Kanna-sama: I was bored and wanted to do another regency England vampire fic. Especially since it was five-o'clock in the morning when I wrote this. Enjoy.

X

Title: Not so simple

Rating: M

Genre: Romance/Drama

Summary: Bella never suspected to play hostess to a lord from England after she and her family was expelled to the country. She also never expected to find herself attracted to his elusive charm. Her father forbid her to be with him, and even grew more against her fancy to him when they realized he was a vampire. Two shot.

Notes/Warnings: Vampires; set in regency England; two-shot

X

Not so simple

Part I

Bella shifted in bed, a horrible, animal sound erupting from outside. But of course, Bella knew what the sound was. She had been woken up from it for the past year and four months. It was a rooster with its terribly loud wake-up call. She turned onto her stomach, her blonde curls flopping around her shoulders as she buried her face in her silk pillow. She wasn't ready for another day of dull work around the farm. She and her family lived in a comfortable enough manor, but they had no servants. They had to do everything themselves.

Serves me right, I suppose, she thought sullenly as she turned her head to glare at the wall. God is punishing me for living a pampered life. Not that that was ever my fault. Bella, unlike her surly sisters, hadn't been disappointed in the change. All the constant gossip and irritating servants always asking, "Do you want this, miss?" or "Do you want that, miss?" had gotten to the point where she was prepared to be taken to Bedlam. There were the times when she had to deal with the animals that she cursed her family, the king (which was not a wise idea,) and the rest of world silently for her suffering. And then she would curse at the animals for making her suffer and that would earn a good ear boxing if someone was around to hear her.

Bella, although the eldest of her parent's three daughters, was the one least interested in Society. She used to dance with the men of all ages attempting to court her, and she was just as eager to attend soirees with her female companions. It had never been entirely entertaining, though, and that was the problem itself. She found the men dull, all of her female friends the same, and her sisters were insufferable.

Damn them, too, Bella thought as she got out of bed to get ready for the day. I might not enjoy the ton and the twittering idiots, but I certainly would have preferred to endure that rather than have that stupid rooster wake me up every day.

In retrospect, it had been Bella's sisters, Laura and Katherine, that had been her family's downfall. As mentioned, the two females were insufferable. Katherine was ten and eight and Laura only two years younger than her. Bella was twenty, at the age where she should have been married, but not old enough to be qualified as a spinster.

In any case, Laura and Katherine were just like their mother, Madeline. They flaunted themselves to men without any thought of their reputation or what trouble they could get into. They did so unwittingly at one such event, that of the king's birthday ball. Bella had overheard Laura and Katherine conspiring to talk to the king and had tried to stop them, but wasn't able to get through the crowds fast enough without being rude. Naturally, the two girls flirted and teased with the king. Bella had never seen such a shocked expression on his wife's face, let alone Bella's father's. At the time, she had been sure everyone in the room was staring at Laura and Katherine with a look of horror.

Needless to say, they were exiled to the country, never to return to court again. Their mother was mortified at not being able to be in town, her father too disgusted with his youngest daughters to care, and Bella was, as always, quietly fuming to herself. Laura and Katherine were unashamed, having asked the other three, "Why should we try and hold our beauty in? It just comes to show that the king was so flustered by us that he couldn't handle having us in the same town."

"You made us look like we raised you to be street whores!" Their father had roared. "If you two are to act like sluts, then you can speak to me through your sister! At least she has some sense in her skull!" That erupted in a fight between their parents, but Bella knew that her sisters hadn't gained that attitude by themselves. Madeline Gales was to blame. Bella had always been her father's child, so her mother hadn't been given a chance to corrupt her.

Thank God for that, Bella thought as she pinned her blonde curls up and nodded at herself in the looking glass. She didn't try and look good anymore. She didn't care what the men out here in the country thought of her. They were more concerned with how she handled farm animals than what she looked like. A little part of her envied them for that.

"Laura! Katherine!" She snapped out as she walked down the corridor that held the three daughter's rooms. There was a drawing room next to Bella's room that was strictly hers and one other one that was for the other two. It was larger than Bella's, but she didn't mind. She had managed to persuade her parents to put the pianoforte in her room since no one else played it. "Get up."

"I am up," Laura retorted, glaring at Bella from her relaxed position. "I don't know about Katherine."

"Oh, I beg your pardon. Let me rephrase that: get out of bed!" Laura threw her a dark look and then tossed the covers off of her to trudge to the washing room to bathe. Shutting the door, Bella huffed and went to the room that was on the other side of the large, mahogany double doors that led to her younger sisters' drawing room. "Katherine!" She paused, listening. There was no response. "Katherine?" She opened the door and peeked in. Her sister was struggling with the corset of her dress. Sighing, Bella gave a little roll of her eyes.

