That wasn’t what she was, was it?

“George?” she said again, this time a question.

But he didn’t answer. He was breathing hard, trying to lift her skirts even as he steered her to a nearby divan.

“George!” It was difficult, because she, too, was excited, but she wedged her hands between them and pushed him away.

“What?” he demanded, eyeing her with suspicion. And something else. Anger?

“I didn’t come here for this,” she said.

He barked with laughter. “What did you think was going to happen?” He stepped toward her again, his eyes fierce and predatory. “I’ve been hard for you for days.”

She blushed furiously, because she knew now what it meant. And while it was exciting that he wanted her so desperately, there was something discomfiting in it, too. She wasn’t sure what, or why, but she was no longer so sure she wanted to be here with him, in such a dark and secluded room.

He grabbed her hand and tugged her toward him with enough of a jerk that she stumbled against him. “Let’s have a spot of it, Annie,” he murmured. “You know you want to.”

“No, I— I just—” She tried to pull away, but he would not let her go. “It’s the Midsummer ball. I thought . . .” Her voice trailed off. She couldn’t say it. She couldn’t say it because one look at his face told her that he had never intended to ask her to marry him. He had kissed her, then seduced her, taking the one thing that should have been saved for her husband, and he thought he could take it again?

“Oh, my God,” he said, looking as if he might laugh. “You thought I would marry you.” And then he did laugh, and Annelise was sure that something inside of her died.

“You’re beautiful,” he said mockingly, “I’ll grant you that. And I had a fine time between your thighs, but come now, Annie. You have no money to speak of, and your family certainly will not enhance my own.”

She wanted to say something. She wanted to hit him. But she could only stand there in dawning horror, unable to believe the words that were dripping from his lips.

“Besides,” he said with a cruel smile, “I already have a fiancée.”

Annelise’s knees threatened to buckle beneath her, and she grabbed the side of his mother’s desk for support. “Who?” she managed to whisper.

“Fiona Beckwith,” he told her. “The daughter of Lord Hanley. I asked her last night.”

“Did she accept?” Annelise whispered.

He laughed. Loudly. “Of course she accepted. And her father—the viscount—declared himself delighted. She is his youngest, but his favorite, and I have no He laughed. Loudly. “Of course she accepted. And her father—the viscount—declared himself delighted. She is his youngest, but his favorite, and I have no doubt that he will provide for us handsomely.”

Annelise swalowed. It was getting hard to breathe. She needed to get out of this room, out of this house.

“She’s quite fetching, too,” George said, ambling closer to her. He smiled, and it turned her stomach to see that it was the same smile he’d used when he’d seduced her before. He was a handsome bastard, and he knew it. “But I doubt,” he murmured, letting one of his fingers tickle down the length of her cheek, “that she will be as wicked a romp as you were.”

“No,” she tried to say, but his mouth was on hers again, and his hands were everywhere. She tried to struggle, but that seemed only to amuse him. “Oh, you like it rough, do you?” he said with a laugh. He pinched her then, hard, but Annelise welcomed the pain. It woke her from whatever shock-filed stupor she’d descended into, and from the center of her being, she roared, thrusting him away from her.

“Get away from me!” she cried, but he only laughed. In desperation she grabbed the only weapon she could find, an antique letter opener, lying unsheathed on Lady Chervil’s desk. Waving it in the air, she warned, “Don’t come near me. I’m warning you!”

“Oh, Annie,” he said condescendingly, and he stepped forward just as she waved wildly through the air.

“You bitch!” he cried, clutching his cheek. “You cut me.”

“Oh, my God. Oh, my God. I didn’t mean to.” The weapon fell from her hands and she scooted back, all the way to the wal, almost as if she were trying to get away from herself. “I didn’t mean to,” she said again.

But maybe she had.

“I will kill you,” he hissed. Blood was seeping through his fingers, staining the crisp snowy whiteness of his shirt. “Do you hear me?” he screamed. “I will see you in hel!”

Annelise shoved her way past him and ran.

Three days later Annelise stood before her father, and George’s father, and listened to them agree on oh-so-many points.

She was a trolop.

She could have ruined George’s life.

She might very well still ruin her sisters’ lives.

If she turned out to be pregnant it was her own bloody fault and she’d better not think George had any obligation to marry her.

As if he should have to marry the girl who had scarred him for life.

Annelise still felt sick about that. Not for defending herself. No one seemed to agree with her on that, though. They all seemed to feel that if she’d given herself to him once, he was right to believe she’d do it again.

But she could still feel the awful jolt of it, the wet, meaty resistance when the blade had plunged into his flesh. She had not been expecting it. She’d only meant to wave the thing in the air, to scare him away.

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