Raven removed his suit jacket and inspected it for any frayed edges, any missing buttons, any button holes in need of repair, any dropped hems.
Satisfied with his inspection, he hung it up in his closet.
He removed his white gloves.
No missing buttons.
No wine stains.
His bedroom door banged open.
May Rose Farlington staggered on in, still dressed in her rose-colored ballgown.
She smiled, a warm, completely soused smile. “Hello, James.” She weaved and wobbled over to his bed in a close approximation of a beeline. “Hello, bed.”
She dropped onto it. “Hello, mattress.”
He came over to her. “Miss Farlington. This is not your room.”
She stretched her arms above her head.
And, for the first time in his life, he saw her.
Really saw her.
The shape of her face.
The way her body filled her bodice.
The length of her arms.
She is no longer thirteen years old.
I am no longer fifteen.
He sat beside her on the bed.
She kicked his ankle. “May Rose.”
She sat up a lot faster than she should have. “May Rose. That is my name. Use it.”
He shook his head. “I cannot. Miss Farlington, I’m afraid you may have had a bit too much punch this evening.”
“James.” She threw her arms around his neck. “It isn’t just the punch.” She tried to kiss him, but he squirmed out of her grasp and stood.
“Miss Farlington. This is outrageous. This is wrong. You cannot—”
She untucked his pillow and threw it at him. “You will not tell me what I cannot do.”
“You are inebriated. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Fool. I am not as inebriated as you seem to think I am.”
“That only makes it worse. Please leave. You will create scandal. You will ruin your reputation. Your family will be—”
“Fool! What do I care about my reputation?”
She stood and came close to him.
His heart pounded all too hard. “I care about your reputation. Please. Consider that I am in a state of undress. If one of my fellow servants were to come in here—”
“I’d tell them to mind their own business and go packing.”
He tightened his grip on his gloves. “I cannot. Believe me, Miss Farlington. I cannot. We both have responsibilities. We both have our roles to play in this society. And they are not the same. We are not equals. We never really were.”
He put his gloves back on and buttoned the cuffs. “There is a wall between us that must not be breached.”
She glared at him. “I will breach it. I will find a way. Just wait and see, James Arden. I will demolish your wall.”
May Rose left the room as unsteadily as when she came in.
He walked to his bed and sat on the edge.
He looked down at his gloves for a long, silent moment before unbuttoning them and carefully removing them.
Raven put his gloves on and buttoned the cuffs.
If I had let her kiss me..
He ran his hands down the front of his suit coat.
There would have been trouble for her and for me.
And for them.
I did the right thing for all of the right reasons.
I wish I had kissed her.