His Perfect Bride(10)

By: Jenn Langston

“The Marquis of Stone . . . something, I can’t remember exactly. From what I gathered through the whispers this evening, he has recently returned to London and is hoping to quickly take a wife.”

“The Marquis of Stonemede?” Richard asked, trying to keep the shock from his voice.

In all his life, he never imagined this would be the response he would receive from the debutantes when he started his bride search. He anticipated the opposite reaction and wondered how many other ladies shared her low opinion of him.

“Yes, do you know him?”

“I have heard of him,” Richard answered cautiously. “Exactly what about him do you find unsuitable?”

“I’m sure he is a perfectly acceptable choice for any lady present tonight, myself excluded. Part of my reason should be rather obvious.”

“What is the obvious part?” he asked, wishing he could ask her why she was the exception, but didn’t want to appear interested.

“Well, he is a marquis, not the son of a marquis or an heir, and considering the haste at which he wishes to marry, there can be only one explanation. He is so advanced in years he must marry quickly to sire an heir before it’s too late.”

She shuddered as she mentioned the heir, and Richard almost laughed at the absurdity of her unfounded theory. He could easily correct her assumption, but was reluctant to do so. It was best to leave her to her mistaken conclusion and stay away from her in the future. He was already fascinated enough, which made her dangerous.

“I suppose your reasoning does make some sense,” he agreed.

Brianna looked at him with such delight, but he could see vulnerability in the expression. Suddenly an unexpected urge to reach out and protect her engulfed him. Holding his arms tightly to his side, he hoped to discourage the compulsion.

She lightly touched his arm and, using every ounce of his willpower, he remained motionless. When she leaned toward him, her lips slightly parted. Richard almost lost it. He had never wanted a woman so badly. Everything within him shouted he could not have her, but he found himself fighting against it.

“I want to thank you for helping me back on the terrace,” she said softly. “I’m sorry for my improper behavior, but I’m very grateful you assisted me in spite of it.” As she spoke, her face came closer to his, and Richard’s body demanded he close the distance. Luckily, the nagging voice of reason continued. He cleared his throat and reluctantly took a small step back.

“Think nothing of it. You needed assistance, and I was happy to offer mine. Now, I believe I have detained you long enough. It would be wise to return to the ballroom before your absence is noticed by someone other than your mother.”

She didn’t appear to be bothered by his rejection, but since his logic was infallible, he imagined she understood he was left with no option but to retreat. After a brief hesitation, she nodded in agreement, backing away from him and removing her hand from his arm. Expecting relief at her withdrawal, he was surprised to discover disappointment came instead.

“I do hope we can meet again,” she replied with a beautiful smile, before she turned and made her way back to the ballroom.

Conflicted, he watched her walk away. He had no business thinking the things running through his mind, but he’d lost control over himself. One thing was for certain: He would have to set up defenses to ensure he never saw Brianna again.

Chapter 3

Brianna awoke late the next morning to the sound of the curtains being drawn. Since her maid obviously decided it was time to wake up, Brianna dragged herself out of bed. As she prepared for the day, her mind kept running over the events of the previous night. Again, the wondrous feelings swamped her as she remembered the sensation of Mr. Richard’s lips on hers.

Yesterday afternoon she’d wished for such a kiss, and he’d fulfilled her fantasy easily. The event held everything she anticipated and so much more. She sincerely hoped it would not be long before she could repeat the experience. Seeing her cheeks color in the looking glass, Brianna cast her thoughts from the kiss. She had no desire to unwittingly let her feelings be known.

Amazement filled her at the luck of finding a perfect candidate for a husband so quickly. Since Mr. Richard refused to be called “my lord,” Brianna deduced he had no title to flaunt and, judging from his reaction, he was distressed about it. Adding all the factors together, she came to a conclusion that sounded favorable to her. He must be a younger son, most likely penniless, and seeking to marry an heiress. Her parents never spoke of her dowry. However, knowing her father, it would be substantial. Brianna was quite content to offer herself to Mr. Richard as his heiress.

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