"Don't start lecturing me, sister," Katherine grumbled, seeing her expression. "You know how I've been packing on some weight every since we left town and I don't want to look like I live off of sweets."

"Who's going to care?" Bella queried as she took the strings to her corset. Katherine planted her hands on the bedpost. Bella pulled the strings tight as she tied it up. "I wish you and Laura would help around here for once, Katherine. You're making our youngest sister go out of control."

"At least we know how to enjoy life."

"Oh, yes," Bella sarcastically drawled, "warming every man's bed in the village is so much fun." It had been Laura that had started that little trend of theirs; which was no surprise. Katherine had some level of maturity and solemnity, but there was no doubt that she and Laura were stuck like Siamese twins. Bella had tried countless times to warn them from doing reckless things such as that, but they ignored her, like they always did. "You're acting like whores." Katherine whipped around so fast that Bella stumbled back a step.

"You and father are so alike!" She angrily shrilled. "All you two can think about is propriety and all that pish-posh. We're trying to make something out of this dull existence in this country life. What have you done, Bella?"

"I haven't turned into common riffraff! I haven't brought shame on our family. You might be having fun, Katherine, but at least I am acting like a lady, not some...some heathen!"

"No, not a lady," Katherine sneered back. "You're acting like a bitch in heat." Bella wasn't sure what happened next, just that her hand flew up and struck her sister across the face. The brown ringlets tossed across her face as her head snapped to the side. For a long moment, neither of them spoke, Katherine holding her red cheek and Bella frowning at her. She had never struck either of her sister's before, nor had her parents. It was always verbal attacks they made. "Get out of my room," Katherine whispered, her voice wavering.

"Fine," Bella ground out. She turned and stormed out of the room, shutting the door a bit hard behind her. She left that floor, going downstairs. She didn't bother getting herself anything for breakfast, moving straight outside. She could feel anger and remorse bubbling inside her like water waiting for its vegetables.

As she was feeding the chickens, she saw her sisters exit the manor, all dressed up in their silk dresses they used to wear at balls in town. Bella shook her head in disgust as they disappeared around the bend of the road. She continued with her chores outside and once she was finished, she returned inside and took a long, lingering bath. Then she, too, dressed in a nice dress, though not one of her evening ones like her sisters wore. She instead chose a soft, blue afternoon dress with puffy sleeves and a light layer of petticoats. The neckline was modest, showing only the tops of her fair colored breasts.

As she moved downstairs to find her father, she heard something unfamiliar outside. Frowning, she realized it was the sound of a horse's hoofs. She went to the window and almost groaned. Why doesn't he take 'no' for an answer? She wondered to herself, seeing it was Michael Rogers.

When they had come to the manor they were to live in, Michael Rogers had been the first to visit them. He had been wary of them and she remembered seeing the resentment in his eyes. It was after a week that he became friendlier towards her and her father. Her father, because he was an intellectual; and her, because she was the only one working on the farm. When he first proposed to her, she said she would think about it and asked for her father's advice. He had said Michael was a good match and would make a fine husband. Knowing her father's idea of "a fine husband" – that is, being a man who would be a better friend than lover – she rejected Michael. He hadn't given up, but it had been awhile since he'd last asked, so she had hoped he had given up.

"Hello, Michael," she greeted pleasantly as she answered the door. He beamed at her. He wasn't unattractive. He was twenty and two with a charming, round face with bright, blue eyes and auburn hair that was nearly red. He was gentle, and a wonderful man to be around. He was the one that had given her the news of her sister's actions with the village men.

"You're looking as lovely as ever, Bella," he remarked, his grin widening a bit. "Can I come in?"

"Are you going to ask the same thing as always?"

"No." She smiled and let him in, knowing he would, because that was the same greeting they gave every time he came. "For once, though, I really am not. I bet you're wondering why it's been so long, right?"

"Actually, yes," Bella confessed, closing the door behind him. "Don't leave me in suspense, Michael. Pray tell me what's had you occupied." His smile lessened a bit and he glanced away from her, his face going a bit pink. Her smile faded and she eyed his face anxiously, hoping he hadn't fallen into one of her sister's seductions. But of course he hadn't. Michael hated women like that.

"I'm engaged," he explained softly.

"Engaged?" She repeated, unsure of whether she heard right. "To be married?"

"Yes, and to a very nice woman. You would like her, Bella. I...know you don't go out into the village often." A sheepish smile crossed his lips, but she didn't correct him. She only went out to the village when she needed to buy food or supplies. The villagers were kind enough to her and always tried to make conversation, but she had lost her socializing skills except with her father, who always enjoyed her company when she had nothing better to do. Every day she learned something new from Daniel Gales, whether it was about the Trojan War, Cleopatra, or Phoenicia, he never seemed to repeat a history fact to her. She could hardly talk about history with villagers. She was afraid she would receive a blank expression and she couldn't handle such a rejection.

