Now, of course, every man did ask, because what man didn’t want to dance with the most beautiful girl at the ball? Especialy with no risk of rejection.

This must be why George was showing no signs of jealousy, Annelise decided. He knew she had a kind heart. He knew that her dances with the other gentlemen meant nothing to her. No one could ever touch her heart the way he had.

“Why hasn’t he asked me to dance?” she whispered to Charlotte. “I will perish from the anticipation, you know that I wil.”

“It’s his parents’ ball,” Charlotte said soothingly. “He has responsibilities as a host.”

“I know. I know. I just . . . I love him so much!”

Annelise coughed, feeling her cheeks grow hot with mortification. That had come out louder than she’d intended, but luckily no one seemed to have noticed.

“Come,” Charlotte said with the brisk determination of one who has just seized upon a plan. “Let us take a turn around the room. We shal walk so close to Mr.

Chervil that he will expire from wanting to reach out and take your hand.”

Annelise laughed and linked her arm through Charlotte’s. “You are the very best of sisters,” she said, quite seriously.

Annelise laughed and linked her arm through Charlotte’s. “You are the very best of sisters,” she said, quite seriously.

Charlotte just patted her hand. “Smile now,” she whispered. “He can see you.”

Annelise looked up, and indeed, he was staring at her, his green-gray eyes smoldering with longing.

“Oh, my goodness,” Charlotte said. “Just look at how he watches you.”

“It makes me shiver,” Annelise admitted.

“We shal walk closer,” Charlotte decided, and they did, until there was no way they could not be noticed by George and his parents.

“Good evening,” his father boomed jovialy. “If it isn’t the lovely Miss Shawcross. And another lovely Miss Shawcross.” He gave them each a tiny bow from his head, and they curtsied in return.

“Sir Charles,” Annelise murmured, eager for him to see her as a polite and dutiful young lady who would make him an excelent daughter-in-law. She turned to George’s mother with the same deference. “Lady Chervil.”

“Where is the other other lovely Miss Shawcross?” Sir Charles asked.

“I have not seen Marabeth in some time,” Charlotte replied, just as George said, “I believe she is over there, by the doors to the garden.” Which gave Annelise the perfect opening to curtsy to him and say, “Mr. Chervil.” He took her hand and kissed it, and she did not think it was her imagination that he lingered longer than he needed to.

“You are as enchanting as ever, Miss Shawcross.” He released her hand, then straightened. “I am bewitched.” Annelise tried to speak, but she was overcome. She felt hot, and tremulous, and her lungs felt funny, as if there was not enough air in the world to fill them.

“Lady Chervil,” Charlotte said, “I am so enamored of these decorations. Tell me, how did you and Sir Charles find just the right color of yelow to signify summer?”

It was the most inane of questions, but Annelise adored her for it. George’s parents immediately launched into conversation with Charlotte, and she and George were able to turn ever so slightly away from them.

“I haven’t seen you all night,” Annelise said breathlessly. Just being near him made her shiver with anticipation. When they had seen each other three nights earlier he had kissed her with such passion. It had burned in her memory, leaving her eager for more.

What he had done after the kiss hadn’t been quite as enjoyable, but it had still been exciting. To know that she affected him so deeply, that she could make him lose controll. . .

It was intoxicating. She had never known such power.

“I have been very busy with my parents,” George said, but his eyes told her that he would rather be with her.

“I miss you,” she said daringly. Her behavior was scandalous, but she felt scandalous, as if she could take the reins of her life and chart her own destiny. What a grand thing it was to be young and in love. The world would be theirs. They had only to reach out and grasp it.

George’s eyes flared with desire, and he glanced furtively over his shoulder. “My mother’s sitting room. Do you know where it is?” Annelise nodded.

“Meet me there in a quarter of an hour. Don’t be seen.”

He went off to ask another girl to dance—the better to deflect any speculation about their hushed conversation. Annelise found Charlotte, who had finaly finished her discussion of all things yelow, green, and gold. “I’m meeting him in ten minutes,” she whispered. “Can you make sure that no one wonders where I am?” Charlotte nodded, gave her hand a squeeze of support, then motioned with her head toward the door. No one was watching. It was the perfect time to leave.

It took longer to reach Lady Chervil’s sitting room than Annelise had expected. It was clear across the building—probably why George had chosen it. And she’d had to take a circuitous route to avoid other partygoers who had also chosen to make their celebrations private. By the time she slipped into the darkened chamber, George was already there, waiting for her.

He was on her before she could even speak, kissing her madly, his hands reaching around to her bottom and squeezing with proprietary intimacy. “Oh, Annie,” he groaned, “you’re amazing. Coming here right in the middle of the party. So naughty.”

“George,” she murmured. His kisses were lovely, and it was thriling that he desired her with such desperation, but she was not sure she liked being caled naughty.

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