For the first time since she’d entered the room, Edie looked uncomfortable. She took a hasty sip of the spiked tea, probably to fortify herself.
“Whatever it is, lass,” he said gently, “you won’t shock me. Just say it.”
Her gaze met his, and she gave him a reluctant smile. “Very well. I got myself into a spot of trouble last night at Lady Charlfort’s ball, and Mamma is furious with me.” She grimaced. “My parents are convinced I need to rusticate.”
Alec wasn’t surprised she’d gotten herself into trouble. As far as he was concerned, she was an accident waiting to happen. But it startled him to hear that Lady Reese was unhappy with her. The woman adored her daughter and, according to Wolf, was convinced that Edie could do no wrong.
“Would I be correct in assuming this trouble involved a man?”
There was that faint wash of pink again. This time, though, Alec wasn’t charmed. The idea of Edie getting into trouble with a man had him clenching a fist against his thigh.
“Who was he?” he asked sharply when she remained silent.
She seemed perplexed by his tone. “Sir Malcolm Bannister, though it really isn’t any business of yours.”
Now both his fists were clenched against his thighs. “Bannister? Are you mad? The man is a notorious rake.”
Edie set her teacup down on his desk with a loud click. Then she crossed her arms over her impressive bosom and gave him an ironic stare. That she was silently but clearly commenting on his reputation as a rake did not improve Alec’s mood. Yes, he liked women, but he never tampered with virgins or innocents.
“Never mind,” he growled. “Just tell me exactly what happened.”
“Nothing. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell everyone.”
“Then why the need for such drastic measures?”
“Well, almost nothing,” she grudgingly admitted. “I’d almost escaped from him when Lady Charlfort and her witch of a mother stumbled upon us.”
Alec closed his eyes, trying to ignore the fury turning his vision blood red. When he opened them, she was eyeing him like he was the one who’d lost touch with reality. And perhaps he had. The notion of Edie in another man’s arms made him want to commit several acts of mayhem.
“Did he hurt you?” he growled.
She blinked as if surprised by the question, then waved an insouciant hand. “As if I couldn’t handle a cad like Bannister. You can be sure he’ll never come within ten feet of me again.”
Her naïveté and reckless self-confidence bordered on criminal. Still, there was little to be gained in pursuing that point. The sooner he got the image of Edie in Bannister’s lecherous embrace out of his head, the better.
“As a result of this unfortunate encounter with one of the ton’s most notorious rakes,” he said, “you now find yourself in an awkward situation. Lady Reese is no doubt focused on the gossip.”
She was obviously irritated by his characterization. “Yes, Mamma is convinced the damage to my reputation will be quite severe. It’s an assessment I don’t agree with, by the way.”
“Imagine my surprise. And yet, your parents want you to rusticate. To Maywood Manor, I assume?” But what did any of this have to do with him?
She pressed her full lips into a grim line.
“Miss Whitney?” he prompted when she remained silent.
“Actually, Wolf suggested another alternative, something you’ll find as displeasing as I do, I’m sure.”
The familiar sense of premonition Alec never ignored prickled along his nerves. “Which is?”
“They want me to go to Scotland with you,” she blurted out. “For the entire winter. Can you imagine? I’d probably kill myself by leaping off the nearest Highland peak. Or we’d kill each other, which is, I suppose, the likeliest scenario.”