Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage

Page 6

"You were rude, you know," she said, as though every step didn't unnerve her. "I was enjoying speaking with Cameron."
"Cameron knows when he's gooseberry."
The picture of Cameron the womanizer as a gooseberry should have been amusing, but Isabella was too distracted by Mac for laughter. She wished she didn't like feeling the play of his shoulder under her hand, the way her fingers were lost in his firm grip. They both wore several layers of clothing, fashion being what it was, but in her opinion, the number of layers wasn't nearly enough.
"I suppose you are pleased with yourself," she said, trying to keep her voice light. "You know I couldn't refuse to dance with you without the scene being repeated all over London. Everyone loves to gossip about us."
"London's insatiable need for gossip is one weapon in my arsenal," Mac said, his voice as smooth as fine wine. "Though not always a reliable one."
Isabella couldn't bring herself to look straight into his eyes. She had enough trouble balancing without letting herself become fixated on those copper irises. Instead, she focused on his chin, which was brushed with red gold whiskers. Remembering she knew what they tasted like did not help.
"Interesting, and a bit insulting, that you talk of what is between us in terms of weapons of war," she said.
"It's an apt metaphor. This ballroom is a battlefield, this dance the engagement, your weapon that decadent gown that hugs you so well."
Mac's gaze swept over her off-the-shoulder bodice and rested on the yellow roses at her décolletage. Isabella had favored yellow roses since he'd painted her with them the second day they were married. His eyes darkened, and her exposed skin burned.
"Then another of your weapons is dancing me until my feet hurt," Isabella said. "That and your kilt."
He looked nonplussed. "My kilt?"
"You look particularly fine in a kilt."
Mac's gaze flickered. "Yes, I remember, you always liked looking at my legs. And other parts of my anatomy. Rumor has it that a Scotsman wears nothing at all under his kilt."
Isabella remembered mornings when he'd wear nothing but a kilt draped carelessly around his hips, his feet up at the table in their bedroom while he perused the morning paper. Mac was heady enough in formal dress, but in undress, he was devastating.
"You read too much into my statement," Isabella said, voice unsteady.
"Do I? Would you like to come out to the terrace and satisfy your curiosity about the other part?"
"I want to go nowhere near a terrace with you, thank you very much." On the terrace at her father's house, after he'd walked into her debut ball without invitation, Mac had kissed her for the first time .
Mac's eyes glinted, a sinful smile touching his mouth. "You fear it a more dangerous battleground?"
"If you must keep on with the war metaphor, then yes, I feel that the terrace would give me a tactical disadvantage."
Mac pulled her the slightest bit closer. "You always have the advantage of me, Isabella."
"I hardly think so. Why should I?"
He tugged her closer still. "Because you can unman me by simply walking into a room-as you did yesterday in my studio. I've lived like a monk for three and a half years, and to see you so close, to smell you, to touch you . . . Have pity on a poor celibate."
"Not pursuing others was your choice."
Mac caught and held her gaze, and finally she looked into his eyes. Behind the teasing sparkle, she saw a quietness she'd never noted before in him.
"Yes," he said. "It was."
Isabella believed him. She could easily name half a dozen women who would leap into bed with Mac Mackenzie the moment he indicated they were welcome. Isabella knew he hadn't pursued women, either before or after she'd left him, because plenty of people would have delighted to tell her so if he had. Even their more spiteful acquaintances had to admit that Mac had remained faithful to his wife, even after their separation.
"Perhaps I should change my perfume," Isabella said.
"It has nothing to do with the perfume." Mac leaned to her, his breath touching the curve between her neck and shoulder. "I like that you still wear attar of roses."
"I am fond of roses," she said faintly.
"I know. Yellow ones."
Isabella tripped again. Mac straightened, his hand tightening on her waist. "Careful."
"I'm clumsy tonight," she said. "These slippers are wretched. May we please sit down?"
"I told you, not until the waltz is over. This dance is my price, and I can't very well let you go when you've only half-paid, can I?"
"Your price for what?"
"For not kissing you senseless in front of all these people. Not to mention yesterday on the stairs."
Isabella's fingers shook. "You would have kissed me yesterday, even though I did not wish it?"
"But you did wish it, my wife. I know you so very well."
Isabella didn't answer, because he had the truth of it. When they'd stood face-to-face on the stairs, in the house they used to share, she'd almost let him kiss her. If Molly hadn't interrupted them, Isabella would have let him take her into his arms and press his paint-stained face to hers, to touch her as much as he liked. But Mac had let her go, his choice.

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