The heroine of Reluctance is Frances Bowes, the widowed heiress who insists she does not wish to re-marry at any cost. When a childhood friend returns to the neighbourhood, she is shocked to discover him drunk wandering the lanes at midnight and visits his home early next morning to see that he did not come to grief.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Please step back, sir.” To her shame, her voice sounded like a child pleading for comfort. When a floorboard creaked, she assumed he had stepped back. She laid her brow against the smooth, cool wood, closed her eyes, and spoke quietly. “I am not here to do you harm. The opposite, if only you will believe me.”
“Then why invade my home like some meddling, interfering busybody who—”
“I resent that!” Frances gathered together what shreds of dignity she possessed, turned, and met his sardonic gaze. “I am neither meddling nor interfering! I came to see…” Her voice faded into nothing. A flicker of fear ran through her skin. Grimly, she took a few swift breaths.
He waited, his head tilted to one side.
“I came to see that you were safe,” she added. “Last night you were as drunk as…as I have ever seen anyone, and I feared you would not arrive home without mishap.”
“And what is your scale of drunkenness, Lady Rathmere? How do you judge? I should wager you have never in your life seen a man drunk!”
Frances acknowledged the accuracy of his statement and worried her lower lip. “I am truly sorry,” she blurted at last. “Please believe my intentions were good.”
Streatham threw his hands in the air. “You invaded my bedchamber. What if I was not alone? What if I had a companion here? For God’s sake, woman, what were you thinking?”
“Oh.” Such a possibility had never crossed her mind.
She flushed under his mockery, but met his gaze and held it. “I may have made a mistake,” she said, “but I find your behaviour both inappropriate and…detestable, sir.” It was only when her thigh knocked against the corner of an open trunk she realised that, step by step, she had retreated toward the windows. Somehow he had moved between her and the door and now lounged against it, watching her with disbelief in his eyes.
“Really?” His brows lifted. “And your invasion of my house, my room, is appropriate? I do not think you have any grounds on which to lecture me, madam.”
Frances found her way to the battered rocking chair in the corner and dropped into it. Her legs might stop shaking if she rested for a few moments. The relief was instantaneous, but when she met his gaze she knew she should not have taken such a brief respite. It would look as if she wished to stay. Immediately, she rose to her feet.
Posted by Jen Black, http://jenblackauthor.blogspot.com
Far After Gold, Fair Border Bride and Victorian Beauty