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A movement on the terrace alerted Ross to the presence of someone else. When he saw a shadow move, he took a cautious step back into the gazebo, then another.
Tessa's voice. There was a rustle of skirts as she descended the steps. Ross threw his cheroot on the ground and crushed it under his heel.
"Paul?" Her voice was breathless, uncertain. "I saw you from my window. I wasn't sure it was you until I saw our signal." Her voice took on a teasing note. "Or perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps you weren't signaling me but simply slipped into the gazebo for a quiet smoke."
Ross said nothing, but he'd already calculated that he'd stumbled upon the trysting place of Tessa and her French lover and had inadvertently given their signal merely by smoking a cheroot.
Tessa entered the gazebo and halted, waiting for her eyes to become accustomed to the gloom. "I wanted to thank you for the spray of violets. They really are lovely. But I had to burn your note." She laughed. "You mustn't write such things to me, Paul. My cheeks burned so hot, my maid feared I was coming down with a fever." She paused, and her voice turned husky. "Paul, stop playing games with me. You know you want to kiss me."
It never crossed Ross's mind to enlighten her about his identity. He was too curious to see how far the brazen hussy would go. She had, quite literally, backed him into the darkest corner of the gazebo.
Her hands found his shoulders and curled around them. "Paul," she whispered, and she lifted her head for his kiss.
Tessa was no stranger to a man's kisses. In France, she had discovered, young gentlemen were not so circumspect as their English counterparts, nor were French girls the least bit prudish. Her female friends weren't wicked, far from it, but they saw nothing wrong in indulging in a little kissing. They reasoned, and Tessa agreed with them, that it was foolish for a girl to keep herself in total ignorance of what awaited her in marriage. Now, after two years in France, Tessa considered herself quite knowledgeable about men and their passions.
She also knew that by trysting with Paul in the gazebo, she was overstepping the boundaries of what a French girl would allow. But Paul was different. He was courting her. Perhaps tonight he would ask her to marry him. Then their kisses would be sanctioned by his ring on her finger. And if that were not enough to tempt her, there were Paul's breathtaking kisses. When he molded those experienced lips to hers, something peculiar happened to her insides, and that had never happened to her with any other boy. He made her feel quite giddy.
It was exactly as she had anticipated. His mouth was firm and hot, and those pleasant sensations began to warm her blood. When he wrapped his arms around her and jerked her hard against his full length, she gave a little start of surprise, but that warm, mobile mouth on hers insisted she yield to him. She laughed softly when he kissed her throat, then she stopped breathing altogether when he bent her back and kissed her breasts, just above the lace on her bodice. He'd never gone that far before.
"Thank God," she cried out, "that will never come to pass."
He laughed. "Stranger things have happened."
He had argued her to a standstill. The thing to do now was to exit with as much dignity as was left to her. She wasn't going to leave him with the impression that she had followed him into the gazebo knowing who he was.
She breathed deeply, trying to find her calm. "If I'd known you were in the gazebo, I would never have entered it." His skeptical look revived her anger, and she said, "I tell you, I thought you were Paul Marmont."
He shrugged. "In that case, all I can say is that little girls who play with fire deserve to get burned."
She said furiously, "You were teaching me a lesson?"
"In a word, yes."
Her head was flung back and she regarded him with smoldering dislike. "And just how far were you prepared to go in this lesson of yours, Mr. Trevenan? Mmm?"
He extended a hand to her, and without a trace of mockery or levity answered, "Come back to the gazebo with me and I'll show you."