"Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I bid you goodnight."
The words cut like a hot blade straight into her heart. The memory of his lips burned on hers, but his eyes were smoldering dark steel.
Gemma could say nothing to him in response. The thick emotion in her throat made speech impossible, even if she could piece together a suitable response. They say the line between love and hate is a thin one. Colin had crossed over. She saw it in his eyes. He hated her. And she hated that she loved him still.
Swallowing back the inevitable sob, Gemma spun on her heel and fled.
She couldn’t stay there. Not another moment. She would find Hawke and make him take her home.
Back inside the ballroom, she scanned the dancers for signs of her brother. He was nowhere to be seen. Twirling about, she searched the outskirts of the room. Again, no Hawke.
The irony served only to nauseate her further. He had been keeping such a close eye on her every moment, so much so that he had suggested following her to the ladies’ lounge, and yet now when she truly needed him, he had disappeared into oblivion.
Groaning inwardly, she knew she would have to return to the corridor. She only hoped she would not encounter Colin once more. With a deep breath, she resolved to find her brother, no matter what it took.
Perhaps if she hadn’t been so lost in her despair, she would have sensed someone behind her before turning abruptly, slamming straight into the broad chest of Lord Maddox, the husband of Gemma’s bosom friend, Bridget. He grunted at the impact.
“Pardon me, my lady,” he muttered breathlessly.
“Oh Lord Maddox! I am so sorry!” Gemma felt overwrought. All she wanted was to find her brother and leave that place.
“Lady Gemma?” He grasped her elbow to steady her on her feet. “Are you injured?”
“No, my lord. Only embarrassed. I should have taken more care with my direction.”
“No harm done, my dear.” Lord Maddox glanced around them as though searching out the reason for her haste. “Is anything amiss? You seem rather distraught.”
“Everything is well. I was just on my way to find my brother. Have you seen Lord Van Burge, perchance?”
“Yes, indeed. I just came from the tables where I persuaded him to take my place in the game. He is there still. May I escort you to him?”
“No. Thank you, my lord. I can manage.” He released her and nodded, but as he stepped away, a sudden fear gripped Gemma. If she were to meet with Colin again, she would be alone. She needed someone to provide a buffer between her heart and the man’s scorn. “Lord Maddox!” Her voice faltered into a frantic squeak.
He spun around to face her. His expression betrayed his concern. “Yes?”
“I… I would like you to escort me. Thank you. For offering.”