Florence's world shrank down to a single
soul. Edward stood before her. Tall Edward. Grave Edward. Edward of
the burning eyes and the beautiful mouth. Peter Vance faded into insignificance,
though he'd stepped a mere foot away. Freddie's older brother was all
that she could see.
This was not good, she thought, not good at all.
"Oh," she said stupidly, and put one hand to her stays to
keep her heart from bursting through. "Edward."
"Florence," he said, with a low, formal bow. How broad his
shoulders were, and how well his black tailcoat showed off the trimness
of his waist! With customary dignity, he straightened. "Might I
have the honor of this dance?"
Florence blinked. "You wish to dance with me?"
He frowned and at once she felt more clearheaded. A scowling Edward
she was used to.
"Yes, I wish to dance with you. Have you some objection?"
"Oh, no," she said. "I—I'd be happy to."
"Well then," he said.
As if on cue, the orchestra struck up a waltz. Her skin tingled as he
took her in his arms. At once, she knew this dance was different. Edward
held her with complete assurance, born to rule the ballroom. The hand
he'd placed on her waist almost lifted her through the steps.
"Stop looking at your feet," he whispered, his cheek for one
moment pressed to hers.
At the touch, her limbs turned to honey, liquid and warm, as if she'd
been set in the sun.
"Oh," she said, enchanted in spite of every scrap of sense
that spoke against it. "Oh, my, you dance divinely."
He laughed, the second time she'd heard him do so. She wanted to hear
that happy sound again. She wanted to hear it every day. His arm tightened
and suddenly her breasts were pressed lightly to his chest. That, she
thought, was even better. His legs, so long, so sure, brushed the front
of her skirts. She had only to let him lead.
"It's like flying," she said, helpless to keep her smile inside.
He grinned back at her, his face creasing upward, his bright blue eyes
agleam. "It's dancing, Florence, the way it was meant to be."
She caught her breath with pleasure as he spun her even faster. The
other couples seemed to part like the sea before them. The music swooped,
giddy, magical. She took a firmer grip on his shoulders and closed her
"You're as lovely as a rose," he murmured, just loudly enough
for her to hear.
With a quiet sigh, he gathered her closer still. She felt the warmth
of his body, the hardness of his chest. His breath came quickly from
his exertions. In. Out. Stirring her hair. Warming her cheek. The sound
put a spell on her. Something throbbed inside her: an ache, a nameless
want. She thought she heard him whisper her name. Yes, she thought,
and her lips moved soundlessly on the word. He must have seen her do
it. His hand tightened on hers, his fingers strong, sending a message
her body could not help but read. Without warning, a flood of heat washed
through her flesh. Her knees wobbled and gave and she stumbled over
Edward caught her before she fell.
"Goodness," she said, mortified by her near-collapse. "I'm
afraid all that twirling has made me dizzy."
For once, Edward's frown was more worried than disapproving. He put
his arm around her waist to steady her. "Come. You need air."
He would not listen to her demurs, but led her from the stuffy ballroom
and down a corridor to a large conservatory. Florence would have liked
to see this marvel by daylight. Arched high above their heads, the white
iron framework glowed faintly under the moon. Perhaps, like the Crystal
Palace, the great Paxton had designed it. The structure was certainly
grand enough. Small Japanese lanterns shaped like gold and black pagodas
lit the winding paths. Ankleboots crunching on the pebbles, Edward guided
her past towering palms and banks of ferns and a large lily pond beneath
which orange fishes hung in sleep. He stopped at last under a cool dome
of glass where roses of every imaginable hue grew in lushly scented
"Here." He seated her on a pretty cast iron bench. "Close
your eyes and breathe." To her surprise, he sat beside her and
patted her hand. "Lizzie laced you too tightly, didn't she?"
"Oh, no," she said, her eyes flying open to find his gaze.
"Aunt Hypatia's maid would let her. It was the dancing, I think.
All that swooping around. It was wonderful, of course, but suddenly
I felt so hot."
His brows lowered, shading his eyes to blackness. His expression was
most peculiar. "You felt hot."
"Yes." She fanned her face at the memory. "Astonishingly
hot. As if someone had dropped me in a pot of steam. You don't suppose
I've taken ill, do you?"
She knew the words were hopeful. Though the ball had not been as terrifying
as she'd feared, she still would have liked to go home.
"No," he said, but he touched her cheek with the back of his
"There it is again!" she gasped.
"Florence," he said, half laugh, half groan. "You cannot
be so ignorant you do not know why you are flushed."
"Well, I—" she began and then her gaze caught on his
smiling lips. "I'm sure it's not—I've found men appealing
before, you know, and they never affected me like this!"
"Didn't they?" His eyes were heavy, his tone a soft, insinuating
growl. "Didn't they make you hot from the inside out? Didn't they
make you yearn and ache and feel as if you would die unless you held
His lips brushed her cheek like heated satin.
"Edward," she gasped, a shiver supplanting her flush. She
wished he wouldn't speak so; wished he wouldn't draw so close. "You
can't—you can't be meaning to kiss me!"
"Indeed," he said with that same groaning laugh, his mouth
sliding along her jaw. "I assure you I don't mean to. Common sense
forbids it. And decency. And every drop of affection my brother pulls
from my heart . . ."
2001 by Emma
Holly. It is illegal to reproduce or distribute this work in any manner
or medium without written permission of the author.
hot Victorian romance. No monsters.
"Lavishly worded and entirely arousing
[...] Fulfills your high-school grrrl cravings to tame the sexiest guy
"Fans of bolder romances will relish this potent combination
of heady sexuality and intriguing characterization" —Publishers