"If trouble has beautiful black hair and a flat brain, then yes." Nathaniel smirked. He wanted to talk to her. If everything went the most reasonable way, he only had two days until she would shy away from him and realize his unsuitableness. He wanted to spend this time with her, even if it was a dumb thing to do.
"Flat brain!", Katherine snorted and took another sip of her drink. "You can search for your flat brain elsewhere!"
"What a shame. I really like this one's fire. I also like her lively eyes, her silliness and especially..."
Her sweet lips, he ended the sentence in his mind. However, he didn't say it. With each word in her ear, Nathaniel's arm had inched forward and now he finally reached his goal. He stole the glass out of her hand. "You really shouldn't drink so much, dear."
While Katherine was confused with her breath stuck in her throat from his earlier words, he took a sip of her wine. Only he knew that his lips touched exactly the spot hers had laid on. The other Ladies were watching them with amus.e.m.e.nt, but he had spoken too softly for them to hear. Still, Katherine's face must be showing it all. He could see the redness even from behind her.
Suddenly, he felt uncomfortable with others seeing that adorable blush of hers. Her shy side was meant for his eyes only. He sent them a sharp glare, but that only made them giggle.
Dissatisfied, he placed the glass on a side table and circ.u.mnavigated Katherine till he stood before her. With a slight bow, he asked: "Would you give me the honor, Milady?"
For a second or two, she just looked at his outstretched hand, then up to his face. Was this a peace offer? Even if it was, she shouldn't directly give in. Besides, she was curious. "Won't you end your former sentence first? Maybe it'll decide if I want to dance or not."
"Do you really want me to say it aloud?", Nathaniel asked back with a suggestive smile. He had no problem with complimenting her in the open, but he was sure that she had. So, he let it sound more ambiguous than it was. "Everyone will hear."
"W-What is there even to hear?", Katherine grumbled, but hurriedly grabbed his hand. "Alright. Tell me in a minute then."
"As you wish, Milady."
His smile was a tad bit triumphant as he pulled her up. It irritated her, so she warned him sternly: "Don't step on my toes, Milord."
"As long as you don't step on mine." Under the giggling of Lady Trumpet, he pulled her up and lead her to the dance floor.
Though she should be used to feel the hand on her hip and the one that held hers, it was something entirely different if it was her dance teacher or Nathaniel. She had also danced with a few other men, but none had made her heart thump so loudly. Suddenly, she was nervous that she'd forget the steps.
"Ready?", he asked, and his red eyes held hers. Why had she ever thought that the color was irritating? It was only irritating because they were so beautiful. His hand pressed hers. "Katherine?"
She blinked and fought against the unusual shyness rising up in her. She couldn't show her weakness in front of him. "Ready."
He skillfully led her into the dance, his movements substituting for the music she couldn't hear over her raging heat. For the first time she was thankful for his gloves because they hindered him from feeling how sweaty her hands were.
It was surprisingly easy to dance with him, as if they had tried it endless times. Her teacher had always reprimanded her for fighting against the his lead on instinct, but it was different for Nathaniel. Where he led, she followed as naturally as a cloud the wind. Instead of constricted, she felt free.
Wondering about the reason, her eyes fixed on his black shoes and slender legs in black trousers. Precise and without extra coquetry, their movements excluded a powerful kind of elegance. It seemed as natural and effortless as a jaguar taking a walk in the savannah, while she was the fearless bird swirling around him. Whenever the predator stretched out his claw, she would miss it by a hair's breadth and spin to his other side or whirl around. Her feet were as fast as wings, swiftly brushing the floor.
"Didn't you want to ask me something?", the predator said in a low voice. His gaze was fixated on her. It was hard to notice anything else when her waist moved up and down under his hand. How could breathing be so seductive? The smallest motion of her flexible body was amplified in his mind, the light rubbing of textile against leather tingling in his fingertips.
"Hm?", she answered slowly. Sunken in their movements, she didn't notice the first song had passed already. She looked up. Their bodies were in a half-embrace, waiting for the violins to set in again. The smoldering glow in his eyes warmed up her face.
"I..." She wetted her lips, searching her dazed brain for what happened before. His grip on her hip tightened before it turned lighter again. "What do you... like about me? You didn't say it clearly."
"Are you fishing for compliments, Milady?", he teased lightly, only because he wanted to see her blush again. It worked. Before it could turn into annoyance, he continued: "After this song, I guess I can add 'dancing skills' to the list of what I like."
"Adding to what?" It took all her courage to ask, and she couldn't look him in the eye. Nonetheless, she wanted to know. What was it he liked about her? Did he like her the same as she him?
His head bowed low, he took in her scent of fresh water and roses. It made him feel light in the head. And so, he whispered something he knew he shouldn't. "You. Adding to you."
"What?" Just when he started talking, the music had set in again, drowning out his breezy voice. "What did you say?"
"Nothing." As soon as he said it, he turned back to the cold Earl with an air of arrogance. He himself didn't know if he had planned the timing so that she wouldn't hear. It was impossible between them anyway. "I just said I like your fire. But you should use it elsewhere or you will go up in flames."
"Go up in flames", she repeated in a grumble, but cooperated with him as he started to move again. "Why do you always say things like that?"
"Like 'I will kill you if you get closer'. Nobody will like you anymore if you say such things."
"Perhaps I want nobody to like me. And perhaps it's the truth", Nathaniel gave an vague answer. His face was unreadable.
"It's not! I..." 'I kissed you and am still alive', she had wanted to say, but closed her mouth without ending the sentence. It was too embarrassing.
However, Nathaniel seemed to have understood, as he voiced sharply: "That was a blunder. It probably won't happen again. You also wouldn't want it to."
"How do you know that I don't want it?!", she exclaimed, then her eyes widened, and she stumbled over her words. "Th-though I of course don't!"
Nathaniel's lips pressed together tightly. He was somewhere between laughing at her obviousness and screaming his frustration out loud. "You better not."