“I’m making the grand assumption that you’ll be in attendance.” His hungry tone whispered between fervent kisses. “Please say you’ll be there.” He begged as he nibbled on her lower lip.
“Perhaps…someone must keep an eye on you.” Sophia whispered breathlessly. If he continued to kiss her like that she’d soon forget herself and agree to anything, especially that which she could never disclose. The sudden reminder of her secret was like chilly water over her head and she gathered her wits. Breaking the adoring kiss, she leaned away and gazed into his hazel eyes. He regarded her for a moment, then backed away just enough for her to get his spicy scent out of the air surrounding them.
“You doubt my intent.” He spoke after a moment, in his thick accent caused a ripple of pleasure to dance down her spine.
“No, I doubt your mother’s.” Sophia confessed. It was long known that Lady Horatio had boasted grandly about the match to be made by her son, the only heir to their fortune and governing family.
“But not I?” He leaned forward and rested his forehead on hers, once again permeating her air with his spicy fragrance.
“No. Never you, Gabriel. But sometimes life has a way of turning places we thought to be straight. I’ll not hold you to your words when the time comes for you to choose in spite of your heart.” Sophia spoke the words bravely, though as they left her mouth it seemed as if her heart was torn in two.
She would leave and never subject herself to such a torture as seeing the man she loved marry another. But the tangled web of loyalty also demanded that she put his good above her own. She would never rule anyone; never have the weight of a crown heavy upon her. She wouldn’t ever hold the fate of a nation in her grasp, but for now she would devote herself to enjoying every stolen moment where she could hold her dearest possession; his heart.
“Promise me you’ll be there...” Gabriel leaned back and gazed intently into her eyes. Gone was the haze of passion and replacing it was a determination backed by the love she knew he held for her. A love she wished were enough to bind them together forever.
“I cannot.” Sophia spoke as a single tear trailed down her face.
The night of the ball arrived and Sophia closed the door to her room with a click that echoed with finality. Tomorrow the land, indeed the world would be buzzing with the news of Gabriel Horatio’s engagement to the English Princess Anne. Though those last few stolen moments in Gabriel’s company were filled with fervent promises that he’d never betray his love for her, she knew that country came first. It was for the best. Even if she had the breeding to offer his family, her secret would shame them all.
“Sophia? You aren’t ready yet, are you?” Her mother’s melodic voice came muffled through the wooden door.
“No. I’m…not well. Why don’t you go on without me? I’m afraid I’ll be needing to stay.” It wasn’t a lie, entirely. Indeed Sophia felt sick, utterly heartsick.
“Very well…” Her mother replied tentatively. Sophia hoped she would enter her room to check on her. The tearstains on her pillow would speak the truth.
She had kept her clandestine adoration of Gabriel a reverent secret. No one would know the pain she harbored when this night was over, no one except the one who truly mattered. The knowledge held a slight comfort, for at least there would be no pitying glances.
“I’ll send up some tea for you.” Her mother called. Soon the sound of her slippered feet walking away let Sophia know she was alone.
The tea arrived shortly after her family departed and the warm comfort of the favored liquid offered a small measure of relief. As she dressed for bed and lit a candle to embroider she strove to keep her mind off of what was surely taking place in the grand Horacio estate.
“Ouch!” Sophia shook her hand as the pain from the needle prick diminished and she closed her eyes and sunk back into the pillows of her bed. It was no use. His hazel eyes haunted her. Over and over her mind continued to replay the stolen glances at parties, the brushing of his fingers over her gloved hand when no one was looking.
“Miss?” A maid called through the door.
“Yes?” Sophia cleared her throat to answer.
“You have a…caller miss. He was quite adamant that I find you.” Her voice was hesitant.
Curious, Sophia opened the door to face the fidgeting maid. She glanced up at her mistress and then down the darkened hall, as if searching for someone.
“This is quite irregular…perhaps the gentlemen is mistaken?”
“No miss. He asked for you by name, but…” She leaned forward and began to whisper. “But he won’t remove his coverings miss. I cannot see his face. I fear for you miss! With your father away and none but the footmen or butler here to defend you!”
A cold shiver ran down Sophia’s spine as she regarded the fearful maid. Yet her curiosity burned against the common sense of turning the stranger away.
“Tell our guest I’ll be down momentarily…but have two footmen and the butler close at hand.”
The maid curtsied then left to do her bidding.
Sophia entered her room and began to put on a simple dress, but paused. Reaching over to her desk she opened a drawer and withdrew a small-sheathed dagger. Carefully she tied it to her calf and then continued to ready herself.
The hall seemed darker, as if the night had consumed what little light the candles offered. Sophia began to feel chilled and her fingers tingled against the cold. When she entered the parlor a warm fire greeted her, along with the silhouette of a heavily cloaked man.
He was broad shouldered and held himself confidently. His head tilted slightly at her entrance, but he didn’t make a sound. Sophia swallowed and tried to find her voice.
