What would you do if a man (or woman) valued you only as a trophy?
Another excerpt from my forthcoming Regency Romance...
He smiled with clumsy bonhomie, apparently unaffected by her ill-concealed disdain. Suspecting, as she now did, that it was all an act, she struggled to stand her ground and not flinch.
“Your stepfather was concerned that you had been absent some little while and feared you may have become disorientated in the crush, so I told him I should come find you and return you to his care.”
Eleanor favoured him with a frosty inclination of her head.
“You are very kind, sir, but I assure you I can do very well for myself. I was about to make my way back to him.”
She wanted nothing more than to be rid of him. There was something in the back of his eyes that made her shiver… something she did not quite trust. She no longer had any desire to confront him, for she very much feared that her suspicions were true. Dropping a swift curtsey of dismissal, she began to march in a style she knew to be more mannish than maidenly towards the stairs. The advent of a group of giggling debutantes in white muslin allowed her to gain the second flight, but there her unwanted escort came up with her.
He continued to smile, but she had a sense that it was for appearances, should they be observed. It had become fixed and it was from between gritted teeth that he murmured:
“Come, come, Miss Honeybourne, surely you would not be so harsh as to reject my assistance? You must know that I have long been an admirer of yours and since it has come to my notice that you have decided to cast off your period of mourning and dance tonight, I should very much like to accompany you on to the floor.”
Eleanor swallowed a knot of fear. His words might seem innocuous enough, but she was horribly afraid they held a hidden threat. He knew. He knew that she had overheard his wicked plans. Was he also aware that she suspected him? One thing at least was apparent – he was not going to permit her to walk away from him. As if to emphasize this belief, he tucked her arm through his and held it in a punishing grip. Common sense told her he could hardly do anything to harm her in such a public place, but she froze nevertheless.
“One quick twist and I can break your arm, my dear,” he said pleasantly in her ear. “I really should like that dance. Will you accompany me outside?”
Her mind raced ahead. She could scream; denounce him; create a scene. He would not dare—
“Make a sound,” his snarl interrupted her thoughts, “and a broken arm will be the least of your worries.”
There was a gleam of malicious power in his voice and she did not dare gainsay him. She truly believed that he would hurt her if she did. Biting back a sob, she lifted her head proudly and prayed for an opportunity to slip from his clutches.
“Why?” she demanded in a fierce undertone as they descended the steps to the gravel forecourt. A lively minuet was playing and several sets of dancers were revolving around the al fresco ballroom floor. Robert was among them. She breathed a little more easily. At least he was safe for the nonce.
“I should have thought an intelligent lady like yourself would have worked that out,” he replied, leading her towards the trees and the pseudo temple, not the esplanade. “I collect beautiful objects – paintings, works of art – and I wish to add you to my collection.” He sneered lasciviously.
“So you view me as a prize, an ornament?” she said softly. “I am to you but a thing; not a person, a companion in life to be loved and cherished?” She lowered her gaze, hiding behind the veil of her lashes the anger she was sure her eyes must betray, even in the shadowed light provided by the lanterns. It was probably foolhardy to challenge him so, but she had to distract him, keep him talking. Every second’s delay brought the chance of discovery that much closer. There were still a lot of people outside and if he attempted to abduct her, she would make sure as many of them as possible would be made aware of it.
“A marriage is a purchase like any other,” he declared in the same flat tone she had heard earlier. “A man chooses a horse on looks and breeding. It makes sense to me to choose a wife in the same manner.”