By the time she was finished with her demonstration, most of the hour had passed. She ended with a final twirl to stand directly in front of him, eyes still closed, as if she did not want to leave the imagined ball that she was attending.
He could see himself there, with her, dancing until they were exhausted, then searching out a quiet corner to sit together for a moment of stolen intimacy, shaded from the rest of the party by a potted palm. The dream was so sweet that he forgot she was not sharing it and leaned forward, kissing her on the tip of the nose.
Her eyes flew open and she started back, surprised. ‘I did not give you permission to do that.’
‘I do not know what came over me,’ he said honestly. But though she might be about to ban him from the house, he could not seem to regret what he had done. Then, he added, ‘Did you mind it so very much?’
‘I do not know,’ she said, colouring so sweetly that he wanted to kiss her again. ‘I have never been kissed by a man before and I do not know how I am supposed to react.’
‘There is no one correct way to respond,’ he said. ‘If I upset you, do not be afraid to tell me. But if you were hoping for a more profound experience, that was hardly a kiss at all. I do not think you need count it as your first.’
‘Oh,’ she said, her voice a strange mix of relief and disappointment. Then she tipped her head to the side, considering. ‘And just what do you think an appropriate first kiss should be like?’
It was a dangerous question, but it was an invitation that he could not resist taking. He thought for a moment, then looked into her eyes and tried to imagine what it might be like to kiss her again. ‘I do not know if I have ever given one before. But I would think a great deal of care must be taken, to make it worthy of the lady’s expectations. It needs to be memorable.’
She let out a little sigh, as she savoured the fantasy of the kiss he described. ‘Do go on.’
‘It must be both gentle, in respect of her inexperience, but passionate enough to give her a hint of what is to come, should she want a second kiss.’
‘It sounds as though you have an excellent grasp of the particulars,’ she said, swallowing nervously, but making no effort to move away from him.
‘Would you like a practical demonstration?’ he asked, praying for the answer he wanted to hear.
‘Well, it is not as if you are teaching me to dance,’ she said, her eyes sparkling. ‘I must learn something so that you are worthy of what my brother pays you.’
‘True,’ he said, throwing caution aside and placing his hands on her shoulders and drawing her closer to him.