The Girl with the Windup Heart Page 6

“Probably better than I ought” was his reply. He even smiled a little. He couldn’t be too angry at her, then. “Now, let’s discuss how you’re going to apologize to my friend for ruining her gown, and to me for pulling such a destructive, impulsive, childish stunt.”

Or maybe he was.

Mila pushed herself into a sitting position. Her head was starting to hurt less—the benefit of having a metal skull and a fast metabolism. She also, she realized, had her pride. Or maybe it was stubbornness. She hadn’t figured out the difference between the two yet, despite careful reading. She supposed she’d understand once she’d experienced both enough times to discern between them. “I’m not apologizing to your doxy, so you can just forget about that. I am sorry about the floor, but if the two of you weren’t making so much noise I wouldn’t have done it.”

Jack arched a brow. The expression made him look somewhat sinister. Lucifer before the fall. Such a fascinating story. “Where did you learn the word doxy?”

She scowled as she took a peppermint from the crystal bowl on her nightstand and popped it in her mouth. “I heard one of your friends say it, so I looked it up in the dictionary.” She’d started reading the huge books for something to do, in order to learn, but words were easier to learn when a body had examples to which to apply them. “And don’t talk to me like I’m an imbecile or a child. I’m neither of those things.”

His gaze flickered over her before glancing away. Was he actually flushed? That was an indication of fluster. Jack Dandy was never flustered. “No, you certainly are not.” He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry you...overheard. That was wrong of me. You shouldn’t be subjected to such things.”

It was fortunate she couldn’t frown any harder because her eyes would disappear under the onslaught of her lowered forehead. “Now you’re talking like I’m some sort of fine lady. I’m not that either.”

His head tilted to one side as his gaze came back to her. “What are you, then, poppet?”

Sometimes she hated that damn pet name. It was better suited to a small child. And she hated that condescending tone, as though he knew her better than she did. She might still be new, but she was the one who spent time in her own head, not him. “I’m a girl, Jack. I might have started a machine, but I’m still a girl, and I’ve got a girl’s mind and a girl’s heart....” She stopped. What was she saying? “I’ve got a girl’s pride and a girl’s feelings. If I was up here banging the headboard against the wall with some bloke, how would you like it?”

Jack’s jaw hardened, as did his gaze. “That’s never going to happen.”

“Why not? You have your doxies, why can’t I have mine?” How had their conversation taken this turn? Mila didn’t know and she didn’t care. A fight was just what she was spoiling for, and she knew Jack was game to give it to her.

“You will never, ever have a man in your room, Mila. I forbid it.”

Forbid? Heat rushed to her face. Indignation was stronger than common sense, because the look on his face should have silenced her. She should have at least wondered why he looked as though he’d kill anyone who touched her. “You’re in my room.”

“That’s different.”

“So, it’s not having a man in my room that’s the issue. It’s having a man in my bed.”

He leaped to his feet and moved toward the door. “We’re not having this discussion.”

Mila followed after him. “Why not? Why can you do it and I can’t?”

“Because no one is going to treat you that way.”

“But you treat girls ‘that way.’”

That stopped him—just a step or two away from the door. He froze as though she’d tossed a bucket of ice water on him. “Yes, I have,” he murmured. “But that doesn’t mean it’s right. And no one’s going to do it to you.”

“That’s a bit of hypocrisy, don’t you think?” She’d just learned that word yesterday. What a perfect time to use it! “And it’s stupid. If you can have such ‘friends’ I should be able to, as well.” But she didn’t want those sort of friends. She wanted...

She wanted Jack.

Mila recoiled as though someone had punched her in the chest. That’s why she was so upset over Jack and his girls. Why she got so angry. She was...what was the word? Jealous. She didn’t want Jack to be with other girls because she wanted him for herself, and she didn’t want to share him.

“I know it’s hypocritical,” he explained, oblivious to her epiphany (another timely word!), “but it’s the way of the world. Girls are expected to behave with more propriety than fellows. Feminine virtue is something to be respected and saved for marriage, which is a load of rot, but it should at least be reserved for someone you love. Someone worthy.”

Virtue. She had heard the word before, but wasn’t clear on its meaning. “You mean virginity? I’m not even sure I have one of those.”

“Oh, bugger.” Jack ran a hand over his face. Were his cheeks actually red? “That’s not the point.”

“Then what is?”

“The point is that you deserve better than a meaningless tussle. You’re worth more than that.”

“What am I worth, Jack?”

He turned on his heel. She stepped toward him, closing the distance so that their chests were almost touching. He was maybe four or five inches taller than her own considerable height. There was something in his eyes she couldn’t comprehend, but it made her want to grab him by the shirtfront, haul him close and press her lips to his—press her everything to his. Maybe make a little noise of their own. A wave of warmth rushed up her neck.

“You’re worth more than I am, poppet. Worth more than any bloke, and don’t ever let anyone tell you different. You deserve a good life and a good man.”

“What if I don’t want a good man?” She knew from remarks he’d made during their time together that Jack thought of himself as the very opposite of good. He sometimes seemed to wear his underworld connections as if they were badges of honor, something to be proud of.

His eyes widened. “You’re obviously still drunk. We’ll discuss the floor and whether or not you’ll apologize when you’re sober.”

“Jack.” He kept walking toward the door. His hand closed around the crystal knob, started to turn it.... “Jack!” She moved fast—incredibly fast—and slammed her palm against the heavy oak. The wood groaned under the impact—splintered just enough to poke the tender flesh inside her hand.

