Belle of the Ball:Desperate and Daring 02(9)

By: Ella J. Quince

“Was that Lord Draven you were conversing with?” Hazel asked.

Anabelle threw her a glare. “You know who it was.”

“And before that? Who was that gentleman?”

“Lord Scorn and his mother, Lady Scorn.”

“Oh, yes. She is an interesting woman,” their mother added.

Anabelle didn’t respond.

Hazel gave up her attempt to pester her. “I’ve been told that Lord Dunwick has a new litter of puppies in the barn. Lucy is going to join me on a walk to see them. Do you want to come?”

Anabelle nodded. A puppy was possibly the only thing that could brighten her day. That, and hearing of Lord Draven leaving the country for good.

It was only a moment before Lucy arrived with Dorothea in tow. “Are we ready?”

Anabelle and Hazel rose, and they made the trek to the barn as another group of guests was leaving. Miss Craig could be heard begging her father for a puppy.

They entered the barn, its interior warm, and musky with the scent of horses and hay. A groom stood near the last stall and they stopped before the gate to look down into it. Six chubby little spaniels, three black, two golden, and one white with brown and black spots, wriggled against their mother and nursed hungrily.

“How adorable!” Anabelle sighed.

“Can we hold them?” Lucy asked the groom.

“They should be almost full, and then their mum can take a break from her duties.”

The ladies cooed and awed over the puppies until the mother stood and stretched and the groom opened the door to let her out of the pen. She sat for pats from the four ladies before leaving the barn. The groom handed them a blanket and stools for them to sit around the puppies.

Hazel was the first to pick one up and nuzzle it. “I think I’m in love.” They were still quite young, but their eyes were open. Anabelle picked up the multicolored puppy and cradled it in her arms. “Now I know why Miss Craig was begging for one.”

“Her father is notorious for his wolfhounds. I doubt he would let her have a spaniel,” Lucy observed.

“But how could he resist this face?” Hazel held up a little black pup and it yawned.

There was a chorus of awes from the four of them.

“Is it wrong I don’t find human children this cute?” Dorothea admitted.

Lucy laughed. “Not in the least. My cousin’s infant is a fountain of vomit. I pretended to have the sniffles to avoid holding him. My mother was smitten despite this, and Jonathan and I had to listen to a lecture on her grandmotherly wishes the entire ride home.”

Anabelle stroked the downy soft fur on the puppy’s head and wondered what it would be like to hold a real baby. None of her nearest family had produced any children yet. Her entire experience with children consisted of nannies pushing prams by the Serpentine.

“Are all infants so untidy?” Dorothea asked with a worried frown.

“It goes with the territory,” a man’s voice rumbled.

Anabelle actually jerked in surprise. “Do you ever make your presence known? Or do you prefer to lurk in the shadows,” she snapped at Draven.

He stroked his chin in thought as he stepped in the light before the stall. “Lurking in shadows does have its advantages.”

“Such as?” Lucy eyed him with irritation.

“Eavesdropping, for one. Seeing people for who they truly are rather than the person they pretend to be, for another.”

“Were you present when my brother received his disgraceful and hideous black eye last night?” Lucy changed the subject as she set the puppy down and dusted off her hands.

“I was, in fact. It was only a rousing bar fight. Nothing of consequence.”

Lucy rolled her eyes.

Anabelle did her best to ignore him. He seemed to leap from thin air at the worst moments. Anabelle wanted to ignore him, but it was impossible. His presence was palpable, a reminder to the kiss they shared, the hard body she had held tightly.

“I believe I shall return to the party.” She set the puppy down and hurried from the stall. She could feel their surprised stares until she passed out of sight. She reached the barn door and stepped out into the sunshine and fresh air. It was a relief, as was the distance she put between herself and Draven.

The door opened behind her.