Belle of the Ball:Desperate and Daring 02(5)

By: Ella J. Quince

On that thought, he excused himself to find the happy couple and offer his personal congratulations. He found them in the drawing room, hoarded by fellow well-wishers. Draven halted at the entry way. He recognized one blonde head immediately. This wouldn’t do. He still felt raw from the kiss. He backtracked to the dining room where refreshments were being served and found a decanter of brandy. He poured himself a finger and drank it in one swallow.

“Careful,” Rigsby mocked. “You look like a desperate man. Marriage-minded mamas can sense desperation.”

“Weddings make me nervous.” Draven tossed another finger of Brandy down his throat.

“It feels like a trap, doesn’t it?”

“More like a vice around my jewels. Is it warm in here?” Draven looked around in agitation.

Rigsby frowned at him. “Are you going to faint?”

Draven gave him a murderous scowl.

Rigsby laughed. “Perhaps it is time to depart. Quarters are getting rather cramped.”

“It’s too early. Ablehill might take insult.”

“Then come with me to the library. It’s the last bastion for gentlemen like us. We’re having cigars.”

Draven nodded and followed Rigsby. The Library was filled with gentlemen like himself, seeking refuge from the pressure of attending a wedding. It was an unpleasant reminder of their duties, one they fully accepted, but wished to delay just a little while longer. That was at least how Draven felt. Marriage was a foggy distant responsibility of the future, no matter how his mother claimed otherwise. He had no desire to shackle himself to a woman at the present time. He clearly wasn’t alone.

The low rumble of baritones and smoky air of the library was an instant balm to his nerves. He sighed gratefully and headed for the decanter, this time with the intent to sit and sip his drink leisurely while the men around him did the same. He did exactly that, as Rigsby did the same and took the chair across from him. They were joined by the Earl of Bainbridge and Sir Stanley.

“Love a good wedding,” Sir Stanley said jovially.

Draven discreetly rolled his eyes.

“As long as it’s not mine.” Rigsby chuckled.

“As a future earl, surely you feel the noose around your neck?” Bainbridge quipped.

“Speak for yourself,” Rigsby countered. “I’ve yet to inherit. You, on the other hand, have a target painted on your back.”

Bainbridge shrugged. “I’m in no rush and my grandmother hardly presses the issue. I don’t even feel hassled by the marriageable masses.”

“That’s because you slip in and out of rooms like a ghost,” Draven mused as he sipped his brandy.

“It’s a talent.” Bainbridge smiled. “They can’t pester me if they can’t find me.”

“Where do you go?” Rigsby raised a curious brow.

“Here and there. I like to explore rather than listen to idle talk and dance.”

“You’d rather tour a house than pay court to pretty ladies?” Sir Stanley snickered.

“God, yes,” Bainbridge said incredulously. “Houses offer history and knowledge. I dare you to present a young lady that can do the same.”

Sir Stanley just shook his head. “I’m going back to the party. You all can molder alone in your bachelorhood.” He turned away and no one stopped him.

“Dunce,” Rigsby murmured.

“I believe he would have offered for Miss Everly had I not spurred the dukes possessive side,” Draven admitted quietly.

“Is that what you were doing? I thought you were just being an ass.” Rigsby got up and poured himself another drink.

Draven shrugged. “Some things just can’t be ignored.” Draven frowned as he said the words. They sounded rather ominous.

“Are you saying you knew then that he was the duke?” Rigsby questioned as he returned to his seat.

“No, I didn’t realize until after, but it was the way he spoke about her, as if she was already his. What man dare come between that?”

Bainbridge looked back and forth between the two of them. “I’m missing something. You had known him before he was the duke?” This was directed at Draven.

Draven and Rigsby looked at each other.