He didn’t look at her, didn’t speak, but they both knew he wasn’t getting out of that room until she allowed it. He was no match for her physically. Emotionally, however, was a different story. When he finally turned his head, his eyes were like glistening pools of darkness that cast a soothing spell over her, tugging her deeper and deeper into their depths until she’d do whatever he asked.

The bounder.

Mila shook her head, clearing the fog Jack had created. He’d almost had her—almost made her open the door. Jack had a talent for getting his way.

“Not fair,” she said from between clenched teeth.

“No less than you using your strength against me. Open the door.”


He drew his shoulders back, anger tightening his features. “Mila, open the damn door. I’ve had enough of your sulking and pouting. Sober up and I’ll take you for an ice. We can do whatever you want.”

She stared at him. He thought she was pouting? And did he truly believe a bloody ice would fix it? “You really are stupid, aren’t you?”

Jack’s brows lowered. “What the devil is wrong wit—”

Mila didn’t think, she just wanted to shut him up. She grabbed him by the shirt and lifted herself up on her toes.

And then she kissed Jack Dandy. And it was wonderful.

Chapter Four

Three weeks earlier...

“I need you to explain something,” Mila announced as they left the little theater. They had just seen a production of An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde.

Jack buttoned up his long, black frock coat. “All right.”

“Why didn’t the wife just tell her husband she’d gone to visit his friend? Why was it such a terrible thing?”

“Because he was a single gentleman and she called upon him at night without a companion.”

She shook her head. “That still makes no sense.”

“Ladies aren’t supposed to call on gentlemen at their homes, and certainly not without a chaperone.”

“Can a gentlemen call on a lady without a chaperone?”

“Yes, but he shouldn’t if he really likes her. People might think ill of her.”

Mila kicked at a pebble with the toe of her shoe. “That’s stupid.”

Jack laughed. “It is.” He shrugged. “But, that’s how it is.”

“But why?” She knew she asked a lot of questions, and Jack had been very good about answering them, but the world was just so bloody confusing. Sometimes she didn’t think she’d ever understand.

“Because a lady’s virtue is her greatest possession, apparently. And a gentleman might lose control of himself and take advantage of her.”

Virtue. That was pureness. It was a synonym for virginity, as well. “Do men usually lose control of themselves?”

He opened the door to his steam carriage for her, so that she might climb in. “I’d like to think that they do not, no.”

She waited until he’d walked around and climbed in the other side. “You have ladies visit you.”

Jack paused, and she knew he was trying to think of a way to lie to her. He did that sometimes. “That’s different.” That was what he always said when he didn’t want to talk about it.

“Do you take advantage of your ladies?”

He made a strangled sound as he ignited the engine. “No.”

“What do you do with them?”

“That’s really none of your business, poppet. Not something you need to know about.”

“Do you have intercourse with them?” She’d read about intercourse in a book she’d found underneath the sofa.

His head turned, and he looked at her with an expression of...surprise? Horror? Bloody hell, she couldn’t tell! “How do you know about that?”

If she told him, he’d take the book away. “That’s really none of your business.”

“It is so my business!” Jack’s eyes were wide and black in the dim light.

Something in his tone made her fold her arms over her chest and glare out the window. “I don’t like how there seems to be separate rules for girls and boys. It’s not fair.”

Jack steered the carriage out into traffic. An old-fashioned carriage pulled by four automaton horses, their brass gleaming, raced past them. “No, it’s not. But it’s the way of the upper class.”

“Then, I don’t want to be part of the upper class.”

“I don’t think you’ll have much choice. That’s the sphere into which His Grace will introduce you.”

“I don’t understand why I can’t stay with you.”

“Because I’m exactly the sort of fellow a girl like you should avoid. Someday you’ll see that.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she glanced at him. “But you said you don’t take advantage of those girls.”

He kept his gaze on the road. A muscle in his jaw flexed. “I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I’m a good man, poppet.”

“But you’re the best person I know. I love you.”

The carriage swerved. Jack yanked on the steering mechanism to correct it again. “You don’t know what love is.” He didn’t say it meanly, but she resented it all the same. She couldn’t argue, though. Maybe she didn’t know what love was. But Emily had told her that love was when you cared about someone very much, and she did care about Jack. He was her whole world. The idea of being without him scared her.

“Do you know what love is?” she asked.

He shook his head. “And I don’t want to. I’ve seen what love does to people.”


Jack sneered—it was an awful expression on his lovely face. “It makes them weak. Makes it easy for other people to hurt them, use them and toss them aside.”

“Did that happen to someone you know?”



For a moment she thought he wasn’t going to answer her—that meant that a conversation really was over. “My mother. She thought my father loved her, but he didn’t. Unfortunately, she loved him, and it ruined her.”

Mila didn’t quite grasp the depth of his mother’s disappointment, but she knew when Jack was upset, and when he was angry. That his father had been mean to his mother upset him and made him really angry, and that was a bad thing. “I’m sorry.”

He flashed her a slight smile before returning his attention to the street. “You’re sweet, you know that? You’re probably the nicest person I’ve ever met.”

Warmth blossomed inside her. It was like pleasure, but more—as if her heart were being blown up like a balloon. She smiled—and then remembered her manners. “Thank you.”

“That’s why I’m going to make certain you are never in a position to be dependent on a man. You’ll never go hungry. No one will look at you as less than what they are. No one will ever take away your sweetness.”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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