A hand caught my wrist and held it.
“Leave her. She’ll bring nothing but trouble to you.”
I pulled away. “How dare you touch me! And how dare you be so cruel!”
“Cruel? Cruel?” He scoffed. “I tried to tell her kindly that our affair had ended. She refused to hear it. I told her once more, and the little fiend climbed a window into my lodgings. Tonight she threw herself at me again, and I have thrown her back into the world. God help whoever catches her.” He struck a match and I smelled sulfur and smoke as he lit a cigarillo of Turkish tobacco. He leaned against a statue of a naked female and slowly ran his fingers over the statue’s buttocks. “Why can’t all women be this beautiful? And this silent!”
I stared. I wanted to speak. I willed the words to rise in my mouth so I could fling them like blades against his arrogance. Instead my tongue froze and I stood dumbly as he walked towards me. I saw that he limped. I felt no pity.
He spoke again. “You yourself, Lady Cochrane, are beautiful and silent. Indeed, you are perfection in this moment.”
At last I found my tongue, but the words that formed were not those I wanted him to answer.
“How is it you know my name?”
“How could I not?” He bowed. “George Gordon Byron, madam. At your service.” His eyes locked on mine and he regarded me coolly. I did not turn away, and he made another step forward. He reached for my hand, held it, and I watched as he moved his face downwards to trace my hand with his lips. I felt their warmth even through my gloves before I roughly pulled my hand away.
“You may hold a title, but you are no gentleman,” I managed to say before I turned as quickly as I could back towards Lady Heathcote’s house. I felt the gravel biting through my slippers as I walked, but I did not stop, not even when I heard him laughing.