Her head jerked up. Heart thudding, she found herself staring up at Tremont’s austere face. He’d emerged noiselessly from the shelves.
“Goodness,” she said, “you startled me. You move like a ghost.”
“An unfortunate habit.” His mouth lifted at the corners—to some inner source of amusement? “I apologize for treading too lightly.”
“Fools rush in where The Angel fears to tread?”
His smile deepened at her quip, transforming him from his celestial namesake to a flesh and blood man. Indeed, in his shirtsleeves and sans cravat, he was even more disturbingly masculine than usual. His lean cheeks bore the shadow of bronze scruff, which accented the sensual line of his lips. Against the snowy linen of his shirt, his throat was strong and bronzed, the open collar offering a tantalizing glimpse of his muscled, hair-dusted chest…
“What are you doing up at this hour, Miss Kent?” he asked.
Hastily, she pulled her gaze up. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“Neither could I. All the excitement, I suppose.”
She did not reply. Not because she couldn’t think of anything to say but because of the abundance of words suddenly cluttering her brain. Did I imagine the attraction between us? Why did you leave without a word? Was my kiss that repugnant? Yet she’d never been one to confront, and so she sat there, steeped in silent tension.
Logs crackled in the fireplace. Tremont ran a hand through his hair, a sign of his own unease perhaps. It was an improper situation; when he opened his mouth, she fully expected him to take his leave.
Instead, he gestured to the adjacent wingchair. “May I?”
She blinked. “If you like. It seems you were here first.”
He settled his long, lean frame against the leather. With the ankle of one boot propped against the opposite knee, he regarded her. Master of the house, even if he was only a guest. Power, understated yet palpable, emanated from him. She wished she didn’t find his natural air of command and self-assurance so very attractive.
“I am in your debt,” he said, “for rescuing Frederick today.”
“I did as anyone would have done in those circumstances.”
“I disagree. Your actions showed uncommon courage, particularly given your constitution.”
The qualification burst the bubble of pleasure that his praise had given rise to. An edge crept into her tone. “I’m not as delicate as I appear.”
“I know few ladies, delicate or otherwise, who would have dared to intervene with a kidnapping.”
Obviously, he was not well acquainted with the females of her family.
“How is Lord Frederick faring?” she said politely.
“He was sound asleep when I checked in on him. The doctor’s potion seems to be working.” Lines deepened around his mouth. “I can only hope today’s trauma has no lasting effects.”
“How often does Lord Frederick have falling spells?”
She asked without thinking: it was a natural question, after all. Yet Tremont’s eyes turned steely, as hard as a blade. It was an impenetrable barrier, the kind only a foolish miss would try to overcome. She’d deluded herself once; she didn’t fancy repeating the experience.
“I didn’t mean to pry.” She rose. “If you’ll excuse me—”
He was on his feet in an instant, his hand circling her wrist. “No, please. Don’t go.”
The heat of his touch jolted her. His fingers were strong, callused against the sensitive underside of her wrist. Awareness spread from the point of contact, goose pimples tingling over her skin, the tips of her breasts stiffening, rising beneath her nightclothes. Warmth liquefied and pooled in her belly. Her heart thumping, she forced herself to meet his gaze.
“I don’t enjoy games, my lord,” she said.
“Mixed messages. Uncertainty.” Her voice trembled. “Hot and cold leaves me lukewarm.”
His hold on her tightened subtly. “I find you anything but lukewarm, Miss Kent.”
“I’m not the problem.” Frustration strung her nerves as tautly as piano strings. “You are.”
Something dangerous flashed in his eyes. “Meaning?”
Like a catapult cut loose, suppressed emotions surged from her. “You toyed with my affections for months, and I never knew if you were courting me or merely passing the time. You were never clear with your intentions. If you didn’t want me to kiss you, then you should have just said so instead of leaving without a word.” Her breath surged in agitated waves. “And now you are back and your behavior is more confusing than ever. I don’t know why you left. I have no idea what you want now—”
“I know what I want, Thea,” he rasped. “What I have always wanted from you.”
He yanked her against him. A shocking collision of softness against hardness. Before she could gather her wits, his mouth sealed over hers, his kiss stealing her breath.