|The Games We Play
by Fanta C ©
was split into 8 parts. Jump to any of the segments from here:
Bennet glanced around the Rutherford's ballroom, taking in all the men and
women dancing gaily or engaged in conversation. She really hated these affairs.
They were nothing but a place for the ladies of society to present the newest
girls of the Season and gossip about the latest scandal that some poor person
had committed. The men weren't much better, gathering in groups to leer
at the fresh beauties and talk about business or their latest conquest.
She was trying to disappear into the wall when Lord Royce Sutcliffe, Viscount of Wrighton, casually strolled up to her.
"Miss Bennet, would you do me the honor of dancing the next dance?" he said stiffly, as if he had no desire to, but had to because he was on her dance card.
"Why, of course, my lord. It would be a pleasure," she replied, placing her gloved hand upon his. She couldn't help but feel furious at his obvious displeasure over his asking her to dance. She knew she wasn't beautiful but she didn't deserve the cold indifference that most of the men had treated her with since her debut.
She let herself be led to the floor and absentmindedly let herself be directed through the simple steps of the minuet. She didn't sense that she was being watched by a group of ladies from the back of the ballroom.
"Dear Emma, I feel so sorry for you. It's too bad that your sister got the name Isabella, when it is obvious that you are the true belle of the ball," Mrs. Cavandish, one of society's most prominent matrons, whispered in Emma's ear.
Unfortunately her whisper was almost as loud as her true voice and Hilary Wickam overheard her comment. "Mrs. Cavandish is quite right, Emma. It's plain to see that you inherited your mother's beauty, while Isabella did not. Just look at her." Their eyes roved back to Isabella, looking her over. She was dressed in a beautiful ivory silk dress. The bodice was square and low cut, the tops of her milky white breasts revealed. It had an empire waist and fell in soft folds to her feet. Her chestnut hair was swept up in a intricate coiffure that had ivory ribbons streaming from it and a few stray curls escaped, framing her face. She wasn't beautiful by modern standards, but in the classic sense, with a heart shaped face, wide eyes, and lips too large to suit her face. Her nose was just slightly larger than what was considered fashionable, but it suited her. Though she couldn't compete with all the new debutantes of the Season.
Emma watched her sister and felt slightly ashamed that she wasn't standing up for Isabella. Then again, Isabella had always been the unconventional one of the family, standing up for herself, learning how to use a knife, reading every book she could get her hands on, learning French, Greek, Latin, and Italian, becoming a master marksman and archer, and learning how to defend herself against men who might try to take advantage of her.
There had been times when she had resented Isabella for all that she was able to do, but most of the time she felt sorry for her sister. Isabella had reached the age of twenty three with only one marriage proposal, from one of the lowliest, poorest men among the ton's elite. She was almost considered on the shelf, and since she was very independent and not very beautiful, she would likely end up an old maid.
Emma wasn't surprised when she saw Marcus Hartford cut in on Isabella's dance. He and Izzy, as Emma liked to call her, had formed a deep friendship as children when Isabella had gone to Cornwall one summer with their father. Emma had been too young to go at the time, but from the stories she heard, the brother of the duke had taken a liking to the lively Isabella. He had admired her spirit and spunk and their friendship had formed quickly. Over the years he had come to visit them many times. He was Izzy's confidant, more than Emma was. It had been rumored for a long time that the two were lovers, so often were they seen in each others company, but Malcom Bennet, their father, had immediately quashed them. Marcus and Izzy would do anything for each other, even die for one another if the situation called for it.
Isabella whirled around and around in Marcus' arms, finally exultant at being saved from Royce Sutcliffe's arms. It wasn't that she didn't like the viscount, but she hated trying to converse with him while dancing. She could never find the right thing to say. If she expressed her indepence or opinions to openly he would send chastising looks her way. He could easily be humorous or fun, but good breeding and manners were too deeply ingrained in him, for him to be anything less than an honorable gentleman.
"Well, Bella," Marcus said, grinning broadly at the relief evident on her face, "it looks like you owe me a favor."
