“It sounds like the guests are arriving.” Reena plucked a flower, spinning it in her fingers as she stood.
“All the more reason you should be on your way.” Emily eyed the darkening sky, not quite rolling her eyes at Reena. “I should have brought a whip with me. It would have moved you along faster.”
Reena winced. She knew she should hasten into the tent and greet her guests, but the longer she waited, the more she could imagine the pleasant possibilities and ignore the disagreeable ones. Perhaps she would enter, and Joshua would be awaiting her, eyes shining, hand extended for the first dance. He would fight away all others who asked for a dance, then kiss her deeply, telling her he loved her too.
Sighing, she trudged on, knowing it more probable that he would spend the evening sitting in the corner with his eyes on the floor, and she would spend it pining for him.
The candles and torches, which lit the fluttering canvas, cast a magical glow on the night. Entering the tent, she found herself greeted by a cheer as the first chord of a favorite country dance was struck. Merry voices called loudly, and dancers took their positions.
“Come, come.” An excited Daniel Dubois encouraged Reena onto the dancer’s line.
She took her place, the corners of her traitorous lips lifting against her will. Her mind wanted to hold on to her worries, to hold on to thoughts of Joshua, but her body wanted to dance. Whirling across the floor, she glimpsed Joshua for the first time. He sat in the corner, eyes downcast. His gaze rose to meet hers. Her heart caught in her throat, and she found it hard to breathe past the lump it formed. She missed a step in the dance and shrugged her apology to Dan, falling back into line with him.
Trying to focus on the steps, which by and large came so naturally to her, Reena kept her eyes on Dan. But she could feel Joshua’s gaze. Tingling heat filled her cheeks and spread down her neck to settle in her belly.
Whirling into a turn, she followed the others in the dance, coming in to touch hands with Dan, and then stepping away again. She glanced back toward the darkened corner where Joshua sat. He was still so attractive, though perhaps a bit thinner. His black waistcoat and breeches showed his mourning, but his eyes showed something else: a profound craving. A heat that burned her from across the interior of the tent.
The last notes of the dance played, and Reena turned, curtsying at Dan.
“Merci, Monsieur Dubois.” He looked devastatingly handsome with his dark hair, buff breaches, and tan waistcoat. But her gaze moved right past him, gliding over his shoulder to the spot where Joshua had been but a moment ago. “If you would excuse me, I must greet my uncle.”
Reena surveyed the room, searching for Joshua. There was a small band and a table filled with refreshments for the small group. A number of chairs lined the walls for those who wished to rest, but Joshua was nowhere to be found.
“Where could he have gone?” she mumbled to herself and moved to the opening in the tent, eyes on the room. She stood at the entrance, watching as the next set of dancers took their places. With her bottom lip in a tight hold between her teeth, Reena snuck out.
The darkness was near absolute after being inside the well lit tent. She could make out two figures in the darkness beside the tent. They stood very close, almost intimate.
“You are stunning tonight, my sweet one,” the male voice said before lowering his head to the woman in his arms.
Reena looked away, her fingers curling in the folds of her skirt. She had always wondered what it would be like to kiss Joshua like that. Her gaze slid back to the whispering couple, and her heart beat harder in her chest. She should move on, she knew it, but her mind had filled with the fantasy images of Joshua kissing her as Dan had in that alleyway so long ago. Better still, as this man now kissed his woman in the consuming shadows of the night.
Averting her eyes, she shook the daydream from her head and continued her search. It was not good to linger on things that were not to be. Joshua had never shown interest in her before. Though his eyes had lingered on her tonight.
The torches that lit the edges of the garden illuminated a lone figure sitting on a bench, head in hands. Something in the strength of his build and the dejected way he slumped told her it was Joshua, regardless of the shadows. Soft music filled the silence of the night beyond the tent. She stepped forward, hesitant to break into his isolation.
"You shouldn't be out here, Reena. You should be in there, dancing and enjoying yourself." Joshua sat up, eyes rimmed with dark circles, his countenance stiff.
The use of her given name sent a thrill through her, raising goose flesh from her head to her toe. She took another small step; sure she hadn't made a noise. How had he known she was even there?
"So should you," Reena said softly, her eyes gliding over his lean form. Her heart welled, seeing the man before her, so decimated by grief. Eyes tearing, she bit her lip, trying not to think of the great love he must have shared with his departed wife. Trying not to be selfish and wish that love were hers.
He rose from the bench, facing her, his face illuminated somewhat in the torchlight. His gaze wandered to the well-lit room from which music and frivolity emanated.
"Go inside, Miss Harrison, I'm not fit for company yet." His gaze returned to his shoes.
"I don't mind staying here with you. You are always enjoyable company to me."
His eyes met hers. They blazed with ferocious intensity, burning into her, holding her entranced. Her pulse thundered in her ears, and her breathing became shallow. It seemed neither of them had moved, but in the next instant, she was in his arms. First he only held her, as if his life depended on the heat and energy of her body. His strength and warmth seared through the material of her dress. Reena pressed herself closer, clinging to his arms as he held her against his chest.
For a moment, that was enough. They held each other in the night without a sound. Then they were kissing. His tongue found its way into her mouth and made Dan's kiss meaningless. There was something powerful and intimate about this stolen moment. Fire built in her body as his kiss deepened, Reena moaned deep in her throat.