This scene will be short, but is very wicked, indeed! It was one of my favorites to write.
A little set up:
Isabelle, or Belle as the hero calls her, has worn a dress that Sebastian thinks has a bodice a tad too low. Since he’s not only still secretly her husband but is also trying to be her friend and help her find a suitable replacement for him as a husband, he tells her that he thinks her bodice reveals too much. But when it becomes apparent to him that she doesn’t seem to think it’s as indecent or distracting as he finds it, he tries to tell her again and she starts to run off. And that’s where we pick up…
“Belle, I said to stop.”
She walked on.
He wrapped his arm around her waist, picked her up, and then carried her into the library and straight to a settee where he put her down with less grace than she might have preferred.
Just as he suspected, that didn’t deter her and she immediately began pushing to her feet. “How dare you!”
“How dare I?” he repeated in the same tone she’d used, jabbing a finger toward his chest. “You’re the one making a public display of yourself.”
“By finding something humorous? I think not.” She twisted her lips. “Now, you’re dragging me from the card room like some highhanded husband who’d just found his wife having an affair will make me a mockery for certain.”
He crossed his arms. “I wasn’t acting as a highhanded husband—”
“No, because you willingly gave that role away without a second thought many years ago.”
Her words stole the wind right from his lungs. “I was trying to protect you.”
“Protect me? From what?”
He gestured toward her low-cut bodice. “Yourself.”
She stared at him a moment, then he’d swear she pushed her chest out further as she stepped toward him and let her shawl fall to the floor. “While I cannot begin to comprehend why you have such an interest in my body—” she reached for the long end of the gold chorded bow on the front of her bodice and began to slowly pull the string— “I should like to remind you that as neither my father, nor my husband, you have no say over who I might share my body with.” She gave the chord one final tug and the knot slipped loose, allowing the center of her bodice to fall open about an inch.
Sebastian’s mouth ran dry.
“I believe you might recall having seen me without my clothes once, but perhaps you’ve neglected to notice that my body isn’t the same as it was back then…”
No, he hadn’t neglected to notice. He was noticing right now and it was making him break out in a cold sweat as his blood raced through his veins. But nothing short of a miracle could make him take his eyes away from where she’d pulled her bodice open just a fraction more, offering him only a slight, almost teasing, glance at the valley between the rounded globes of her breasts.
“As the only one who has control of my body—” she continued, reaching for his hand— “I can share with whoever I want.” She brought his hand to her warm skin and like a seductress he’d have never thought her to be, she slowly moved his hand in a way that dragged his fingertips across the plane of her chest, with each sweep she made, moving them just that much closer to her breasts.
“You’re playing a very dangerous game,” he practically growled at her; his fingers itched to take advantage, but he couldn’t. Not yet. Her game was too intriguing for him to stop playing it.
“Yes.” This time he did move to take advantage of what she was offering him and pressed the pads of his fingers into the softness of the side of her breast where she’d last stopped his hand. His erection nearly doubled in size where it was pressed against the softness of her stomach.
Something flickered in her eyes, but before he could name it, it was gone. Then suddenly, so was his hand from her body as she squeezed his wrist and thrust his hand away. “You are the biggest hypocrite. You’re not interested in protecting me from the unwanted attentions of men who might see me. You’re only interested in protecting yourself. How tragic it would be that the lofty Lord Belgrave desired the young lady whom he’d once spurned and condemned to a life of shame? I do hope you enjoyed this because it is the last time you’ll ever be afforded such liberties from me.”
“And why did you afford them to me at all?” he asked around the blood thundering through his ears.
“To see that my theory was correct,” she spat as she retied her bodice. “And it was.”
He scoffed and reached forward to turn her chin up so she’d have to see his eyes. “You don’t know anything about what you think you do.”
“No?” Challenge flashed in her eyes. “I know plenty. The very idea that someone else might be allowed to enjoy my body rankles you. I didn’t know why before—” she shot a triumphant glance down below his waist where only a moment ago a large erection has tented his trousers— “but now I do.”
“Any man would react that way,” he said with a snarl.
“Not one who didn’t hold any interest,” she retorted. She cocked her head to the side. “What I wonder, is why you have any interest at all when we both know you shouldn’t.”
No, he shouldn’t. Shame washed over him. “You’re right. I should not have reacted that way. I beg your forgiveness.”
She sliced a hand through the air. “I don’t want your apologies. I want you to admit the truth.”
“That your interest in me is beyond that of a friend.”
He pressed his lips together. “No.”
“Because it’s not true. I only care for you as a friend.”
She arched her brow at him.
“As I told you before, any gentleman would have responded that way.” He forced a shrug. “Breasts are breasts, Belle. Any man presented with a pair and given the freedom to touch them would do so. It doesn’t matter whose they are.”
Sebastian bristled. “Not at all. Go play that trick on any of the gentleman here tonight, they’d all have the same reaction. Even Giles.”
Her face turned scarlet. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Were you hoping I had?” he teased, giving himself pause. Did she have an interest in him? He dismissed the idea immediately. There wasn’t a single reason for her to like him and she’d made sure he was well aware of that.
“Yes, I had,” she said, inclining her chin. “I’d hoped we’d be friends. But instead all you’ve done is given me a shabby list of potential husbands and acted like the highhanded lord you are. If not desire, then I am at a loss for your reasons for being so highhanded with me. Nonetheless, I shan’t abide you or your pompous attitude a day longer.” Then, without another word, or bothering to pick up her shawl, she spun and walked from the room.
Sebastian should go after her. He knew that, but for some reason he couldn’t as part of her words kept tumbling over and over in his mind: why was he being so protective of her? In all fairness to Belle, Lady Mary’s bodice was even lower than hers had been and he hadn’t once been distracted by what she’d revealed. He fell into a nearby chair and covered his face with his hands. Breasts weren’t just breasts. Every set did not hold as much appeal as any other. At least not for him. He groaned. He did desire her.