Excerpt from While Passion Sleeps

     
     Not giving her a chance to accept or refuse him, he reached for Elizabeth and swept her out onto the ballroom floor. Stunned and breathless, for several turns around the room Elizabeth kept her eyes pinned to the diamond stickpin that rested in the pristine folds of his cravat. She was aware of the warm hand at her waist, the warm hand that was surely tighter than need be, and the fact that he was holding her closer than custom; she wished she possessed the courage to reprimand him for the liberties he was taking. As the moments passed, she became more and more conscious of him—of the faint odor of brandy and tobacco that emanated from him, of the sleek muscles in the powerful body that propelled her around the room, and most of all just of him. She could feel his breath gently stirring the curls on her head and the firmness and heat of the hand that held hers; the emotions stirring in her blood made her slightly giddy.
     "Are we to dance in total silence, querida?" he finally asked. "I admire your silken hair a great deal, but I would much rather admire your eyes... and mouth."
     She glanced up and once again was lost in those empty gray eyes, only they weren't empty now–– some undefinable emotion flickered in their depths.  Elizabeth tore her gaze away, her heart thudding with thick, painful strokes. "Don't look at me that way," she begged. "It isn't polite."
     He laughed bitterly and murmured, "I am never polite, don't expect it of me.  Don't play the innocent with me, either—you know what is going through my mind as well as I do."
     She did know what he was thinking, and her cheeks went crimson with embarrassment. His eyes said plainly enough that he would like to kiss her, that he would kiss her if they were alone. Frightened of what he might do, she said breathlessly, "Please, please take me back to Stella, I don't want to dance with you anymore."
     "Why, because I am too blunt? Or is it because of the husband you are supposed to be so very much in love with?"
     "B-b-both," she stammered, knowing she hadn't thought of her husband since she had entered the Costa house, and that any memory of Nathan or her marriage had vanished the instant her eyes had met Rafael Santana's across the room.
     "Liar! You don't look like a woman in love, you look like a sleeping virgin waiting to be awakened."
     "That's not true! I do love my husband and this is a conversation that does either of us credit." With quaint dignity she said, "I think it best we change the subject."
     "I'm sure you do, English, but I am finding it far too amusing to wish for it to come to an end."
     Discovering this man aroused a temper she hadn't known she possessed, Elizabeth snapped, "Are you this way with everyone? No wonder Stella said you were rude!"
     Again Rafael smiled, and it was not a nice smile.  "Didn't you know I spend all my time trying to live up to the reputation that has been bestowed upon me?" He laughed that bitter laugh and added, "People would think that I was not myself if I did not commandeer the most beautiful woman in the room and proceed to make outrageous love to her. It is like putting on a performance, querida—they expect it and I try to please them."
     Elizabeth's eyes searched his face. "I think that might be partly true... but you must have done something to deserve your reputation."
     "Oh, I did, English, I did. I was born."
     "Don't be ridiculous! That wouldn't make people think ill of you."
     "No?" he mocked. "Not even if I tell you my grandmother was a Comanche half-breed who lived with an American trapper? And that their daughter, my mother, dared to marry into a gachupin family of long standing?"
     "I don't see what that has to do with it. You can't help who your parents were. I think you place too much emphasis upon it," Elizabeth replied primly.
     "Ah, English, how little you know of people... especially of my Spanish grandfather, Don Felipe. He has never forgiven me for being born, particularly since my father's second marriage has produced no sons, only daughters."
     "And because of that," she guessed intuitively, "you punish him."
     "Why not?"
     "Well, because it isn't very nice," Elizabeth said earnestly. "You shouldn't be so—so unforgiving."
     He laughed aloud. "But I am, chica. I am as unforgiving a man as you can find... and Stella has already warned you that I am not very nice."
     Elizabeth didn't like being laughed at, particularly when she had been serious in attempting to help him. Her violet eyes flashing with temper, she said stiffly, "Yes, I can see that! You also enjoy being a boor and just as rude as you can be. You may be certain, Mr. Santana, in the future I shall take care to avoid you."
     "Are you challenging me, English?" he demanded softly, his head lowering closer to hers and she feared that he was going to kiss her right then and there.
     Her heart thudding in her breast, Elizabeth leaned as far away from him as he would allow. "No, no, of course not," she muttered, adding with a flash of temper, "And I wish you wouldn't call me 'English'! My name is Mrs. Ridgeway, and you would do well to remember it."
     He didn't like that, she could tell from the tightening of his mouth, but as the waltz was ending, he shrugged and a few seconds later deposited her near Stella. Mockingly he remarked, "Muchas gracias, Mrs. Ridgeway. And Stella, amiga, you can stop fretting, I have returned your lamb—unharmed."
     "Only because it suited you," Stella replied dryly. "And perhaps," she added slyly, "because your wife is here?"
     At the word "wife" Elizabeth felt her heart plunge to her feet, but she wasn't exactly sure why the news that he had a wife should have that effect on her. She was a married woman herself and she shouldn't be having romantic notions about another man, but to her astonishment she discovered that she disliked the thought of his having a wife. Stop being such a witless fool, she told herself, what does it matter if he is married? In a week or two you'll be in Natchez and will never see him again.
     Rafael did not answer Stella's challenge, but only smiled and stalked away. Watching him as he crossed the room, Elizabeth commanded herself: Forget Rafael Santana!
 
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