Lily bolted from him like a newborn calf. Anthony’s first instinct was to let her go.
But when he saw Lord Chamberlain follow her onto the terrace, he knew he couldn’t.
He started for the French doors that led outside. A slight pressure on his arm made him stop. Miranda held his elbow. “Where are you going, Anthony?”
“She…” He stopped. “Let me go, Miranda.”
Miranda lifted one thin, brown brow. “I only hope you know what you’re doing.” She released him, and he hurried after Lily.
He had no idea what he was doing. What did Lily mean about being ruined? Had she really been involved with Chamberlain? Lord Chamberlain was a marquis and extremely wealthy. He was also a philanderer. The type of man Anthony detested. He couldn’t believe Lily would become involved with a married man. A bile taste rose in his mouth at the thought. If not that, then what the devil had happened to cause such a scandal?
The cool night wind rushed to him as he opened the French doors onto the back portico. Though he spotted a couple whispering by the railing, he saw no sign of Lily. He rushed to the garden. There she stood with her back to Chamberlain, the graceful line of her spine stiff and ramrod straight.
Chamberlain was speaking, but Anthony couldn’t hear what he was saying. Then the man grabbed her shoulder and tried to forcibly spin her around. He’d seen enough. Chamberlain wasn’t a small man, and his roughness made Anthony’s blood boil.
He raced over and plucked Chamberlain’s hand from her, shoving the man backward. “Take a walk. It’s obvious your attentions are unwelcome here,” Anthony said.
Surprised, Chamberlain righted himself and tugged on his lapels. “Darby, you nodcock, stop playing protector. You don’t know what you’re dealing with.”
Anthony moved forward, nose to nose with the bastard. “And you don’t know what you’ll be dealing with if you don’t make haste.” Anthony clenched his right fist at his side and stood as tall as his six-foot-one frame would allow. Chamberlain might be bulky, but he was soft. And Anthony had lived two years in the wilds of Africa and was easily fifteen years younger.
Chamberlain appeared to be debating the challenge. He must have thought better of it. “She’s not worth it,” he spat out as he walked away.
Anthony took a deep breath and turned around. If he expected to find gratitude from Lily, he was wrong.
“Come to scold me some more?” she asked. In the light of the lanterns he saw her eyes were shiny despite her confident tone.
“Are you all right?”
“I want to go home.”
“I’ll find your father—”
“No. I can’t face him yet.”
She inched closer to Anthony. He could feel the softness of her breath against his neck. It warmed his skin and he wondered how it would feel caressing another, more sensitive part of him. God help him, she was enticing. He was trying like the devil to keep his eyes on her face and not on the mounds of her breasts peeking above her dress, but he was failing miserably.
“Would you take me home?” she whispered.
It was a bad idea. His brain knew it, and his shaft, which was swollen and itching to be inside her soft folds, knew it as well. Damn this resolve for celibacy.
He ran his hand over his face. If this midnight flight got out, it would set off all kinds of rumors. “Why me, Lily?”
“It will only cause more speculation if I go back inside now. My Papa and Stepmama won’t understand.”
He wasn’t sure he understood.
“And,” she said, “I trust you, Anthony.”
Anthony swallowed. Trust him? He was thinking about ravishing her and she trusted him?
“Fine. If you won’t escort me, I’ll find a way home on my own.” She whirled away and started toward the lane that went around front.
What the devil was she going to do? Walk home? Coerce a stable hand into taking her? She was stubborn enough to do it, and he wouldn’t be surprised if Chamberlain followed her. A few rain drops began to pelt them, and he moved forward, grasping her hand to stop her from doing anything more foolish. “You’re not going anywhere by yourself, Lily.”
“I’m perfectly capable of—”
“The only thing you’ve shown me you’re capable of tonight is causing havoc.”
He heard her “Harrumph,” but he ignored it as the rain became more intense, and instead led her toward the carriages. He knew he could trust his driver to be discreet.
Bloody hell, he was an utter fool if he took her home. He only hoped he wouldn’t regret it.
* * * *
If she wanted to be further ostracized, she’d accomplished her goal. Then, Lily thought as she gazed out the window of the coach, isn’t that exactly what she had wanted? She’d known her dress would cause a stir, but she’d worn it anyway, figuring she’d look the part society had given her. Lily smoothed the wet fabric of that dress over her knees, yet the material clung to her damp skin.
She also should have kept silent when the countess had made the comment about Cassandra. But the thought that she’d hurt her sister—more than she’d already done—had cut to the quick.
Rain pelted the carriage window. The rhythm should have been calming, but instead it only made her more anxious.
In France, her guardian Madame Lamont had told her that Lily reminded her of Lily’s mama—headstrong and independent. Lily would never have guessed that before her death eight years ago, her mother had been a member of the secret Women’s Society for Advancement. But Madame had shown her the evidence.
So, maybe she was like her mama. A rebellious creature indeed.
She glanced over at Anthony, who sat silently on his side of the carriage seat. He was going to ignore her, was he? He’d not spoken two words to her since they’d entered the coach. He sat as far from her as possible, and stared out the window as the rain poured down.
“I appreciate you taking me home,” Lily said to break the silence. She could stand Mary being mad at her, maybe even her Papa, but for some reason it seemed like her world wouldn’t be right if Anthony were too.
He didn’t look at her. “Lily, you know as well as I do that it was damned crazy of me.”
“Anthony, try to understand, I don’t mean to cause trouble.”
“Don’t mean to cause trouble?” He laughed softly and faced her. “Then why were you outside with Chamberlain?”
“I didn’t exactly invite him to follow me.”
“What is going on between you two? Were you involved with him?”
Her breath caught on the answer. He deserved to know the truth. She couldn’t hide it any longer. As she was about to tell him, the coach came to a sudden, violent halt and tilted toward Anthony’s side.
Lily slammed against Anthony’s body. Hip to hip, thigh to thigh, suddenly all she could feel was him.
, that was the only word in her mind when her chest pressed against his side. He was hard all over. Her pulse sped up. In the years he’d been abroad, she’d dreamed of the man he’d become. And in the depth of night, as she touched herself in places she knew she shouldn’t, she’d often imagined his torso bare and muscled in the African sun.