"I would like to meet her some time, Michael," Bella offered gently, reaching out and brushing her fingers over his arm. "I'm sure she's wonderful." He smiled a bit shakily from her brief touch.

"She's a bit educated. And she's interested in history. Maybe you could...?" He trailed off hopefully, his ocean blue eyes begging her for a positive response.

"We'll have to see, Michael," she said. "Let's start with small steps, alright?" He nodded hastily. "When can I meet her?"

"How does tomorrow sound, Bella? Can you come to my home a bit after luncheon?"

"Certainly. That works fine." He gave another bob of his head. They exchanged a few more words before he said farewell and departed. After she shut the door, she felt her heart sink towards her waist. She had enjoyed hearing Michael come to her and asking her to marry him. It made her feel like she meant something to someone. Now she was left with an empty feeling with the knowledge that he would be marrying. He is better as a friend or a brother, she reassured herself as she continued towards her father's study, just as papa implied.

X

Bella glanced up as her two sisters wandered in a bit after it had turned dark. Her pretty features twisted in disgust at seeing their disheveled appearance and rumpled gowns. She wasn't sure which she should be angrier at: their behavior or the general state of their dresses. They moved towards the dining room, but she stood and blocked their way. "Are you trying to make father angry?" She hissed. "Don't you dare attempt to go to dinner before you look presentable."

"We are presentable," Laura grumbled. Katherine was silent, staring at a spot over Bella's shoulder.

So. She won't speak to me. "Just please go dress in something else," Bella begged. She had changed into her own evening dress, but it was in a far better state then her sister's. It was a lovely pink and it hugged every curve of her female body. Despite her being the eldest, she was only as tall as Laura, Katherine having acquired their father's height. Some mistook Katherine for being older than Bella.

"Fine, but the horses are restless," Laura stated as they turned towards the staircase. "Someone needs to go check on them." Bella frowned, hearing the words, Someone, being you, silently being added onto the sentence. Sighing, she grabbed her cloak and a lantern as her sisters disappeared upstairs. Lighting the lantern, and pinning her cloak on, she stepped outside, shutting the door behind her.

Lifting her skirts slightly, Bella moved over to the stables and heard the horses shuffling nervously inside and neighing lightly. "What are you boys in there doing?" She called, moving to the doorway of the stables and lifting the lantern. The three horses stared at her, comforted by her voice. "Did you see a rat or something? Silly things." She chuckled and swept a quick look around the stables. She couldn't hear or see anything, so she suspected it was just a small animal that had startled them. "Now, stop the ruckus," she scolded them as though they were her children. "I'm not coming back out here again tonight, is that clear?" One of the horses threw his head up, his dark mane flying. She laughed and blew him a kiss. "Goodnight, my sweets."

She turned back towards the house and blinked, seeing something coming down the street. She heard the horses again and sighed, rolling her eyes to the heavens. As she drew closer to the manor, she saw it was a black, gleaming carriage. She broke into a jog as it slowed in front of her home. The footman hopped off and met her as she came up to the carriage. "Good evening, sir," she greeted a bit breathlessly, "are you lost?"

"Somewhat," he replied. "My lord and I are headed to Yorkshire. Is that anywhere near here?"

"Yes, the estate is just ahead, but you'd have to go through the woods." The footman grimaced. "Mayhap your lord would care to stay at our manor for the night?" Bella suggested. "My father would no doubt enjoy his company and we have plenty of room." She smiled at his further hesitation and added, "And I'm sure you both could use a hot meal." A reluctant smile spread on his mouth.

"No doubt, my lady," he responded with a light sigh. He turned to the carriage, but a man had already emerged and was moving towards them. She shifted uncomfortably, wondering if she should call for her father. It wasn't proper for her to be alone with two utter strangers. "Lord Sebastian Hoffman," his footman announced. "And, um..." He gave a puzzled look to Bella, who jerked her gaze from the approaching man. He was still in the shadows so that she couldn't see his features.

"Bella Gales," she introduced, dipping a quick curtsy. She flashed a small smile, saying, "Welcome, my lord."

"Thank you, lady," Lord Hoffman replied in a soft voice. She swallowed at the husky tenor to it and glanced at the footman apprehensively. When he came into the light of her lantern, she nearly flinched. The man was a beauty. He had dark, thick hair with a lock that fell to his forehead and his eyes were pools of a deep sapphire. His mouth was curved into what could only be called a gently seductive smile. She wanted to flee from him before she drowned in his beautiful eyes. "I was not aware there was any lord of this village."

