Let it Snow Excerpt
“Lord Middleton, you’re giving me no choice but to strenuously refuse your advances again,” Yvette Valiant said to the gentleman holding her just outside the ballroom door, before kicking his shins and scurrying back into inside to the smothering warmth and stench of the house party guests.
Not that anyone seemed to have noticed she’d just had to save herself from being imposed upon by a scoundrel.
Here, that was a frequent occurrence.
She took a deep breath, pasted on a smile that should fool everyone but her best friend, and weaved through the crowd, looking for her brother, her chaperone at this wicked house party.
For heaven’s sake, she had just wanted one gulp of fresh air, not immediate molestation! Why her brother dragged her from Bath for this depraved amusement, she didn’t know. Did he want to have her ruined and married off to someone she would hate for all her days?
She searched for her brother and found him propping up a marble pillar on the far side of the room. She returned to the dubious safety he offered, hoping no one questioned where she’d been. But she couldn’t miss another opportunity to point out his shortcomings.
“Where were you when I needed you?” she hissed to Rhys, head of the family now and all-around annoyance since her birth. He was three years older and ought to know better than to leave her unchaperoned here.
When he didn’t answer, she noted the direction of his attention was upon the other side of the ballroom. Given the way he was smirking, the one relation she ought to be able to place her faith in for the protection of her virtue was much too busy considering how to rob another young lady of the very same thing. She deliberately stepped on his right foot. “Rhys.”
“I haven’t moved all night, Yvette,” he protested with a brief glance at his abused foot. “You’re the one who keeps running off.”
“I danced, and since I was thirsty, followed Lady Pillsbury to the refreshment table since you refused to accompany me.” She stared at him in vexation. “Do you even care to know what became of me after that?”
Rhys patted her shoulder. “I trust you,” he said with calm unconcern before smiling at a different lady as she promenaded past.
She failed to prevent her hands from curling into fists. “There are too many scoundrels here,” she hissed, and then looked around guiltily.
Being around her brother for any duration tended to bring out her shrewish side, unfortunately. It was all she could do not to strangle him some nights.
“There are scoundrels everywhere, or so you insist,” he noted. “If I thought the company of my friends so dangerous, I’d never take you anywhere. Besides, you’d never let a scoundrel actually catch you, so why should I worry, too?”
He is so right about not letting myself be caught by any scoundrel.
Yvette was most definitely keeping her virtue for marriage by any means possible. There would be no hushed-up scandalous marriage like some of her cousins had engineered for themselves. Someone in her family needed to adhere to a higher moral standard.
It constantly disappointed her that the family reputation was not the best, despite her brother’s promises to reform. She had no hope that the rest of her family could ever change.
She’d been well aware of the family scandals even before she’d come out. Her late father had kept two mistresses before his untimely demise at the hands of an overwrought half-plucked goose and a garden pond. The goose, desperate to escape the cook’s knife, had charged at her father and his lover. Father had, by all accounts, gallantly put himself directly into the path of the goose and borne the brunt of the unprovoked attack, but in doing so toppled them all into the pond. Father hit his head on the marble pond surround and had drawn his last breath with his face nestled between his lover’s ample breasts.
And if that was not enough shame to bear in her first season, there was her widowed mother—kicking up her heels on the continent with the family gardener as her new lover.
She shuddered. Her brother, as much as she’d worshiped him growing up, seemed determined to break hearts left and right—including hers.
Given the disreputable reputations of her illustrious relatives, society stalwarts had viewed her with a wary eye when she made any overtures of friendship. It had taken all of her first season just to prove herself someone worth acknowledging and to make just one true female friend.
And despite her rigid adherence to decorum, ignoring all scoundrels and rakes, unfortunately, a good marriage had proved elusive. But the number of scoundrels circling her each night of this dreadful house party had continued unabated. She could not wait to leave tomorrow morning.
“How long must I stay here?” she asked in a whisper, but Rhys was already bored with talking to her and was looking elsewhere.
She considered stomping on his toe again.
“Where would you rather be, Miss Valiant?” a deep-voiced gentleman asked instead.
Yvette straightened her spine as Mr. Luc Ayles, her brother’s longtime friend, moved to stand at her side. She wished good manners didn’t dictate that she had to look at him to give a response. He was alarmingly handsome and the most dangerous scoundrel that might ever have lived. With his pale hair too long and rakishly falling across one gray eye, she could easily see why he appealed to a certain type of woman.
But not to her.
Yvette was immune to rakes and scoundrels and any man without honorable intentions. Luc Ayles certainly did not have those.
“Right here,” she lied, wishing with all her might that Mr. Ayles would single out another woman to attempt a seduction. He’d followed her around too often at this house party for her to have any patience left for him. “I am afraid I have somehow turned my ankle,” she murmured.
“Probably happened when you kicked Middleton in the shins just now,” Ayles muttered quietly, eyes flashing with mirth.
If anyone heard Middleton had almost caught her, or that she’d assaulted him to free herself, she’d have everyone thinking that she was to blame. “I did no such thing!”
“He undoubtedly deserved it.” Ayles nodded. “A pity you cannot dance. I had persuaded our hostess to play another waltz. You enjoy twirling, don’t you?”
She did. She shrugged to hide how sorely disappointed she was. “I will have to wait until next season.”
“I was afraid you’d say that,” he murmured, eyes full of laughter still. “Perhaps next year.”
“Perhaps,” she murmured without looking him in the eye. Yvette tried to avoid committing herself to dancing with any scoundrel, especially Luc Ayles, though he was remarkably persistent in asking again and again. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Rhys drifting away without her. “Good night, sir.”
Ayles held her back a moment. “I was hoping you would allow me the privilege of your company for sledding tomorrow.”
Hell could freeze over before she shared a sled with Mr. Ayles again. The first week of the house party, he’d tried to steal a kiss, and with her brother just twenty feet ahead of them. Rhys hadn’t heard the slap she’d been forced to administer to the scoundrel standing with her now.
Yvette fluttered her fan before her face, as if she was blushing, but in truth she was fed up with Ayles’ dogged pursuit. She had tried to make her disinterest in him plain and painless from the start, but obviously he could need a hammer applied to his head before the message sunk in. “Perhaps we’ll meet again at another winter party some other year.”
“Yes,” he drawled, and then he laughed. “I thought you’d say that, too.”
She was about to leave him, but the thing was—and it pained her to admit—she could not be mean to him without feeling bad after.
“Happy Christmas, Mr. Ayes,” she said with a broad smile, holding out her hand to him.
The scoundrel sidled closer and looked down at her outstretched fingers. After a moment, he clasped her hand and attempted to bring it to his lips. She resisted.
“Happy Christmas, Miss Valiant. I hope our paths cross again soon.”
Not if I can help it.
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