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Training Lady Townsend(2)

By:Annabel Joseph

“Distract my mother, will you? Just long enough for me to get her away.” Hunter turned his back on them and headed toward the young lady. Such a godforsaken crush, this ball. Why had his mother invited the entirety of the ton? Now he would shame this girl and her parents, and his own parents, and of course the jilted Lady Dormouse in front of absolutely everyone. He paused in his progress to the young lady’s side. Did he really want to do this? Was this woman really the one he wanted? For life?

Her eyes locked on his. He hoped she wouldn’t resist when he tried to finesse her out onto the terrace, and then to one of the more private paths. Perhaps dark features and a tall, forbidding stature served his purpose here. He’d entice her with his piratical air. Who wanted to be a pretty man like Warren, with all the fragile flowers falling at his feet? Hunter didn’t want fragile flowers. He wanted curves and heaving breasts...and curls...

Blast. Her curls were leaving. She shrank back into the crowds as if to elude him. He followed her past the doors and out to the formal garden, pausing occasionally to greet this guest or that. He looked back for his mother and found her exchanging pleasantries with his friends. Faithful chaps. He would have assisted any of them in a caper like this, and probably would one day.

He felt the slightest twinge of regret for Lady Aurelia. Dormouse or no, it was a cruel thing to be jilted. If she’d made the first attempt to get to know him...but then he’d been so rarely at their parents’ estates. By your choice, not hers.

He shrugged off any pangs of guilt, drawn instead to the alluring shape of his retreating prey. To his delight, she was retreating to the exact dark, wooded area where he planned to tryst with her. She took the garden stairs at a frantic pace and looked over her shoulder as she crossed the manicured expanse of lawn toward the tree line. He hung back in the shadows so she couldn’t see him.

Damn. Unfortunate, that he’d frightened the woman. He had to catch her or she’d disappear in the darkness and foil his plan. He cut around a side path and sprinted to where the two ways merged. As she approached, he melted out of the forest and took her arm.

She opened her mouth to scream.

“No,” he said, clapping a hand over her lips. If she screamed now, everyone would come running before he’d had adequate time to debauch her. His other arm snaked around her waist, pulling her close. She didn’t have the manners to fall into a swoon, but fought him instead, pushing at his chest.

“Don’t scream,” he said. “Have I given you any reason to panic?”

She squirmed against him, her breath hissing behind his palm. Her body was every bit as delectable as he’d hoped, firm yet soft, and pleasantly curvy and plump. “Stop, my dearest.” His voice held a note of warning as his cock stiffened against her front, aroused by her struggling and straining. “Promise not to scream and I’ll let you go.”

She stared at him, her eyes wide and frightened. Her fingers curled into fists against his chest.

“Will you be a good girl if I lift my hand away and release you? I mean you no harm, of course.”

As soon as he edged the first finger from her lips, she drew a great gust of breath into her lungs and let out a piercing shriek. In his rush to muffle her, he got tangled in her skirts and they went down together in an awkward heap. If Arlington brought the crowds necessary to discover them, he’d be accused of assault, not seduction.

“Shh, please,” he begged. “I’m not going to hurt you. I only wanted to speak with you. You look so lovely in your...” He looked down again in the dark to double check. “Your pale blue gown. It is blue, isn’t it?”

“Let me go,” she said against his hand. She trembled beneath him, in anger, not fear. No, this one wasn’t a dormouse, which pleased him. She twisted and nearly caught him with a swift knee between the legs. She managed to rise from beneath him, but he blocked her way to the house.

“I wouldn’t storm back and make a fuss. No one will believe I dragged you all the way out here against your will.” His gaze swept down the front of her. “And you look as if you’ve already had a merry roll in the grass.”

She grimaced, brushing at her front. Her gown was rumpled and dirty, scattered with bits of leaves. She plucked at her skirts and touched the sapphires at her neckline. Mussed curls fell against her face.

“Come here,” he said, picking a leaf from the honey-colored mane. How soft her hair was. He put a hand on her shoulder, wishing to soothe her even as he was in the process of ruining her. She looked up at him in entreaty.

