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Excerpt from Julia London'sHighlander in Disguise

The next afternoon, at quarter past three, Anna was at the back stoop in the mews of the house on Cavendish Street, still shaken after the spectacular misfortune of having run into Lady Worthall on the street. She had, of course, been forced to make up an excuse for being in this part of town on such a dreary and rain-soaked day. If she was discovered calling on a bachelor gentleman, unescorted…she’d be painted a loose woman.

“Calling on an old friend,” she had answered politely when Lady Worthall inquired.

“Who?” Lady Worthall demanded loudly, pretending she was deaf.

“A friend,” Anna said again. “But I think I am quite mistaken-I believe she must be on the other end of Cavendish Street,” she said, and turned away, as if studying the other end of the street.

“If you tell me who, dear, perhaps I can help you,” Lady Worthall insisted.

“Aha! I am quite mistaken!” Anna said gaily. “Thank you for your help,” she said, smiling brightly as she reached out to squeeze the old woman’s hand. “Good day!” And with that, she pivoted about, went marching off in the opposite direction and did not stop until she had gone at least a quarter of a mile. Only then did she circle around, using her umbrella as a shield, walking through the alleys and mews that meandered through the neighborhood.

When she at last had managed to slip into the mews undetected, she knocked frantically, glancing at the street entrance.

The old man who had seen her in yesterday opened the door with a frown. Anna paid him no mind, but quickly stepped past him, into the dark interior, and closed her umbrella. “I beg your pardon, sir, but there is a frightfully intrusive woman who lives somewhere close by.”

“Directly adjacent, she does.”

Anna glanced up at the old man in shock as the thought that Lady Worthall could be so close sunk into her brain. “Are you quite certain? Lady Worthall?”

“Aye, miss, I’ve naugh’ been more certain of anything in me life,” he said grumpily. “If ye will please follow me, his lordship awaits.”

His lordship, such that he was, was waiting, all right, standing at the windows, his hands at his back, his legs braced far apart. He turned sharply when she was shown in the door by the old man, a frown on his face. “Ye’re late.”

“I beg your pardon, but I was unavoidably detained by Lady Worthall.”

“Lady Worthall!” he exclaimed wildly. “Did she see ye come in here, then?”

“Of course not!” Anna shot back. “Do you take me for a fool?” Instantly, she held up a hand. “I will thank you not to answer that,” she added before he could speak, and angrily tossed aside her cloak, bonnet, and umbrella. “Honestly, Mr. Lockhart, I’m not any happier about this than you! I was forced to lie, and then it began to rain, and my slippers are near to ruined!”

“I donna give a damn about yer slippers,” he said. “But if that old battle-ax discovers ye are here, there’ll be hell to pay for it, mark me.”

“I am quite accustomed to there being talk of me, sir. I assure you that if she is to mention seeing me abroad, it will not come as a surprise to-”

“God blind me, then, I’m no’ speaking of ye, I am speaking of me!”

“You?” she said, pausing in her struggle to remove her gloves. “Why? I’m the only one who knows that you are not who you say!”

“Never ye mind, why,” he said gruffly, and peered out the window before drawing the drapes shut. As that cut out what precious little light was left of this awful day, he went about lighting several candles.

Anna watched him as he moved about. He was dressed in a navy coat and gold embroidered waistcoat, his neckcloth expertly tied-a dashing figure of a man, the sort of figure that made her feel lightheaded.

When he had lit the last candle, he turned to face her again, put his hands on his trim hips and studied her closely. “I told ye to dress in something less priggish, did I no’?”

Confused, Anna looked down at her gown. It was a pale blue silk, adorned with tiny pink rosebuds and gathered at her back into a long train; it had cost her father a small fortune to commission. “But I did dress less priggishly!”

With a shake of his head, Lockhart strode across to where she stood. “A man likes to see a wee hint of what lies beneath.” He frowned at her bosom, then lifted his hand, as if he meant to touch her bodice. Anna froze. He hesitated. She let out a quick sigh of relief.

And then he did it. Just put his hand on the bodice of her gown-dug into her bodice, actually, his fingers curling around the fabric and his knuckles sinking into the round flesh of her breasts. She gasped; he frowned and forced the bodice of her gown down, so that it just barely covered her breasts.

“There,” he said, more to himself, and pulled his fingers from her dress. “Aye, there ye are,” he said again. He had not, as yet, lifted his gaze from her bosom, and in between her shock and the shaking of her knees, she caught her breath and held it.

He stood there like a mute, staring at her breasts for what seemed an eternity, but then suddenly stepped back and away from her as he lifted his gaze to her eyes. “There, then, do ye see, lass? A woman’s bosom is to be admired…” His gaze flicked to her breasts again. “No’ hidden away,” he muttered, and abruptly turned away.

Anna released her breath.

“Perhaps ye should bring a slate and take notes of what I tell ye. When ye are in the presence of a man ye admire,” he said, his back to her, “ye’d do yerself well to use such a…bonny bosom to yer advantage.”

“Use it?”

“Aye. To catch his eye.”

“By exposing myself?” a perplexed Anna asked.

“No’ expose them-Diah! A man doesna want to see them until he has the lass in his bed. But he very much wants to imagine and he needs a wee bit of help in that regard!” He glanced at her over his shoulder. “Ye’ve no idea what I mean, eh?” he asked, frowning a little, and pivoted about, once again closing the distance between them.

