Thomas stood in the shadows, furtively watching his beautiful wife laugh at something her partner said. Bitterness swept through him, building with each new partner escorting her to the floor.

As Baldwin swept his wife from the crowded marble floor, he knew his father had been right. The urge to issue a challenge took over; one foot in front of the other, firsts clenched at his side. Swearing under his breath, he caught himself, and quickly moved back into the shadows.

Sweeping his gaze across the mirror lined hall, Thomas quickly found the source of his irritation. Nestled into an open alcove, Lady Harley relaxed on a blue settee, Lord Collins at her side. Not once had the girl looked in his direction. No, her attention was all for Collins.

A growl sounded in the back of his throat, revealing his hiding spot to a gaggle of wives nearby. Renalta Pourchard, wife of his man of business and inveterate gossip, followed his gaze. A knowing smile creased her drawn face. No doubt the information was being filed away to be better used at a later date.

“So, this is where you’ve been skulking, boy.” His father waved a hand, dismissing the young servant who had been wheeling him about. “I would know that rumble anywhere, son.”

“Hello, father. Don’t you have some hapless servant to terrorize?” Thomas smirked into his father’s sightless face, relishing the ability to do so.

“Insolent young pup,” Lord Blacke said. “Why are you hiding in the shadows while that doxy you call a wife flirts with every man present?”

Damn her. Who else had noticed her loose behavior as she flitted about the marble floor, smiling and laughing as if she had not a care in the world. How had his father…

“Who told you such nonsense?” Damn it, why did he even care what Celeste did?

“That harpy, Mrs. Pourchard, of course. Nosy woman. Watch out for her, son.” Concern pushed away censure. Disappointed as he was, Lord Blacke wanted only the best for his only child.

Thomas pushed his father’s large sedan chair from the alcove, making his way to the punch table. The gaggle of wives moved to allow them through, knowing looks on each face.

“No unpleasantries this night, father. We live to serve the new Elder, do we not? He honors us with his presence, as we honor his nuptials with this celebration.”

“How diplomatic, Pennbrooke.” The Earl of Dalrymple stepped into view, a grin breaking the severe lines of his face. “If only you had shown the council such sense prior to the vote.”

“How remiss of me,” Thomas answered drolly. Dalrymple could always be counted on for a laugh.


Later That Night

Thomas slipped through the door joining his room to Celeste’s. His bare feet made no noise on the smooth stone floor, yet she met his gaze once again in the mirror.

“Thomas.” His name was a sigh on her soft lips, slipping into his heart. He rejoiced that it was his name, not Baldwin’s, being whispered seductively.

His chest burned; spots clouded his vision. He suddenly wished harm upon Baldwin. His closest friend since boyhood, and a woman – no, two women – would finally come between them.

The candles burned low, flame throwing shadows across the corners of the room. The glow highlighted Celeste’s rich, chestnut curls as she slowly pulled pins from her hair. “Did you come to help me undress, husband?”

Pushing aside his feelings of inadequacy, Thomas came to stand behind his wife. “Of course I have, wife. Tell me, how did you find the evening?”

Celeste held his gaze in the mirror. Was that guilt he saw shining in her eyes? Teeth clenched, he started jerking the pins out of her hair.

Reaching up to stop him, Celeste winced. Quickly covering it with a laugh, she said, “Are you in such a hurry to bed me that you will tear out my hair, husband?”

Thomas growled in response. Celeste smiled. Hurriedly, she pulled free the last few pins, letting her long hair tumble loosely down her back.

Standing, she pulled the curls over her shoulder and said, “Please be careful, Thomas. I do rather like this dress.”

Remembering the appreciative looks of his friends, Thomas tore the gown from her slender body. Pulling her to face him, his lips met hers, fingers trailing to tease at the small of her back.

Burying his face in her hair, notes of hyacinth tickled his nose.

She wore nothing beneath the gown. The thought drove him mad as he directed her to the small chaise near the dressing table. Towering over her naked form, the large diamond pendant caught his eye, eliciting another growl.

She was his wife. His. Not theirs. Damn them all for trying to take her away.

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