“Excuse me?” a man said, his Scottish accent lilting.
Her knees trembled, but she refused to let it show. Instead, she tossed her head and looked at the man. “Yes?”
“You’re Isabella Edwards.”
“And you’re Liam Stewart.” She wanted to smack herself for sounding so eager. She should sound like a harpy, like a woman righteously mad for her best friend.
“My reputation precedes me, then.” Raising a glass of champagne to his full lips, he took a sip. And Bella watched the entire time.
She flushed when a black brow rose. “No, only your associations.”
“Ah. Sebastian. He’s a proper arse, isn’t he?”
Bella snorted, and then schooled her features. He was not funny or charming. Not one bit. “Why aren’t you on his side?”
“I am on his side. The bastard’s in love, bless him, and your Daisy doesn’t stand a chance now that his head is screwed on straight,” Liam said. He placed his empty glass on a passing server’s tray, and then held out a hand. “Shall we dance, lass?”
Bella wasn’t quite sure what made her dance with Liam.
His hand slipped lower down her back, to right above her butt, and she shivered.
Oh, she knew exactly what had made her dance with him. The Devil.
And a bit of rebellion.
Usually, she was a very good girl, who dated very good boys—at least on the outside Peter had been nice—and always, always did the right thing. God knew she had everyone and her parents’ standards to live up to.
But to be fair, her mother and her father were dancing not that far away and every so often, they would flash a smile of approval. Not because of who she was dancing with, but rather that she was dancing at all.
She hadn’t felt like dancing in months, years maybe, because Peter certainly didn’t dance.
Liam dipped her suddenly, and her head fell back. She laughed, giddy by the movement. Exhilaration ran through her veins.
He pulled her back to him, his black eyes glittering with amusement. “I had wondered if the scowl was permanent, or merely a side effect of being in my presence.”
“Sorry.” Bella wrinkled her nose. “I was all in my head.”
“Thinking of the best way to extricate yourself from my embrace?” he murmured.
Her eyes widened. “No.”
He gave her a look.
“No,” she repeated. “Honestly, I was thinking that I haven’t danced in years. Or at least, it seems like years.”
“It doesn’t seem that way to me at all,” he replied smoothly, “You, Ms. Edwards, are very light on your toes.”
“Years of ballet at Miss Winnifred’s School of Dance,” she said with a grin. “That woman worked us to death on our posture… you know, for our future walk down the aisle.”
Liam made a face, as if she’d just admitted she hated puppies or kittens. “Is that the way of it, then? To train women from birth to want only weddings and men?”
Slightly affronted, Bella blinked up at him. He knew nothing of Miss Winnifred, or the fact that she’d never gotten married, because her fiancé had died in a war and she’d been too heartbroken to love again.
Bless her heart.
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get married. Or wanting men, for that matter. Little girls like to imagine things like that, or even starting a detective agency,” she snapped.
She had. She’d wanted to be a female Sherlock Holmes. Daisy had been her Watson. Or Mrs. Hudson, since she cooked. Either way, Bella didn’t see the harm of imagining completely girly things along with not-so-girly things.
He gave her a smile, the look completely gone. “I apologize. My lack of manners is to be clearly blamed on jet lag.”
She smiled back, dazzled by him. “Happens to the best of us.”
“Yes, but to me, it happens more often than not, with… well, I’m sure you don’t want to hear the particulars, but my fiancée left me for another man,” he confessed, and Bella’s heart began to ache for him.
“I know exactly how you feel,” she said.
“Your fiancé left you for a man, too?” he asked glibly and, for the first time in months, Bella laughed over her situation.
“No.” She winced a little. “He left me for his widowed stepmother.”
She worried the side of her lip. “Ran off to Vegas and everything. It was on the news.”
He spun her around and pulled her back in, their chests flush against one another. “Now, that sounds extremely painful.”
“Text message breakup,” she said, a flash of the old hurt cutting into her wounded heart. “But maybe it was for the best. All he wanted was money, power, and his dad’s baseball team.”
“Baseball team?” Liam asked, clearly perplexed.
“My ex’s family owns a Major League baseball team. When his dad died, he left it to his wife. The money, he left to Peter. Apparently, that wasn’t enough,” she said softly. “I wasn’t enough.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Heath standing at the edge of the dance floor. He was watching them, or more precisely her. She gave him a smile, to let her know that she was okay. He tipped his drink to her, and then walked away.
“Looks like you could have your pick of suitors.”
“Oh, him. Heath and I… high school sweethearts and all that.” High school heartache. She and Heath shared something that no one knew about and never would, if she had her way. Besides, he had given his word and if an Ambrose man was known for anything, it was for keeping his word. Their secret was safe.
Liam made a little noise in his throat. “You do realize the phrase all that implies a great deal?”
“You can imply all you want, but my past is my past and my business is my business,” she said, her heart pounding at the thought of her business becoming public, like her breakup.
What would people say? What would her parents say? Oh, she knew, no one would look at her the same. They would point and whisper and talk about her, just like they were doing now. But at least now was mostly due to compassion, not because she and Heath had made a mistake.
A huge mistake, and she’d paid the price. They both had, but she’d run away to the other side of the country to go to college.
“Jesus, Bella, you’ve gone white.” He led her off the dance floor and to a nearby table, holding out a chair while assisting her. He was being such a gentleman while she was having a major inner freak-out session.