"I had no choice in the matter," Howard assured her. "One look at my beautiful Celeste a year ago and my fate was sealed. In addition to making me a lovely wife and companion, she has proven herself quite adept at handling my business accounts and appointment book. Indeed, I do not know how I would get by without her now."
"You flatter me, sir." Celeste lowered her lashes and smiled at Lavinia. "Howard has attempted to teach me some of his skills with mesmerism, but I fear that I have no great talent for the science." She accepted the cup and saucer. "I understand my husband was a dear friend of your parents?"
"He was, indeed." A wistful expression crossed Lavinia's face. "He was a frequent visitor in our home in the old days. My parents were not only exceedingly fond of him, they counted themselves among his greatest admirers. My father told me on several occasions that he considered Howard to be the most accomplished practitioner of mesmerism he had ever met."
"I take that as a very great compliment," Howard said modestly. "Your parents were both extremely skilled in the art themselves. I found it fascinating to watch them work. Each had a unique style, but each achieved amazing results."
"My husband tells me that your parents were lost at sea nearly a decade ago," Celeste murmured. "And that you lost your husband that same year. It must have been an extremely trying time for you."
"Yes." Lavinia poured tea into two more cups. "But my niece, Emeline, came to live with me some six years ago and we do very nicely together. I am sorry that she is not here to meet you this afternoon. She is with friends attending a lecture on the monuments and fountains of Rome."
Celeste managed an expression of polite sympathy. "You and your niece are alone in the world?"
"I do not think of it as being alone," Lavinia said crisply. "We have each other, you see."
"Nevertheless, there are only the two of you. Two women alone in the world." Celeste gave Tobias a veiled glance. "In my experience, being on one's own without the advice and strength of a man to lean upon is always a difficult and unhappy situation for a woman."
Tobias nearly fumbled the cup and saucer that Lavinia had just thrust into his fingers. It was not Celeste's completely inaccurate assessment of Lavinia's and Emeline's personal resources and abilities that jolted him. It was the fact that, for a few seconds there, he could have sworn that the woman was deliberately flirting with him.
"Emeline and I manage very well, thank you," Lavinia said, an unexpected edge on her words. "Pray, have a care, Tobias, or you will spill your tea."
He caught her eye and realized that beneath her drawing-room manners, she was irritated. He wondered what he'd done this time. Their relationship seemed to lurch from the prickly to the passionate with jolting force and very little middle ground, as far as he could determine. Neither of them was entirely comfortable yet with the fiery affair that had blossomed between them. But he could certainly say one thing about their liaison: It was never dull.
That was unfortunate, to his way of thinking. There were times when he would have given a great deal for a few dull moments with Lavinia. The time might provide him with an opportunity to catch his breath.
"Forgive me, Lavinia," Howard said with the air of a man who is about to broach a delicate subject. "I cannot help but notice that you are not practicing your profession. Did you abandon the science of mesmerism because you found the market weak here in London? I know that it is difficult to attract the proper sort of clientele when one lacks social connections."
To Tobias's surprise, the question seemed to catch Lavinia off guard. She gave a tiny start that caused the teacup in her hand to tremble. But she recovered swiftly.
Excerpted from Don't Look Back by Amanda Quick Copyright 2002 by Amanda Quick. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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