Today's Reading

His lean, angular cheek lifted enough to reveal a fissure, bracketing one side of his mouth. Indeed, that smirk said. I could teach you all sorts of things—wondrously wicked things.

She wanted to be appalled by him. Outraged. Yet, she was trapped between mortification and being wholly mystified. After all, she'd never had a front row seat to debauchery before. It was quite fascinating. Oh and scandalous, of course.

"Oy, see here!" the driver called down. "This ain't no private, at-your-leisure coach, sir. I've got another fare waitin' if you ain't leavin'."

Briar startled, a fresh wave of embarrassment flooding her cheeks. Thankfully, her hood concealed her rapt countenance from the driver of the hackney, leaving the rakish man watching her as the only witness to her inexcusable ogling.

"Yes, as...as a m-matter of fact," she stammered, her tongue oddly thick, "I require the use of this carriage. Clearly, you are not in need of it. Quite yet."

The man arched a brow, the crease beside his mouth deepening as he broke the kiss, but not before settling a crimson hood over his companion's head, securing her anonymity. In turn, the woman fell silent, averting her face toward the waiting carriage. Reaching into his pocket, he then passed a handkerchief over his damp, arrogantly cocked lips before he gave it to the woman.

Straightening, he was much taller than Briar first imagined, his lean frame outlined seamlessly in the fit of his clothes—a black evening coat with brushed lapels, a gray silk waistcoat, and snow-white cravat with a smear of scarlet lip rouge near the angled ridge of his jaw. He was older, too, her senior by at least ten or twelve years.

The sharp precision of his features and the emphatic wealth of his aquiline nose kept him from being handsome, at least by any classical standards. And yet, he was arresting and fascinating in a way she didn't comprehend.

But she wished she did. Such an understanding, she was sure, would only aid her in her ultimate plan. It could be argued that one could not make matches for perfect strangers when one possessed only a rudimentary knowledge of her own nature.

"From my perspective," he said to Briar, "you did not seem in a great frenzy to depart."

The sonorous timbre of his voice tunneled through her in a series of low vibrations, one after the other. Against her midriff, her hand curled over the muslin. Yet she wasn't certain if she meant to quell this foreign sensation or to savor it.

"Well, I was," she said crisply, not appreciating the intimation that she'd enjoyed watching his amorous exploits. When those ebony eyes glinted with amused disbelief, she realized that she'd spoken in the past tense and quickly amended with, "I am still."

She even went so far as to take a step toward the door. But he did the same, a challenge in the arch of a single brow. Unfortunately, he was on the correct side, and his companion stood in Briar's path.

"That may be true. However, I'm afraid she requires this particular carriage and cannot share it. She is, without question, in a rush."

"No more than I—"

Before Briar could finish, he opened the door and guided the woman up the folding step and into the dark interior with such efficient expertise it might have been his occupation. Or perhaps, he was so accustomed to sending women away at dawn that the gesture came to him by rote.

Ignoring Briar's outraged gasp, he closed the door succinctly. Then, stepping around her, he tossed another coin up to the jarvey. "The lady will give you directions."

Without argument, hesitation, or even a by-your-leave to Briar, the driver snapped the reins and set off.

"I saw him first." The inane, immature statement tumbled forth before Briar could take hold of her annoyance. Drat! She hated being treated like a child and yet here she was sounding like one. But she despised unfairness in any guise and being the victim of it tended to bring out her less-than-favorable characteristics.

The rogue's unrepentant gaze raked down the length of her once more, making her conscious of the fact that she'd set her hands on her hips, her cloak parting like a display curtain in a shop window. Instantly, she huffed and lowered her arms, letting him know that she was not offering up her wares. No, indeed!

"Yes. But I paid him first, love. Besides, I do not imagine you would have any difficulty procuring another hack. No doubt you are quite accustomed to obtaining whatever you wish by way of your feminine wiles."

"My...my wiles? How dare you, sir! I practice no such arts. When I procure another cab, it will be from pure determination and nothing else."
...

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