Some days Juliet wanted to fling open the nearest window sash and scream.
And it was all Max’s fault.
“Good evening, Saunders.” A familiar baritone called from the foyer and drifted in through the open parlor door. Max.
Drat it all! He was a veritable devil. Only she didn’t have to speak his name, but simply think it for him to appear. She should have known better than to allow her thoughts to roam without a leash to tug them back to heel.
“I did not realize Lord Thayne would be attending dinner this evening,” Zinnia said, her spine rigid as she perched on the edge of her cushion and darted a quick, concerned glance toward Juliet.
Marjorie looked to the open door, her brows knitted. “I did not realize it either. He said that he was attending—”
“Lord Fernwold’s,” Max supplied as he strode into the room, his dark blue coat parting to reveal a gray waistcoat and fitted blue trousers. He paused long enough to bow his dark head in greeting—at least to his mother and Zinnia. To Juliet, he offered no more than perfunctory scrutiny before heading to the sideboard where a collection of crystal decanters waited. “The guests were turned away at the door. His lordship’s mother is suffering a fever.”
Juliet felt the flesh of her eyelids pucker slightly, her lashes drawing together. It was as close as she could come to glaring at him while still leaving her countenance unmoved. The last thing she wanted was for him, or anyone, to know how much his slight bothered her.
Marjorie tutted. “Again? Agnes seemed quite hale this afternoon in the park. Suspiciously, this has happened thrice before on the evenings of her daughter-in-law’s parties. I tell you, Max, I would never do such a thing to your bride.”
Max turned and ambled toward them, the stems of three sherry glasses in one large hand, and a whiskey in the other. He stopped at the settee first, offering one to his mother and another to Zinnia. “Nor would you need to, for I would never marry a woman who would tolerate the manipulation.” Then he moved around the table and extended a glass to Juliet, lowering his voice as he made one final comment. “Nor one whose slippers trod only the easiest path.”
She scoffed. If marriage to Lord Granworth had been easy, then she would hate to know the alternative.
“I would not care for sherry this evening,” Juliet said. And in retaliation against Max’s rudeness, she reached out and curled her fingers around his whiskey.
Their fingers collided before she slipped the glass free. If she hadn’t taken him off guard, he might have held fast. As it was, he opened his hand instantly as if scalded by her touch. But she knew that wasn’t true because the heat of his skin nearly blistered her. The shock of it left the underside of her fingers prickly and somewhat raw.
To soothe it, she swirled the cool, golden liquor in the glass. Then, before lifting it to her lips, she met his gaze. His irises were a mixture of earthy brown and cloud gray. Years ago, those eyes were friendly and welcoming, but now had turned cold, like puddles reflecting a winter sky. And because it pleased her to think of his eyes as mud puddles, that was what she thought of when she took a sip. Unfortunately, she didn’t particularly care for whiskey, and fought to hide a shudder as the sour liquid coated her tongue.
Max mocked her with a salute of his dainty goblet and tossed back the sherry in one swallow. Then the corner of his mouth flicked up in a smirk.
She knew that mouth intimately—the firm warm pressure of those lips, the exciting scrape of his teeth, the mesmeric skill of his tongue…
Unbidden warmth simmered beneath her skin as she recalled the kiss that had ruined her life.