Never Trust a Rebel(6)

By: Sarah Mallory

‘I am six-and-twenty, and old enough not to be bamboozled by your tricks and stratagems, madam.’

The glint in his blue eyes made the blush deepen in her cheeks. Had he guessed her thoughts? She was tempted to protest, but in truth she had been trying to charm him and decided it would be wiser to remain silent until she had the measure of Mr Andrew Bastion.

He took her back to her aunt, who greeted them with unruffled cheerfulness.

‘So you found her, Mr Bastion. Was she on the terrace, as we thought?’

‘I was, Aunt Matthews.’ Elyse answered quickly, to prevent her companion from doing so. ‘I had stepped out for a breath of air and Mr Scorton was so ungentlemanly as to forget himself.’ She could not resist a flicker of a glance at the man beside her. He should not be allowed to think she had been indulging in a light flirtation. ‘He made me an offer of marriage.’

‘Did he my dear? How tiresome for you.’

Knowing her aunt’s complaisant nature, Elyse was in no way disconcerted by her lack of concern, but Mr Bastion was much less sanguine.

‘You appear singularly unsurprised, madam.’

Mrs Matthews opened her eyes at him.

‘You are wrong, sir. I am very surprised, for everyone here knows Elyse is promised to Viscount Whittlewood’s son. However, I must take you to task, Elyse. It is all very well for you to be friendly with the gentlemen here. After all, you have known them for years, but as for going out on to the terrace alone with one of them, that was not at all wise, my love.’

Elyse bit her lip. It did not need her aunt’s gentle reproof to tell her that. She could only be grateful that Mr Bastion did not disclose just how unwise she had been. Yet his silence on the subject only increased her irritation, since she was now doubly beholden to him. When another guest claimed her aunt’s attention Elyse turned to Mr Bastion and began to offer him an apology. He cut her short.

‘Save your words, Miss Salforde. You will not turn me up sweet.’

‘I was not attempting to—’

‘It is my opinion that you have been grievously indulged,’ he continued as if she had not spoken. ‘No wonder your father asked me to take you in hand.’

She drew herself up, an angry retort rising to her lips but before she could utter it he had pulled her hand on to his arm.

‘Let us move away a little, Miss Salforde, where we may talk undisturbed.’

‘I have no wish to talk to you.’

‘I do not doubt that, but I am your guardian and I think I need to make a few things clear.’ He led her to the far side of the refreshment table, which was currently deserted. ‘You have been petted and spoiled and come to think of yourself as a diamond of the highest order.’

She gave a gasp of indignation.

‘I think no such thing.’

‘But you do think yourself up to every rig and row, and able to wrap any man round your little finger, is that not so?’ She blushed a fiery red and he nodded with satisfaction. ‘Let us get one thing straight at the outset, Miss Salforde. I am no callow youth to be dazzled by your smile, nor am I ancient enough to dote on you.’

She pulled her arm free and turned to glare up at him.

‘You are insulting, sir.’

He leaned a little closer. She saw again that disturbing glint in his eye, but this time it held her attention. She could not look away.

‘I am merely making sure we understand one another,’ he told her. ‘Your father appointed me to look after you, and not before time, from what I have witnessed tonight.’

He was towering over her and she had the strangest impression that she was enveloped in his shadow. His blue eyes bored into her as if he could see into her very soul. Her spine tingled, she felt threatened, imperilled, yet this man was her guardian, sent by Papa to protect her.

She blurted out, ‘I think you are far more dangerous than any of the gentlemen here tonight.’

The harsh look vanished and the corners of his mouth lifted.

‘You may well be right, Miss Salforde, so you would be wise to tread carefully.’ He gave a little bow, turned on his heel and left her to stare at his retreating form.

* * *

The remainder of the evening proved very long and frustrating for Elyse. She kept away from the infuriating Mr Bastion as much as possible, but she could not relax and enjoy herself. She was very conscious of every man who approached her, unable to respond to even the mildest compliment and instead she sought out her female acquaintances, determined that no further accusations of improper conduct should be levelled at her.

For once she was relieved when the guests began to take their leave, but even then her trials were not at an end, for she discovered that Aunt Matthews had invited Mr Bastion to remain behind.

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