He chuckled. “No, he certainly wasn’t. I do recall an incident where he cut off your hair.”
“Yes, I believe someone put tar or some sticky substance on his saddle,” she said innocently.
James laughed heartedly. “Yes, I believe I remember that. He was forced to leave his breeches behind and run to the house, wrapped in an itchy horse blanket.”
She shrugged delicately as they turned. “I still don’t see how he blamed me for someone’s careless placement of such a sticky item.”
His eyes twinkled with merriment. “How ever did he get to you? If my memory is correct, you were both so wary around each other and constantly on guard.”
“I was walking beneath a tree with Mary when he reached down and grabbed my braid. The silly oaf was hanging upside down from a branch. He held on tightly, ignoring Mary’s slaps while he cut my braid off with a dull pocket knife.”
He cringed. “That must have hurt.”
She smiled sweetly. “Not as much as that spanking your father gave Robert later.”
“I bet.” He laughed. “You two were awful.”
“I was worse,” she said with a gleam in her eye. He chuckled as he led her around the dance floor.
When the dance ended he led her off the floor towards the supper room. He walked with her to a table by the far wall and held a chair out for her.
“There you are,” Robert said, taking one of the extra seats at their table. He placed a plate overflowing with food and a glass of punch on the table.
“Please do join us,” James said dryly.
“Thank you, I believe I shall,” Robert said cheerfully.
“I’ll get us something to eat,” James said pleasantly to her before he sent a brief glare in Robert’s direction.
Elizabeth watched nervously as James walked away. “Never going to happen,” Robert said around a bite of biscuit.
* * *
“You and my brother. James will always think of you as the fat little pain in the ass that used to follow him around.”
“And you’ll always be the annoying little boy who used to leave more puddles around the house than my dog.”
His temper flared. “Why you little-”
“Ah, Lady Elizabeth, may I join you?” a man with an eager expression that annoyed Robert, asked.
"No, go away," Robert said, glaring at the man.
The man opened his mouth, but quickly shut it as he scurried away.
"That was rude!" Elizabeth hissed softly.
He merely shrugged as he dug into his food.
“Here you are.” James placed a small plate of food and a glass of punch in front of her.
“Thank you, my Lord.”
“James. Please call me James. Our families are old friends, after all.”
“James, thank you,” she said pleasantly.
Robert rolled his eyes and looked back down at his plate. Damn those biscuits were actually warm and pretty good. Not the norm for ball food. He reached over and snagged the biscuit off her plate. “Thanks,” he muttered.
Elizabeth simple rolled her eyes.
“Robert,” James hissed.
“Oh, very well.” He reached over and snagged his brother’s biscuit as well, couldn’t have improprieties after all.
“Are you enjoying yourself this season, Elizabeth?” James asked, pointedly ignoring him now.
Her eyes shot to Robert. There was that blush again. He rather liked that blush on her. “Yes, thank you.”
“Have you had a chance to see the sights?” James asked.
They both knew that she’d been coming to London every year of her life. James really needed to work on his dinner conversation, Robert decided.
“Not yet,” she said with a polite smile.
“You should really check out the orangeries. They’re very interesting,” Robert said before he could stop himself. Ah, well at least she blushed again.
“What?” James asked, sounding confused as he shifted his gaze between the two of them.
“Nothing,” he mumbled. This woman was his enemy. If he kept saying stupid things, they would be found out and then he would be stuck with her for eternity. He shuddered at the thought. For the rest of the meal he remained quiet, limiting himself to refilling his plate five times instead of his customary ten so that he could keep an eye on her. When they were finished with their meal they met up with their parents. Plans for the rest of the night were quickly made. It was decided that both families were going to his father’s house for a game of cards and a drink.
Robert waited until their parents and James were ahead of them before he grabbed Elizabeth by the arm and dragged her towards the small hallway behind the grand staircase. It was dark and, most importantly, private.
“Get your hands off me!” she demanded.
“We need to talk,” he said through clenched teeth.
“We have nothing to talk about.”
“I beg to differ.” He forced himself to ignore her soft warm body pressed up against his. She tried to push past him, but he wasn’t having that. He gently pushed her back against the wall.
“Robert, let me go! They’ll notice our absence.”
“Too bad. I want to know why you tricked me.”
“No one tricked anyone. It was just a mistake, one better off forgotten.”
A mistake? The most passionate night of his life was a mistake? Her first time and that’s what she thought. That grated on him in the worst way. “Is that what you think, Beth?”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Why, Beth ?”
“You know I hate that name.”
“Oh, so sorry, Beth . I do apologize, Beth .” He was being petty and he knew it, but he didn’t give a damn. She’d always brought out the very worst in him.
She reached up and twisted his ear. “Ow!”
“Out of my way, Robert Lemonade,” she said casually, pissing him off in the worst way.
She released his ear just as she stepped back into the foyer after making sure that it was empty. “Good seeing you again, Robert.”
He absently rubbed his ear as they rode through the city. His mother and father couldn’t say enough nice things about Elizabeth. He wanted to hurl. James seemed to agree with them. He nodded quite often and smiled. Dear God, the man was smitten with the little minx.
James and Elizabeth, the idea was horrifying. Having her as a sister-in-law would drive him to drink. Poor James, the bloody bastard would be stuck with her day and night. Night. The idea of James experiencing his minx was not comforting. His minx? She wasn’t his anything. That didn’t mean that he wanted her to join the family, because he didn’t and she wouldn’t be. He wasn’t going to put a stop to it over jealousy. He had future generations of Bradfords to worry about after all. Just because the idea of her with another man made his blood boil did not mean that he was jealous. Just the opposite in fact. He didn’t want to see any man tied down with such a horrible woman.
“What’s going on?” James suddenly asked, making him realize that he’d been glaring at his brother since they’d left the ball.
“Fire!” their coachman yelled as the coach came to an abrupt stop, jolting them all.