The brandy arrived and Rafe sipped it slowly, searching for a friendly face, seeing his mother and Aunt Cornelia in conversation with a group of other women, glancing past them to the round, powdered face of Flora Duval Chamberlain. His gaze lit on the woman to her left, a woman with flame-red hair and the face of a goddess. Rafe’s stomach contracted as if he had suffered a powerful blow.
He told himself he hadn’t come because of her, that it was his duty to attend, but seeing her now, he recognized the lie for what it was. For an instant, Danielle’s eyes met his and widened in shock. Rafe felt a shot of satisfaction as the color drained from her lovely, treacherous face.
He didn’t glance away, certain that she would.
Instead her chin shot up and she gave him a look meant to burn right through him. His jaw clenched. Long seconds passed and neither of them looked away. Then Danielle rose slowly from her chair, flicked him a last seething glance, and walked off toward the rear of the garden.
Fury engulfed him. Where was the humility he had expected? Where was the embarrassment he had been certain he would see in her face?
Instead, she walked the gravel path with her head held high, ignoring him as if he weren’t there, making her way past a group of children played at the back of the garden.
Inwardly shaking, Dani fixed her gaze on the children playing tag at the rear of the garden, determined not to let her unnerving encounter with Rafael Saunders show in any way. She had taught herself that after The Scandal, learned to take rigid control of her emotions. Never let any of them know the power they held, how badly they could hurt you.
Managing a smile, she waved at the children and made her way deeper into the garden. She didn’t hear the footfalls approaching behind her until it was too late. She knew who it was before she turned. Still, she couldn’t help the gasp of surprise as she stared into Rafe’s handsome face.
“Good afternoon, Danielle.”
Her heartbeat thundered. Anger made rosy circles appear in her cheeks. She turned away, rudely ignored him, caught the look of shock that appeared on his face, and simply started walking.
But the Duke of Sheffield wasn’t used to being ignored, and she felt the pressure of his fingers as they wrapped around her arm. His grip was firm enough to stop her forward motion and spin her around to face him.
“I said good afternoon. I expect at least a civil reply.”
She clamped down on her temper, told herself not to let him bait her. “Excuse me. I believe my aunt is calling.”
But he didn’t let go of her arm. “I think your aunt is otherwise engaged at the moment. Which means you have time to greet an old friend.”
Her fine thread of control stretched to the breaking point and then completely snapped. “You are no friend of mine, Rafe Saunders. You are, in fact, the last man on earth I would think to call a friend.”
Rafe’s jaw hardened. “Is that so? If not a friend, then how, may I ask, should I think of you?”
She lifted her chin, the knot of anger in her stomach almost painful. “You may think of me as the biggest fool you have ever met. A woman foolish enough to trust a man like you. Stupid enough to fall in love with you, Rafael.”
She started walking but Rafe’s tall figure stepped into the path of her escape. His jaw was set, his intense blue eyes diamond hard.
“I believe it was you, my dear, I found with one of my closest friends. You who invited Oliver Randall into your bed, under my very nose.”
“And it was you who was eager to believe your friend’s lies instead of the truth!”
“You betrayed me, Danielle. Or perhaps you have forgot.”
Dani looked up at him, her eyes snapping with fire. “No, Rafael. It was you who betrayed me. If you had loved me, as you said, you would have trusted me, you would have known I was telling you the truth.” She gave him a thin, bitter smile. “On second thought, as I think of it, certainly it is you who are the fool.”
The Handmaiden’s Necklace