"Oh...You must be mistaken. My father is...We are villagers, as well." He raised his eyebrows mildly.

"I see...But not destitute, I presume?" He flicked his fingers towards her dress. "Or...What was your last name again?"

"Gales. My sisters are Laura and Katherine Gales. We were exiled here because of them," she elaborated, her smile patient, but tight. He seemed to notice, because all he did was nod. "Would you not like to come in? Your footman can take the carriage to the stables. I'll get the horses some hay after dinner."

"Nonsense. A lady shouldn't be out in the dark by herself. Merryl will take care of it. I would not like him to starve, though."

"Certainly not!" Bella cried in surprise. "He is more than welcome to dine with us, my lord. We are not picky when it comes to our visitors." She smiled towards footman Merryl, who colored slightly. His lord noticed and chuckled lightly. "Shall we, then, Lord Hoffman?" She let an arm extend towards the manor, her fingers splayed. He smiled and swept a courteous bow to her.

"After you, my lady." She laughed and moved towards the manor with him following.

X

"We don't get guests in the village often," Madeline Gales purred to Sebastian. He almost laughed aloud at her silky voice. He could see by the look of revulsion on Lord Gales face that their marriage was no longer a pleasant one. The set up of the table was interesting and he could see the coordination in it. He was seated across from Bella, but on the right of his host, Daniel Gales. Beside him was Merryl and beside the footman was Katherine Gales, the second oldest daughter. Across from her was the last daughter, Laura with an empty chair on her right, and between the two and across from her husband was Madeline. He had seen the inviting looks the two youngest daughters sent him, but had ignored them. He could get plenty of women like them in London and he wasn't interested.

Bella, on the other hand, was the rare kind of woman to find. She was perfectly polite, but not strictly so. He could just imagine what kind of anger she had felt towards her reckless sisters when she was forced out of London to this remote place. She didn't seem unhappy, though. He had a hunch of why the other three females weren't unhappy.

"So you are on your way to Yorkshire, Lord Hoffman?" Daniel Gales questioned, taking a drink of his wine. The others were eating, Laura sending coquettish looks his way.

"Yes," Sebastian answered, glancing across from him to see Bella pinch her sister's arm and glare at her. "I recently acquired the estate. I wanted to see if it was worth keeping. Has your family been there before?"

"Michael has, hasn't he, Bella?" Daniel questioned his eldest daughter.

"I believe so. Was it Lord Buckingham that lived there?" She was addressing Sebastian, who gave a nod as he chewed his mutton. "Yes, he did. He said it had a gorgeous view." She laughed slightly, continuing, "He promised me a wedding there, but now it looks like someone else is going to take my precious wedding landscape from me." Her tone was nonchalant and Sebastian could see a mixture of remorse and happiness; remorse because she wouldn't be the one getting married, but happiness because her friend – or whatever he was – would be.

"If it has a good view, then I should be quite content there," Sebastian commented. "I need a new change of scenery other than the dull buildings of London."

"I don't mind the dull buildings," Laura spoke up with a nod of her head.

"You only see the ceilings anyway, so what does it matter?" Daniel said scathingly. Madeline dropped her fork on her plate and Laura's jaw dropped open in horror.

"Papa," Bella moaned, "please. Not while we have a guest..." She sent an apologetic look to Sebastian.

"Oh, I don't mind," he assured with a light tone. And he really didn't. He found it interesting how there were two sides in this family. One that was respectable and one that wasn't. Somehow he didn't suspect the latter side would win. However, Daniel willingly listened to his daughter and went back to eating, the conversation having died. Sebastian didn't try to start another one. He felt the table tremble slightly and glanced to the other side. Laura and Bella were glaring daggers at each other.

"Would you try and act like a lady for once?" Bella hissed lowly to her. Laura sniffed.

"Why don't you try and stop acting like a prude?" Laura retorted in just as low of a tone. Sebastian raised his eyebrows slightly as the elder female's face turned pink.

"I am not a prude." Laura smirked and turned from her. Bella glowered at her and then turned back to her food, a sullen expression on her face.

"Wait," Daniel suddenly spoke, blinking. "Did you say that Michael was marrying, Bella?"

"Oh. Yes," she replied noncommittally, tucking a fork full of strawberry tart between her lips. Sebastian watched her slip it from her mouth, a corner of his mouth tilting upward. "Someone from the village. He wants me to teach her history. I'm supposed to meet her tomorrow. I'm not really up to the challenge, though."

"If you got out and socialized more, that wouldn't happen," Madeline pointed out as she dipped a finger in her wine and licked it off. Sebastian had a feeling that was meant for him and not her husband. "You need to be more like your sisters." Daniel snorted. Sebastian hid a smirk behind his wine glass, clearing his throat quietly. He personally preferred Bella just as she was.

