Authors: Rachel van Dyken
Tags: #historical romance, #regency romance, #Humorous, #Rachel Van Dyken, #The Ugly Duckling Debutante, #kindle romance, #Fiction, #Romance, #Astraea Press, #London, #Historical Fiction, #Regency London, #Sensual romance, #Under 3.00 Kindle
Nicholas led her away from where Sebastian was standing, now surrounded with more women than she cared to count.
“Let’s just say I know where that pretty little head takes you sometimes.”
Curse her and the protective entourage that seemed to follow her every move. Lord Renwick was easy enough to manipulate. But the duke was an entirely different question. The duke was known as a fair man, but in no way did that mean he wouldn’t have a person hanged if the man in question mistreated his friend. The argument that kept parading through his mind was this: was Emma just an acquaintance, or was she something dangerously more?
He swore viciously when he saw the duke yet again extend his lips to Emma’s creamy hand. That was
hand. She was
property. He had made sure of that long ago. If only she would have stayed in the country where she belonged.
Where he could have kept her…and dealt with her. She would be the missing key to the unfairness of his life. Her dowry, her connections, he needed her now more than ever.
No matter. He would take care of the situation soon. For who would want to marry or even associate with a gypsy dancer who gave it to every man she came in contact with.
Jeering, he plucked a glass of wine from the passing servant. Yes this would be enjoyable indeed. All he needed was a plan, and someone desperate and loyal enough to help him carry it out.
Sebastian couldn’t help but grin when he watched Emma. Her lips in a tight smile, her eyes crinkled, but not in a full enjoyment. She was miserable, her smile was forced. Why it amused him, he couldn’t say, except he knew exactly how she felt. It was something akin to being a new toy. When the
caught wind of a girl in town for the marriage mart, they just had to see what she was like.
Fortunately for Emma, she would take remarkably well. With that pile of beautiful hair and gorgeous pout…It would be criminal for her to spend life without someone to share it with.
A young miss with curly brown hair wearing a white dress passed in front of Emma and giggled. Sebastian noted the irritated expression on Emma’s face. The poor girl looked like she was ready to throw a punch at the first debutante who crossed her, which, on second thought, might be quite entertaining if he allowed it.
Shaking the thought from his head, he motioned for her to follow him outside. Normally women only accompanied him to darkened balconies when he was promising a different type of entertainment, but the thought hadn’t crossed his mind. A point that actually bothered him. But what he wanted most in the world at this moment was to enjoy the Season’s first ball with Miss Emma Gates and to wipe the silly cynical frown off her face.
He held a finger to his lips, motioning her to be quiet as they stepped onto the outside balcony.
It took some persuading, but eventually he convinced her it would be in her best interest to crouch closer to the ground so she was nearly sitting on the cold hard marble. None too enthusiastic, she finally relented, rolling her eyes as she leaned in, throwing him a skeptical look. Satisfied, he reached into his pockets and withdrew a few grapes.
“You took me away from that fabulous good time to eat grapes? On the dirty ground? In the dark?”
Her voice held an abnormal amount of irritation, amusing him all the more.
“Why, of course. I thought to myself anything would be more fun than that!” He pointed back in the general direction of the doors and grimaced. “But to answer your previous question, no. We are not going to eat grapes on the ground in the dark. Nor am I going to compromise you. Oh, wipe that scowl off your face, or I’ll have to reevaluate my decision to do so. And you know that won’t do any favors for either of us.” He braced himself against the railing and grinned. “We’re going to throw them.”
He shrugged. “The grapes, of course.”
“Well, we could throw them at trees, but I had people in mind. Moving targets are so much more fun, wouldn’t you agree?”
Emma bit her lip as if contemplating what would be the wisest course of action. Then without pausing any further, she grabbed some grapes from his hand. “If I hit anyone in the head, I get five points.”
“A body hit is one point.”
“And if you miss, you get a point taken away,” she whispered, crouching closer to the edge of the balcony.
Sebastian couldn’t hold back his grin if he tried. He was living up to his reputation tonight. He hadn’t smiled this much with a woman in years. “Winner gets a kiss.” He hoped the sudden tension between them was from anticipation not repulsion. One never knew where women were concerned. Many of them being the most unpredictable and annoying creatures ever created.
“But…” He could almost see the wheels turning in her brain. “That means either way, one of us gets a kiss from the other.”
“Glad you see it my way. Shall we?” he urged, holding a grape in front of her face.
Emma rolled her eyes, snatching the grape out of his hand. Without warning, she took a shot, but missed the man in front of her by a large distance.
“My arm got caught in this blasted dress,” she explained, rubbing her elbow.
“Says the girl with no points,” Sebastian muttered, taking position and fighting to ignore the shot of lust that went through his veins the minute Emma began rubbing her skin. Focusing on the game at hand, he threw and hit the target right in his forehead, sending his hat backward onto the ground.
“Who’s there?” the man yelled and stomped his foot, then he picked up his hat and cursed. Apparently, this had not been a good night for him.
“That’s five for me, and how many for you, Emma?”
“Pride from a duke? How shocking.” With that, Emma threw not one but two grapes at the next two passersby, hitting one in the foot and the other in the head. Miraculously. He was convinced her throws were based on prayer and pure luck.
“Ha!” she gloated “I believe that gives me six points, and how many for you, Sebastian? I’ve lost track.”
“Finding it difficult to count with me standing so close to you, m’dear?”
“Foul!” she yelled. “If you’re going to sit and insult those who beat you—” Quickly his hand reached out to cover her mouth. Her raised voice had nearly given them away.
When they were in the clear, he released his hand and motioned for her to step back as he took his turn launching the grape toward the young man sitting on the bench.
