Garden of Dragons(3)

By: Meara Platt


“Well? Are we to stand out here all day? If so, take my coat. I see that you are shivering.” His manner remained surprisingly tender.

Was this another of his tricks? He ought to hate her beyond words.

At the last moment, she set the rifle aside. The duke had not been scared off and the game no longer seemed humorous. In any event, she could not let him believe she meant to kill him.

“Don’t do it, Anabelle!” her brother cried, racing out of the house and lunging for her, apparently unaware she had set down her weapon. “Harleigh Hall isn’t worth it!”

“Robert, you little pest – ack!” Her brother hit her solidly, sending them both hurtling a small distance through the air toward the duke. She knew, with a sudden horror, that they would knock him over as well.

“Good lord!” she heard the duke mutter as she and her brother struck him full in the chest. Anabelle bounced off the solid brick wall that was his body, and should have landed flat on her back on the cobblestone courtyard, but was somehow spared the worst of the fall as the duke reached out to catch her.

He would have safely caught her, too. But her brother’s flailing arms got between them at the worst possible moment. Despite the duke’s efforts to hold on to her, she tumbled ungracefully out of his grasp and landed relatively unharmed at the bottom of a messy heap at his feet. She opened her eyes only to find her freckle-faced brother gawking at her, for he’d managed to land atop her. “Get off me,” she said with a grunt.

Robert shifted slightly, apparently too winded or embarrassed to do more. As he did so, the sky suddenly began to spin overhead with violent force. Anabelle clutched at the cobblestones to steady herself, but in vain. The gentle blue sky only spun faster and suddenly turned a dark, demonic shade of dragon blue, not that she’d ever seen such eyes on a dragon other than on the duke’s coat of arms. “Oh,” she groaned, realizing that she was staring into the duke’s eyes.

Slowly bringing one hand to her head, she also realized her precarious bun had come undone. She was lying at the duke’s feet. Well, not quite at his feet but on them, her hair now fanned out in waves of red across his shiny black boots.

She recalled her head had somehow hit his hands and then his boots, and not the courtyard stone. Thank heaven. If not for that stroke of good fortune, she would have been knocked senseless. Was he staring at her? Of course he was. How could he overlook this bizarre scene?

Her brother moved across her stomach, using her body as leverage while he rose to his knees. Thankfully, he was uninjured. She looked down at herself. She, too, was uninjured except for her pride, which had taken a stunning blow. She resolved to box her brother’s ears as soon as she caught her breath, which she did quickly once he was no longer atop her.

“Why aren’t you at your Latin studies?” she grumbled, knowing he ought to have been squirreled away with his tutor on the far side of the house.

“Mr. Dullingham dismissed me early. He complained of a terrible headache.”

Anabelle sighed disgustedly. Yet another problem to handle. Though Robert’s tutor had come highly recommended and seemed quite capable at first, of late he had become utterly useless. One might even say dimwitted.

Was it possible for a learned fellow to grow stupid, for he seemed to become more tongue-tied and lack-brained the longer he was around her?

Suddenly, her brother shrieked as the duke lifted him to his feet and set him down on the step beside them. Then, to Anabelle’s utter amazement, the duke knelt down and proceeded to run his hands along her sides.

She inhaled sharply.

“Did that hurt?” He furrowed his brow as though concerned.

“No.”

“Good.” He continued to run his hands up and down her body. His hands were large and well-formed, and caused her skin beneath the fabric of her gown to prickle wherever they stroked. She couldn’t imagine why, then recalled that she had just taken a bad tumble. Of course, the fiend must be hurting her by pressing on her bruises.

There was no other explanation for it.

But she felt no discomfort. In truth, she felt a pleasant numbness spreading throughout her body and found it most alarming. “Take your hands off me this instant, you fiend!”

He regarded her with apparent indifference. “I see your jawbone is undamaged.”

Insufferable! How dare he mock her. “I order you to release me at once!”

He smiled menacingly. To the unsuspecting, his smile might have appeared pleasant, for he had fine, white teeth and appealing lips, but she knew better. The duke was an evil, untrustworthy man.

“Lie still,” he commanded, placing a restraining hand across her stomach when she refused to obey. “I’m only checking you for broken bones. And my name is Saron. You have my permission to call me that. It is a wicked enough sounding name for your purposes.”

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