"You have a wonderful gift at grasping knowledge, Bella," Daniel told her. "You could even teach the girl the pianoforte. Michael couldn't possibly be disappointed in her then. She'll be almost exactly like you."

"I refuse to teach a girl what I know just so he can imagine it's me!" She said a bit sharply, frowning. "Just imagine what could come out of that! What if he..." She flushed and muttered, "What if he forgot it was her and thought it was me at a very inopportune time?"

"When they're having sex?" Laura inquired baldly. Bella rolled her eyes to her sister.

"Yes, Laura, thank you for your bluntness," she caustically said.

"I don't see why you just don't take pity on the man and marry him," Madeline grumbled to her daughter, shrugging her shoulders.

"Like you did with me?" Daniel coldly replied. She shrugged again.

"It'd be awkward," Bella answered her mother, her mouth turned down. "He'd be better as a brother. I can't force myself to be a lover to someone I consider a brother. It's not right. It's..." She gestured vaguely with her hand.

"Immoral?" Sebastian suggested, amused with their conversation. Her face lit up.

"Exactly!" She beamed and then her smile slipped off her face when she recalled they had a guest. She bowed her head and poked at her food, suggesting, "Let's change the topic."

"After dinner," he said as he finished off his meal, "I'd like to hear you play the pianoforte. I dabble in music myself." She raised her eyes to his, a curious spark entering them.

"Really? Well, I suppose I could."

"Katherine and I won't be home until tomorrow morning," Laura told no one in particular. "We have a dance to attend." Sebastian was certain that there was no dance by the skeptical look in Bella's eyes, but no one denied her words. He certainly wasn't going to, as he was just a guest in the household.

Ah, well, he thought as he drank the last of his wine, it's their bodies. They can do whatever they wish with them.

X

"No one else plays it, so it's up in my personal drawing room," Bella informed Sebastian, who nodded and followed her up the stairs. She had waited until her amorous sisters had left and her mother had gone off to do whatever it was she occupied her time with. Her father had invited Sebastian down to his study for brandy and cigars after he was finished "entertaining his daughter," as he put it. She had been surprised by his interest in the first place.

She opened the door to her drawing room and ushered him in before following him inside. It felt strange letting someone into the room, especially since she was the only one that was allowed in it. Her sisters didn't care to snoop around, nor her mother. Her father would never enter without her permission and he had never asked, so it was only her. She found it ironic that the first other person to come in was a complete and utter stranger. "A beautiful pianoforte," he complimented, running a hand over it.

"It's old, but I can't seem to let go of it," she said with a smile. "They had to dissemble it to get it into this room."

"I don't doubt it. What can you play, my lady?"

"Mostly recent pieces," she answered. "Chopin, Beethoven, and the like."

"Mmm. Well, play then. You've inspired my curiosity." He gave her a charming smile that had her returning it without any suspicion. She had never trusted a man so easily as she did this Lord Hoffman. She settled herself at the piano, tucking her skirts beneath her. "I knew a pianist once," he remarked as he came to stand behind her. "He taught me some good techniques about playing."

"Oh?" She set a piece by Chopin before her. "What kind of techniques?"

"All kinds," he replied flippantly. When she set her fingers on the keys, he reached down and adjusted them. "He told me," he breathed in her ear, "that you should keep your hands in this position so it looks more natural and so you can reach the other keys more easily."

"...But I'm unused to it."

"Try it," he encouraged.

She let out a shaky breath as he drew back from her, his fingers slipping from hers. She closed her eyes briefly as his body heat left her. She was unused to any man but her father or Michael getting close to her. It was an odd feeling having a different male, who was increasingly more masculine than Michael, hover over her. Wetting her lips, Bella slowly began on the piece by Chopin, the rhythm a steady four-four. The new position of her fingers did indeed help her reach keys more easily. A small smile played at the corners of her mouth as she let her slender fingers glide over the keys, pressing down only lightly so the notes from the piano were soft and soothing.

When at last the piece was finished, all of the notes ended with only two notes hanging in the air. Releasing the pedal, she smiled to herself in satisfaction. She nearly jumped out of her skin as Sebastian Hoffman's hands slid over her shoulders and he pressed his lips to her ear. "You play beautifully." She swallowed as he drew away, brushing his lips behind her ear. A shiver traveled up her spine as he pressed a kiss to the nape of her neck and then he drew away completely. "I had better join your father downstairs." She turned and watched him leave. The door shut quietly behind him and she hugged herself, trembling a bit from the violent reaction he had inspired.

