“If you want your money back, I don’t have it. Mrs. Wainwright already took it from me.”
He nodded. “I suspected as much. Perhaps if I replaced it?”
“In exchange for what?” Suspicion hardened her features and stiffened her posture.
“In exchange for nothing, same as before.” He arched a brow. “Unless, of course, you’d like to give me something in exchange.”
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when he realized that was the wrong thing to say. Her eyes flashed with indignation.
“Then why didn’t you just take what you want from me in the first place? Why did you give me the coin, only to send me back out there where I could run afoul of her, and lose it all?”
For a moment, Blake could only stare at her in astonishment. He’d never met a serving girl as fearless as this one. The way she stood up to him went beyond mere insolence. He wondered if she’d show this much mettle if she knew he was a duke—or even if she’d be more willing to warm his bed tonight.
“I didn’t know Mrs. Wainwright was out there waiting to ambush you, and I believe I said you could go…if you liked. You could’ve stayed here if you wanted.”
“And then what?”
And then what, indeed? He stepped past her to poke the embers in the brazier. “Perhaps now would be the time to discuss that. Why didn’t you stay?”
“Why would I want to stay? Just so you could—could—?”
He turned from the brazier, poker in hand, to offer her a mischievous grin. “Could what?”
“Oh, you know what, Mr. Blake!”
He chuckled. “You’re very prim and proper for a serving girl. Too much so, in fact.”
“So you think all serving girls are whores?”
He concentrated on stirring the embers with the poker. “I didn’t say that. It’s just that I’ve never met one with sensibilities as delicate as yours. One thing about maidservants and serving girls—while they can be terribly naïve, no doubt due to their lack of education, they also tend to be very frank when it comes to talking about matters carnal.” He spun around to face her again, and saw she was nearly as red as a soldier’s uniform. He knew it couldn’t be because the room was too warm. The brazier was barely warding off the chill. “But you can’t even hint at such things, can you, Mandy?”
“So that is what you had in mind, had I decided to stay?”
“What else would you expect?” He put the poker aside. “Do sit down. I’ve spent most of the day in a wretched carriage, while I’ll wager you’ve been on your feet since before dawn.”
She glanced around in bewilderment, her eyes briefly widening as they swept over the bed.
He stepped to one side. “The chair is on the other side of this brazier, if you’d rather not sit on the bed.”
Blake couldn’t tell if she was shivering from the cold, or trembling from a mixture of fear and anger as she quivered past him to the chair in the corner. She sat down and immediately bent toward the brazier, rubbing her hands together.
He stepped to the other side of the room, in hopes she wouldn’t feel as threatened, though he couldn’t help thinking it would take a lot more than the possibility of seduction to threaten her. “Now, what do you propose we do for the night?”
She didn’t look up. “What else did you have in mind, other than what you keep trying to make me say?”
“I’m not trying to make you say anything in particular.”
She shook her head. “If you want me, then why don’t you have your way already?”
Blake had to admit he was tempted, for she was far and away the most attractive girl he’d ever seen, other than elegant titled ladies. Most of the girls he’d encountered on his travels had been ready to pleasure him and do whatever he fancied. Mandy seemed determined to withhold her favors, exactly as if she were one of those ladies he was expected to marry.
She slowly lifted her head. “Don’t you want me?”
“I’d be a fool not to.”
“Well, are you a fool?”