You left me all alone at dinner last night – where on Earth did you go to? I looked a frightful fool, waiting around for my chaperone!”
Estelle answered as offhandedly as she could. Technically it was the truth… sort of.
“I had the most awful migraine.”
“Quite healthy, thank you.”
“I hear that there is to be a ride later.” Marielle smiled brightly.
“Really? I hear that there is to be a storm…”
The familiar voice came from the doorway. Estelle did not need to turn to see who it was.
“M-my Lord! Good morning; I trust you slept well?”
“Terribly, thank you.”
“Er… terribly well or just terribly?”
His eyes moved from Marielle’s to catch Estelle’s own across the room.
She looked away immediately, trying not to appear awkward or blush.
Estelle swore inwardly, her prior fondness for the girl melting in an instant. Damn her inability to do anything with subtlety!
“I… think I need to take some air briefly. Do excuse me.”
“Let me accompany you to the terrace, Miss Murphy.”
“Don’t worry, Landgraab,” the Viscount smirked. “I’ll take her.”
She stared in horror at the offered appendage.
“I-I mean, that is quite alright, my Lord. I’m perfectly—”
Marielle was staring wide-eyed at the exchange.
“No, really. I insist.”
And that was that. She couldn’t refuse him now; not in front of Marielle. The debutante would begin to suspect… something. Well, perhaps not, she was hardly the sharpest pencil in the box – but it was hardly wise to risk such a thing.
God, how she hated him.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m taking you out to the garden for some… fresh air, was it?”
Vaughn frowned slightly. “I wanted to talk to you.”
“I think that you and I have said all that there possibly is to say!”
Estelle wished she was alone. She wished she didn’t feel so self-conscious with him, wished she could stop re-living what she had done with him the night before and on seemingly countless other occasions. She felt so embarrassed at her own lack of restraint…
“I… wanted to apologise for my behaviour last night.”
He released a ragged sigh.
“—I was just thinking about… everything and… I was worked up. You caught me at the worst possible moment.”
Estelle asked, doubtfully.
“You’re apologising to me?”
There must be an ulterior motive. She simply would not believe he’d experienced a change of character overnight!
“That kiss last night was a mistake, and it was my fault.”
She regretted the question the second she’d raised it. She damned her own curiosity.
Vaughn smiled his cat-like smile.
“Naturally this includes those.”
Estelle was sure there was some sort of trickery involved. Even so, a little piece of herself believed every word he said. Or at least, she found herself wanting to believe every word.
“My apology, sweet.”
She ignored the endearment, along with the rush of foreboding that came along with it. He had been honest with her. He had actually been self-deprecating, something she would never have expected from any member of the aristocracy.
Really, she didn’t have a choice in the matter. Her conscience had decided for her.
She blushed, trying not to think about other uses for the words she was about to say.
“Good.” Vaughn smiled.
Maybe the Viscount was not the most cold-hearted person in the entire world, was not the-
-biggest horror in the history of the universe!
“I want your permission to court Marielle Harrington.”
“How dare you…”
“How dare I what?”
“Who said I was pretending?”
“Oh, pull the other one!”
“Well at least I tried. You would never have agreed if I hadn’t even tried.”
“Strange,” He countered, “Seeing as you brought her to my bloody house party.”
“Well, it wouldn’t have been a bad start….”
“Stop it!! For Christ’s sake grow up!”
“Yes, and stomping away from me is, of course, very mature.” Vaughn shouted after her, over the wind.
“Yesterday you asked me to say that I hated you, do you remember? Well, I do hate you, Vaughn. I hate you more than any man, beast or thing I’ve ever hated in my entire life.
Here are the short, self-destructive words that you will relish in your angry, bitter little world: I. hate. You.”
“Miss Murphy, you are perhaps the rudest, most impossible woman I have ever had the displeasure of knowing. Now, aren’t you going to leave? Only, usually you run away because you’re scared of how I’ll retaliate… You insult me and then leave. It’s quite rude, really.”
“You’re infuriating, you know that? You always assume you have the highest moral ground of anybody, when in fact it was you who came here, it was you who found me last night and it was you, madam, you who kissed me back.”
“I-I did none of that out of choice!”
“No, of course you didn’t. It was I that forced your reciprecation.”
“Well then why did you even try to kiss me to begin with!?”
“I did not ‘try’ to kiss you, I kissed you. It’s called attraction, Estelle. Lust, magnetism – call it what you will. It happens. You feel it, I feel it. Let’s not deny it any longer. I’m attracted to you and you’re attracted to me—”
Her indignant cry echoed through the vast gardens with horrifying clarity.
“Yesterday, when your body was arching into mine as I kissed you, just what did you want?”
Estelle fought the urge to sway into him as a tingling warmth suffused its way up her arm and down through her body, to where it coiled somewhere low in her abdomen. She tried to remember where they were. What he was capable of.
“I didn’t… want anything. I… I wanted to get away from you.”
“Do you know what I think? I think you don’t understand what you want. I think it scares you. I think it’s scaring you right now.”
He watched her inhale unsteadily.
“Do you even recognise it?”
Estelle swallowed thickly. Of course she recognised it. Every time she looked at this arrogant, conceited man standing in front of her, she felt it. Her stomach would tighten, her blood would heat. She may not like him, and she certainly didn’t love him.
But she wanted him.
But she couldn’t.
She just couldn’t.
Vaughn’s smirk widened. “You do feel it, don’t you?”
“All I feel is revulsion!”
N/B: Sorry for the rather long hiatus, guys! I’ve been deliberating what direction I want this story to go, and still haven’t decided! What do you think? Bittersweet, or happy?