A thick wave of exotic, spicy scent engulfed her as Sir Richard stepped forward and took her hand. ‘It does not do to be too predicable.’ He bent forward and gave the small, plump hand a kiss that was a little too lingering for its owners liking in such a public place. ‘When I first saw you I thought for a moment that an elfin queen had flitted in from the forest to join the party…’

   Rowena gave him a playful slap on the wrist. ‘Oh stop it! I look more like a cabbage-patch pixie. You are not going to get anywhere with me using flattery!’

   ‘Flattery? My dear lady, you do me a great disservice! I speak only the truth.’

   She laughed, enjoying his charming attentions despite her suspicion that he wanted something. ‘You are frisky tonight. And looking very smart too. On the prowl, are you?’

   He smiled dangerously. ‘Absolutely.’

   She raised a questioning eyebrow. ‘Indeed, and are we after any prey in particular?’

   ‘Yes, you.’

   She had to work hard to keep her expression free of the panic his words unlashed in her heart. ‘I always thought a wolf did not go after a scrawny fawn when there was a freshly killed hind before it already.’

   ‘It might if the meat was more tender…’ he purred, his voice lowered to a deep, velvety drawl that oozed over her like a caress. Rowena had always found it hard to tell when he was like this if he was being serious or just teasing her. She regarded him silently for a moment, trying to decide if that really was a hint of a smile playing on the corners of his mouth. Yes, it was.

   She tossed her head. ‘If you think you are going to amuse yourself by spending all evening toying with me, you can think again.’

   ‘This evening, madam, I shall not leave your side for a single moment. After all,’ he gave her a sly sideways glance, ‘who would want to be anywhere else but at the side of the most beautiful and admirable damsel at the feast?’

   Her mind almost went blank with panic for a moment. This was the last thing she wanted or expected to hear from him. She desperately searched for an obstacle to place in his way. Ah yes, that might do it -

   She put her hands on her hips and boldly looked up at him. ‘It will make people think I’m wretchedly desperate if I am always clinging on to you. I do not want to look like some love-sick girl hanging on a man all evening.’

   He crossed his arms and calmly met her challenging look. ‘That’s alright then. I don’t mind if I look like a love-sick idiot hanging on a girl all evening.’

   Things were complicated enough as they were; why did he always have to be so damn obstructive! She stamped her foot. ‘If you insist on annoying me by following me around like a shadow, I will not stand for it!’

   He smirked like someone who did not doubt he would win and to whom resistance simply provided amusing sport. ‘Indeed…and what are you going to do about it?’

   ‘I - I will be such a shrew that you will not be able to bear being anywhere near me if I do not wish it!’

   He moved closer to her and stooped down to her ear. ‘I shall be stuck to you all evening like pine sap regardless, so don’t think you will get rid of me, lady,’ he whispered, his hair brushing against her cheek.

   She looked down at the floor uneasily. ‘Oh really, and why is that?’

   He stepped in front of her. ‘Because -’ he placed a finger under her chin and tilted her head up so she could no longer avoid looking him in the eyes, ‘you are planning some hare-brained attempt to steal the letters from Lord Cunningham this evening, while everybody is distracted by the feast.’