Luci steeled her spine in preparation for Lord Edward’s questions. What are you doing here, Miss Wagner? Why are you wearing that mask? Where is your father? Do you know what my sister will do when she finds out I met you at a den of iniquities and didn’t immediately drag you out of it?
But he wasn’t asking anything. He wasn’t speaking at all. He was staring at her again, as he had when they had spotted each other across the room, like he had when he had sat down beside her. He had the look of a man who had just woken from the most pleasant dream, but was still half in it. And for the life of her, she swore he hadn’t recognized her, that he still didn’t recognize her.
He slowly looked her up and down, his gaze lingering over every exposed inch of skin—and there were more than were decent—and every curve exhibited by her expertly fitted costume. “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” His look was feral and possessive, but his voice was silky smooth and calming.
She had known this man since she had been five and he had been Emme’s protective ten-year-old brother. When she was twelve, she had said more prayers than she would care to admit that her best friend’s seventeen-year-old brother would be moved to kiss her, which he never had. She had rolled her eyes when she was seventeen and learned he had taken a lovely but boring young widow as his mistress. But in fifteen years of knowing him, he had never sent such a shock of awareness through her body.
The man looking at her right now, the man who had come to this depraved party for a purpose she couldn’t fathom, had no thought for protection or integrity or discretion. The man ravishing her with his gaze believed she was a stranger.
“I’m sorry for what that horrible man said to you. And I have no expectation…” He shook his head. “That’s not true. Perhaps I did have an expectation, or at least a hope.”
He stepped close to her and slowly lifted his hand toward her face, stopping just inches from touching her. Luci didn’t know whether her heart pounded most from the worry he might pull off her mask, the hope he might kiss her, or the fear he wouldn’t.
“I won’t touch you if you don’t wish it.”
She shouldn’t be in this house. It had been foolish to come looking for the leader of the Elephant and Castle gang, as her father would tell her if they were here. But he wasn’t. Her father’s disappearance was at the root of all of this.
But Edward had kept her safe. Whomever he was trying to be right now, whatever role he was playing, Steady Eddie was still at the center of this man. He was a good man. A fierce protector. And whether it was fear, adrenaline, or sheer attraction, she desperately wanted him to kiss her.
“The lady gives her permission for a kiss. Just a kiss.”