X

The next day Bella emerged outside after breakfast and was surprised to see Merryl talking with her father outside. He seemed distressed about something. She glanced around furtively and almost sighed aloud in relief, seeing that Merryl's lord was nowhere to be seen. She wasn't sure she would be able to face the man without flushing and if anyone were around, they would be sure to ask questions. She moved towards the two men, stopping a few feet away, as was polite. Daniel Gales instantly looked to her and ushered her forward.

"Bella will be able to help you better than I," her father told the footman. Bella smiled kindly at Merryl, who sent a dubious look to her, but didn't remark upon it. Turning to her, Daniel explained, "The horses went crazy last night. Apparently they wound up the rest of the animals." He pointed towards the pasture. "They broke through the fence and the bulls went after Lord Hoffman's horses. One is dead and the other is hurt badly. Our horses seem to be fine, but refuse to come back to the stables. The village men and myself managed to pen up the cows and bulls over in that part of the pasture. The horses are staying in the rest of the pasture, but Lord Hoffman's horse is in the stables. Merryl's worried something might be wrong with it."

"Poor thing," Bella said sympathetically.

"One of the sheep were attacked by a wolf or something last night," he added with a frown. "I suspect that's what made the animals get wound up." Bella's own mouth turned down, but not for the same reason as her father. The horses wouldn't have acted so violently if it had just been a wolf. It was even stranger that the bulls would attack Lord Hoffman's horses, but not theirs.

"I can go look at it. Michael's supposed to come by with his fiancée later on, though, papa."

"That's fine," Daniel answered, nodding. "It's obvious that we're going to have guests for awhile, though, Bella. I want you to try and keep your...sisters...away from Lord Hoffman. God knows what those sluts will do." She sighed faintly and then ushered Merryl to follow her to the stables. She pulled the stable doors open and her face contorted with pity at the weak creature slumped at the other end of the stables.

"I'm not sure if it's a sprain or whether he was bit," Merryl told her uneasily. "There wasn't any blood, but I didn't get to inspect him very well." She nodded and moved towards the horse. He began to buck on the ground in frustration and fear.

"Shh," Bella soothed. "Don't you worry, I'm not going to hurt you." She knelt down carefully, smiling lightly at the horse. "You can trust me." The horse calmed down, shifting, watching her warily as she approached him. "There..." She carefully rested her hand on his head, petting him gently. "I'm just going to check you over, okay?" She ran her eyes over the horse's body and knew immediately that he hadn't been bit. His hoof was drawn protectively to his chest and by the swelling around the joint, she assumed he had sprained it, just as Merryl had suggested. She slid her hands up and down his mane and then left him after a few minutes. "He just has a mild sprain is all," she assured Merryl, who nodded glumly.

"Lord Hoffman is still sleeping. He won't be up for awhile..." He sighed. "I dread telling him we won't be able to leave."

"If you want, Merryl, I can tell him. The animals are my responsibility, after all." The older male's face lit up like a lantern. He thanked her graciously and then the two of them left back to the manor. Her stomach was churning apprehensively at the thought of getting Sebastian Hoffman alone and speaking to him. No doubt he would be furious, having to be delayed, and she was afraid of having that anger directed on her, especially since she had had the opposite emotion pointed at her just last night.

Why can't I just be rude for once? She demanded of herself.

As dusk settled in, Michael arrived with his fiancée. She was glad he brought her later on when her sister's were busy in the village than when they were likely to be home. She hadn't seen Sebastian yet, so she assumed he was keeping to himself in his room. When Bella laid eyes on Rosalind, she felt a bit disgusted at how pretty the female was. Her brown hair was long and curly, her eyes blue and sparkling with friendly welcome, and her smile was absolutely radiant in a round, fair-skinned face. Bella reluctantly admitted that her body was not unattractive, either. She was revolted with herself to find a tinge of envy humming through her.

Bella had made herself pretty that evening herself, letting her mother put her hair up so that blonde tendrils escaped and flowed down to brush against her back and her bangs fluttered against her cheeks. She had worn one of her favorite evening dresses: a silk, white dress with sleeves that cupped her arms and had a sash that tied around her waist and flowed down the back of her dress. For once, Bella was glad that she had actually taken the time to look good.

"Michael says you know much of history," Rosalind cheerfully said as the formal greetings and introductions were given and they were settled in the parlor. "To be honest, I pleaded with him to ask you if you could give me lessons. I feel like such a fool! I'm sure that everyone else in the village knows more about history than I do!" She let out a tinkering laugh that caused Bella to blink.

"Oh, well," Bella responded awkwardly, "I do know much of history, but only because of my father. If anyone should give you lessons, it should be him. I've never taught anyone."

