The heroine is staying at the hero’s house. When she cannot sleep, she goes to check on the rest of her family, and meets him in the darkened hall. He invites her to sit with him in the old Minstrel’s Gallery.
The room was not more than eight feet from where they had entered to the opposite wall, but stretched out to her left for an indeterminable distance. The near corner of the room was lit by the candelabra Rede set on the small table where he’d set the tray. Within the circle of light was the opposite wall, only a few feet high, letting out onto a dark void.
“It looks out over the Great Hall,” Rede told her, motioning to a chair.
Anne sat. She really should not be alone with him. She was sure Ruth and Hannah would advise her to beg a candle and take herself to bed. Alone. Of course, alone.
She smiled, fondly. “It is a great opportunity for her.” She took a sip, and blinked rapidly.
“What is this? It is very…” She paused, trying to find words to describe how it tasted.
“Your first brandy? Don’t drink it yet. Cup the glass with your hands so that the drink warms.”
He followed his own advice, bending his head to inhale the smell from the glass as he held it in both hands.
Anne, with most of her attention on copying him, said, “It has been hard for her when the other girls are talking about coming out; knowing that she must wait.”
He tipped his head to the side and raised his brow. “You plan a come out for her, then?”
“Just in Bath. Or perhaps Cheltenham? Not this year, though. We hope for next year, but the year after is more likely.”
“She is young yet. You have time enough, surely.”
Anne shook her head. “She is already 18. But she is very lovely. I am certain that she will ‘take’.”
“Ah. You are seeking a husband for her, then.” Rede sounded as if he disapproved.
“Should I not? Someone to love her; someone she can love. And children. She would make a wonderful mother, I think.”
“Wealth and title, I suppose.” He kept his voice neutral, but she could sense the sneer. What right had he to make assumptions and then sneer?
She refused to rise to his baiting.
“A competence is a useful thing for a couple starting life together. I would not like her to be poor. Wealth, however, is not necessary to happiness, in my view.” No need to tell Rede that Kitty would bring wealth enough to any marriage. Indeed, if she could, Anne would like to keep that information from Kitty’s putative suitors.
Rede inclined his head, making no comment.
“I do not hope for a title. Quite the contrary. Those peers I have met are, on the whole, arrogant and self-centred.” She swirled her brandy, absently. The amber liquid glowed where it caught the light. “I dare say it is not their fault. They are raised to think the world owes them respect, and make no effort to be worthy of it. I cannot think such a man would make my Kitty happy.”
“Ouch,” Rede murmured.
She raised her eyes to his, suddenly realising how her diatribe sounded. “Oh, Rede. I did not mean you. You have been everything kind.” Flustered, she sought to change the subject.
“That is an unusual shawl.” In the better light, she could see it was striped, with the occasional broad red stripe and the other stripes woven blue and white, red and white, and yellow and white. The long knotted fringe swung as he moved his legs, twisting slightly as he looked down.
“My ceinture flechée? Yes, there can’t be many of them in England. My wife’s people make them.” He ran his hand over it where it fell from the knot around his waist. “Marie Joséphe made this one for me. These are her family’s colours.”
“Marie Joséphe was your wife.”
“Hmm, yes.” He was focused on the shawl.
“What did you call it? Ceinture flechée? Arrow sash?”
“For the pattern. I think your brandy may be ready to drink.”
Anne started to lift it to her mouth.
“No. Wait,” Rede said. “Swirl, sniff, and then sip. Here; let me show you.” He leant forward and cupped his hand around the glass over hers.
“Swirl.” He moved her hand gently in a small tight circle.
“Sniff.” He held the glass several inches from her nose and again swirled it slightly, then shifted it closer.
“Now sip. Just a small amount, slowly. Let it slide over your tongue.”
Anne followed his directions, not taking her eyes off Rede. This time, the brandy seemed a lot smoother. The flavour filled her mouth, the fiery liquid warmed her throat.
Rede had not removed his hands, and now he leaned forward still further, his eyes holding her motionless.
He came closer and closer, slowly. He would stop if she protested. She should protest. She would not.
The first brush of his lips on hers was brief, and light as a feather. He drew back enough to look into her eyes, then leaned in again. This time, his lips landed and stayed, moulding to the shape of her mouth. After a moment, he began to move, cruising along her upper lip with tiny pecks and then along the lower. He settled again, this time his mouth slightly open. Was that his tongue, sliding along her lips? How odd. How… pleasant.
She opened her own lips, and was rewarded with a hum of approval before he dipped his tongue into her mouth. Tentatively she touched his tongue with her own, which sent a tingle down through her breasts to her belly.
He hummed again, this time almost a moan.
So he liked that, did he?