Masquerade Secrets

By: Janelle Daniels

She shook her head sadly. “No, Your Grace. Bradford,” she said, correcting herself. She couldn’t deny him such a small request.

“Then what is it? What reason could there be?” He looked at her, clearly trying to draw out her secrets. “You feel what is between us.”

She nodded. “Yes. But nothing can come of it.”

He took her shoulders, and she wasn’t sure if he was going to shake her. Lifting her eyes to his, she read his frustration and her heart began to crack. The fates were so cruel.

“We have known each other for several seasons, danced more dances than I can count, have had several conversations. What you feel for me now, it’s just an illusion. If I told you who I was, it would all be gone.” Saying the words hurt, but it would hurt even more if she told him who she was and he turned away from her. This was the only way.

“It doesn’t matter who you are. How I feel about you won’t change because of your name.”

Her heart leaped at his words, but she couldn’t trust in them. He was the Duke of Wathersby, the most sought after man in the ton. He had courted her best friend, the incomparable of the season. She had no such beauty. Like so many other girls, she had a generous dowry, but there was little else she had to offer him.

“You don’t believe me,” he said, astonishment clear in his voice.

She hesitated, finding her words. She couldn’t look at him. “It isn’t that I doubt your words. It is only that your feelings could change after you know my name. What if I have a scandalous background?”

“I wouldn’t care,” he interrupted her quickly, his voice firm.

She laughed softly, however it was one more of sadness than gaiety. “You say that now. And no, I don’t have a scandalous background. It was just an example.”

“What can I do to prove to you that I am in earnest? I mean what I say. It doesn’t matter who you are. You are meant to be with me.”

She felt his words to the very depths of her soul. She had dreamed of those words being said to her, dreamed about this very moment. But he wasn’t saying them to her, Aubrey Langston. He was saying them to the masquerade lady. To a figment of his imagination. To a woman who was nothing but an illusion.

She shook her head.

“How can you deny it?” He gripped her upper arms. “How can you say that you aren’t meant to be with me?”

“Because you don’t know me! You desire an illusion. A person who is not real.”

“No. I desire you.” He pulled her flush against his body. “And I can’t fight it another second.” He swooped down to cover her lips with his. A surprised gasp escaped from her.

He relished the taste of her, taking the kiss from innocent to dark as his tongue swept inside to conquer. He had never tasted anything so exquisite, anything so potent as this woman’s lips. Fire shot through his senses, demanding that he take more and more of her.

All his frustrations poured into the kiss, branding her as his. He could feel every curve of her body against the hard lines of his. They fit, more perfectly than he could have imagined. She seemed to be made for him.

He kissed her thoroughly, leaving little doubt that he would ever leave her alone. He was claiming her in the deepest way he knew how. He was claiming her soul.

He broke the kiss, looking into her glassy eyes. It didn’t matter who she was or where she went. She was his now. Now and forever.

He had never believed in love at first sight. He thought it was ridiculous that someone could fall in love when they knew nothing of the person. But he did now. It was more than lust, much more. But that was there as well. He seemed to know her on a deeper level. His soul recognized hers.

He didn’t need to know what her favorite book was or how she liked her tea. They meant nothing. All that mattered was that he had found her. That they were two pieces of a whole.

Tears slowly slipped down her cheeks, and he gently brushed them away with his thumbs, looking into her eyes, looking into her soul. She felt what he did. They were meant to be together.

“Trust me.”

She leaned toward him, almost as if her body were willing her mind to give that trust. He watched her search his face and knew that he had won. She was his.

With a deep breath, she was about to reveal who she was, but was cut off as he jerked her softly into the shadows.

Someone was coming.

Looking around, she realized they had moved from the very public area of the terrace to the more private section. Locked in a lover’s embrace, she realized a scandal would be created if they were caught.

Panic overwhelmed her. If they were found, he would be forced to marry her. She couldn’t bear the thought of it.

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