At least for tonight she was guaranteed a Robert-free night. Earlier, Jane told her the gentlemen were all going to their clubs tonight, saying something about a card game. Good. That meant she would be able to enjoy a few hours without living in fear.

For the past week she’d thoroughly inspected all her food for anything nasty that he might have added before she ate it. She also checked her bath water to ensure there wasn’t any dye waiting to turn her blue. The man was devious after all.

She quickly made her way downstairs while keeping an eye out for traps. Her nerves were frayed. Damn that man. As soon as she was downstairs and she was positive that he wasn’t waiting for her, she went straight to the protective bosom of her mother and Lady Bradford, who were waiting patiently in the foyer. Heather was already gone. She was now officially a spinster. It was a shame and, although it was her future as well, she would never be anyone’s companion. She would be her own master.

“Shall we go?” she asked with a forced smile as she rushed them out the door.

“You’re certainly excited tonight,” her mother noted approvingly. Normally it was like pulling teeth to get Elizabeth out of the house for one of these affairs, but tonight she welcomed the safety that a ball offered. In fact, she fully planned on staying until they kicked her out.

She waited anxiously as her mother and Lady Bradford climbed into the dark carriage with the help of a footman. Her job, in her mind at least, was to keep a lookout for Robert. He was sneaky after all.

“Lady Elizabeth?” the footman said, waiting patiently for her to climb in as well.

“Thank you, Anderson,” she said, accepting his help. Once inside the dark carriage she immediately saw the other two women sharing the bench riding forward. With an inward sigh, she sat down on something rather firm and warm that definitely didn’t feel like a bench.

“I believe this seat is taken, Lady Elizabeth,” Robert drawled, startling her and making her jump off his lap. Somehow she tripped over her skirts in the process and would have landed on her mother and Lady Bradford if he hadn’t reached out and grabbed her by the waist. Before she could swat his hands away, he planted her on the seat beside him.

“What are you doing here?” she rudely asked, not really caring if she offended him.

“Elizabeth!” her mother hissed while Lady Bradford was trying her best to hide a smile.

“I’m here to escort two very beautiful women to the ball,” he said, winking across the carriage and making the other women giggle. He slid a sideways look her way and grinned.

She was beyond annoyed, but the other women didn’t seem to notice or care. That was fine. She could sit here and ignore his very warm body and the way he made her body tingle with anticipation of his touch. Once she was at the ball, she would avoid him all together.

Well, it would have been easy to ignore him if he hadn’t started to use his weight to push her against the wall. “Stop it!” she hissed.

“Stop what?” he asked innocently.

“You’re pushing me.”

“You must be imagining things. I haven’t moved.”

She rolled her eyes. “Fine. We’re almost there anyway.” He pushed her again. She ground her jaw and accepted it. If this was his idea of revenge, then it was pathetic. She’d let him have it. It was simply childish. He’d certainly lost his touch over the years.

“We’re here!” Lady Bradford said cheerfully. Good. The faster she was able to get away from him the better.

Robert jumped out to help the other women out of the carriage first. When it was her turn, he held his hand out for her and she reluctantly took it. Once down she straightened her skirts and froze. Was there a draft?

Chapter 14

“Elizabeth! Back in the carriage at once!” her mother hissed.

“What?” she mumbled as her mother and Lady Bradford practically shoved her inside. She fell back on the seat. When she looked down she couldn't help but gasp in shock. There was a long tear down her skirt right on the side where Robert had sat, showing her leg in all its glory. Her eyes shot up to his. He looked very amused and a bit smug.

“We’ll have to go home and change,” Lady Bradford said, sounding disappointed.

Elizabeth held up her hand. “No, please. I refuse to wreck everyone’s night over my carelessness. I must have caught the dress on a nail, a very sharp one from the looks of it.” Her gaze shot to Robert, who looked oddly triumphant. “I apologize,” she said tightly.

“Are you sure?” her mother asked, looking torn between going with her and enjoying the ball of the year.

“Yes, I’ll be fine. Please go on. I’ll return as quickly as possible,” she said quietly. She was upset, but she didn’t want Robert to know. This was her favorite dress. Well, it hadn’t been a week ago, but that was not the point. He was going to pay for this.

Robert was the last one to move back. “Enjoy your evening.” He winked before turning to leave. Oh, she would enjoy it all right. She started plotting her revenge as soon as the carriage rolled away.

She was just formulating the perfect plan for revenge when the carriage came to an abrupt halt, sending her flying forward into the opposite seat. “Henry?” she called to the driver, worried that something had happened to the kind man that she’d know since she was a child. A gunshot rang out followed by another. “Henry!”

Seconds later the door jerked open, drawing her attention to the man standing there smiling at her. “Good evening, my dear, pleasant night for an elopement, isn’t it?”

Oh no, not him. She thought she’d rid herself of him last year when he’d been chased out of London by debt collectors. This was very bad. He was the worst sort of fortune hunter there was. He was also cruel and known to do whatever it took to get what he wanted and right now he wanted to force her into marriage. She was left with no other recourse but to pull back her fist and let it fly and that’s exactly what she did.

* * *
Robert couldn’t keep the satisfied grin off his face as he paced the ballroom. He ignored the eager widows sending him inviting glances, eager to share his bed, the bored wives sending him similar looks, the husband hunting school girls willing to do anything to be settled and kept an eye on the entrance, anticipating Elizabeth’s arrival.

He couldn’t wait. He was so damn giddy. This was going to be priceless. He almost wished that he could have seen her face when she realized that her wardrobe had been completely cleaned out except for a brand new gaudy looking gown that was hideously puke orange. She'd have no choice but to wear it and make his night. Life was good.

As he walked past the entrance steps to the ballroom a commotion in the foyer broke out. Footmen came running as they yelled for more guns. Robert didn’t think, he just ran. Something in his gut told him to move his ass and he did.

“Get them in the study and place a man at the door!” Lord Blackward ordered. "Get every man armed and call the magistrate. Someone go to Whites and get Lord Norwood immediately!”

“Get a surgeon!” a man yelled from the study.

Dread filled him. He ran past the footmen and a stunned Lord Blackward and followed the trail of blood soaking the expensive rug into the study. He saw her bloodied light green skirts almost immediately.