to leave immediately, but Peter had stopped him. A coward, he'd called him. And since he couldn't very well leave after that, he'd decided that there was only one way to keep himself from kissing her senseless and that was to studiously avoid her presence for the next fortnight.

And then Olivia was suddenly closer to him. He could see her in his periphery, but he refused to turn his head and look at her. He felt her gaze on him, more than once she tried to move towards him but she was stopped by one of her acquaintances each time.

"Oh look! It's Lady Olivia," Peter almost bellowed. "Come Townshend, we must greet her at once."

Peter, you idiot.

Jacob smiled and nodded stiffly as Pete lead him to a waiting Lady Olivia.

"Good evening, my lady," Peter said as they both bowed. Olivia curtseyed so gracefully, Jacob's insides ached.

"I trust your journey was pleasant," she smiled and Jacob had to make a conscious effort to not look at her mouth. He still hadn't looked at her properly and he hadn't said a word.

"Yes and yours?"

"It was fine."

"And the weather-" Peter was saying but Jacob cut him off impatiently.

"I tire of this conversation, so excuse me for I wish to go in search of a more stimulating company," he bowed mockingly and turned away but not before he saw the confusion on Peter's face and the hurt on Olivia's. He was tempted to turn back again and pull her into his arms, to smooth out the slight wrinkle between her brows, to coax open her lips with his. But he did none of those things.

He walked away.

He did it for her good, Jacob said to himself. Although he did regret leaving her unattended when she was swarmed by the eager swains at dinner. He didn't look at her but he knew where she was and whom she spoke with. And drove him mad. He wanted to be the one to lead her to dinner, he wanted to be at the receiving end of her smiles and witty retorts-desperately.

"Do you ride, Lady Olivia?" Lord Merrick asked her.

"Yes, my lord."

"You must allow me to accompany you on a ride tomorrow morn," The idiot said charmingly, directing all of his attention on Olivia.

"I would enjoy that," she smiled and Jacob wanted to rip off Merrick's handsome head. He refrained, of course and turned away, focusing on the elderly matron seated next to him.

"You should've just spoken to her," Peter murmured from beside him.

"You wanted me to leave her alone, yes?" Jacob whispered harshly.

"No! I didn't want you to hurt her feelings, is all," Peter muttered. "You're hurting her now."

"I don't wish to speak of her, Pete," he said firmly.

Peter sighed but let it go.

Olivia wanted to cry-she never cried. And she wanted to cry of frustration and anger, not sorrow. What in Hades was the matter with the man? Why was he being so cold and distant? Why now when she'd finally shored up the courage to proposition him?

He hadn't looked at her once all evening after she'd gone through all that trouble to dress well.

She huffed and began to work on the ties of her gown herself, feeling like a petulant child.

"My lady, allow me!" Sally bustled in. Olivia dropped her hands resigned. Wasn't she the one to push him away? Surely she couldn't expect him to forgive her insult so easily. She'd swallow her pride and apologise to him.

And it wasn't that she only wanted to speak with him because he fascinated her or because she wanted him to bed her. Somewhere along the way he'd become her friend-no, he'd always been a friend. If he wanted to reject her, he could do so and she would not begrudge him. But she wouldn't allow her attraction to him ruin their friendship, she wouldn't be able to bear it.

Satisfied with her decision, Olivia blew out the candles and slipped between the bed clothes.

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