Edworth House Party
Christmas Eve, 1802
Miss Amelia Bonnington braced herself as the crowd bumped and pushed, straining to get close to His Highness. The crème of society shoved and elbowed , politely-of-course, since one would never want to be accused of bad manners.
The Prince of Wales stood on a small platform elaborately decorated with heavy boughs of greenery and red velvet, matching the Christmas décor of the massive ballroom. Hundreds of beeswax candles burned. No expense had been spared for the house party celebrating his royal visit. Amelia had no desire to be part of the prince’s circle; they were a ghastly group interested only in themselves and their own pleasure.
She sucked in the little air left in the room and pushed, courteously-of-course, toward the door. The crowd and the heat were unbearable. She wasn’t one to swoon, but with the thick mix of perfume and the hot bodies, she felt tonight might be her first. She, one of the steadiest women, felt unsteady and unsafe. The last days of upheaval must have had a greater effect on her than she wanted to believe. Her whole world had been turned upside down and twisted sideways at this house party. In the last two days, her friends had been poisoned and held captive, and she had been ensnared in the French villain’s trap. But the deadly crisis had to be kept secret. Nothing must look out of the ordinary. No one outside the intelligence world must ever know about the enemy’s threat to the prince’s life. The ball must go on.
Amelia looked over her shoulder for the closest exit, but the throng pushed her forward. She needed to escape from the packed room. A gentleman used the chaos in the crowded room to crash into her, to take liberties with her person. After spending the last four years in congested ballrooms, she fully recognized the scoundrel’s ploy. His heavy eyelids didn’t conceal his hungry eyes as he focused down her cleavage. As he remained fixated on her breasts, he grabbed her elbow, pretending to help her when in fact he intended to pull her close against his hefty, malodorous body. His reek of stale alcohol and sour sweat constricted her stomach and burned her throat. She pulled her arm away from his grasp, repulsed by the wetness seeping through his gloves. “Sir, release me this instant.”
She was about to dig her heel into the supposed gentleman’s fat toe when suddenly a space opened around her and a smell of fresh lime soap surrounded her. The perspiring man stared behind her. His slack mouth and his blood-shot eyes widened in fear. She recognized Lord Brinsley’s scent without needing to turn; he was an impossibly difficult, yet irresistibly appealing man. His deep , velvety voice flitted down her skin like a caress. “Miss Amelia, may I escort you away from this mob?” Relief, and something much more potent, buzzed all her nerve endings. She turned quickly and found herself pressed against the broad chest of the man she had been forced to conspire with to help her friends. She hastily straightened herself. “I never thought I’d be happy to see you.” She refused to be like all the other women who fawned for his slightest glance. He lifted an eyebrow and the corner of his mouth in that sardonic way she always found irritating. He was too big, too handsome, and too confident for her to find him irresistible. She’d never let him have the satisfaction of knowing she found him… almost irresistible.