RITA Nomination for Lord of Scandal!
“Catherine?” Lily said questioningly, and Catherine jumped and dragged her gaze away from Ben’s. He bowed to Lily, smiling.
“Miss St Clare.”
“Lord Hawksmoor.” Lily sounded ruffled, but not on her own account. She was looking from Catherine to Ben with a frown on her face. “Have you met? I didn’t think-”
Ben turned back to Catherine. His smile was warmer for her, intimate enough to make her stomach clench.
“Madam…” There was the very faintest hint of a question in his tone. Catherine realised that he would think that she, like all the other eager ladies in the crowd, had come deliberately to see the race.
“I did not know you would be here,” she blurted out, and blushed at her own gaucheness. “That is, I did not come especially to see you…”
That was even worse. She could feel herself getting hotter and hotter to see the amusement in Ben Hawksmoor’s eyes. He had passed the reins to his groom now and jumped down onto the pavement beside her. He took her hand and drew her a little apart, ignoring the calls of the crowd for the race to start.
“I am desolated to hear you did not seek me out,” he murmured, the spark of humour still in his voice, “when I would go a deal further than Oxford Street to see you again, Catherine.”
Catherine closed her eyes for a second against the potent awareness coursing through her. He had the most attractive voice she had ever heard, smooth, mellow and hopelessly seductive. For a moment she felt frighteningly adrift.
“I doubt that,” she said, rallying. She looked about her at the throng of people. “You do not need my approval when you have all this.”
Ben turned so that his broad shoulders blocked out the crowd. His physical presence was so powerful that Catherine felt a little light-headed. She had his whole attention now. The race, the crowd, the Regent himself, none of them mattered. They could have been alone.
“You mistake.” He spoke softly. “You are the only thing here that interests me, Catherine.”
Catherine’s mind went completely blank. She had little experience of flirting or playing games and she knew that was what he was doing. He had to be. He could not be sincere.
“That,” she said, “is absurd.”
He smiled again and the lines deepened at the corners of his eyes in a way that made her stomach flip.
“You won’t flirt with me?”
She took a deep breath. “No.”
“A pity. But this time I meant what I said.”
Catherine realised that her hand was still in his. She tried to free herself but he refused to let go. He was running his thumb over the back of her hand now in small, distracting strokes. Catherine could feel the insistence of his touch through the material of her gloves.
“You did come here to see me, didn’t you?” He murmured.
Catherine’s gaze jerked up to meet his laughing hazel eyes. “You have a monstrously high opinion of yourself,” she said.
He gave her a rueful half smile and her heart turned over. “Have I?”
She watched his smile fade and another very different, more disturbing emotion take its place. Then someone dug an elbow in Catherine’s ribs and she realised they were surrounded by a crowd growing more restless by the minute. She forced herself to look beyond the compelling demand in Ben’s eyes.
“You are keeping his Highness waiting,” she said.
Ben grinned. “It is worth it.”
“You take too many risks.”
“Always.” He gave her that dangerous, flashing smile, released her hand and swung himself back up onto the box of the curricle. The crowd gave an ironic cheer.
“A kiss for luck!” Someone shouted.
Ben leaned down. His gloved fingers touched her cheek.
She barely heard the words above the pounding of her pulse but she must have made some sound, for he tilted her chin up and then his lips brushed hers, lightly, a brief but insistent pressure. He was cold and tasted of fresh air and her mind reeled. He straightened and Catherine opened her eyes to see the blaze of triumph in his. “Thank you,” he said, and his voice was a little rough.
The winter sky was too bright. The light hurt her eyes. She felt shaky. The crowd roared its approval."