And once again, before Anna could determine what he was about, he grabbed her hand in his, then snaked an arm around her back so that hand was on the small of her back, and pulled her into his chest as if they were dancing.

What are you doing?” she demanded.

He grinned, a boyish, devilish grin. “I’m pretending to stand up with ye, lass. And ye may pretend ye coerced me into doing so, if ye prefer-”

“I did not coerce you!”

Uist! Ye complain too much!” he said, and stepped backward, awkwardly dragging her with him. “All right, then, pretend ye are dancing with yer dandy Mr. Lockhart, will ye, light as a fairy on yer pretty little feet, and ye’d like him to pay close attention to what ye say. How, then, do ye drag his attention away from yer pretty sister across the room?”

She frowned as he moved backward, dragging her along. “It’s quite impossible to pretend anything without at least the hint of music.”

Ach, Anna! Can ye no’ use just a wee bit of yer imagination? We’ve only begun to dance!” He smiled; his gaze dipped to her bosom again. “Go on then,” he said, his voice softer, “How do ye gain his attention?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said irritably. “I suppose I should kneel between his knees.”

He smiled lopsidedly at that. “That would undoubtedly gain his attention, lass. But no’ the sort I think ye want.”

“Ah. So that lesson only applies in the delivery of a whiskey, is that it?”

“That is no’ the only thing it applies to, but ye will require many more lessons ‘ere we broach the other functions for which yer knees are useful.”

Anna blushed furiously at that, and he laughed. “Shall we try again, then? How do ye gain a man’s attention?”

“Oh all right!” She tried to find her feet without music, stumbling a little as he shifted directions and forced her backward. “I suppose I’d say something like…You seem to enjoy dancing, sir.”

Grif suddenly paused in his strange little dance, looked at her as if he expected her to say more. “Is that the best ye can do, then?”

She thought about it. “Yes,” she said with a firm nod. “If I make polite conversation with a gentleman, he should respond in kind.”

Grif sighed heavenward, as she were intentionally taxing him. “If ye make polite conversation, a gentleman should respond?” he mimicked her. “If ye want a man to see only ye, to think of only ye, then ye must do more than make polite conversation!”

“Really?” she said uncertainly. “What more should I do?”

“Mary Queen of Scots,” he groused. “Mind what I do now-do ye see how far away I hold ye from me?”

“Yes. A proper distance.”

“Aye. ‘Tis a proper distance for grandmothers and spinsters. But if ye want him to hold ye close like a lover, then ye will move just so,” he said, prompting her with a hand at the small of her back, pushing her closer to him. Anna took one step. Then two, at his urging, and a third, so that now her bosom was brushing against his coat.

He grinned appreciatively. “Now ye have me undivided attention. And ye say…?”

“I say…do you enjoy dancing?”

“No, no! Ye look up into me eyes, through those lovely lashes…lean forward now, lean forward…aye, there ye have it! And say, “’Ye’re a bloody fine dancer, Mr. Lockhart,’” he said in a falsetto voice while batting his lashes. “’What other talents might ye be hiding from me, then?’”

Anna couldn’t help herself. She burst into laughter.

“What?” he demanded.

“What other talents might you be hiding?” she repeated, and laughed again.

“Then give me one better!” he challenged her. “Show me how ye’d gain yer love’s attention, and God blind me if ye mention the bloody weather!”

She laughed again, laughed deeply at her situation that suddenly seemed ridiculously absurd.

With a dangerous grin, Lockhart yanked her into his chest, holding her so tightly that she could scarcely catch her breath. “There ye are,” he said low. “A bonny laugh ye have, Anna.”

That was the moment Anna felt something inside her trip and fall, something come clean away from all the snares and traps and tangles of the propriety in which she’d been steeped all these years. And as he began to move, she pressed into him as he had shown her, looked up at him from beneath her lashes as he’d directed, and said, in a purring voice, “My, my, sir, how well you move us about the dance floor! One can’t help but wonder if you move as well in other, more intimate circumstances,” she said, and let her lips stretch into a soft smile.

It worked. Grif’s grin faded; he slowed his step a little and blinked down at her for a moment. But that dangerous smile slowly appeared again, starting in his eyes and casually reaching his lips. “If ye were to pose such a question to me, lass, I’d say, ‘as fast or as slow, as soft or as hard as ye’d want, leannan. Pray tell, how would ye want?”

The tingling in her groin was a signal that she was on perilous ground. Anna looked into his gray green eyes, so dark and so deep that she couldn’t quite determine if this was a game they were playing or something far more dangerous than that. And her good sense, shaped and controlled from years of living among high society, quietly shut down, allowing the real Anna, the Anna who yearned to be loved, to be held and caressed and adored and know all manner of physical pleasure, to slide deeper into the circle of his arms.

“I don’t rightly know how I’d want, sir, other than to say…” Her voice trailed away as she let her gaze roam his face, the perfectly tied neckcloth, the breadth of his shoulders, his thick arms. And then she lifted her gaze to his, saw something smoldering there, and recklessly whispered, “that I’d most definitely want.”

He said nothing. The muscles in his jaw bulged as if he refrained from speaking, and she realized that they had come to a halt. But then his hand spread beneath hers, his palm pressed to her palm, and he laced his fingers between hers, one by one, and with the last one, he closed his hand, gripping hers tightly. “Tha sin gle mhath,” he whispered hoarsely.

Anna smiled, lifted a curious brow.

“I said, that’s very good, lass. Very good, indeed.”