It took only a few minutes, thank goodness, for the hackney to carry them to St. James’s Square. Simon looked ready to throttle her. Not that Sophie cared about that, although it was a tad uncomfortable wedged up against his unyielding body while he was in such a nasty temper. Anger radiated from him, filling the space of the coach with the crackling energy of an approaching storm. It was a miracle, really, that he didn’t set her garments on fire with his fiery glare.
He took her arm in a firm grip as he handed her down from the coach. She should probably be nervous, but the thundering scowl stamped on his features only made her want to giggle. Just like she had giggled when he had hauled her from Lady Penfield’s ballroom under the scandalized gazes of half of Bath.
“I still think it very rude that we didn’t say goodbye to Lord Penfield,” she said. Her words sounded oddly slurred, as if her mouth couldn’t keep up with her brain. “He looked quite taken aback when we rushed by him without a single word. I so wanted to thank him for serving such delicious champagne.” She sighed as she thought of all those lovely goblets of sparkling nectar being consumed without her.
“Your drinking days are over,” Simon growled as he towed her up the steps of the townhouse.
“How dare you–” Sophie broke off her tirade when the door swung open and Yates stood back to admit them.
“Good evening, my lord, Miss Stanton. I hope you enjoyed the ball at Lady Penfield’s.”
“We certainly did.” Sophie smiled at the dignified older man. How odd that she had never noticed before that Yates had quite a lot of hair growing out of his ears. “The ball was splendid, it truly was. Until his lordship,” she directed a scowl at Simon, “decided we had to leave. Quite before anyone else, I might add.”
Yates cast a startled glance at Simon’s thunderous countenance. His eyes popped wide for an instant before his usual mask of schooled indifference slipped back into place.
“I’m glad to hear it, miss. Would you like some tea in the drawing room? Lady Jane has already gone to bed, but I can have a tray brought up immediately.”
By this time Simon had shrugged out of his greatcoat and pulled Sophie’s cloak from her shoulders. He tossed the garments to the butler.
“No tea, Yates. That will be all.” He grabbed her hand. “See to it that we are not disturbed.” He herded Sophie up the stairs to the gold drawing room. She twisted to see Yates staring after them, his mouth hanging open in astonishment.
She repressed another giggle. Not that she had much breath left over to laugh with. Simon had been rushing her about ever since he ordered her home from Lady Penfield’s. It was beginning to make her head spin in the strangest way.
After pulling her into the drawing room, Simon closed the door with carefully restrained force.
“What are you snickering about now?” he demanded. His handsome features were set in lines as grim as she had ever seen. She stared at him as he deftly twisted the key in the door.
“Why are you locking the door, Simon?”
“I don’t want to be disturbed.” His face still looked stern, but the gleam in his hawk-like gaze as it focused on her sent ripples of sensation dancing across her skin.
“Have you ever noticed Yates has hair in his ears?” Not that she actually wanted to discuss the butler’s ears, but she needed something to distract herself from those predatory eyes.
Simon muttered a few words she didn’t catch. No doubt one of his typically unflattering comments about her.
Turning her back on him, Sophie began to wind her way in slow circles around the old-fashioned pieces of furniture scattered about the room. Light from the lamp set on a pedestal table barely penetrated the shadows. As she drifted by Lady Jane’s harp standing next to the pianoforte, she trailed one hand across its strings. Ghostly echoes of long-ago music drifted through the air.
Simon muttered again and walked over to the fireplace, crouched down, and set a spark to the logs that had been laid in the grate for the morning. He straightened and then leaned his arm along the gilt-edged mantelpiece. A brooding expression marked the fierce angles of his utterly masculine face as he followed her progress around the room.
Sophie decided to ignore him. She still felt captured by that exuberant recklessness, and dancing around the room kept her from flying apart into a thousand shimmering pieces.
“Just how drunk are you, by the way?” Simon drawled in a polite voice. “I only ask because I want to know if it’s worth attempting a coherent discussion with you.”
Sophie spun on her heel and glared at him. “I’m not drunk at all, you insufferable beast. For once I decided to have some fun, and not sit in a corner and wait for you or any other man to notice me. Not that you were likely to pay any attention to me in the first place, what with Lady Randolph draped all over you like a … like a Paphian!”
She winced. Yelling made her temples throb.
“Sophie, what the hell is the matter with you tonight? I ask you to marry me, and the next thing I know you’re inhaling champagne and flirting with every rake in Bath. No doubt the scandalmongers will be dining out on your antics for the next two weeks.”
“I’m sure I don’t care what a lot of vulgar mushrooms say about me,” retorted Sophie. “And you shouldn’t care either.”
“I care a great deal about the conduct of the next Countess of Trask, and how that conduct reflects upon me.” His eyebrows arched over his patrician nose. He resembled nothing so much as a statue of a Roman senator, if a statue could ever look to be in a towering rage.
“Well, perhaps I don’t want to be the Countess of Trask. Perhaps I don’t want to marry you after all.” The words fell from her lips before she could stop them.
Silence descended between them, one so charged with menace that Sophie couldn’t suppress a shiver. Simon stepped toward her.
“That decision has been made, Sophia.”
His voice was soft, but the hint of steel clashing on rock made the breath catch in her throat. How dare he try to intimidate her?
“I can still change my mind.”
He took another step forward. “You will not cry off, Sophie. I forbid it.”
Simon’s brawny physique loomed large in the shadows cast by the fire, his hooded eyes barely concealing the ice in his midnight gaze. But ice could burn flesh and spirit almost as much as flame.
All that restrained menace sent tingling sensations racing down her spine—the same kind of shivers that happened whenever Simon kissed her. She sucked in a breath, suddenly craving the feel of his mouth on her lips and his hands on her body.