"But surely you have! You're the eldest. What about your sisters?" She barely paused as she continued with false apology, "Oh, I'm sorry! I keep forgetting who your sisters are." She let out another laugh and Michael chuckled. Bella's eyes narrowed on the girl, a bit surprised at her malice. "They're not concerned with history, now are they?" She giggled again and Bella frowned again, in an even harder manner.

"No, I suppose not."

Ruthlessly, Rosalind said, "They enjoy learning of new positions in certain places." She giggled, questioning, "I wonder if you're not the same way, Bella? I should certainly hope not. That would be utter humiliation!" Bella felt her face flushing as the two laughed. Then Michael abruptly stopped, gawking at something in the doorway. Assuming it was her father, Bella turned in an agitated manner only to blink up at Lord Hoffman. His eyes were cold, but his smile was pleasant.

"I beg your pardon, lady," he murmured, addressing Bella. "Am I interrupting?" He turned his gaze to her, his smile a bit tight. She knew then that he had heard Rosalind's rude accusations and felt both ashamed and relieved. Since Michael was clearly more inclined to ally himself with his fiancée, she would need her own ally.

"No, please," Bella hastened to reply, "join us." He didn't protest, moving past her to sit next to her. She almost yelped as he sat very close to her, his thigh pressing against hers. She didn't protest, though, because she found she rather enjoyed the warmth of his body compared to the coolness of empty space. "Ah, allow me to introduce Lord Sebastian Hoffman," she cheerfully said to the couple across from them. "He is a guest of my family's."

"Michael Rogers," the younger male mumbled, giving a curt nod, "and my fiancée, Rosalind." She beamed over at him, but almost immediately fixed her hawk eyes back to Bella. "Are you and Bella...courting, my lord?" Bella glared over at Michael, but he ignored the look, keeping his steady gaze on Sebastian. The man in speaking raised his eyebrows mildly and glanced at Bella.

Giving a lazy smile, Sebastian carelessly answered, "I don't believe it's any of your business." Michael stared at him in clear outrage, his jaw slack. Neither of the females so much as looked to the other two or paid them any mind. Rosalind looked like she was ready to rip Bella's throat out just because she was staring back at her. "And I would advise," he continued, looking to Rosalind, "that you speak more respectfully."

"I beg your pardon, my lord?" Rosalind questioned, turning to him with a smile. "Whatever do you mean?"

"What I mean," he drawled, "is that I don't want you slandering other people's families just because your jealous manners are getting in the way. I've found that even with a scandalous past, an exiled noble family is far better than a peasant family." His smile was pleasant and a bit smug as her own smile faded in shock at his words. "I don't particularly appreciate you making assumptions about people you've only just met, either."

"H-how dare you!" Rosalind sputtered. "Who do you think you are?"

"I am the Duke of Yorkshire," he answered simply. She gaped at him and then got to her feet angrily. Michael looked anxious with how things were turning out.

"I don't have to deal with such disrespect!" She turned to Michael furiously. "Take me home! Now!" He rubbed his arm and mumbled a meek goodbye to Bella before hurrying Rosalind out of the room. Bella remained quietly seated until the door slammed, causing her to flinch. She sighed, relaxing back in the divan.

"Damning woman," she muttered beneath her breath. She jumped back to a sitting position, remembering that Sebastian was there. She was suddenly very aware of how alone they were, especially since her father was on the other side of the house and the other three females of her family were God-knew-where. She moved to stand up, but he gently took her wrist and kept her in place.

"I owe you an apology," he told her solemnly.

"No, my lord," she assured, "you don't. I wouldn't have invited you in if I didn't want help." She gave a light smile, bowing her head as she confessed, "I am far too polite. I wouldn't have put her in her place, even though she direly needed to be."

"Ah." He sounded amused, she noted. "Well, I'm glad to be of help. Perhaps one day you'll come to Yorkshire. I managed to sleep in a bit later than I had been expecting, so we will have to leave first thing in the morning." Sebastian frowned as she cleared her throat and plucked at the divan nervously. "What is it?" He peered into her face.

"Well...There's a bit of a problem with that, Lord Hoffman – "

"Sebastian," he corrected. She nodded jerkily.

"You see...Something made the horses escape from the stables and break through the fence to the cows and a bull...killed...one of your horses. Your other horse sprained its ankle, so until my father can figure something out, then..." She trailed off, raising her eyes to his face. He returned her gaze without any hint of anger or irritation. "You're not angry, are you?"

"No, but that does inconvenience me," he replied smoothly. She blinked and stared back at him. His eyes moved from her face and lowered. He reached out and brushed his fingers over her collarbone. "Did you dress this way for your friend and his fiancée or do you always look so lovely?"

