as she looked into those azure eyes. She could feel the warmth and strength of his hands through the heavy velvet material of her riding habit, and a mixture of pleasure and wariness churned through her.
Their gazes clung and Luc’s hands tightened around her waist, the urge to pull her from her horse and into his arms overpowering. His eyes fell to her lips and desire coiled within him. Would that tempting mouth taste as sweet as it looked? And how would that slender body feel pressed next to his?
“Ah, there you are,” drawled a voice from the direction of the house. “We wondered when you would return. Uncle has been most anxious.”
The spell broken, Luc politely lifted Gillian down from her horse. The moment her feet touched the ground, his hands fell away and he put several feet between them.
Looking at the speaker, his brow cocked. Stanley Ordway. Now why wasn’t he surprised? It would appear that the vultures were gathering around his friend. An unpleasant smile curved his mouth. Whatever nefarious plans Mrs. Dashwood and her half brother had for his friend Silas, he certainly intended to disrupt. His eyes slid over Gillian. And he would take pleasure in doing so.
G illian’s heart sank at the sight of her half brother standing on the steps of the house, his lips curled in that derisive smile that always nettled her and brought out the worst in her. The surge of vexation she felt didn’t surprise her—even as very young children, the two of them rubbed each other the wrong way and time had changed little. In her opinion, from a scornful boy, he’d grown into a condescending coxcomb.
Oblivious to Luc, she stalked toward her half brother. Stopping at the bottom step, her eyes hard on Stanley’s face, she demanded, “Did Uncle know you were coming? Or have you, as usual, simply inflicted yourself on him when you’ve fallen into dun territory?”
Stanley’s face darkened. “I see that you are as rude and impolite as ever.” He looked at Mrs. Easley, who walked up to stand beside Gillian. “And I suppose you’ll take her side—just as you’ve always done.”
“Perhaps I take her side,” Mrs. Easley said coolly, “because she is usually in the right. Gillian asked a reasonable question: did our uncle know you were coming?”
Scowling at the two women, he snapped, “I hardly need an invitation to visit my uncle.”
“That’s true,” Gillian agreed. “But could you tell me why you come to visit him only when you need money?”
“What about you?” Stanley shot back. “Don’t tell me you’re here because of the great affection you bear him—you haven’t stepped foot in this place for years, and before that, you weren’t here more than two or three times.” He smirked. “So tell me, why are you here?”
“Whatever her reasons, she is here now,” Luc interposed smoothly, “and that is all that need concern you.” Placing a hand beneath each woman’s arm and ushering them forward, he smiled at Stanley. “Now if you’ll excuse us—there’s a chill in the air, and if you wish to continue this, ah, discussion, I’m sure that the ladies would prefer to do so in more comfortable surroundings.”
Mrs. Easley glanced at Luc and chuckled. “A man with common sense—how rare.”
Luc laughed and urged the ladies forward, leaving Stanley no choice but to follow. Inside the house, the women disappeared upstairs to change out of their riding habits and boots; Meacham whisked away Luc’s hat and gloves before showing him and Stanley into the front salon.
A fire burned on the hearth, and the scent of mulled wine wafted in the air. A slender young man, garbed in a blue jacket trimmed in black braid and gray pantaloons, a pewter mug in one hand, lounged near the fire, and Silas sat enthroned in his usual chair. On the low table in front of Silas reposed a silver tray heaped with various items and refreshments.
Silas greeted Luc with a smile, but Luc sensed that it was