The Flighty Fiancee

By: Emma Shortt

Chapter One

Lady India Grayson smoothed down her gown with anxious hands, then wondered if she should have left it alone. Delicate and prone to wrinkling if handled too roughly, Madam Rosa’s silk and satin creation demanded gentler care than India was currently giving it. Already, after the very slightest of pressure, India could see a crease beginning at her waist and travelling down her skirt. She bit her lip and considered.

The crease drew attention to her long legs and curvaceous hips, and would likely garner all sorts of notice. The matrons would cluck, the other ladies gossip, and the gentlemen…their eyes would travel over her hungrily, like they always did, but that would be all. That was all they ever did. And the one man whose eyes she wanted? Well, in all probability he wouldn’t even notice. Damn him.

India picked up her emerald green evening gloves from the dressing table and tugged them up her arms—perhaps a little more forcibly than she should. The fabric prickled against her skin and despite her bad mood she shivered a little. She seemed to be shivering often of late, as if her skin had become overly excitated. Or maybe just angry.

India suspected she knew why.

Bartholomew’s image formed in her head. Exact and perfect. The dark hair, the aquiline jaw, the little curve to his lips when he smiled. She scrunched her eyes shut and tried to push him out, but he refused to be dislodged. Didn’t he always?

She scowled and smoothed the gloves along her arms, running her fingers all the way up to her shoulders. Her skin prickled from the contact and the familiar low throbbing began in her belly. She pulled her hands away and let them drop loosely by her sides.

“Stop it,” she whispered. “Just stop it.”

Because she knew what the throbbing wanted. She’d worked it out after a mere day in Bartholomew’s company. And she knew also, now at least, that she would not be given what she needed to ease it.

Not from him anyway.

Her fingers curled into fists and she exhaled shakily, wondering all over again how everything had gone so awry. After a season that had begun with the prospect of everything she had ever longed for—the balls, the parties and the attention of a man she admired above any other—India was now left searching for a way to resign herself to something she had never wanted. Something that she had no choice in. Oh the balls continued, the routs and the gossip—always the gossip. No one could suggest the ton was lacking in entertainment. But Bartholomew?

Swallowing back the sudden lump in her throat, India made to grab her skirts, a habit of hers when feeling vexed, but remembered just in time. Another crease would definitely invite censorious glares, and although India didn’t care much for convention, she had no intention of arriving at the ball looking unkempt—especially as it wouldn’t make any difference to him. Shaking herself instead she took a deep breath and checked her reflection one last time.

A cool, red haired, green eyed beauty stared back at her. She sighed, as beautiful as many would not doubt think she looked, India knew something was missing. That indefinable something that she’d seen in her friends that had recently been married, or on the demi-reps she’s spied on her first month in the capital. The something that would turn her collected poise on its head, that would fire her eyes and leave her flush faced.

She sighed again and ran her hands along her belly—where the throbbing continued—before settling on the juncture between her legs. Layers of fabric stopped her hesitant fingers finding what they wanted. What they searched for late at night, in the privacy of her bedchamber. Her frantic explorations becoming more and more frequent and yet, somehow, leaving her unfulfilled. And all the while his face in her thoughts….

Pulling her hand away India leaned against the dresser so that her face was mere inches from the mirror. “Stop thinking about him,” she hissed. “It makes no difference. You should have learned that by now.”

“What doesn’t, naari?”

The soft tones of her maid and companion, Anjika, floated across the room from the now open door, and India straightened, flushing slightly. “Nothing, just remarking to myself.”

“You are nervous about the ball?” Anjika asked, closing the door as silently as she’d opened it.

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