Pleased by the compliment, she responded, "I did dress nicely for them, but it was for naught since she seemed intent on being rude, not to mention totally barbaric. I dislike being compared to my sisters." He chuckled.

"I do not doubt it, my lady," he answered. He paused, appearing thoughtful. "But I think that the men would prefer you over them." He slid his hand over her bare shoulder and down her arm, brushing over the sleeve of her gown. He leaned towards her, his mouth molding over her silken skin. She tried to resist the warmth that rushed from her toes to her stomach, but eventually gave in, raising her hands to his head and pressing her fingers into the ebony curls. His mouth slid down her neck to her shoulder, sucking gently. He moved down further to her breasts, bringing her gown down the slightest bit to leave a damp trail between her breasts. He finally raised his head and brushed his lips over hers, before pressing his mouth more firmly when she did not resist.

He hauled her into his lap only a moment later and she parted her lips in surprise. It was enough for him. His tongue dove in, caressing and coaxing. A moan slipped from the back of her throat as she pressed herself closer to him, wanting more of that fire that was building between them. His hands slid beneath her skirts, but she was at the point where she didn't care anymore. His hand moved up her thigh, inching closer to a place that had never been touched by any man. Before he could reach his destination, her sisters' voices in the foyer brought her crashing back to the real world and she hastily drew away from him, ashamed of herself. "Excuse me," she hastily said, spinning out of the parlor, hurrying up to her room.

What's wrong with me? She howled at herself as soon as she was safely ensconced in her room. She had the door locked and she was holding herself, shaking from the passion that had overwhelmed her and the way his cool touch had made her ache for him. She didn't want to desire him, didn't want to crave his mouth on hers. I will not be like my sisters, she vowed, violently shivering. I will not be like them!

X

Daniel had been surprised that his eldest daughter didn't join them for dinner and had raised a question about it, but none of the females knew why she hadn't come down and Sebastian played ignorance while his footman remained as clueless as the other four.

Sebastian had never suspected Bella Gales to be a virgin, but the violent reaction that had shot through her when she realized what she had been doing with him hadn't been feigned. He knew even before that, when he was kissing her, that she had never been intimate with a man. He had never gone after virgins because the majority had been twittering idiots or were so naïve that it was disgusting. Bella was neither. She evoked a horrible, powerful desire from him that he thought he would go mad from unless he touched her. It was the only reason he had attacked that sheep last night. He had had no reason for its blood. Merryl knew what he was and accepted it, giving him the daily blood he needed.

I can't stay here for long, Sebastian mused as he finished his meal. I have to figure out something soon and get to Yorkshire. I would prefer to bring Daniel's oldest daughter with me to stay awhile, at least until my mind and my cock find some other target. The only problem was that Sebastian knew neither would release Bella until he had her in his bed. Perhaps I can take something even better... The thought that entered his head was almost too risky. He could kill her. He hadn't had different blood ever since he employed Merryl as a young orphan boy. If he took a taste of Bella's blood, he might not stop. It might sate this damning obsession my body seems to have, though. There were no arguments after he gave that thought.

X

It a bit after midnight when Sebastian entered Bella's room. Whether she simply trusted her family or she had forgotten, her door had been unlocked and he knew she was asleep by the dark room and the stillness of it. After he silently closed the door, he crept towards the four-poster bed and pulled the curtains back a bit. Bella was lying on her back, sleeping soundly with one hand thrown out. A smile touched his lips at the position. He smoothed her flaxen hair from her face, trailing his finger down to her neck as he pushed the blanket off her. He eased her head to the side and lowered his mouth to her neck, his fangs extending as his ears were filled with the sound of her slow, rhythmical heartbeat.

As soon as his fangs sunk into her vein, she shifted in bed, a soft moan coming from her lips. Her blood was silky against his tongue and so deliciously sweet. He wanted to take every last bit of it, but brought himself away after a moment. He passed his fingers over the two dots. One of them healed, the other one lingered, looking like a faint bug bite.

His dark eyes moved down to her and he smiled, seeing her brow wrinkled slightly. He passed his hand between her breasts and down her stomach. As soon as his hand met her womanhood, she raised her hips to his palm. He wondered what she was dreaming of that was making her so aroused. He pressed his hand more firmly against her, gently circling his palm against her. She moaned in her sleep, her legs moving apart for him. It was an invitation that he desperately wanted to take, but didn't dare, not unless she was conscious – which she was not.

Drawing away from her and flipping the blanket over her, he took a step back and pulled the curtains to her bed closed. The urge to join her in that large bed of hers and curl up to her was almost unbearable. He managed to get out of her room and to his own without making a sound. As he sat in the chair at the desk in the room, he could still taste her blood on his tongue and remember the feel of her soft mound in his hand.

End Part I