The Price Of Passion
(From Avon - January 2001)
Had she the power, Cleo would have swept the room clear of everyone but herself and Evans with an imperious gesture. She'd held her breath when she first walked in, afraid to look around in case he wasn't here. Aunt Jenny had fussed about what she wore the whole way to the ball, while her father, for once noticing her mood, kept trying to draw her into inane conversation. Both Saida and Annie wanted her opinion on how they looked. She'd ignored them all and walked away from them and the demands they put on her when they entered the manor house.
All she wanted was Angel. All she'd ever wanted was Angel.
All she'd been able to think about on the short carriage ride up to the manor house was what she would say to Angel. But there was nothing but a blank spot in her mind, only the glowing core of desire that burned like the desert sun. Outside the carriage and her own private pandemonium the rain had stopped and the evening was clear, the stars overhead bright and lovely, but for the occasional scud of a cloud across the waning moon. It was a beautiful night for a ball, but her only reason for walking into the party was because it was the place where Azrael Evans was to be found.
When she saw him at last, her breathing stopped for a few crucial moments. In a room full of fine, bonnie Scotsmen, she saw Azrael Evans and her mind filled with the dark, sleek and predatory image of Horus the Hawk. This impression cleared quickly enough, but Angel remained, a tall, black-haired man with intense dark eyes, a confident, scoundrel's air, and a sinful mouth. He was also graced with a brilliant tailor whose work had done a fine job of setting off Angel's wide shoulders and chest, narrow waist, and strong, long legs. He was impeccable, perfect. There wasn't a man in the room, or in the world, to match him in looks and style. She doubted there was a woman at the ball who could resist such temptation.
Not that she was going to give them the chance.
She smiled faintly. She had been jealous of Angel before. She'd written off her reaction to rumors that circulated around the small European community in Cairo as disgust at his wasting his life. The truth was, she admitted, she'd been a green-eyed monster whether she'd known it or not.
Then all of a sudden she was surrounded by people, smiling, laughing, complimenting her, kissing her hand and offering to fetch her punch, a plate, the stars. That was Professor Hill, being facetious. She didn't want any of them near her, but they trapped her all the same. It felt as if she might have to claw her way through a pile of people to get to the one man in the room that meant anything to her. She didn't understand. Then Angel deigned to saunter over to the rear of the crowd at last, and loomed over the lot of them, tall man that he was, and she looked up at him and said something inane.
"I'm here," he answered. "You're fashionably late."
Music began to play on the other side of the room, and Cleo became aware of Professor Hill holding out his hand. He gave Angel a triumphant glance before he said, "Remember that I asked for you to put me first on your dance card for the ball at the Chancellor's reception the other night, Miss Fraser?"
She vaguely remembered a conversation about the ball. "I've had lessons, but I've never waltzed with a man before," she told Hill.
"Her dancing master was a eunuch," Evans said.
"Aunt Jenny isn't a-" Hill was still waiting for her to take his hand, and she hadn't gone to all that trouble to get Annie to the ball to embarrass her sister now. "Are you sure you want to take the risk of my tripping over you, Professor?"
"She has large feet for a woman of her size," Angel interjected from a safe spot behind, looking over the shoulders of two young men in Highland dress. "But she is the finest dancer I've ever seen," he added when she flashed a look of outrage at him. His glittering black gaze caught and held hers for a moment, full of teasing humor. She thought there might be pride in his look, as well, and was that a hint of jealousy?
Good Lord, him jealous of her? How delightful.
She let the historian from Edinburgh lead her out of the sea of young highlanders surrounding her.
A few moments later she saw Angel on the dance floor, with Davida MacLean held confidently in his arms. He had obviously danced the waltz before, and so had Davida, from the easy way she fitted into Angel's embrace and followed his lead in the heady, swirling steps of the dance. Cleo forgot all about making Angel jealous, and concentrated on hating him and the Honorable Davida MacLean equally. Professor Hill she barely noticed at all. The music did nothing but serve to emphasis Angel's masculine grace and power as he guided another woman around the small space set aside as a dance floor.