"For rescuing me?" she crooned sarcastically, coquettishly batting her eyelashes and smiling.
"Of course. What do you think of joining me at my townhouse for the night?" he whispered in her ear, flirting with her, as he did so often. He loved their friendship. They could flirt, be serious, and tell each other anything, knowing that the other would fully understand or flirt back, understanding that it was all in jest.
"I think that you are rake and a rogue who has nothing better to do than try to ruin a perfectly respectable lady's image and cause a scandal."
"No more scandal than the lady herself has already caused," he said seriously, leading her off the dance floor now that the music had come to a halt.
"What scandal could you possibly mean, Marcus?" she said, knowing exactly the scandal he was talking about.
"Lady Noelle Carrington saw you heading for the gypsy camp the other day. What, may I ask, were you doing, going to that place?"
"No you may not ask," she stormed, anger beginning to rage like a flood through her veins. She turned to walk away, but his hand clamped down on her upper arm, and he dragged her out onto the balcony so that they could be alone.
Emma watched her sister intently, tuning out Mrs. Cavandish. She watched Marcus carefully, noticing that he seemed angry. When he grabbed her sister's arm, she started. How dare he put his hands on her sister like that! Quickly she made her excuses to the ladies she had been chatting with, and strode toward the balcony doors, peering around the corner so that she could see what was happening.
As soon as they stepped on to the balcony Marcus began lecturing her. "I'm completely serious Bella. What were you doing going to the gypsy camp? And if you were insistent upon going, why didn't you at least take a chaperone? You are my best friend Bella, but there are times when I think that you behave so rashly and irresponsibly that I could literally strangle you." His worry was evident, even in the intense anger of his tone.
"Don't you dare get that condescending tone with me Marcus Alexander Hartford! I know some of your most intimate secrets, including the one about how you mistook a French Baron's daughter for a common wench and bedded her. You were lucky, if I remember correctly, that the girl wanted to be taken and wouldn't name the man who ruined her. If she had, you would either be married or you would have been challenged to a duel and possibly killed. How many people of the ton know about that incident? What would the gossips do if they knew? You wouldn't be able to find one mother or father willing to trust you with their daughter. Producing an heir to those precious estates of yours would be rather hard if you couldn't even get a wife. If you had an heir by a common woman, the child would be illegitimate. And if you did bother to legitimize him later, he would never be fully accepted by society because of his parentage."
"Dammit Bella!" Marcus swore softly, agitatedly running a strong, tan hand through his coal black hair. His smoky gray eyes were gleaming softly in the light of the waxing moon. He stood, towering at least a foot over her, and yet she stood up to him with the force of a Fury exacting her vengeance upon a mortal. "You shouldn't say things like that. It isn't proper, but then you never have been that have you?" he said, smiling ruefully.
"You wouldn't be my friend if I was a proper young lady. I wouldn't have gone fishing or climbed trees with you as a child. We wouldn't have had so much fun together over the years."
He gazed down at her precious, smiling face and realized for the first time in the whole time that they had been friends, that he wouldn't be able to live without her. If anything ever happened to her he wouldn't know how to go on. He remembered a time when she had neared her first season. He had been so scared that once she debuted, the mincing fops of the ton would occupy her time and she would forget about him. He had been immensely relieved when she had scarcely attracted the attention of one male. Though he had felt bad about how she had been snubbed, he hadn't wanted to lose her friendship.
"What?" she stammered nervously, her hands coming up to make sure that her hair was still in place. He had been staring at her so intensely she had become agitated.
"I just realized how beautiful you are when you smile. If you weren't my best friend and I didn't know everything about you, including how headstrong you are, I would have offered for you as soon as you debuted," He joked, smiling broadly when she blushed.
Inside Emma ducked back into the room. Why had she even thought that Izzy, might have been in danger? And from Marcus? That was about as likely to happen as a marriage between and king and a peasant. Besides, Izzy can take care of herself. She keeps a knife sheathed in the garter on her left leg, beneath her dress.
