But instead of retrieving his horse and fleeing, he continued up the steps and into the main hall. After taking in a deep breath and letting it out, Trap scanned the area. People he didn’t know milled about, wearing fine attire and glittering jewels. Trap refrained from tugging at his celluloid collar or pulling at the ends of his satin vest. He was done feeling as if he shouldn’t be a part of all aspects of her life. Something had been in her voice this morning, and he was going to find out what it was.
And if she wanted what he hoped she did, then the best way to prove to her that he wanted the same, was to wear this stiff get-up. As he maneuvered around clumps of people and servants who gaped at him, he worked out what he would say once he found her.
He drifted into the ballroom where an orchestra played and couples twirled. The sea parted, and there she was. His pulse sped up at the sight of her in a silk gown the color of a golden sunset. Her almond curls swayed as she talked with animation to the three people making up her group. She had yellow flowers in her hair, and he imagined plucking each one of them out and watching her luscious locks fall around her perfect shoulders. After she said yes to the question burning inside his heart.
When her spine went tense, he realized she sensed someone watched her. She turned, and he held his breath.
Her jaw went slack when she saw him. Wonder moved through her gaze as she slowly looked him over. Color rose in her cheeks, and when she lifted her eyes to his, a hopeful light looked back.
Confidence barreled through him, and he strode forward, took her in hand and away from the crowd. He didn’t care if the wealthy people left behind were offended.
She allowed him to lead her out of the room and down the hall, for once keeping quiet. With the beat of his heart roaring in his ears, he opened the door to the library and pulled her inside. Thankfully, no one else had found this out-of-the-way chamber.
He closed them inside then turned to face her. Candles flickered about the room, bathing her complexion in a soft and warm glow. He swallowed.
“Trap,” she breathed.
And the awe in her tone made him want to grab her close, but a few things had to be settled before he put his hands on her. “You look beautiful, Ellie.”
“You look…” She raised her hands and took a step forward.
He steeled himself against her touch as she ran her palms over his chest and shoulders.
“It’s Deacon’s,” he murmured. Trap’s foreman had been shocked when he’d asked to borrow the get-up.
Her lashes fluttered upward. “Why?” she said softly.
He wasn’t dense and knew what she really asked about. After a moment to collect himself, he explained, “I wanted you to see that I can fit into all parts of your life.”
Her brow knitted. “I…did I assume incorrectly about…” She clutched the lapels of his coat. “Did I hurt you in some way?”
With his heart his throat, he brushed his knuckles over her cheek. “No,” came his gravely reply. “All that hurts…is being away from you.”
She melted into him and raised her lips to his. They shared the softest and sweetest kiss, and his instincts told him he had not read her wrong. But he had to stop or they’d end up on the floor with her dress probably ruined. He stepped back, and he had to clench his hands into fists to keep from returning to the hungry look in her eyes.
“It’s time we change the nature of our relationship.”
Shock passed over her face. “You want to leave me?”
Had she lost her mind? Did she not see what he was wearing? “Woman, what gave you that idea? Do you see the suit I forced myself to put on?”
She swallowed but said nothing, her yearning, fearful and hopeful expression bolstering his courage. Whatever else happened tonight, he would leave this room with her promise to be his wife.
He lowered to a knee, and she gasped and took a step back.
“Ellie, I know we said we just wanted fun and companionship, but I’ve discovered that’s not enough for me.” His heart kicked against his ribs. “I want to look at you for the rest of my life. I want to be irritated by you, and exasperated with you, and…loved by you forever. I want your kiss, and only yours.”
She cupped her cheeks as tears hovered in her gorgeous green eyes.
“Will you marry me?”
“Trap,” she murmured, her voice shaking on his name. “Oh, my.” And she hurried forward and leaned down to set her mouth on his.
They kissed with abandon, with relief. Excitement poured through him in waves. She was going to be his.
She pulled back. “You love me?”
With a smile filled with amazed disbelief, she lifted her head to the ceiling and laughed in delight. “I had hoped for so long.” She looked down at him. “I have loved you for so long, I—”
At her admission, he pushed to his feet and wrapped her in his arms, holding as tight as he could without hurting her. Then he took her lips again, and this time, he let hunger reign. He pushed her up against a wall of books, and she lifted her legs around his waist.
There was too much fabric between them. But the impediment reminded him of where they were. With a strength he didn’t know he had, he lifted his head, breathing heavily. “You’ve got a house full of people.”
She bit her lip as need shone in her eyes. “But I—”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Her smile was as brilliant as the stars. “Never again.”
He cocked his head to the side. “Well, just on the drives, but this is my home now. You are my home.”
“I could go on the drives with you.”
At her foray into the old argument, he groaned and set his forehead to hers.
She lowered her legs as she launched into the debate they’d had for years. “Angelique went on a drive once, and I can throw a lasso and ride just as good as any man.”
“A cattle drive is no place—”
“I can do it.”
“I’ll be careful.”
“The fellows won’t like it.”
“They all love me, and I’ll make sure we have fun.”
He groaned again. She had to ask now, when he was feeling all generous because she’d said yes. Damn it. “Fine.” He was going to get reamed out into next Sunday by his foreman.
She crowed in delight and pushed at him to let her go.
He stepped back and watched as she picked up her skirts and clicked her heels together. “I’m gonna be a real cowgirl.”
He closed his eyes. “Deacon’s gonna kill me.”
She sidled up next to him, her gaze shining with happiness and desire. And love. “I won’t let him lay a finger on you.”
Her cute bravado always got to him. He fingered one of her curls, then picked a flower from her hair. “I feel much safer,” he said softly.
After a few moments of staring down at her beautiful face, he took her hand and together they left the room to join the party.