And promptly missed.
She had just won. She didn’t even need to hit her target. Yet she reached up her arm for another throw then turned and, without warning, threw it right at Sebastian’s face. He ducked, but he wasn’t quick enough. The grape ricocheted off his nose into his eye.
“My eye, oh no! My eye!” He covered his eye and cursed.
Emma blanched. “Oh no. Oh!” She braced his face with both hands. “Let me see. Maybe I can help. I feel horrid! I didn’t mean for it to hit your eye. If you would have just—”
Naturally, Sebastian was faking it. And he should have felt guilty, but instead he was exhilarated. He could smell faint delights of wine and berries on her breath as it brushed across his face. He was going to kiss her.
Since he had already made the decision, he leaned forward and met her lips with tenderness. Then whispered against them, “Remember, winner gets a kiss.”
He felt her tense beneath his arms. Pathetically, all he could think was, P
lease, God, don't let her pull away.
In all its innocence, it was the best kiss of his life.
Her hesitation ceased once he pulled her firmly into the frame of his body, shielding her from any snooping eyes of the
Emma was shaking.
And it was all Sebastian’s fault.
Before the incident, she had dreamed of this moment. Didn’t every girl? Now that her dreams were a reality, she felt like she was living a waking nightmare.
She was trapped against this powerful man. There was no escape. Yet as the kiss progressed, her body began to act in direct conflict with her head.
Everything felt alive.
She was terrified. Her head told her she had to flee. It said if she didn’t push away, something bad would happen again. How was it possible to both enjoy and be petrified of something at the same time?
Her arms treacherously wrapped around his neck as if he was the lifeline to her sanity. The pull between them was like nothing she had ever experienced.
And then as quickly as it had happened, she was pushed away, but not by Sebastian.
“What the—Sebastian! I should kill you!”
Nicholas was standing between the two of them like an angry parent, which, oddly enough, was closer to the truth than Emma would like to admit. Her belly filled with dread as if she had just been caught red-handed stealing something from her father.
Sebastian opened his mouth to speak, but was silenced by Nicholas’s fist.
It all happened so fast, Emma wasn’t sure how to play it. Did she throw Sebastian to the wolves or join him?
Maybe it wasn’t too difficult of a decision.
“I have no idea what happened,” she feigned, innocently putting her palm against her fluttering heart. “One minute we were throwing grapes at people and the next he was kissing me!”
“Throwing grapes? Kissing?” Nicholas’s face turned an odd shade of purple as he glared at Sebastian, who was now holding his already bruising cheek.
“They were small grapes! And she is not totally innocent!” He looked ready to call in witnesses, not that there were any.
“On what grounds do you say she isn’t totally innocent?” Nicholas asked.
Sebastian cleared his throat and mumbled, “She cheats.”
“Right.” Nicholas glanced between the two of them, and then turned toward the ballroom.
Emma strategically stuck out her tongue so Nicholas couldn’t see. Sebastian answered her with a threatening glare that would have made her squirm if Nicholas hadn’t been standing right there.
“What am I to do with you two?” Nicholas was facing them and pacing all at once.
“Do you think it’s a rhetorical question?” Sebastian murmured under his breath.
Emma choked on her laugh just in time to meet Nicholas’s searching eyes. Then his mouth turned into a smug grin. She hated it when he got that look on his face.
“I know exactly how to handle this.”
Sebastian shifted his weight and rolled his eyes. The doubt on his face was apparent. Emma couldn’t help but share the same feeling. What could Nicholas possibly do to them? They were adults after all.
“Both of you, follow me.”
Emma wasn’t given a choice as Sebastian urged her forward, leaving an almost searing handprint on her back. The man did wicked things to her. Just a moment ago she had been kissing him like a madwoman. And she did feel mad. For even though part of her was still terrified, another part was delighted and couldn’t help but wonder when or if it would happen again. Not that it would be a good idea. After all, they didn’t want to end up having to marry just because they found each other's kisses more exciting than a ball.
For goodness sake, anything was more exciting than the ball. Especially when one didn’t dance. A girl can only drink so much punch and eat so many bonbons before it starts to show on her figure, sending her into even deeper despair of ever finding a husband.
Emma followed Nicholas blindly into the main room.
“Go along now,” he said authoritatively.
Emma turned to Sebastian for help. He winked.
“What would you like us to run along and do, my lord?” The mockery wasn’t lost on Nicholas. His face grew even sterner. Which, considering the circumstances, was quite a feat.
Suddenly Nicholas smirked. “Pardon my interruption, Lady Fenton!” he announced, voice louder than a man of his stature should possess.
Lady Fenton turned around. “Ah, Nicholas, there you are.”
“Indeed, did you know I’ve just heard the most delightful news?”
Lifting her eyebrow, Lady Fenton leaned in. “What is it? Surely your secret is safe with me.”
“It has come to my attention the Duke of Tempest and Miss Gates are both actively searching for someone with whom to share their hearts. And after careful consideration, they’ve decided to announce at the Fenton ball next week their choices for a companion. After several dances, they will announce their intentions of whom they wish to court. Isn’t that delightful?”
Emma watched in horror as Lady Fenton’s face seemed to brighten with every word. “Will Renwick House be accepting visitors then?”
“Naturally, both Lady Gates and Tempest will be accepting callers.”
Emma’s mouth dropped open. Sebastian let out a lovely string of expletives and ran his fingers roughly through his hair.
Torn between wanting to shout and curse alongside Sebastian, Emma watched with dread as Lady Fenton leaned in and whispered a few words to the ladies in her group. This process was repeated until everyone in the ballroom seemed to be a flutter with excitement.