Masquerade Secrets

By: Janelle Daniels

A few gentlemen, including himself, had chosen to wear formal attire from a century earlier. The ruffles on his shirt, both his chest and arms, were somewhat annoying, but his valet had insisted upon it. He was grateful now, however. His valet could have chosen the chicken costume. He shuddered at the thought.

The room quieted around him. Had the disgust he felt been so apparent? Looking around, however, he realized he wasn’t the person who drew everyone’s eyes.

Glancing up at the top of the staircase, he briefly scanned the three ladies entering, quickly dismissing them before jerking his gaze back to the last woman. With his eyes fastening to the luscious curves beneath the gold swirl cutouts, the breath whooshed out of his chest as he took her in.

No wonder the room had quieted. He wasn’t sure he had ever seen anyone more beautiful than the masked woman who had just entered.

Her curves were plentiful in all the right areas. Her dress molded to those deep curves, accentuating her small waist. Her lips were a lush rose, and he felt his body tighten at the thought of them on his own. Like a crown, her golden hair was artfully secured, only a light curl teased her neck. He couldn’t see her eyes from this distance, but he imagined that they were green, a green so lush and vibrant that the Emerald Isle itself would be put to shame.

She entered the room like a queen, uncaring that she caused such a disruption. Was she used to such a thing? Seeing a slight hesitation in her decent, his attraction flared even higher. She wasn’t so aloof that she didn’t notice the chaos she created.

With only a stair left, the room lurched forward, men climbing over one another to get to her side first. None of them mattered though.

He would have her for himself.

With a few strides, he placed himself in her line of sight. Almost as a magnet, her eyes locked onto his.

The electricity that passed between them had a life of its own. It drowned out everyone and everything. All that was left were the two of them in a bond that wouldn’t break.

He jerked as energy passed through him, felt it to the depth of his soul. Had he ever felt such a connection with someone before? Never, his mind seemed to scream.

Again, the room quieted, almost as if they had been singed by the energy flowing between the two of them. Glancing between the mysterious lady and the duke, the other guests backed away, acknowledging the duke’s rank and his obvious interest in the woman.

She watched him, waiting patiently for his next move. And he was never one to disappoint.

Slowly approaching her, his eyes never left hers. After an exaggerated bow, he offered her his hand in silent request.

He didn’t doubt that she would take it. Her eyes were drowning in his, just as lost as he was. There was no fighting what was happening between them, no way to stop where they were heading.

And he didn’t want to.

He thought he was prepared to dance with her, to take her, to claim her. But when her slender, white hand joined his, he realized he had sadly overestimated his control.

His body clenched at the contact, every nerve fraying in overload. It took every ounce of his control to keep from reaching out to her, pulling her flush against him and kissing her full mouth.

He had never felt this fierce of a desire, hadn’t known that it existed.

He had been with other women before, but none compared to her. And he knew that none ever would.

Silently, he led her to the floor, the rest of the room quiet as they watched the woman who could have come from another time, perhaps another world even.

With the first notes of a waltz, the rest of the floor filled with dancers, eager to hear any snippet of conversation that might pass between the beautiful woman and the duke.

In silent question, Bradford lifted his hand, again asking her permission to touch her waist.

With a slow smile that started with just a small upturn of her lips, she gave her consent. The small change to her face hit him full force, pulling him farther under.

Who was she? Was it possible they had met before?

No. He immediately discarded the thought. If he had met her before, there was no way he would have not pursued her. She was sublime, the paradigm of women.

Maybe she was visiting a relative in town, or perhaps this was her first season. However, after a few seconds of dancing with her, seeing how she adjusted to his frame, he could tell this wasn’t her first. She had danced with more men than just a dance instructor.

She also didn’t seem dazzled by the ball around her, at the opulence of it all. In fact, she seemed the opposite. The guests were what interested her. Glancing around at the people watching her, she seemed to take delight in the fact that they were giving her their attention, almost as if she weren’t used to being in the spotlight.

He wanted to laugh at the thought. She must attract attention wherever she went.

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