Enjoy an excerpt from The Perks of Loving a Wallflower below!
Tommy flashed her eyebrows. “Shall we stroll about the room conspicuously?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Philippa whispered.
She rose to her feet, the kitten nestled against her bosom, and made a big show of leading Tommy beneath this ordinary ceiling lunette, then that identical ceiling lunette.
When they reached the farthest point in the room from the chatter of the dining table, Tommy’s eyes glittered wickedly and she pitched her voice low. “Alone at last with my fair maiden. Put down the cat so that I can ravish you.”
“We’re not alone,” Philippa said, but her pulse skipped anyway. “There won’t be any ravishing.”
“Not tonight,” Tommy agreed. “Probably. Though I fear it is my sworn duty to change your mind.”
“Your sworn duty, or something you wish to do?”
Tommy’s grin only widened. “Ah. You have seen through me. I wish to ravish you for no other reason than the personal pleasure it would bring both of us.”
Philippa’s cheeks felt strangely flushed. “You needn’t play the rake now, when no one can hear you.”
“You can hear me,” Tommy said softly.
It was an act. Of course it was an act. But Philippa was reminded of that moment last night in the garden. There had been no music. Just moonlight, and the sound of the wind in the leaves. Tommy had touched Philippa’s hip, just as she had when they were waltzing, and for one dizzy moment Philippa had almost thought…
She cleared her throat. “You’re incorrigible.”
“I’ve been accused of worse,” Tommy replied, and tucked her hands behind her back.
Was it ridiculous to wish that Tommy had not hidden her hands away? That she might touch Philippa again, on the same sensitive spot on her side, just to see whether it would feel like last night all over again, or whether the magic had been a passing fancy?
“I found a letter in my manuscript,” Philippa blurted out. Books were a much safer topic.
Tommy gave her all of her attention at once. Or rather, Tommy had already been giving Philippa her full attention, but it sharpened somehow. As though Tommy were a wolf who had just caught the scent of her prey.
“Tell me,” she commanded.
Philippa explained her discovery in as condensed a manner as she could manage. How the letter had been hidden, that it had been written by one of the real artists of the illuminated manuscript, how all the other copies of the manuscript had been bought up.
“I made a copy of the letter.” Philippa turned her back toward the table and pulled the kitten from her chest in order to retrieve a folded square of foolscap.
Tommy’s eyes tracked every movement as Philippa’s fingers slid beneath her bodice.
“I’m not an artist like Marjorie.” Philippa pulled out the copy. “I’m afraid it’s just the text in my ordinary handwriting, with none of the flourishes.”
“It’s perfect.” Tommy reached for the folded square and tucked it inside her coat next to her heart. “Graham shall investigate those names at once. Expect an odious amount of detail in an impressively short period of time.”
“What if there’s no information to find?” Philippa asked. “Whoever they are, Agnes and Katherine need justice, too. Those poor…women…”
Tommy’s hand was rising toward Philippa’s bodice. Slowly. Affording Philippa time to knock her hand aside or back away. Which she was definitely going to do. Any moment now. Probably.
Before Philippa could make her decision, Tommy’s hand passed Philippa’s bosom and stopped at her shoulder, where Tommy lifted an errant kitten hair and tossed it aside.
Of course. Of course it was that.
Why would it be anything else? What was Philippa thinking? Was she not thinking? All she ever did was think. Why did her best skill fail her so utterly whenever it came to Tommy?
And…what was wrong with Philippa’s breathing? Was her bosom heaving? Was this a heaving bosom? Even her heart was behaving erratically. What was happening?
Tommy arched a brow as if she sensed Philippa’s turmoil and found it amusing. The heavy-lidded expression was similar to the night before, but somehow even more rakish. The slight quirk of Tommy’s lips distracted her in a way she had never been distracted before. She should stop staring at Tommy’s mouth at once.
Why couldn’t she stop staring at Tommy’s mouth?
It felt like Tommy was closer than before. Even closer than they had been in the garden, which was ridiculous because she had been touching Philippa in the garden, and here they were standing a foot apart. That was why she’d had all the time in the world to notice Tommy’s hand rising toward her bosom.
Shoulder. Tommy had plucked cat hair from Philippa’s shoulder.
There was nothing less sensual than that.
And yet it had felt as though the light touch were a mere precursor, a hint of something bigger, better. An appetizer before the main course.
Mayhap that was why Philippa was still staring at Tommy’s parted lips. Even though the moment had stretched on far beyond what was acceptable or explainable.
She wanted Tommy to do it again; to touch her hip, to pluck cat hair from her bosom. She wanted to know if this electricity crackling between them was all in Philippa’s head, or if it was as real as a lightning storm, filling the night with white-hot bursts of power and danger.
Tommy’s fingers moved. On the side hidden from Mother’s guests.
The slender hand was coming not toward her bodice, or even her side, but just enough forward for Tommy to brush her fingertips up the back of Philippa’s hand, from her knuckles to her wrist.
She felt the caress all the way to her toes. In places that weren’t even her toes. Every inch of her body seemed alive to the possibility of Tommy’s touch…and her cold dead heart gave its first unmistakable flutter. Several flutters. Possible apoplexy.
“Philippa!” Mother called.
“Coming,” Philippa replied breathlessly.
She did not move. If Tommy had touched her like this last night in the garden, Philippa might have thought she meant to kiss her.
And if that charged moment had felt anything like this one…
Philippa would have wanted it to happen.