Belle of the Ball:Desperate and Daring 02(3)

By: Ella J. Quince

“We meet again, Lady Anabelle.”

Her eyes snapped up. “It is not intentional, I assure you. I am waiting for my sister.”

“Ah, yes. Lady Hazel,” Draven said conversationally.

“That is her name. If you will excuse me.” Anabelle moved towards the retiring room.

“Don’t leave so soon.” He caught her hand. “I can’t help but feel this moment was meant to happen. Serendipitous, even.”

Anabelle turned back to him with a brow skeptically raised. “You find a meeting in a hall near two rooms frequently visited by guests in a home in which we are both very well acquainted with the Duke and Duchess serendipitous? Pray tell how?”

“I seem to have a knack for finding you alone.” He inched closer.

“We are not alone, Lord Draven.” Though, at the moment, the hall was deserted except for them. “At any moment, another guest, my sister even, will appear.”

He only smiled, his grey eyes darker in the dimly lit hall. “For the moment we are alone.”

“I’d prefer that we weren’t. I don’t wish to speak with you or to be associated with you,” Anabelle hissed. She didn’t like being so rude, but he was dangerous to her, a threat to her reputation and her husband hunting plans. She didn’t like the way he made her feel. It was uncomfortable when a person could make one feel unsettled and hot with their presence alone.

He stood up straighter, for once not thoroughly amused by her distaste of him. “What have I done to earn such malice, if I may ask?”

Anabelle glared at him. “As if you don’t know. You are spreading a rumor that we’ve kissed.”

“You are the only one who spread the rumor, my sweet.”

“You told me you told Lord Rigsby,” Anabelle seethed. His calmness only upset her more.

“He is of no concern. He isn’t one to gossip or care whom I kiss.”

“Then why did you do it?”

“Truthfully? To unsettle you. You need a good kiss, Lady Anabelle.”

Anabelle blinked. “I don’t understand.”

“Frankly, neither do I, but I find that the more I think about not kissing you, the more convinced I am that I should. The rumor may be untrue, but I can’t let it die unless I do it in truth.”

“You want to kiss me?”

“I think I’ve made that quite clear,” he uttered condescendingly.

“Why?” Anabelle was baffled.

“Why not? You are a challenge to be met.”

“A challenge?” Anabelle was fuming now. She looked around, determined to give him the set down he deserved, but not where they could easily be seen and overheard.

“This way.” He took her hand and tugged her further down the hall. He paused at the billiard room and peeked in. Satisfied no one was paying attention to the door, he tugged her across the open door and further down the hall to a very plain sitting room. He closed the door behind them and released her hand. “You may commence with your tirade.” He folded his arms across his chest.

Anabelle didn’t know where to begin. She wanted to rip apart his character, insult him as grievously as he had insulted her. “Have you no heart?” she blurted.

“I beg your pardon?” He frowned.

“You behave as if this is all some sort of game, but this is not a game. My very future hangs on a thread of respectability. I have nothing but a dowry and my good name to offer a husband. My purpose in life is to marry and marry well. I happen to want to also achieve a marriage of significant affection.” Her eyes burned with the threat of tears and she turned away in humiliation.

“Are we speaking of love again?” he said after a moment.

She couldn’t face him, but she nodded her head. “I know you think it’s absurd, but it is of great importance to me. I wish to find a husband I can love and be loved in return, but I cannot do that if you destroy my every chance with the threat of a kiss we did not share. A meaningless, insignificant kiss.” She dabbed at her eyes and took a deep breath. She felt a semblance of calm return now that she had vented her feelings. She didn’t feel his approach until he stood right behind her.

“My kisses are never meaningless or insignificant.”