The brandy arrived and Rafe sipped it slowly, searching for a friendly face, seeing his
mother and Aunt Cornelia in conversation with a group of other women,
glancing past them to the round, powdered face of Flora Duval
Chamberlain. His gaze lit on the woman to her left, a woman with
flame-red hair and the face of a goddess. Rafe's stomach contracted as
if he had suffered a powerful blow.
He told himself he
hadn't come because of her, that it was his duty to attend, but seeing
her now, he recognized the lie for what it was. For an instant,
Danielle's eyes met his and widened in shock. Rafe felt a shot of
satisfaction as the color drained from her lovely, treacherous face.
He didn't glance
away, certain that she would.
Instead her chin shot
up and she gave him a look meant to burn right through him. His jaw
clenched. Long seconds passed and neither of them looked away. Then
Danielle rose slowly from her chair, flicked him a last seething glance,
and walked off toward the rear of the garden.
Fury engulfed him.
Where was the humility he had expected? Where was the embarrassment he
had been certain he would see in her face?
Instead, she walked
the gravel path with her head held high, ignoring him as if he weren't
there, making her way past a group of children played at the back of the
Dani fixed her gaze on the children playing tag at the rear of the
garden, determined not to let her unnerving encounter with Rafael
Saunders show in any way. She had taught herself that after The
Scandal, learned to take rigid control of her emotions. Never let any
of them know the power they held, how badly they could hurt you.
Managing a smile, she
waved at the children and made her way deeper into the garden. She
didn't hear the footfalls approaching behind her until it was too late.
She knew who it was before she turned. Still, she couldn't help the
gasp of surprise as she stared into Rafe's handsome face.
thundered. Anger made rosy circles appear in her cheeks. She turned
away, rudely ignored him, caught the look of shock that appeared on his
face, and simply started walking.
But the Duke of
Sheffield wasn't used to being ignored, and she felt the pressure of his
fingers as they wrapped around her arm. His grip was firm enough to
stop her forward motion and spin her around to face him.
"I said good
afternoon. I expect at least a civil reply."
She clamped down on
her temper, told herself not to let him bait her. "Excuse me. I
believe my aunt is calling."
But he didn't let go
of her arm. "I think your aunt is otherwise engaged at the moment.
Which means you have time to greet an old friend."
Her fine thread of
control stretched to the breaking point and then completely snapped.
"You are no friend of mine, Rafe Saunders. You are, in fact, the last
man on earth I would think to call a friend."
Rafe's jaw hardened.
"Is that so? If not a friend, then how, may I ask, should I think of
She lifted her chin,
the knot of anger in her stomach almost painful. "You may think of me
as the biggest fool you have ever met. A woman foolish enough to trust
a man like you. Stupid enough to fall in love with you, Rafael."
She started walking
but Rafe's tall figure stepped into the path of her escape. His jaw was
set, his intense blue eyes diamond hard.
"I believe it was
you, my dear, I found with one of my closest friends. You who invited
Oliver Randall into your bed, under my very nose."
"And it was you who
was eager to believe your friend's lies instead of the truth!"
"You betrayed me,
Danielle. Or perhaps you have forgot."
Dani looked up at
him, her eyes snapping with fire. "No, Rafael. It was you who betrayed
me. If you had loved me, as you said, you would have trusted me, you
would have known I was telling you the truth." She gave him a thin,
bitter smile. "On second thought, as I think of it, certainly it is
you who are the fool."