She scooted away from the doorway just in time, because Isabella and Marcus came strolling back in. "Emma, come join us," Izzy called out jovially to her sister. Emma walked over to them, her midnight blue gown swishing about her legs.
"Hello, Your Grace," Emma said, curtsying slightly.
"There's no need for formalities Emma, after all, I am on quite friendly terms with the rest of your family, and although I haven't had much occasion to speak to you, I feel as if I know you from what Bella has told me."
"Bella?" Emma asked curiously.
"My nickname for your sister, after all, she is quite beautiful. It's only right that she have a name that reflects that."
Emma's shock must have been apparent, because Isabella said, "Don't look quite so shocked, sister. After all, not everyone is interested in physical beauty. I believe that true beauty comes from within. If a person is kind and gentle in nature then they are a beautiful person, but someone who is vindictive, giving no care to the feelings of others, would be, by my standards, considered ugly. And I know Marcus thinks I am quite beautiful. Isn't that right?"
"Quite right, m'dear. I find that your sister is the most ravishing creature I have ever had the pleasure to lay my eyes on. Her eyes are like a golden sun that illuminates the room. Her smile is blinding and makes me oblivious to all other females in the vicinity. And she can make me laugh with her wit and intelligence, a hard task, I assure you," He joked.
"And why, sir, would that be a hard task?"
"Because very little can amuse me, but your sister always seems to find something that will."
Isabella was about to argue that point when Nicholas Montgomery, the Earl of Ryding, stepped up to Emma and asked her to dance. She could see that Emma was about to decline his offer, and since she still needed to speak to Marcus, she placed her hand upon Emma's arm, silently urging her to accept. As he turned to lead Emma away, he glanced at Bella, a sinister gleam in his eye. Then he winked, sending chills up her spine. She couldn't take her eyes off of him, even though he had unnerved her with that wink. His tall, broad shouldered, lean body whirled Emma around the dance floor and Bella could feel the intense, pure power that radiated from him, his thick, golden blond hair pulled back at the nape of his neck. He had a face like none she'd ever seen, with sharp, prominent cheekbones and piercing, evergreen eyes that could look through a person's defenses and know what was in their soul. His lips were full and looked . . . kissable. Kissable? Where did that come from? Nicholas Montgomery kissable? Impossible. But she had tasted of those lips before and knew that's exactly what they were. There was no point in denying it to herself. He was quite possibly the most attractive man she had ever seen in her life. Quickly she pushed the thought from her mind. Thankfully she was dragged out of her reverie by Marcus.
"Are you all right Bella?"
"I'm not sure. I wanted to talk to you in private but maybe I shouldn't have urged Emma to dance with Lord Montgomery. He is said to be powerfully seductive, especially to young misses. I'm just worried that Emma may be snared in one of his webs and ruin herself and all chances for a good marriage."
She knew from firsthand experience how seductive the Earl could be. Her thoughts drifted back to the year that she debuted. She had been so excited about finally being able to attend her Season as an adult. But when she got to the ball, the men only danced with her if they happened to be on her dance card. Some of the women even gossiped behind her back as well.
She remembered how she had rushed to escape by slipping out the patio door into the gardens. For some time she had wandered through the maze of flowers finally finding a pair of stone benches that she couldn't rest upon. She moved to sit down until she saw the shadow of a man standing, his long, muscular leg, clothed in black trousers, resting on the bench. He was leaning down his elbow resting on his knee, his face cupped in his palm. His form was fairly familiar and she was quite sure that she had seen him before. Then he suddenly turned and her breath hitched in her throat.
Nicholas Montgomery. The most notorious rake in the ton. She had seen him before at an occasional ball or society dinner. She had noticed him right away, who wouldn't. He was spectacular, like a Greek god.
She was rooted to her spot, not able to move and inch, even when he descended on her like a hawk stalking its prey. He stopped in front of her and she could vaguely remember that he said something to her about having watched her most of the night, thinking she was incredibly beautiful. Then he took the liberty of kissing her. A kiss that seared her straight to her toes. And she had protested, though she could taste the whiskey on his lips. She knew that a kiss like the one they were sharing combined with his mind being dulled slightly with drink could have dire consequences. But, he kissed her until he seduced her inhibitions into nothing.