Nor was Cleo the only woman who couldn't take her eyes off him. She was too aware of all the others who took note of the handsome American in their midst, of how they exchanged looks and talked behind their fans as he went by. He would be considered quite a catch to some of the unattached young women here, she supposed, with a taste of bitterness in her mouth. What if he returned interest toward some proper woman from the academic community that could help advance his career? It had never occurred to her that anyone might set their cap for him, but why not? He was not only handsome, he was brilliant, with an exciting hint of mystery and adventure about him. Perhaps he might want a woman of good family and moral purity to make a home for him and have his babies.
Have his babies? She bridled at the thought of any woman having Angel Evans's children but her.
Hill's gulp was audible. "You're snarling."
Cleo became aware that her lips were drawn ferociously back in fury.
"What's wrong?" Hill asked. "Did I step on your foot?"
"No." Cleo did her best to smile at the man she was dancing with. "I always look like this when I waltz."
"You said you'd never waltzed before." When she turned a fierce look on him, Hill added, "Perhaps it would be safer if Dr. Evans and I changed partners."
"Is it that obvious?"
She realized how handsome Hill was as he smiled, and told her, "To everyone who has met either of you in the last few days." He sighed. "Still, I'd heard of your feud when I was in Aleppo. Evans got drunk and told me some of your history. He was convinced you hated him."
"He was right." He thought about her when they were apart?
"But that didn't stop you from loving him. Very similar emotions, love and hate." He sighed again. "Still, when I met you I nursed some hopes."
Cleo's brows came down in puzzlement. "Of what?"
He shook his head. "You've never considered another man but him, have you?"
"Not since I was sixteen," she admitted, and looked over Hill's shoulder to get a glimpse of Angel and Davida MacLean. "But it looks like he has other ideas."
"If I'm lucky, he does." Hill's smile was bright and hopeful. "But I'm afraid it's only one dance."
"That's how it starts," she said, remembering the night before. "With a dance."
She smiled at him. "This isn't dancing."
"You're breaking my heart."
"Ladies named Cleopatra have a reputation for doing that."
He laughed. "Why don't you run off with me, Miss Fraser, in your lovely scarlet dress and your head full of more wit than any dozen men in this room?" The music stopped and they came to a stop in the center of the crowded dance floor, but Hill did not release his hold on her waist. "Would you like to come away with me?" he asked. "Or would you rather I fetch you some punch?"
"Neither," she answered, and stepped back.
She heard him say, "I was afraid you'd say that," as she turned in search of Angel.
She was just in time to see Lady Alison introduce him to a beautiful red haired young woman wearing a sash of Leslie tartan over her white gown. Cleo marched up to his side before the introductions were finished. She put her hand on Angel's arm, and when he looked her way she said, "We're at a Highland ball, Dr. Evans."
"I have noticed that, Miss Fraser."
"You are an historian, are you not?"
He rubbed his jaw, his expression both amused and puzzled. "I like to think I know some history."
She hated that they were constantly surrounded by people. Egypt contained far more sand, rock and ruins than people, and holding conversations was so much easier when they were the only ones around. But she had things to say to Dr. A. David Evans and she was going to say them now, before her courage deserted her. "Do you know any Highland history? The Fraser Clan motto, perhaps?"
"I'm afraid I've never heard your family motto."
"'I am ready'."
Evans was warmed by the fire in Cleo's eyes and by the determined look on her face. He lived for that familiar light of battle in her eyes. "You are ready? For what?"
"That's the clan motto," Lady Alison explained.
Cleo was the most amazingly beautiful woman in the room, in the world. It wasn't just the vivid, daring dress and the way it showed off her high, round breasts and molded her slender waist. It was everything. He forgot that he had decided to seduce her for the sake of finding the Alexandrian treasure, and simply decided to seduce her. "And I am ready means ?"
"Exactly what you think it does," she answered, and took him by the arm. "Let us have a look at Sir Edward's garden, and I'll explain more about the Fraser Clan to you."
She gave a firm tug, and he went without any protest, barely aware of walking through the crowded room and out the open French doors with her. He was aware only that they were arm in arm, that his heart was racing, and that his body was tight with need - and that was as much as he could handle until he found that they were alone together in the fragrant shadows of a thick rose arbor.
Then he pulled her to him and kissed her, and she fitted her body against his and met and matched his ardor in a way that scorched away the last vestiges of coherent thought for a very long time.
Copyright © 2001 by Susan Sizemore