His lips pressed together, as if he were deciding whether to respond. Instead, he stood from the sofa. “I need another drink.”
“You still haven’t told me the truth, Mrs. George.”
“Which truth?” she asked, tensing when he weaved back and forth.
Returning to sit, he filled the glass. But this time, he sipped at it slowly, closing his eyes as he swallowed. Holding out the snifter toward her, he said, “Why you decided to host a house party.”
She shook her head and pushed his hand away. “As I said, I wanted to help you.”
“Liar. You’re much too selfish. For some strange reason it’s one of the things I like best about you.”
Leah tilted her chin and smiled. “I thought we disliked each other.”
“Oh, we do,” he said, taking another sip. “I detest you quite thoroughly. Especially when you smile.”
Her lips flattened. “Do you?”
He gestured toward her with the drink, the liquid sloshing out the side to drip over his thigh. Leah’s gaze followed the brandy’s path where it darkened on his trousers, then jerked upward again as he spoke. “You’re too bloody happy. It’s very offensive.”
“Indeed?” she said, trying not to smile again.
“And there it is.” He scowled, then swallowed the rest of the brandy. “If you wish to be a competent hostess, you will endeavor to be miserable. I might detest you less if you acted a bit more pathetic now and then.”
“I see.” She paused as he bent to set the decanter and snifter on the floor. “It will pass, you know. Eventually.”
“I should mention that I also disapprove of optimism.”
She laughed, disarmed by this drunken, jaunty version of Lord Wriothesly. Without the brandy, he would have almost resembled the man she remembered prior to Ian’s death.
“And now, I believe I shall put my head on you,” he announced. “The room has started to spin, and it’s been a very long time since I’ve laid my head in a woman’s lap.”
Leah ceased laughing as he twisted and began to lie back. “No, my lord.” His shoulders landed on her outstretched arms. “Sebastian! Let me up.”
He groaned as she struggled against him. “I was beginning to wonder if you remembered my name. Please, be quiet. Just a moment.” Reaching behind his head, he caught her hand and moved it to his mouth, where he pressed a kiss against her bare skin. “Only a moment, until the world turns itself aright again.”
Leah snatched her hand back, irritated by the lingering sensation left by his lips. He then took advantage by leveraging his weight against her, forcing her to allow him to lie down.
With her hands pressed tightly against her chest—for there was nowhere else to put them—she stared down at him, bemused.
His head was turned toward the fire, his eyes closed. “Thank you,” he said, and sighed. “I believe I might fall asleep.”
“If you do, I promise to shove you off.”
He chuckled, and her gaze skipped over the crook of his lips, noting the faint shadow of stubble extending across his jaw.
Leah glanced at the mantel clock over the hearth. “I’ll give you five minutes, nothing more,” she said.
“You are a generous woman, Mrs. George.”
As the minutes ticked by, she tried to keep herself occupied by watching the fire. It was burning down, only the smallest of flames licking now at the coals. Soon it would be nothing more than embers, waiting for a servant to enter before dawn and stir it to life again.
Yet, as much as she sought to dwell on the fire, her gaze kept returning to the man laid prostrate across her lap, his head pillowed upon her thighs. She noted the meager crescent of his eyelashes, the straight blade of his nose. His hair was a deep, dark brown, growing thickly and trimmed neatly at the ends.
She was well aware when the five minutes passed, and yet she didn’t speak. A low rumble sounded from his chest as it began to rise and fall in a slow, steady motion.
After a while one hand drifted toward his hair—of its own accord, she decided—and sifted through the dark, silken strands. She smoothed his hair away from his ear, dragged her fingers down to his nape, caressed the skin there with the pad of her thumb.
If he had stirred she would have yanked her hands away, pretending that he’d dreamed her touch. But he didn’t wake, and she continued combing her fingers through his hair, finding a sensual contentment in the repetition of each soft stroke against the flesh of her palm.