Before she knew what was happening they were on the stone bench, and she was straddling his lap, her body responding rebelliously to his touch. Her mind had whirled with the implications of what was happening, that she was giving herself to a man who she hardly knew and who had no intention of marrying her or loving her. She was going to be considered a fallen woman and it was only her first season. If anyone ever found out, her chances for a suitable marriage would be ruined.
But it didn't matter. Nothing mattered except the way she felt in his arms. He initiated her to the sexual act right there on the stone bench. Just thinking about it sent heat pouring through her and she remembered the way he had crushed his lips against hers to stifle her keening cries of release.
She remembered the way she had felt, his seed inside her, trembling with the splendorous affect of her climax. Then she remembered the shame that she had felt, the guilt over what she had done. She had fallen into his arms without even a feeble protest. He had touched her and like a strumpet she had eagerly surrendered to him, not understanding the emotions and feelings rolling like crashing ocean waves through her body. And he had played on them, knowing that she was innocent and that she couldn't stop herself from submitting to him. He could have stopped it, could have saved her from a possible scandal, but he didn't. She knew that it wasn't entirely his fault. She had been so naive. If it got out that she was a fallen woman, it wouldn't only be her who was banished from good society, but her parents and sister as well. And she would bear the mark of shame, while Nicholas went on with his life.
She had climbed off of him and brushed down her skirts as fast as she could, hiding the bloodstains that were proof of her innocence. She remembered the way he had watched her as she had righted her clothing and arranged her hair back into some semblance of order, pulling the tendrils of curls that had slipped loose from her coiffure behind her ears. He had stared at her with an extremely satisfied, almost condescending smile on his lips.
She had flinched when, after fastening his breeches again, he walked up to stand right in front of her. He ran his thumb across her lips which were full and red from his passionate kisses. He had leaned forward, whispering huskily in her ear, "You are the most passionate creature I've ever met, Isabella Bennet. We must meet like this again sometime."
She had gasped, shocked that he would think that she would do that again. "Never!" she had cried, turning and running out of the garden, back to the ball. For five years she had been haunted by the words that had trailed after her. "We'll see, Bella. We'll see." Then the soft chuckle of laughter, taunting her.
And then a year later, she had let it happen again. This time it had been at his home. She had been unable to find her escort after a dinner and Nicholas had told her that he would see her home. She knew it wasn't proper and as soon as she was in the carriage he had kissed her. That was all it took for her to give in and they had practically made love it the carriage. It seemed that no matter how hard she resisted she couldn't keep herself out of Nicholas Montgomery's arms. That time she had spent the whole night with him, whiling away the hours with the pleasures of the flesh. His hands did marvelous things to her, seeming to know exactly where to stroke or touch her to bring her maximum pleasure. It had been difficult to explain her whereabouts to her parents but she told them that she had spent the evening with Marcus and his brother's family. As long as Marcus confirmed it, which he did after she pleaded with him, they had no reason to mention it to the duke.
His appetite was insatiable, having come into her body four times that night. And she had enjoyed it, reveled in it, loved it. Her body was not her own when she was with him. Like a musical instrument it became attuned to him and he played it thoroughly.
She had paid the consequences for her foolish actions. Though no one in England knew it, with the exception of her family, she had a child out of wedlock. When she had found that she was with child, her mother had shipped her off to Scotland to live with her Aunt until the babe was born. The child was born a month and a half early and hadn't survived more than a week.
She had grieved endlessly for the loss of her child, for she had loved her daughter, Hope, dearly. She had gone against the grain in choosing that name, but it hadn't mattered to her. Hope had given her a reason to go on when she had wanted to quit. She treasured the hours that she got to spend with her precious girl. Hope was never far from her mind or heart. She even had a painting of them together.
In her heart, she had known that Hope wouldn't survive and she wanted to be able to remember her always and the artist had been all too glad to paint them.
was split into 8 parts. Jump to any of the segments from here:
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