If not entirely comfortable, at least she was used to this environment. Years of accompanying Tim had honed her skills of light conversation and artless smiling. She nibbled and sipped and, behind the cloak of her mask, let her gaze wander over the men who attended, admiring the tight, shapely buttocks encased in dark trousers, breadth of shoulders tapering down to narrow waists, or the kind of long, elegant masculine fingers she preferred.
Sophie licked her forefinger absently, sucking the remnants of subtly curried egg from her fingers, just as a low voice whispered in her left ear.
“Do you always like to watch?”
She spun around, startled and more than a little guilty. Her hand moved instinctively to her chest and a dark gaze followed its path. Sophie felt as if something tangible had just stroked her bare skin and her nipples puckered. It took two breaths before she could gather her self-control around her once again.
“I'm sorry,” she said, her voice a little husky, “but you startled me.”
The man behind the mask bowed slightly. “In that case, my most profound apologies but you see,” he paused, “I like to watch too.”
Sophie's eyes widened. Oh dear.
The man in front of her—as dark and delectable as chocolate—was also as smooth as finely-woven silk. The old Sophie would have been a little apprehensive around such a character, but the new on-the-prowl Sophie was beginning to think that this man may be exactly what she was looking for. At that moment, she itched to have a lace fan in her hand instead of a flute of wine, just so she could flutter it in front of her. No matter, the mask would have to do.
Coyly, she stared at the floor then lifted her gaze to him. “Then we seem to make an excellent pair.”
And they did. He was half a head taller than her in her heels, which made him very tall for this part of the world. And his voice was low and cultured, yet with a lilt to it that reminded her faintly of an Irish brogue. He was dressed conservatively in a tailored suit, but wore a mask of black and white checks. It didn't cover as much of his face as Sophie's did hers, but it still made him look dark and mysterious. He smiled and she noticed that the bottom edge of his mask wasn't low enough to hide an appealing dimple in his right cheek. Her pulse began to race, sure he had used that smile before to good effect.
She took a breath. Oh my.
“I don't think I've noticed you at previous masquerade balls,” he commented.
Sophie laughed. “And how would you know? We are behind masks, after all.”
He paused, his lips quirking again, and made sure she knew he was taking his time, observing every inch of her from the top of her burnished blonde hair, over the mask, lingering for a moment on her lips, before moving down to rest on her chest. Sophie had the wild urge to throw her glass to one side, push him to the floor and have her wicked way with him.
“Believe me,” he said, “if you had attended any of the others, I would have noticed.”
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