Here’s a tantalizing excerpt from Capturing a Countess’ Heart…when Charlotte and Matthew begin to realize their friendship is being challenged to become something more:
“They really missed you,” she said softly. And, after a beat, the words deep in her heart could no longer be contained, “we all did.”
Her voice was barely a whisper, but she knew it reached his ears and meandered its way deep inside him because he offered a small smile in return. Charlotte knew it was Matthew’s most honest of smiles without the intention of charming or eluding. It was a smile she had only ever seen when in private, and somehow knew, he reserved for her.
“Me too,” his blue eyes deepened, locking onto hers and her throat suddenly shrivelled. Her lips parted, and for the second time in one night, she lost the ability to form words.
“In any case,” he cleared his throat, “it’s nice to see you aren’t in need of my help at the present moment.” The cavalier attitude returned, brushing the fragile moment aside.
Charlotte squared her shoulders realizing he wasn’t ready for real honesty and was clearly evading becoming too sentimental. She hid her disappointment and played his game. “You’re the only one who ever thought I was in need of your help. I’ll have you know Mr. Harrington that I’m most capable.”
“And beautiful and graceful too,” he drawled provocatively.
Her stomach dropped to her feet. Why would he say such things in the middle of a ballroom? She suddenly realized that he felt different. Aside from the strange feelings surrounding her, there was something markedly different about him.
“Dance with me,” he raised a brow, laying the dare for her to accept or face endless mockery for cowardice.
“No,” she stopped the game because he never flirted with her like she had seen him do with others. He had always patronized her like an older brother. She realized he wasn’t the same Matthew she had known growing up, and therefore she couldn’t trust him as she once had. At least not until she figured out what sort of game he was playing and decide whether or not the stakes for her were too high.
“Not used to hearing that word, are you? You know why I’m here and you could ruin my chances with your attention. You’re also a renowned rake and charm oozes so easily from you many a lady has convinced herself of being desperately in-love with you. I’m happy you’ve returned unharmed, but I can’t disrupt my chances of an honorable proposal.”
“Honorable or lucrative?” His tone became slightly sardonic, but his eyes questioned her. He was unsure if she was looking for love or money, and she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of accurately assessing her situation.
“How easy it is to judge from where you stand,” Charlotte levelled him with her finest countess countenance. “I will marry honorably. Clearly, your compliment was nothing more than a wish to thoroughly annoy me.”
“Since my compliment meant nothing,” his brow raised for emphasis and his voice lowered dangerously, “then you shouldn’t fear dancing with me.”
She glared at him remembering all too well that besides offering comfort, camaraderie and competition, Matthew also knew interminable ways to irk her. And, it appeared, it was something he recalled far too well.
She clenched her jaw and saw the beginnings of a victorious smile lift the corners of his mouth. Within moments she was in his strong, yet gentle grip. She felt him hold her just a little bit closer than was proper, and his arms contracted as he tightened his grip ever so slightly. Her heartbeat a little faster and warmth spread through her cheeks. Her head spun with delight and annoyance as she realized it was the first time she was actually enjoying a waltz.
She felt Matthew’s strength emanating through his precisely tailored evening dress. She winced realizing her gloved hand fit perfectly into his and their bodies moved harmoniously, effortlessly. His warmth enveloped her and his masculine scent invaded her senses. She whirled in his arms, feeling safe, protected as she always had. She also felt the flutter of a warning because her best friend could disrupt her plans to marry a rich peer.
The entire dance was maddening. Instructing herself to revel in every last second, because it would be their last, she forced herself to remember that Matthew had no interest in marriage. His sole intention was to live his life in as carefree a manner as possible. He had run away to the other side of the world after one brief kiss! Any ridiculous feeling about the perfection of their waltz had to be stamped out because he would never trade in his freedom for the chance to rebuild an ailing earldom.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” He taunted as he bowed at the conclusion of their waltz.
“Remember it well because that was our one and only this season,” she countered, and then added for good measure, “Probably even, ever.”
“Coward,” he said with a lopsided grin.
“I won’t let you ruin my chances of marrying well,” she said with an arrogant tilt to her head as she was led back to Mother.
“You don’t understand, do you?” Despite his easy manner, his voice was iron. “I have the fortune of finding you unmarried. Now, it’s my duty to make sure you marry someone worthy of you and I will stand in anyone’s way who dares to ask for the wrong reason.”
“What you don’t understand is that I’m a grown woman and I will marry who I think is best for Bentwick. You have no say whatsoever.”
He shrugged his shoulder casually and offered one last infuriatingly smug smile as they parted ways. “We shall see, Lady Bentwick.”
Hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into the novel and want more! Happy reading!