Indulgence and Temperance – Excerpt

"What would you have me do?" Daniel asked. "Pretend that this man chasing my sister is genuine and not some money-grabbing monster?"

"You don't know him," she tried again.

"Neither does she," he said, his voice raised. "And neither do you."

Beth went to walk past him, following Hannah's direction out the back of the house. He reached out, his hand on her forearm stopping her.

"I didn't mean to sound so harsh," he said. "I'm sorry."

She nodded as if understanding. "I know you love your sister. So do I. I shan't just sit back and watch her walk into a trap. Nor shall I stand by and watch as her brother robs her of a chance of what may be happiness."

"How dare you presume to know what I want for my sister."

She pulled away from him. "I dare because I grew up with you. Every time your sister wanted to do something you always had to interfere."

"She is naïve," he told her. "Had I not taken control of her life, heaven knows what would have happened to her."

She raised her brow. "I understand you need to protect Hannah against lecherous men. That doesn't explain why you had to be her constant chaperone when she was meeting up with me."

He lowered his gaze. "I needed to go with her."

"Do you think that I would also take advantage of your sister?" she asked. "That I have prolonged our friendship only so I might get my claws into her fortune?"

He shook his head, his gaze cautiously rising back to hers. "I know you would do anything for my sister, Beth."

"Then why did you need to follow Hannah everywhere we went?"

"I did it for you," he whispered, the words being dragged from him.

"What?" she asked.

He smiled softly. "I played chaperone for my sister so I might be able to see you," he repeated. "In the hope that you would notice me."

"All you ever had to do was ask," she whispered. Approaching him, her lips gently fused to his.

His hands went to her upper arms, pushing her away. "What are you doing?"

Trying desperately to grip onto what remained of his control, he reminded himself that being here with this woman so intimately was far from appropriate. No matter how much he desired her, he couldn't afford to succumb to such passion. Not there, and certainly not now.

She shook off his hold, her fingers hesitantly going to the buttons of his shirt. Slowly, she began undoing them one by one. "Do you remember the last time we saw each other before I left town?" she asked.

His hands went to hers, stilling her movements. "The image of you that day…" His words drifted off. He didn't understand why she was acting this way with him, but he couldn't deny that her movements were ripping at his restraint. He had always hungered for this woman, but now that she was there with him like this, he couldn't help but wonder why. "Why did you send for me that day?" he asked, his words strained.

"I wanted to see you before I left town," she muttered. Shaking off his hands, she continued unbuttoning his shirt. "Do you ever wonder what would have happened had your sister not arrived?"