The Marquis smiled, that glittering, complicated smirk for which he was famous. “I’ve seen how loyally you’ve served my wife. But would you be such a faithful servant to one such as myself? Perhaps you know my reputation.”
Color flooded my face. I knew his reputation perhaps better than he did himself. I was fascinated by it. I put my hands to my scalding cheeks. “Yes,” I admitted stiffly.
“And yet you’re still willing to enter my household?”
No. Of course I wasn’t. That was why I’d ventured into the library. But I found myself nodding. He shifted his legs so his knee brushed against my dress. His head tilted backward so it rested on the russet leather chair back. He looked utterly disreputable, and utterly fascinating. “I’m not sure I believe you.”
I said naught. I felt guilty, as though I’d been caught in a lie.
“I’m afraid I’ll require some proof.”
“Proof that you’re fit to work for me. I require a certain ease with one’s sexual nature. I cannot have prudes in my house. Are you a prude, Miss Miranda Brown?”
The diabolical glitter in his eyes made my knees weaken. This was how I’d always imagined him in my midnight fantasies. For a wild moment, I wondered if I was dreaming this whole encounter. I swayed from side to side.
“My dear, you look a bit faint,” said the Marquis. “Come here and stand between my legs. I promise to keep you upright.” He said the word “upright” with light irony, as if referring to more than my stance.
I stared at him with wide eyes. Perhaps now was the time to tell him I wouldn’t work for him. Couldn’t work for him. Instead, I took a step forward, then another, until I stood between his two long legs clad in fine garnet velvet. His boots shone in the light of the fire. His waistcoat was slightly open, his cravat hanging to one side. His dark hair fell over his forehead in unruly waves. I’d never seen the impeccable Marquis in such disarray.
“Are you quite all right, milord? Shall I fetch a tonic for you?”
“Don’t waste your worry on me. I’m merely drinking to my soon-to-be late wife.” He raised his glass and swallowed more brandy. “Besides, I don’t want you to leave yet. I haven’t gotten my proof yet.”
“It’s nothing overly difficult. It won’t take long, the matter of a mere moment.”
Excited chills raced up my spine. What was he referring to? The way he was speaking, and watching me with those lazy black eyes, it had to be naughty. Again I swayed, but he caught me between his strong legs.
Through my dress, through his velvet breeches, I felt the heat of him, and it made my head swim as if I’d been drinking the brandy. “Wh…what?” I whispered.
“Let me look at you.”
He was looking at me. Closely. Heatedly. Confusingly. “But, sir, you are—”
“Lift your dress.”
The words dropped into the quiet library like stones into a well. Lift my dress. The Marquis wanted me to expose my private area to him. And that very region of my body seemed to pulsate with the desire to do just that. Heat tingled between my legs. I stared at him, feeling flushed and chilled in alternating waves.
He stared back and I knew his message. If I wanted to leave—the library or his employ—now would be the perfect moment to do so. Should I choose to remain, well, the dark promise in his wicked face left no doubt that I’d be traveling down a road to new sensual horizons.