Jake's thoughts fled as soon as Amelia linked her arm
with his. Not that he had prepared a speech when he
followed her to the veranda. He hadn't even formed a solid
plan when the sight of her in the full moonlight had stolen
his breath. Inviting her to walk in the garden had been
They meandered along the path. The whispers of a set of
lovers rendezvousing in the shadowed garden carried on the
Jake glanced down at Amelia on his arm; her silky
tresses glowed almost white in the moonlight. Her hair fell
to the middle of her back, tempting him to test its
softness with his fingers.
He led her to a bench and urged her to sit before
sinking down beside her. A warm breeze brushed his cheeks
and the scent of lilac and rich soil permeated the air.
She tipped her heart–shaped face toward him, her
almond eyes glimmering. He had recognized her the moment he
saw her in the ballroom, and would have even if he hadn't
known her costume. Jake had memorized every gorgeous
feature: her pert nose turned up at the tip, eyes the color
of the Mediterranean, and her luxurious pink mouth. He
loved how her bottom lip was fuller and the way the top
formed two perfect arches like the beginning of a heart.
"You said you wished to speak with me, Mr. Hillary?"
He snapped to attention. "May we dispense with
Her lips puckered, and he could picture the tiny crease
that formed between her brows when she was puzzled.
Opening and closing his mouth, he was unsure where to
begin. Should he open with an apology or move directly to
the point? The blasted trouble was he always had time to
prepare prior to appearing before the court. He was
meticulous in his study of the issues at hand and organized
arguments thusly. Not so in spontaneous declarations of
After a while, she sighed. "Is that the whole of it? You
wish to dispense with formality between us?"
"Yes. No!" he blurted, causing her to jump. Damnation.
He rubbed his temples. This was going poorly. What a bloody
travesty that a tiny woman could reduce him to a bumbling
She hugged her arms close to her chest. "No, you do not
want to dispense with formality?"
Jake shook his head to free it of cobwebs. "I would like
you to refer to me by my given name, but that isn't the
reason I asked to speak with you. I want..."
She looked expectantly at him.
"I want you..."
Amelia licked her lips, wrecking his entire line of
thinking. The desire to taste her was highly distracting.
He longed to lay her in the bed of clover behind them and
taste her all over, but that would never do.
"You want me?" Her voice sounded breathless.
"Yes," he said, enchanted with the rounding of her
eyes. "I want you... t–to forgive me." Quite right,
he should start with an apology. He jumped from the bench,
warming to his topic and gearing up to present his
case. "Yes, that's exactly what I am trying to articulate.
I wish for your forgiveness."
"Oh!" Amelia blinked. "Forgiveness for what, exactly?
Just so we are clear."
Did he really have to say it? He had been a deplorable
cur last autumn, and practically accused her of being a
trollop. Very well, part of clearing the air required one
to confess to wrongdoing. He took a deep breath. It was an
uncomfortable conversation, him behaving like a jealous
fool that day. "I never should have stormed into your home
making ridiculous accusations. I had no right to—to
lend commentary on your marriage or association with
He was fouling up his apology, hindering his chances of
addressing the second half of the conversation. He did want
"Amelia, what I mean is—"
She leapt up from the bench, too. "Please, stop," she
hissed, her gaze shooting wildly around the garden. "I
don't want to discuss him."
Quite right. What if someone overheard?
"I made a mistake, but you wrongly judged me." She tried
to rush past Jake and his world tipped out of control.
He grasped her arm. "Amelia, no. I didn't mean anything
I said that day. You are a wonderful lady. I never should
have said... You are correct, let's not discuss him, or
that day. I want to discuss us."
She stared at him, her lips parted. "Us?"
"I know there is no us. Look, I am sorry for barging in
and accusing you of being disloyal to Audley. It was stupid
and improper and uncalled for."
She wiggled her elbow from his grasp. "I understand. You
were coming to my husband's defense." Her eyes shimmered
with unshed tears. "But, Jake, I swear I never was
unfaithful to him."
"I don't give a damn about Audley."
Amelia's gaze snapped up to his, her mouth falling open
"I should have thrashed him from the start and been done
"Oh!" She did it again. Her mouth formed a perfect pink
circle and his body jerked to life.
"Amelia, I behaved like a lunatic that day. The truth is
I wanted you to be with me. I wanted you in my bed."
Amelia stalked toward him, and he braced himself to
receive her palm across his face. She stopped a mere inch
from his chest. No blow followed. Good Lord, she had the
sweetest scent, like that flower. The one that bloomed in
the spring. What was it called? It came in pink or blue and
resembled a spear.
"What is that flower—?"
"Be quiet and kiss me." She threw her arms around his
neck and pulled him down to meet her soft lips.
To hell with flowers.