Dare to be Wild
“You know, everyone told me you were dull and bookish, but I think they got you all wrong.”
Elspeth swallowed in alarm as she saw something that looked horribly like admiration shining in his eyes. Oh, help.
“They were not wrong, my lord,” Elspeth said stiffly. “I am bookish. I would far rather be at home reading a book than here, dancing or… or talking to you.”
He studied her for such a long time, Elspeth’s palms sweated as she became increasingly self-conscious. She tried to wipe them on her skirts without him noticing.
“You know, I’m not entirely certain that’s true.
“How the devil would you know?” she retorted, glaring at him. “Or are you really so arrogant as to believe every woman in the world would rather be in your company than anything else?”
There was that disarming smile again. Elspeth turned away so she needn’t look at it.
“I didn’t mean the bit about talking to me as it happens, but the dancing. Though I think perhaps you are enjoying my company a tad more than you let on. Is it not just a tiny bit liberating to be invited to be rude to me?”
“No.” She folded her arms, refusing to look at him.
“I think it is.”
“You think? My word, you do surprise me. Congratulations.”
“Oh, I say, that was a good one.”
Elspeth huffed. She stared at the dancers, ignoring him, though she could feel his eyes upon her. He was smiling, damn him. She could feel him smiling. The desire to turn her head and see that smile again was… was…
She would ignore him. La la la. What was the name of this tune again, she couldn’t remember? He wasn’t there. Oh, look, there was Greer and Mr Lane-Fox. They danced very well together. He’s not there. He’s not there.
“Stop smiling!” she exclaimed.
“I do beg your pardon. I shall stop at once. It was very bad of me.” He immediately arranged his face into something ridiculously solemn and, much to her annoyance, Elspeth could not help the bubble of laughter that escaped her.
“Oh! You’re impossible.”
“So I’ve been told. Are you going to tell me to go away now?”
“No,” she said through gritted teeth. The desire to tell him to go away was burning on her tongue, but somehow that seemed like losing this… this… whatever this was.
“Ah, so you do like my company,” he said triumphantly. “I knew I would grow on you.”
She turned and stared at him, expressionless.
“Like mould?” he suggested, batting his eyelids at her.
She rolled her eyes and turned away before her traitorous mouth turned up at the corners.
“Tum, tum, ti tum tum… What is this tune called? I can’t remember. It’s very catchy. I shall be humming it all night.”
“I can’t remember either,” Elspeth said, irked to have to admit it.
“Are you certain you would not like to dance?”
“Will you stop talking if I dance with you?” she demanded.
“I’m tempted to say yes, if it means you’ll agree, but then you will soon discover it’s not true and I should not wish you to think me a liar.”
“Oh, I have a list of terrible character flaws as long as your lovely arm, I admit, but that isn’t one of them.”
“No,” she said with a sigh. “I imagine that’s how you get away with such dreadful behaviour, because you always agree it was very bad and smile charmingly and everyone forgives you, though the lord knows why.”
“You think I have a charming smile?” He sent another such expression in her direction.
“No! I… Argh.”
He chuckled. “And what do you know about my bad behaviour?”
“No, no. It’s not all true, you know, and it will explain a great deal if I know just what you have heard. For surely it is not possible you hated me on sight?”
Elspeth turned and quirked an eyebrow at him.
He laughed again, a merry sound that was far too pleasing to the ear. “You know, I was rather dreading this evening, but I’m enjoying myself immensely.”
“I’m so happy for you,” she replied dryly.
“Well, hunting for a suitable wife is a little daunting for a fellow, but I had no idea choosing one would be so easy.”
Elspeth froze. Surely. Surely, she had misheard. He could not possibly have meant… Slowly, she turned to stare at him. He was watching her, one corner of his mouth quirking up a little.
“Me?” she said in outrage.
“Why not you?”
Despite remembering every one of her late grandmother’s many lessons on deportment and how a proper young lady ought and ought not behave, Elspeth’s mouth fell open and she gaped at him.
“My lord,” she said, relieved that her voice was steady and calm despite the fact her heart was hammering in her chest like a panicked bird in a cage. “I am glad you have found my company so diverting, and I apologise again for my earlier rudeness. Well, and my more recent rudeness too, but I am afraid I must make something abundantly clear to you. I will not—under any circumstances—even in the event of a cataclysm that destroys the entire human race and leaves only thee and me remaining, ever, ever, consent to be your wife.”
“But I’m growing on you,” he said, his eyes sparkling with amusement.
“Like mould,” she reminded him. “The nasty black, fluffy stuff that grows in very unpleasant places.”
He considered this for a moment. “I’ll take it.”
Elspeth threw her hands in the air.
Apparently sensing he had pushed her as far as was prudent, he got to his feet.
“You never did tell me to leave,” he said with a wink, and sauntered off with the air of a man well pleased with himself.