There had been quite a buzz round London about the contracts secured by The Western Shipping Company lately. He’d been careful to keep his name out of it as much as possible, but not much got past former agents of the Crown, he supposed.
Lucas inclined his head in confirmation, earning a low whistle from Andrew.
“I see you’ve been modest,” he said.
Lucas fielded more and more questions, all the while noticing that Anna asked not a single one.
And her silence began to grate on him.
Then, of course, his anger flared at himself for not getting it through his thick skull that she simply didn’t care, and at her for not caring.
As the evening wore on, Lucas became steadily more furious with the beauty sitting across the table from him.
Finally, as the footmen began to serve plum pudding and lemon posset, his control snapped.
“I am sorry, Mrs. Grant, if details of my new business venture bore you. I am sure it is not nearly as interesting to you as the latest on dit or salacious gossip so attractive to the less-than-intelligent ladies of quality.”
His words brought an immediate and shocked cessation to the chatter round the table, but Lucas’ sole focus was on the woman sitting across from him.
Her head whipped up at the comment, and her eyes narrowed.
She was clearly unhappy with him, and he felt a sick sort of satisfaction as he watched her cheeks flame. It was no more than she deserved.
Her amber eyes glittered in the candlelight, and for a moment, he thought she might cry.
But as he watched, her face transformed into a mask of snobbish disdain.
She became the Anna he knew her to be: a cold, uncaring snob.
Jonathan’s voice came from the top of the table, harsh and furious-sounding, but with a quick glance, Lucas saw Gabby place a hand on her husband’s arm and whisper something.
Whatever it was, it was enough to have Jon, who was half standing from his chair, sit back down. It did nothing, however, about the glower he had fixed on Lucas.
“The tales of your little business ventures do not bore me, Captain Townsend,” Anna responded now, contempt dripping from every word. “It is always nice to hear of a nobody doing well for himself.”
A gasp of shock sounded from one or both of the ladies, but Lucas didn’t even spare a glance this time.
He was glad, he told himself, even as his heart thundered with anger and humiliation. He was glad that she was showing her true colours.
“I am glad you approve,” Lucas countered, keeping his tone calm and even. “Thankfully in the West Indies, people aren’t as rigidly disapproving of birth and blood. Some of them are even crazy enough to make love matches, for example, instead of marrying monsters with the right connections.”
At the sound of a chair scraping, Lucas broke eye contact with his nemesis and watched Jonathan stand and fling his napkin on the table. But before the man could speak to throw Lucas from his home, presumably, another chair scraped back and Anna, too, was on her feet.
“How dare you?” she asked quietly.
Had she ranted and railed like any number of females would in such circumstances, Lucas would have been rather amused.
But she remained so cool, so wholly unmoved by emotion, that it just reiterated his point. She was incapable of feeling anything real. Anything raw.
“Hit a nerve, did I?”
Lucas came slowly to his feet.
He was about to be tossed out on his arse anyway, and he didn’t appreciate sitting there with her standing over him like a governess scolding her charge, even if there was a giant mahogany dining table between them.
“Hardly,” she scoffed. “To hit a nerve, your opinion would have to matter to me. And it doesn’t.”
“I am well aware of that, Anna.”
His softly spoken words seemed to bring her up short for a moment, and she blinked slowly as she stared at him.
But then her expression hardened once again.
“Good. Well, I hope you are also aware that you have no right to an opinion on my life, or my marriage, or anything else to do with me.”
She was gathering steam now. He could tell by the terribly distracting way her chest was heaving in that gown that would give him sleepless nights for weeks to come.
“You might have clawed your way to the top, Captain, and thrown everything real away for the chance of some money and notoriety, but stepping on people on your way there is the lowest of the low, and you are in no position to judge me or anyone else for that matter.”
Lucas felt as though he’d been slapped as her words hit him.
How dare she stand there and pontificate because he’d made the best of a situation he’d been thrown into?
His rage burned red hot until he had to clench his fists lest she see them trembling.
A quick look round the table told him that her family was not only shocked at his and Anna’s argument, but more than a little curious about it, too.
Well, let her deal with the explanations.
He was bound for the West Indies, and it would be years before he returned, if it all.
She obviously hadn’t made any of them privy to her history with Lucas, no doubt embarrassed by her lapse in judgement.
“Well…” He broke the tense silence. “…given how I am sailing on Friday and won’t be returning to these shores for quite some time, I will no longer be around to judge or offend you.”
Her face blanched at his words.
“You’re leaving?” she blurted, then clamped her mouth shut as though she hadn’t meant to ask.
“You knew I was leaving,” he bit out.
“Yes, but — well, for good?”
“It’s possible. Are you going to pretend you care?” he sneered.
Her mouth set in a mutinous line at his words.
As parting shots went, it wasn’t very good, but suddenly the fight went out of him.
She had humiliated him once again, called him a nobody, let him see in black and white what she thought of him, and the fury he felt, a fury which had no outlet because he could hardly rail at her in front of her family, was exhausting.
“I don’t make a habit of pretending to care about people, Lucas,” she said scornfully.
“Just once was enough?” he retorted.
He watched a riot of emotions race across her face before it became expressionless.
“I’m tired of this conversation,” she said as she sat primly back in her chair.
Lucas was so surprised at the sudden change in her that he stood stock still.
Anna fussed with the folds of her gown for a moment or two.
Nobody else moved.
He imagined they looked like players in a terribly awkward play.
It probably would have been amusing had he not been so furious.
After a moment, she looked up and raised a brow. “Are you still here? Weren’t you storming off to India or somewhere?”
Lucas told himself that the dull throb in his chest wasn’t hurt. Wasn’t disappointment.
He turned to address the others seated at the table. “Thank you for having me and for wishing me well,” he said formally, as though the last few minutes hadn’t happened. “I’m afraid I shall have to take my leave earlier than anticipated. There is much to be done before I sail to the West Indies.” He accentuated this last part for Anna’s benefit, but she was studiously avoiding any eye contact.
“I won’t pretend I’m going to miss England,” he continued pointedly. “It will be infinitely warmer in places new.”
Bowing to the ladies and not awaiting a response, Lucas swept from the room and out of the Mayfair townhouse as fast as his feet would carry him.
Friday could not come soon enough. He desperately needed an ocean between himself and that woman.
Nadine Millard is a writer hailing from Dublin, Ireland. Having studied law then worked in the legal industry for years, Nadine revisited her passion for writing when she became a stay at home mom to her three children. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, coaching, running around after the children, the dog and the cat and drinking far more coffee than should be humanly possible.