“How may I assist you?” Her voice sounded far steadier than was accurate, for this she was thankful.
The stranger turned, but the firelight didn’t reach his hooded face. Rather than speak he took a few steps toward her and then reached into his cloak.
Sophia’s heart pounded. Was he intent on harming her? But he withdrew a letter, rolled and fastened with a scarlet ribbon. He held it out to her. Tentatively, she took it.
Unrolling the missive she began to read the words as they struck fear into her heart.
“What’s the meaning of this?” She asked with a trembling voice.
The man simply nodded and gestured to the letter.
Outlined clearly in the letter were several questions, all relevant to her past, and questioning her future. But one at the bottom was written boldly.
“You want me to answer the question?”
The man nodded and then folded his hands in a relaxed manner.
Sophia read the question once more. If Lord Gabriel Horacio were to give up his position, even knowing your secret and choosing you…would your heart still beat for his alone?
Would her breath catch whenever she saw his hazel eyes watching her? Would her fingers tremble to run through his raven hair? Would her body burn to be next to his? Without the wealth and prestige to accompany him?
“Yes…perhaps more so because then we would be free.” Sophia whispered, knowing that all her secrets would surely be known by morning, but she couldn’t deny the truth in her heart, even to a stranger.
“Then you have chosen well.” A familiar voice called to her as if from a dream. She glanced up through tear-filled eyes as the man began to lower his hood and a pair of familiar hazel eyes gazed at her with a warm intensity.
“Come. There’s not a moment to spare.” Lord Gabriel Horacio, son of one of Spain’s most powerful families strode towards her with determined steps. At once his lips found hers while his fingers dug hungrily through her loosened braid. His mouth savored hers as she lost herself in his own familiar and addicting flavor. He broke their embrace suddenly.
He grasped her hand and wrapped it around his arm and pulled them toward the door. The two footmen and butler gasped as they burst through.
“Halt! You’ll not take—“
“All is well.” Sophia began to speak but Gabriel interrupted.
“Her presence is of the utmost importance this evening.”
All three men halted their approach and turned white in realized who spoke to them.
“Of course, my lord.” The butler stammered while the footmen watched in astounded silence.
A carriage waited outside with two black horses pawing the ground impatiently. Gabriel aided her then entered himself. As the carriage sped away, Gabriel leaned forward and grasped her hand tenderly.
“You should have known I’d not betray you. Even your silence concerning your heritage wasn’t the slightest deterrent. Why did you doubt my love?”
“Because I would not have you sacrifice your destiny for my sake. An alliance with Spain will serve the greater good. How could I remain selfish when so much is at stake?
“I understand. Your humility is only one of the many reasons I love you so deeply. But why did you not trust me with the truth of your birth?” Gabriel’s hazel eyes implored her.
“And burden you?” She questioned, her eyes gazing deeply into his.
“Love is never a burden, regardless of its origin. Love is always a gift to be cherished, shared. It matters not that you were born from love rather than marriage. Your name is not what I love, but you.”
“But my father didn’t marry my mo—“
“I’m aware. And that was his folly. But I will not make the same mistake as my own family and marry for duty when I have the chance for love. Now. We must get you ready.”
The carriage arrived at the Horatio estate and Gabriel surrendered her to the care of several maids who took her to a beautiful room. She was soon dressed in a breathtaking golden gown and powdered. Her hair was quickly attended to and a ruby necklace was placed on her neck as well as ruby colored silk slippers. When Sophia tried to ask any questions her voice was met with silence.
A knock sounded at the door just as she gazed at the transformation in the mirror. Truly she looked like a princess.
“My Lord. She is ready.” A maid broke her silence.
Gabriel strode into the room and grinned. He walked slowly towards her, the intensity in his eyes stealing her breath. “You are breathtaking, thought I thought as much earlier in your parlor with your simple gown.” He reached for her hand and led her down and to a grand staircase.
A voice called from above them and Sophia glanced up to find a million crystals hanging from the ceiling, causing rainbows the dance across the room below them as people began to gather at the base.
“May I present, Lord Gabriel Horatio and his betrothed, Sophia Grace Wellesly!”
Sophia gasped and glanced to Gabriel whose face beamed with a triumphant grin.
“I figured you couldn’t refuse if I announced it to the world rather than ask you in private. I will not let your humility create a barrier that doesn’t exist.” He whispered the words just next to her ear, his warm breath tickling her skin and causing a shiver of delight to run down her back.
“But your mother…”
“Has no other choice. Now, I would love to waltz with my soon to be wife, that is, if you will do me the honor?” He raised an eyebrow and led them down the grand staircase as the orchestra began to play. At the bottom he bowed and pulled her into a tight embrace and began to waltz.
“And that, dear children, is how your father rescued me. Not with a sword, a dagger or force. But he saved me by his love. For after all, love does conquer all.”
Friday, April 19, 2013
A Secret Seduction Kristin Vayden
Posted by Tifferz at 10:56 PM