twisting like he didn’t understand the concept. Seth supposed he didn’t. No woman had ever avoided Jason. On the contrary, they flocked to him, and he took full advantage of that fact.
Seth nodded. “I first took note of it earlier but dismissed it as distraction on her part. After all, the Duchess of Jameswood arrived today, and everyone knows they are thick as thieves.”
“But?” Jason prompted again with what had to be the most annoying chuckle in three counties.
Seth scowled. “But as the day progressed I noticed any time I moved in her direction, she moved an equal distance away from me. When I look at her, she looks at anything else. It is…odd, for I cannot think of anything I could have done to offend the lady in the span of less than twenty-four hours.”
“Hmmm,” Jason murmured as he looked at her again. “It would not be so very odd if Isabel did as we suspect and took your book.”
Seth rolled his eyes. “ We suspect nothing. You are the one overly focused on that idea.”
Jason ignored him. “She does look guilty.”
Seth looked at Isabel again. Jason was correct, damn him. It was guilt that lined her face, even when it was turned partially away from him.
Jason leaned closer. “Doesn’t it make you wonder what naughty thing she has done?”
Seth pursed his lips. As much as he hated to give into his shockingly base drive to test Isabel, he did want to know what had changed her behavior.
“Perhaps I should investigate further.” Seth shrugged. “After all, I am the host of this party. I must attend to my guests, mustn’t I? Even if they apparently do not desire it.”
Jason leaned back with raised brows. “ You , bait a lady? How marvelous! You haven’t played any games purely for fun in so long I can scarce recall the last time.”
Seth shook his head with a chuckle. He had never been so wicked as his friend, but not so long ago, before his life had been irrevocably changed by his brother’s death, he had been no stranger to pleasure.
But it had been a long time since he stalked any prey. He wasn’t certain he could do it properly anymore.
“I think it best to start simply,” he said, almost more to himself than to Jason.
Lifting his gaze to Isabel a second time, he held it there, observing the way her mouth moved as she spoke first to her sister and then to the chaperone of one of the other ladies in attendance.
There was no difficulty in holding the stare. He found there were so many details to admire in Isabel’s face, in the way she involved her hands when she talked, in the brightness of her smile when she flashed it. Looking at her was a pleasure.
He recognized the moment she noticed his attention not because she turned toward him, but because her shoulders stiffened slightly. Slowly, but noticeably, a marvelous pink blush crept up from the bodice of her scooped-neck gown, up the elegant slope of her neck and finally colored her cheeks.
He grinned, feeling utterly wicked but unsatisfied. He wanted her to look at him. He wanted her to know that he was examining her with focus and judge her reaction.
“Fascinating,” Jason said beside him.
Seth nearly jumped. He had almost forgotten his friend’s presence.
“She refuses to acknowledge you even though you are burning a hole in that pretty orange gown of hers,” Jason observed.
“Until she does acknowledge it, I refuse to alter my attention,” Seth murmured, continuing to stare at Isabel and enjoying the way she had begun to squirm ever so slightly.
“Do we dare place blunt on how long that will take?”
A grin was Seth’s only response. But before any bargains could be struck, Isabel looked directly at Seth. For the briefest fraction of a moment, their eyes met and in the rich depths of her stare Seth lost himself completely. But then she darted those eyes away, stealing the pleasure they provided.
She looked past him toward the French doors that led to the terrace, almost as if she was plotting an