Status: Inactive at the moment; may return to this later

Love's Fierce Embrace

Chapter 2

The Duke of Wakefield must have loved the sound of his own voice.

Laurel Blanchard was convinced of it, since she hadn’t said much of anything to move their conversation along and he had been prattling on for at least twenty minutes. She’d been polite, of course, nodding and murmuring agreements to his opinions, keeping her blue eyes trained on his face, and smiling demurely when she thought was appropriate. Truth be told, she had no idea what he was talking about. She hadn’t been listening, but he didn’t seem to notice. Rather like her father. In fact, the duke was nearly old enough to be her father.

And he was meant to be a prospective suitor, one her father had wholly endorsed during one of his rants over her single state. He had everything her father wanted in her future husband: money, a title, no debt. Her father had forgotten to mention the duke’s son from his first marriage, who was a mere two years Laurel’s junior, and the mistress he promenaded around town with.

As the saying went, a duke was always a perfect match.

Laurel wasn’t interested, in him or any suitor. She knew she should try. Her father and brother had told her as much enough times. She was, after all, two and twenty and well on her way to spinsterhood, a fate worse than death to many in the ton. But she couldn’t bring herself to care.

From the corner of her eyes, she spotted her dearest friend Althea Shepard leaving the dance floor and her attention grew even more distracted. They’d been separated since their arrival, both whisked away into the crowd of dancing bodies by marriage-minded fools. Unfortunately, Laurel’s first respite from dancing was being dominated by the chatty Duke of Wakefield, and now, Althea stood in the corner, a vision of loveliness in her blue gown, her time free.

And the Duke of Wakefield was still speaking.

Surely, he had other engagements to attend to, other people with which he’d like speak. He couldn’t be quite that interested in dominating Laurel’s time discussing whatever it was he was chattering about. But he didn’t appear to be leaving soon and Laurel needed to be rid of him.

She awaited the next pause in the one-sided conversation, intent on not offending the duke by cutting him off. Should she do that, her father would never leave her be.

His speech broke long enough for her to speak. “I apologize, Lord Wakefield. I’m feeling rather warm.” She widened her eyes, adding to her distressed damsel act. “If I may excuse myself?”

He seemed to believe his excuse, his face softening with sympathy. Or was that pity over what he perceived as the womanly predisposition to swoon? No matter, he would let her excuse herself from his presence.

“Of course, Miss Blanchard.” He gave an elegant nod. “Perhaps you would grant me a dance later this evening?”

She wanted to deny his request but she couldn’t without feigning a head cold and leaving the ball altogether. His position in society demanded she at least agree to a dance. Besides, her ever-annoying brother was attempting a clandestine mission to watch her. She could give him some positive news to relay to their father.

“It would be my pleasure, my lord.” She executed a precise curtsey, as she had been taught since before she could walk. “Till then,” she murmured and extracted herself from his company.

She refrained from rushing through the crowd to Althea’s side. She maintained her elegant walk and smiled greetings to acquaintances she passed. All the while, she made sure to search for any sign of Nathaniel. He was around, somewhere, but out of sight. Good. He didn’t need to witness her escape to the garden with Althea. No one, least of all him, would think anything of their departure, just two friends enjoying time together, but Nathaniel would try to follow. That couldn’t happen. What he would see would only serve to upset him.

And lead to another lecture.

He wasn’t nearby, though, so her full attention could be where it belonged. On Althea. Her eyes settled on the woman in question. Althea stood off in the corner, watching her approach, waiting patiently. She greeted her with a small nod, corners of her lips tipped in the subdued smile expected of them, and Laurel returned the gesture.

“Enjoying yourself?” Althea asked.

“Quite. Lady Danvers has outdone herself.”

She had outdone every party of the Season thus far. Granted, the Season had barely begun, but she did delight in destroying all those that came before her and she spared no expensive to make her parties the very best. The decorations, the refreshments, the orchestra, everything was perfect. Aside from the magnitude of the gathering. There were far too many people in the ballroom thanks to Lady Danvers’ extensive invitations list. Even the Earl of Ashbourne was in attendance and he rarely attended any event. Indeed, this would likely be the largest ball of the Season, at the expense of the guests’ comfort.

“Shame nothing exciting has happened.”

“The night is still young,” Laurel said, secrets meant only for Althea hidden in her smile. “Accompany me to the garden?”

