Masquerade Secrets

By: Janelle Daniels



“I’m sorry,” she said, leaving his embrace and quickly descending the stairs into the garden before they were discovered.

“I was wondering where you were hiding, Your Grace,” a woman said, her voice husky.

Leaning against the garden wall, Aubrey listened to Bradford’s quiet conversation with the woman.

“I haven’t been doing anything of the sort, Lady Victoria. I found I needed a breath of fresh air and a moment of quiet.”

Victoria, Aubrey thought in distain. The woman had no sense of honor. She had been the one that started the rumor about Sera. All because Victoria had wanted the Duke.

“Really? I thought I heard voices,” she said.

Aubrey listened to Bradford’s laugh, and could tell it was forced. “The wind, I’m sure. Come, let us return to the ballroom. I believe the next is a waltz. Would you do me the honor?”

Aubrey clenched her fists. She could just imagine Victoria preening at the attention. Hearing their footsteps returning to the ballroom, Aubrey slumped, suddenly drained.

She didn’t have a desire to stay and dance with any other men. No one could compare with Bradford and she didn’t think she could paste a smile on her face for the rest of the night.

She had almost told him who she was. If Lady Victoria had not come upon them, she would have confessed all, only to have him turn away from her.

She didn’t think she could bear that. The thought of him rejecting her once he knew her identity filled her with fear.

Pushing away from the wall, she walked through the garden, heading toward another door that led to the ballroom. She would find her mother and plead a headache. She couldn’t stay another moment. Not when Bradford would find her again. And she knew he would. She didn’t think she would be able to get away from him anonymously the next time.

She shivered at the thought. She had come so close to telling him. She could only be grateful that he would never find out who she really was.

With a deep breath, Aubrey breezed into a lightly populated alcove off the ballroom. Few acknowledged her entering as they huddled in small clusters, no doubt gossiping about what had transpired that evening.

Stepping into the heated ballroom, she lowered her eyes, edging along the walls in hopes that no one would notice her. It didn’t happen as she had hoped, but the few men that stopped her along the way were easily dispatched. They couldn’t compare to him.

“Mother,” Aubrey whispered into her mother’s ear. “I fear that I am unwell. I need to return home.”

Surprised, Lady Langston turned in concern. “Unwell?” she asked as she took in Aubrey’s pale cheeks. “Yes, my dear. I shall have your father fetch the coach and escort you home at once.”

Relief flooded through her. There had been a small doubt that her mother would try to force her to stay. She should have known better. “Thank you.”

Her mother led her toward the wall, seating her in a sheltered enclosure. “Wait here a moment. I’ll return shortly to fetch you once the carriage is ready.”

Aubrey could only nod once before she sat behind the willowy curtains. She was obscured from most everyone’s sight, which she was grateful for. The smile she had tried to force to her face refused to stick a moment longer.

While she didn’t want to go out into the crowd again, she couldn’t stop herself from parting the material slightly, searching for the one man who had made her want something more than she ever had. She saw him leading Lady Victoria to the floor, glancing around the room briefly.

Gasping, she closed the material. Was he looking for her?

Fingers raised to her lips, Aubrey brushed the sensitive skin that he had kissed. She could still feel him there, still taste him.

Unable to stop herself, she peered out again, watching his sturdy frame confidently lead his partner around the floor. She knew from experience that he was a skilled dancer and a pleasure to partner with. But nothing had compared to the waltz they had shared tonight.

Would it ever be that way again? She shook her head at the thought. It wouldn’t do her any good to dwell upon it. Tonight was only meant for her dreams. It wasn’t reality.

“The carriage is ready, my dear. Your father will meet you there.”

Aubrey nodded at her mother’s words, slipping from her hiding spot.

“Would you like me to walk with you?”

“No, thank you. I can find my way easily.” She leaned in and briefly kissed her mother’s cheek. “Thank you.”

Pleased, her mother smiled. “Just rest and feel better soon.”

“I will.”

With a final nod, Aubrey made her way to the opposite end of the ballroom, taking care to not attract attention. Was Bradford still looking for her? She hoped not. It would be difficult to ascend the staircase unnoticed if he were.

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