Belle of the Ball:Desperate and Daring 02

By: Ella J. Quince

Chapter 1

Lady Anabelle Darling wanted to be married. It was never more apparent than it was right now, sitting in a pew in St. Georges, watching her dearest friend Heather and her duke stare at each other with rapturous love. Anabelle was supremely jealous, not that she should be, but she was. Heather had needed to get married with all haste, and her options as gentlemen went had been narrowed by circumstance to just one. It turns out, through fortunate—and odd circumstances—that her one choice turned out to be the perfect choice, for Heather at least.

Anabelle had no express need to be married. She simply wanted to. She wanted a man to look at her the way the duke looked at Heather. She wanted to be in love. Her problem was that she hadn’t any gentlemen in her recent acquaintance to fall in love with. They were amiable and suitable in rank and personality, but… none of them had inspired looks of adoration from her or any emotions like it.

It was time to get serious. She needed a plan. She needed to stop waiting for the perfect man to fall at her feet and actively search for him. She would need to take a closer look at the most eligible of gentlemen of the season, and one by one, narrow them down to the one for her. It didn’t sound the least bit romantic, but at least it would give her the opportunity to truly discover who they were versus what she wanted.

Anabelle focused on Heather and her duke again. Applause erupted around her and Heather smiled joyfully. Anabelle’s heart clenched. She wanted to feel that way. She was incredibly happy for Heather, and she wanted the same for herself. The bride and groom traipsed down the aisle and through the church doors, presumably to race to the wedding breakfast. Guests stood as they passed and Anabelle, along with her family, and waited to exit their pew. As she entered the crowded aisle, she looked up and found a pair of mocking grey eyes glinting at her.

“A vigorous ceremony, wouldn’t you say, Lady Anabelle?”

“No, my lord. Vigorous is not a word I would use. I will say the ceremony was lovely.” She responded to him with very little encouragement, giving him her profile.

“You seemed quite moved, I could even say enraptured by the bride and groom.”

Now she had to look at him. He was being quite absurd. “I am very happy for them, they looked quite in love. That is something to be admired, I think.” She looked away again, in what was obviously a dismissive manner.

“Egad, no. How terrifying to be a lovesick fool.”

There were titters of laughter following his remark, proof that their words were far from private and that was dangerous. Anabelle had no desire to be seen with him, or to even be conversing with him. She needed to distance herself from him immediately for the sake of her reputation and her marriage plans. However, she could feel the pull of his attention on her. She could feel him watching her face, looking for a reaction. She could feel an answering heat crawling up her neck.

She lowered her voice. “How fortunate for you, my lord, that no woman of full mental capacity would ever love you.” Those were the cruelest words she had ever uttered before in her life. She felt him smile and that alarmed her. How was it possible to feel someone smile? But she was sure he was smiling—she even verified it with a peek from under her lashes.

“You wound me deeply,” he answered, but his smile said anything but. He was patently enjoying himself. Anabelle looked forward, praying he would disengage from her and find his amusement elsewhere.

Ahead of her, Hazel strolled between their mother and father, and beyond them, the open doors offered her an avenue of escape. The procession came to a halt. There were cheers from outside. The duke must be tossing coins into the crowd before whisking his bride away. Anabelle wished she could see it. She wanted to absorb the happiness, taste the giddiness that was Heathers, for only a moment to appease her own yearnings for her own wedding.

Like a dark cloud, Lord Draven loomed beside her. “It’s a madhouse out there. It will take forever to reach my carriage.”

Anabelle refused to acknowledge him. She stepped closer to her parents, but the other guests pushed closer to see the theatrics outside. She planted her feet, determined not to be crushed against her family. A body bumped into the back of her and remained. She looked over to glare at the offending person, but her eyes met a cravat, and she swallowed as her eyes slowly ascended despite the dread she was feeling. Grey eyes met hers, amused and wicked.