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The rain drenched her from head to toe in seconds. The cold water stung her exposed skin as she ran through the courtyard towards the stables. No one was about; everyone was sheltering from the storm that lurked overhead. To her advantage the stables were empty; she made quick work of saddling up a horse before she galloped out into the pouring rain once more.
Behind her she could hear shouts but they grew silent as she put more and more distance between them. Veering off the path, Georgiana steered the horse towards the dark woods. In the daylight the woods looked harmless and Georgiana and her siblings had spent many afternoons exploring and hunting through the thick trees. But now as she raced towards them, they looked eerie and intimidating under the grey clouds that swirled overhead.
She knew where she was going. She knew the way like the back of her hand, weaving skilfully through the trees. Her mind was racing, running over everything her father had said. This was her punishment. This is what she deserved.
Her father had pretended not to know about her involvement in saving Benjamin. He had manipulated Alex into thinking she was off the hook and that he had taken the punishment. He had been planning it all along, she hadn’t been punished for running away and she hadn’t been punished for trying to interfere with the King’s orders. Now was the time to serve her punishment, now she was betrothed to a man she had never met.
Hot tears flooded her vision and fell down her cheeks, a stark contrast to the ice cold rain that also dripped from her face and hair.
The sky illuminated with a bolt of white lightning. It cut across the sky like shattered glass followed by a tremendous clap of thunder that shook Georgiana to the bone. Beneath her, the horse reared onto its hind legs in fear and she held on tightly to the reins. Spotting the familiar stream in the distance she attempted to calm the horse to a walk. She reached the stream at the same time as someone called out her name from behind.
There was another flash of lightning followed by a roll of thunder, this time as the horse reared up in fright, Georgiana was thrown backwards and landed awkwardly on the wet ground. The horse galloped away at the same time as a hooded figure emerged through the rain. Georgiana watched from the ground as the figure dismounted their horse and rushed over to her. They collapsed onto their knees beside her, arms stretched out searching for any physical injuries.
“Are you hurt?” She knew that voice.
“Francis,” She breathed and pulled back the hood of his cloak so that it revealed his short brown hair and his concerned expression.
Taking in the red, blotchy skin around her eyes, he gripped her face in his large hands, “Are you hurt?” He asked again, wiping away the rain and tears that fell down her cheeks.
When Georgiana didn’t say anything, he grew more concerned. “Gee, are you hurt? Please tell me.” He begged. He took his hands away from her face and slowly traced her arms and then her legs for any sign of injury.
She hated crying in front of people, especially Francis. In that moment she couldn’t help it, she let the tears mix with the rain.
I don’t want to marry a stranger, she thought.
“Gee, you have to tell me what’s wrong. Show me where you’re hurt?” Francis begged as he pulled off the cloak and wrapped it around her shivering body.
She looked up at him through her eyelashes and watched as the rain started to soak his hair and uniform. Silently, she reached across the small space between them and clasped her hand around his. His eyes watched carefully as she lifted his hand and placed it over her heart.
“My father…” Her voice was almost muted against the heavy rain fall and as if on cue another rumble of thunder crossed the sky. Francis tensed at the mention of the King. Her hand tightened around his as she said, “I’m engaged.”
Francis froze. All the air left his lungs and he felt like his heart had been stomped on by an invisible force.
“What?” He breathed.
“He’s announcing it at the ball.” Georgiana said shaking from the cold.
“When?” Francis demanded. There was fire in his eyes.
She squeezed his hand harder and pressed it closer to her chest, “In a few days-”
“-No,” Francis interrupted his temper rising, “No, when were you going to tell me?” He had turned his head away, refusing to look at her.
Her heart tightened. “What?”
Francis snapped his gaze back onto her, “When were you going to tell me you’re engaged? Before or after I fell into your bed?” He couldn’t keep the anger from his voice.
Georgiana gasped as he ripped his hand away from hers. She watched dumfounded as he stood up and paced in front of her.
“Francis…” She said softly, trailing off as he stopped pacing and stared down at her.
“Why didn’t you tell me? Do you have any compassion for my feelings on the matter? Does Alex know? Lord, he knows.” He ran his hands through his wet hair and pulled on the ends.
Georgiana stood and adjusted the cloak so that it hung securely around her shoulders. She reached out and gently placed a hand on his upper arm.
“Francis, what are you talking about? I’ve only just been told myself.” She said trying to sound calm when her heart was beating fast in her chest.
Francis released his tight grip on his hair and looked over at her, a confused look on his face.
“I don’t even know who he is? Or where he comes from, I know just as much as you do.” She said sadly. “I don’t want to marry-”
His lips collided with hers, silencing the name of the man who threatened to come between them. One hand cupped the back of her head while the other held onto the side of her face. He kissed her like he hated her, hard and fierce. Like at any moment she might disappear before his eyes. He didn’t hate her; he hated the idea of losing her. The thought alone made him clench his eyes shut and press his lips against hers more fiercely. He moved the hand that was behind her head to the back of her neck, gripping it tightly as their mouths moved together. When a small, delicate moan vibrated low in her throat, Francis’ grip loosened and he broke apart their lips. Keeping his eyes closed, he savoured the sound and the feel of her erratic breathing as their lips remained close enough to touch.
They had both forgotten the storm that swirled above them high in the sky. The rain was like a second skin to them now and Georgiana had stopped shaking, the kiss had ignited a fire within her.
Georgiana leaned forward and whispered against his lips, “I don’t want him.” Opening her eyes she found his were shut, a shaky breath escaped his lips. She smiled and moved a hand up to brush away the creases in his forehead. His hands dropped from her head and neck and he wrapped his arms around her waist, bringing her flush against his body.
“I want you.” Francis’ lips were back on hers in a heartbeat as if those were the words he had been desperate to hear. Georgiana smiled into the kiss.
He kissed her like she was his last breath.