To keep her safe, he will not only have to risk his life, but also his heart.
Once Upon an Accident, Book 3
Lady Anna was once considered the catch of the season. Now, three years after she fell for a man who tried to murder her cousin, she eases her guilt with charity work at an orphanage. Until her mother insists she do her duty.
Attending her cousin’s ball is irritating enough. It’s her one dance with Daniel, the unscrupulous Earl of Bridgerton, that rubs her nerves raw. And oddly leaves her senses on the edge of arousal.
The ton sees Daniel as a scoundrel. In truth, like centuries of Bridgertons before him, he leads a vast network of spies, protecting England from her worst enemies. His resolve never to marry means the one woman he’s always wanted—Lady Anna—is off limits. Especially now that his father’s murderer is coming after him as well.
At first, Anna wonders if Daniel was put on this earth just to annoy her. It’s only when she finds him injured that his mask begins to fall away—and so do the barriers between them. But their flaring passion puts her right where Daniel didn’t want her. Next on a killer’s list.
This book contains spies, musicales, men who think they know everything, women who know they do not, naughty liaisons, matchmaking mamas, and a seduction that will curl your toes.
Anna ordered her heart to stop beating so hard. Surely everyone could hear even over the musicians. She had known the moment Daniel had come upon her group. She had done everything to calm herself down, but nothing seemed to work. It was an embarrassing situation. The one man she seemed to be interested in was the one man she could not stand.
“No comment for me, My Lady Poppet?”
Oh, she hated that name. It had been his name for her from the moment Sebastian had brought him home one day on break from Eton. She had loved it at first. What girl would not? Daniel was a charming man, graced with a type of Adonis beauty that belied his true personality. His brown hair had been a bit overgrown and his golden eyes had always been kind.
When she had come to town, she had been so sure he would treat her with the proper respect. It was her fault she allowed her girlish dreams to build a fantasy that would never come true. She had expected her playmate, a man who could always make her smile no matter how horrible of a day she had. Instead, he had been distant and they had slipped into a strange sort of argumentative friendship. They could rarely be in each other’s presence without a fight ensuing. The truth had crushed her usually exuberant spirit. He thought of her as nothing but a poppet, a child, and always would.
No matter how many times she told herself to ignore him, she could not stop the way her body reacted. It was most unsettling. Still, she would not back down, because he would know that he had gotten to her. She willed herself to look into his eyes and knew the moment their gazes locked, it had been a mistake. Heat flared low in her tummy, feathering out over her body.
To save herself from embarrassment, she focused on a point over his shoulder.
“I know you are doing this for Sebastian.”
Even without seeing his expression, she knew he had raised one eyebrow. The condescension was easy to hear. But she would know even without that. She knew everything about him. His moods, his expressions, his faults, and even knowing all of that, she still loved him. Or had. Her fantasy had been shattered when she had made it to town. Then she had realized that the façade she had believed in never truly existed. But that was just one of many fumbles she had made in her first years in town.
She brushed her thoughts aside and concentrated on finishing the dance.
“Your brother is worried.”
Of course, how could she forget? He would never ask her to dance if her brother had not asked him to.
She huffed out a sigh. “He has become a worrywart.”
Daniel laughed. It was a sound she did not hear often anymore and even as she cursed it, her heart warmed at the sound. “Yes. I will say from the moment he married, your brother changed.”
She glanced up at him sharply, studying his features. “But for the better.”
He looked down at her and the breath tangled in her throat. She could not help it. His pretty looks were renowned in the ton. She had known even before coming to town that women were drawn to him. Thick light brown hair, those dark golden brown eyes with thick, dark lashes, not to mention his calculating wit and solid physique, attracted most women. Unfortunately, she had been one of those women and it did not seem she had freed herself of the affliction.
“Agreed. I would never have thought it, but Sebastian definitely flourishes in the realm of married life.”
“I assumed that is why you were made to dance attendance tonight.”
He frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I understood from my mother that your mother wants you to settle down.”
He grimaced and she laughed. Her brother had worn that look more than once before meeting Colleen.
“Yes. My mother rang peal over me again claiming I am a doddering old fool who must marry.”
“The problem would be finding a woman who would marry you.”
He smiled and she tried to ignore the way her heart skipped.
“True. But my mother assures me there is any number of young ladies who would be interested.”
Her heart squeezed at the thought of him marrying some debutant. She knew it would come to this one day. He would have to marry, being the only son. But still, there was a twinge of pain when she thought of him marrying some faceless, brainless debutant.
She realized she was squeezing his hand. “Do forgive me.”
“I am assuming you are here for the same reason?”
She snorted at the suggestion. “I think not. Mother thought it important that I attend, being family. Apparently, Cicely still worries about being accepted within certain circles.”
“I daresay she will never have a problem, especially with the title of duchess and after providing the duke with an heir.”
Anna nodded and glanced fleetingly at her cousin. Three years earlier, the radiant beauty had been a wallflower more comfortable with her books than people. Falling in love with Douglas had changed that, although she was the same sweet woman.
“We know that, but Cicely does not. You understand.”
He did of course because Daniel was as close as family, closer in a lot of ways that most of the ton did not know. He knew the rumors about Cicely, knew the truth of them. She knew there was not much her brother did not share with him.
“Your mother used that to get you out tonight?”
She made a face. “Partially, because she knows I would do anything to help my cousins. She also thinks that my choice in activities is not good.”
“I have to disagree.”
That surprised her and some of what she thought must have shown on her face.
“Why do you look so astonished?”
“You disagree with my mother?”
He inclined his head. “While I am not sure exactly what they are, your brother said something about the orphanage? You enjoy it. You do good work knowing you. I have to admire that.”
A warm glow of excitement rolled through her. Most of the men of their class thought of her activity as a waste of time. Only her brother and sister-in-law seemed to think it a worthy cause.
“Still, I can also understand your mother wanting you to get married. Can you not continue your activities and be married?”
She shook her head. “Some men might not have a problem with it. That is not what holds me back. I decided three years ago that I would not marry. It isn’t for me.”
The music ended. They stopped dancing but Daniel did not release her. The world fell away, the chattering debutants, the clink of glasses, even the people who stepped around them to leave the dance floor. Heat gathered in her tummy as she stared up into his eyes. Something changed, darkened the gold. She felt the need to move away from that look, from her own need to believe in it, but at the same time, she wanted to step closer, feel his arms wrap around her, pulling her against his body. Every bit of moisture dried up in her mouth as her breasts grew heavy. He stepped closer, leaning his head closer to hers.
“The music is done, Bridgerton. Move along.”
Lord Smythe’s nasty voice sliced through the spell they both seemed to have fallen under. Daniel dropped her hand and stepped away. The look he shot Smythe probably would have made most men run away in terror…and Smythe practically did that as he scurried off the floor with his dance partner. Daniel drew in a deep breath and offered her his arm. Tentatively, she placed her hand on it. Daniel easily guided her through the crowd back to their mothers and the gaggle of men who seemed destined to irritate her. Daniel bowed over her hand.
“Thank you for the dance, Lady Anna,” he said, his voice deepening on her name. Wet heat slid through her.
She nodded but could say nothing. Her mind was still spinning, her body yearning to be near him again. He turned quickly, but not before she saw him give both their mothers an almost imperceptible nod.
A sharp shard of pain pricked her heart. She had known that he had been doing it as a favor to her brother, but seeing him acknowledge it in front of her was humiliating. No one else seemed to notice as the conversation flowed around her. She smiled and pretended to listen to the men. But really, how could she pay attention to men who talked more of themselves than anyone or anything else. Surreptitiously, she watched Daniel as he made his way through the crowd, smiling and greeting acquaintances.