The hall was much quieter than the ballroom full of laughter and music. Ariella made her way down the dark corridor. If her mother knew she had snuck off to her study she would be in for a long lecture on propriety. As she opened the doors to her study the warmth from the fire reached her skin and warmed her to her toes. It was a good thing she told her maid to keep the fire in her study tended to. At the sound of a click Ariella closed her eyes and leaned back onto the door and sighed.
“I knew you would be in here,” a male voice spoke.
Ariella’s lungs leaped into her throat as her eyes flew open. She knew that voice, though it had changed over the years it still held a ring of familiarity. Instead of looking at the hearth where the voice came from her gaze fell to her desk where paper scattered on its surface.
Damn, Ariella thought. She forgot to remove the key to the bottom drawer of her desk when she left to change for the ball. Ariella took a deep breath as she closed her eyes and clenched her fists.
“What are you doing here,” Ariella asked. “Shouldn’t you be out there enjoying your ball?”
A snort came from the hearth as the male figure rose from his seat and turned to look at her. “Shouldn’t you be there also being a good Host?” replied Quinn.
Ariella narrowed her eyes at him but didn’t move from her post. “Welcome home Mr. Cavendish,” and she curtsied.
“Ah, Miss Ariella Garside, it is nice to be back,” he said with a hint of sarcasm and bowed.
Quinn’s face was masked in shadows as his back was toward the fire but Ariella knew his face held a mischievous smirk. With the hearth at his back it made him look dangerous and powerful, especially now that he wasn’t a young boy anymore.
Ariella’s heart started to race. “Why are you in here?”
“Relaxing,” as he shifted to the side of the chair so nothing stood between them.
She raised a quizzical brow. “How did you know this was my study?”
“Your father wouldn’t have all these books,” he replied as he stretched out his arms. “That or the letters addressed to Quinton Cavendish on the desktop.”
Ariella’s eyes widen in alarm as panic took over her body. She wrote to him frequently when he was on the continent. Most of them she didn’t send. Those that she did send him, informed him about their village, how their own families are doing, and just about anything she could find to get him to respond to her letters. He rarely responded.
She darted across for her desk at the same time Quinn moved to block her from reaching it. Ariella had to stop short before she rammed into him. That wouldn’t have been good.
Now that he was facing her with half his face cast in firelight, he looked even more dangerous. He wasn’t the young man she remembered; hard lines now etched his face and jaw. His eyes were a pools of darkness.
“Nah ahh,” Quinn replied as he wiggled a finger standing between her and her desk.
“Those letters were not on the desk when I left,” Ariella retorted. “How dare you go through someone else’s private stuff!” exclaimed Ariella.
“Those letters were address to me,” Quinn shrugged. “So I have a right to read them.”
“They were locked away!” Ariella threw out her arms.
“True,” Quinn replied tapping his chin. “Now they’re out.”
“Move aside,” Ariella uttered between clenched teeth.
Trying not to stomp her feet Ariella planted her feet down, “I said move.”
“Why?” Quinn raised an eyebrow.
She hated acting like a child in his presence, but he just wouldn’t listen. Heaving a sigh she relaxed and then gave him her outmost seductive smiled. His face faltered and at that moment she tried to dart around him.