The Flighty Fiancee(8)

By: Emma Shortt

Steeling himself to say the words which, suddenly, made perfect sense, Bartholomew gritted his teeth. “I shall inform your father directly, we’ll be married by the end of the week.”

Chapter Three

India couldn’t concentrate on her steps as Lord Rockwell whisked her around the room. Dancers flashed before her eyes, a riot of silks and satins all blurring in front of her. The constant noise of hundreds of people ringing in her ears made her head ache but it was still not enough to drown out Bartholomew’s words.

We’ll be married by the end of the week.

India gritted her teeth and tried once again to concentrate on her steps but her mind refused to comply. How the hell had this happened? Had she not come to the ball intent on finding a way out of their marriage of convenience, and instead Bartholomew had issued an ultimatum! She played his words over in her mind. His voice sterner than she’d ever heard, and that strange light dancing in his eyes. It made no sense. None of it. Why was Bartholomew insisting on this marriage when she knew full well that he didn’t really want her?

Her head ached and she wished she could reach up to rub it, but Lord Rockwell held her tight and she had no other option but to finish the dance with him and wince inwardly.

It had to be her inheritance, small though it was, and the fact that their estates adjoined one another. She could think of nothing else. Certainly when they’d met she’d thought—for a few heart stopping weeks—that he wanted her for herself, but she was wrong.

To be married to such a man.… India had never seen Bartholomew’s eyes flash with desire, his lips part as if to kiss her. He’d always been so proper and correct, never doing more than brushing her hand to his lips.

After so many years of seeing couples who loved one another across the world, India would settle for nothing less than the same for herself. Anjika was right, she wanted the grand passion. Hadn’t her own parents had enjoyed a passionate relationship before her mother’s death? Well India wanted that too. The strange English convention of marriages of convenience was abhorrent to her. But she knew now that it was exactly what she’d end up with if she allowed Bartholomew to marry her. After a whole year India felt sure that if he wanted her he would have tried to have her by now. Surely a man in a deep passion with his betrothed would not wait so long to claim her? Hadn’t girls been ruined because of that very thing? If only he’d shown some desire for me.

As Rockwell twirled her past her fiancé—who was in deep conversation with a blonde haired beauty—India couldn’t help but acknowledge the fact that Bartholomew was a handsome specimen of a man. Tall, muscular and dark, he exuded a sense of power. If only he was more ardent India could easily have envisaged him as her future husband. Even now she recalled—with perfect clarity—the first moment they’d met.

After a decade seeped in the Indian culture and all the freedoms that had given her, India lacked many of the social conventions expected of a young lady her age. She’d bounded over to him, skin as brown a nut, all exuberance and excitement, ready to greet the man she’d known briefly during her younger years.

He was changed, much changed from the gangly young boy she remembered only dimly. Dressed exactly as a gentleman of his standing should be, his presence had struck her forcibly and it was only after when she’d sat down to consider their meeting that she’d realized why.

Attraction. Immediate and obvious sizzling across her skin. For her at least, looking back with hindsight, maybe not for him. Shock had been written plainly across his face. Disapproval evident. Clearly he did not look kindly on her childish enthusiasm. Still disapproval or no it hadn’t taken long for India to fall under his spell, to let the attraction have free reign, and she’d had tried to moderate her behavior, to become the sort of woman he would want.

India recalled the moment he had proposed, she’d thought he’d fallen for her as much as she had for him—she’d been so happy, full of longings and dreams. She hadn’t realized the truth. That for him it had been nothing more than a damn business transaction—as it seemed to be for most men of the ton.

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