Nicholas drew nearer, ready to pull her into his arms, giving his hearty assent. But her eyes were shining with anticipation, not the avarice of an experienced woman eager for a new lover.
He tried to brush his misgivings away, concentrating instead on the delights of making love to this beauty. Her breathing had sped up, her lips parted expectantly, and her bosom was rising and falling in the most entrancing way.
Yet he knew that disappointment, not this lovely creature, was fated to be his companion this evening. She might be a widow, but she was also overflowing with innocence. He could not be the one to destroy that. Once in a lifetime was too much, even for him.
Nicholas lifted her gloved hand to his lips. "I fear I must thwart your plans, Lady Courtenay."
"But why?" He saw a flush spread across her cheeks, yet she did not drop her gaze. "Oh, of course. You do not find me desirable."
He nearly choked. "That is not at all the case. In truth, I find you much too desirable."
She studied him, as if gauging the truth of his words. "You cannot take a lover that you find too desirable?"
He shrugged, hoping the explanation would suffice. He had no intentions of revealing anything more. One day she would thank the fates that he had let her escape with her happiness intact.
When he did not answer, she reached for the door handle, but then halted. "You are not at all what I expected," she said in a bemused voice. "The gossips are constantly talking of how you never spend the night in your own bed, but now I wonder."
That startled a laugh out of him. "Now you know why gossip is so irresistible. It tends to give a person a more exciting life than the one they actually lead."
"So you do spend the night in your own bed?"
He winked. "A portion of it, yes. But I count it the most boring part of the evening—the hours I spend actually sleeping."
"Ahh, you do not sleep in the bed where you…entertain yourself."
"I ensure it is not merely entertaining for myself. Once the 'entertainment' has ended, the lady is sleeping quite peacefully. Blissfully even."
Her lips pursed with a hint of disapproval. "Unable to notice you are departing."
"It would be churlish to wake them, would it not?"
It was her turn to laugh. "You have managed to take a roguish moment and transform it into a charitable one. Just as you refused me and complimented me at the same time."
"It may be one reason I am so popular with the female population."
"The ones you do not find too desirable."
What an intriguing chit! He was tempted to accept her offer after all, for it had been much too long since anyone had engaged him in this fashion. Yet if history had taught him anything, it was that her sweet mien was at risk, even more so if he bedded her. Could he be blamed for trying to be chivalrous, for once? Not that anyone would believe he had acted in such a high-minded manner.
He could scarce believe it himself.
"There have been very few of those," he finally admitted. "The ones I find too desirable."
Lord Misrule is part of the A Very Wicked Christmas anthology, which is available for pre-order now! For only 99 cents.