The intensity of Althea’s gaze stole Laurel’s breath and sent her heart racing. But there was a flash of something else there, only for a moment before it was hidden away behind the desire Laurel knew so well. The desire that was meant for her and distracted her from trying to interpret the emotion that looked a little like pain.

“Absolutely,” Althea murmured.

Casting one last cautious glance over shoulder, Laurel led Althea to the garden, away from the gossip-obsessed ton. No need to start another rumor, not after the last scandal Laurel was the center of nearly a year ago. Her reputation had been ruined for months when that gossip columnist, some silly dandy for a man whose pseudonym no longer hid his identity, printed news of her disinterest in marriage and her father’s threat. And anyway, Laurel didn’t want Althea to be slandered as she had been. Not until they could no longer hide, a time that was quickly approaching.

By then, Laurel and Althea would be far away, out in the country where the only opinion that would matter would be their own.

“I see Lord Wakefield has taken a liking to you,” Althea commented.

Her voice was low to avoid intrusion into their conversation, though the precaution was unnecessary. The couples hidden in the corners of the garden, out of the dim lights, were too preoccupied with each other to care for their conversation.

Laurel and Althea would be in a similar position soon, closer to each other than society dictated.

But not here. There was too much risk in engaging in any disapproved of activity so near the ballroom. For the couples she could see, being caught would result in forced marriage. For her and Althea, it would result in being separated before they could runaway together, before they could have their happily ever after.

They’d hide far inside the garden’s maze, just where Althea was navigating them, as they did every ball. Convenient, those walls of bushes and plants.

“It appears I haven’t taken a liking to him,” Laurel said.

She gazed at the flowers they passed, unable to identify any despite her time in her family’s country estate garden terrorizing the gardener. They were pretty, in a wide array of colors and types she had no doubt were expensive. Her hostess wanted to impress with the flowers, but Laurel was reminded of her first kiss. Her lips spread in an uncontrollable smile, and she turned to Althea to make a remark. The queer expression on her lover’s face stopped the reminiscent words before they could leave her mouth.

“Are you okay?” Laurel asked.

Her smile wobbled. “I’m fine.”

She wasn’t. What could possibly have upset her? They were in a beautiful garden, together, and they had been talking about…


“Are you jealous?”

“No,” Althea exclaimed.

She had no cause to be jealous over Lord Wakefield’s attentions. He may have been a duke, but Althea was her everything. She’d never abandon her, not for a titled man’s affections, not over being disinherited. Althea had to be aware of that.

“You know I adore you.” Laurel gently took Althea’s hand in hers. “Don’t you?”

“Of course.” She tugged her to a stop and cupped her cheek. The silk of her gloves was smooth against her skin, the touch sweet and tantalizing. “And I adore you.”

She drew closer, and her lips hovered over Laurel’s for a moment before the distance was closed. Sighing into her lips, Laurel pressed her length against Althea, stretched against her in quest for more contact. Breasts to breasts, hips to hips, their whole bodies touched through the fabric of their dresses, and Laurel’s molten insides demanded more. She desired, needed, Althea. All of her. But she couldn’t here, in the middle of a garden maze.

Later, later, they would be reunited in Laurel’s bedroom.

Laurel pulled away. “Stay the night?” she whispered.

Althea stiffened in her arms. “You know I can’t.”

She never did.

“Enter through the front, at least”


She cut into her protest. “Who cares who sees? Should rumors start, we can depart to the country. Earlier than we planned, of course, but wouldn’t it be nice not to have to sneak around anymore?”

Althea’s mouth tightened in frustration and when she spoke, she sounded as if she was reprimanding a child. “I will enter through the side door.”

She’d enter discretely through the servants’ entrance on the side of the house, like always. She’d sneak up the stairs without a candle so as not to alert the staff of her presence, like always. She’d scratch twice on Laurel’s bedroom door because knocking may alert someone, like always. She would enter, stay for hours, and leave at the first sign of daylight, like always. Everything would be the same.

Yet Laurel was dissatisfied.

But she didn’t say so. She murmured an “of course” and let the matter drop, like always.
♠ ♠ ♠
So this is the last chapter that I finished for the project.
And I turned it in today.
I'm hoping all goes well.
I'm not sure if I'm going to continue this story.
Part of me really wants to and the other part wants me to burn the idea.
But thank you to tru-love5 for the comment.
And thank you to the new subscribers.
And thank you for the recs.
I really do appreciate you guys taking the time to read this and give me feedback.
Comment/message/let me know whether you want this continued, I guess?
X's and O's
Dakota Ray