“I didn’t come out here to tryst with you. I came out here to escape you.” Tears gathered in her eyes. “Please, I don’t want this. I never wanted this. Please let me go.”

“My lady.” He feigned devastation, clutching his heart. He had to soften her, at least enough to secure a kiss when his friends brought the gawking crowds. “Escape me? Why?”

“It’s Lord Warren I love. I am deeply, deeply in love with him.”

“Are you?” Hunter frowned in irritation. It’s too bad he doesn’t know your name. “Why Lord Warren? Do you find nothing to admire in me?”

She ducked her head at his injured tone. “Lord Warren is so cheerful and handsome and dashing. It’s nothing to do with you. It’s only that he’s so perfectly wonderful.”

Perfectly dastardly, he thought to himself. If only you knew...

“So you see,” she said, “I am very, very sorry that I have no feelings at all for you.”

“Is that right?” A bit of the gentleman leached from his tone as he pulled her closer. “I’m sorry to hear it, because I have a great many feelings for you.”

“But you don’t even know me.”

“I know that you’re out here, alone, and you should not be. It’s as if you were trying to lure me here to have my way with you.”

“I wasn’t!”

“As if you were trying to tempt me to this private glade for a kiss.”

He could see that he terrified her. It wasn’t the best footing to begin a marriage, but she was pretty and trembling, and her magnificent bosom heaved against his chest in a very exciting way. He stared down into those alluring pillows. “How beautiful you are.”

“Please let me go.” It was little more than a whisper. A whimper. “Lord Warren is the one I want. I love him. I adore him.”

“But he cares nothing for you, I assure you. So why don’t we make the best of things?” He twined fingers into those soft, springy curls, still marveling at the texture. Her hair was the color of autumn maple leaves, or light, burnished gold.

“Please.” Perhaps now she would swoon. Her trembling had progressed to shudders. Hunter heard voices on the walk, his mother calling out.

“I’m sorry to force this on you,” he said. “But I’m a desperate man, and you could do worse, my pretty dove. I’m the Marquess of Townsend. One day I’ll be a duke and you’ll be a duchess. I’m not as handsome or dashing as Warren, but I’m still quite a catch.”

He tilted her face to his. She looked concerned. Confused.

“Kiss me, would you?” he said. “Let’s make it convincing.” He drew her close, right against his body. How luscious and feminine she was. His hand rested on the curve of her waist, the other pressed to her back. He could feel her heart galloping against his chest. He touched his lips to hers and her mouth tightened as if she’d never been kissed before. He found the thought arousing.

“I say, there they are.” Good old Arlington. His voice was deep and ducal, and appropriately concerned. Yes, there’s the scoundrel and the poor miss in his clutches. Hunter had just enough time to turn from his lady in blue and look guilty as the crowd drew along the moonlight path. His mother pushed through, the massive emerald on her turban blinking in the dim night.

“Thank goodness,” she said, letting out a breath. “Townsend has found her. She’s here.”

His mother, that regal society maven, made her way to them. She took in his exultant expression and the way he still grasped his young victim’s waist. The poor thing shied away from him before all these people, but he grabbed at her elbow, pulling her back. “You’ve caught us,” he said loudly enough for everyone to hear. “We were swept away by passion. I shall make things right.”

Amused chuckles rippled through the assembly. Arlington grinned. Warren choked back a laugh.

His mother shook her head, clearly exasperated. “Make things right, indeed. We might have announced the engagement at the ball, with a toast and speeches as is proper, but you will do things your own way. Bring Lady Aurelia back to the hall so we can fete this joyous occasion with everyone in attendance. Really, Townsend,” she chided in a softer voice. “Mauling her in the dark to begin the official engagement? Her father looks furious.”

Hunter stared at his mother. Over her shoulder, he saw Lansing’s scowling visage fixed on him and the woman in his arms...Lady Aurelia. Her cheeks had flushed flame red. Now, he thought. Now she will faint. But she didn’t. She backed away from him, picked up her skirts and trudged over to her father. The Duke of Lansing took her arm none too gently and guided her back toward the house.