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Nevertheless, John has to spend time with Belle, as he is old friends with Alex, her cousin Emma's husband, and so gets to know her and starts to fall in love with her. On his property one day, John and Emma are shot at by an unknown assailant, but John protects them.
He has also been getting mysterious, anonymous letters. Scared both by what might happen to her and his own negative effect on women, John refuses to see Belle anymore, even after they have had a wonderful time together in several different contexts, and have even kissed several times. However, he tells her that he's hurt women in the past; even though she doesn't believe him, he still won't see her.
As the group moves to London, Belle decides to spread the rumor that she is engaged.
John falls under the wrong impression that she is engaged to his brother, and is so relieved when this turns out not to be the case that he begins to court her himself.
You'll be marrying a rapist!
And someone might be trying to kill me! John: Let's get married right now Bella: But None of my friends know you. My brother is away at university. My parents are on vacation and god knows when they'll come back. We'll be wed by a drunken priest. I won't even have a decent gown. This won't be any girl's dream wedding.
Bella: Yes, master!
John: Ok, Bella, this is dangerous. I want you to hide because this guy is wily and he'll surely go after you in order to get revenge on me. I'm going to help you by going where I'm not supposed to go despite the fact that I'm defenseless. John searched his brain for the most obscure Shakespearean play he could think of. He chuckled. Belle grinned, graciously accepting the compliment as her previous antagonism toward the man melted away.
For a moment it looked as if he would accept. He opened his mouth to say something, then let out a tiny sigh and closed it. Belle cocked her head and was about to say something further when she noticed with surprise that he limped. An intriguing man, this Lord Blackwood. And, she had to admit, he was really quite handsome, with strong, even features, and a body which was lean and powerful in spite of his injured leg.
His velvety brown eyes displayed obvious intelligence, but they also seemed hooded with pain and skepticism. Belle was starting to find him very mysterious, indeed. She bristled at his rudeness. That certainly got her attention. No one had ever before told her that he was quite certain he could do without her company.
And it would have been impolite to start reading again. You are not dreadful at merely polite conversation. You are lacking at all forms of it. There was a pause, and then a strange, sad light appeared in his eyes. Belle shoved her belongings into her satchel. He glanced up at the sky. You probably should.
I shall certainly be drenched. She watched his back as he walked away from her. His limp was quite pronounced, but he moved much more quickly than she would have thought possible.
She kept her gaze fixed on him until he disappeared over the horizon. As she mounted her mare, however, a compelling thought entered her head. He sighed. He sighed again, this one loud with sorrow and self-loathing and pure, simple irritation. He never knew what to say to women anymore. Belle set off back to Westonbirt, the home of her relatives. Her American-born cousin Emma had married the duke of Ashbourne a few months earlier.
The newlyweds preferred the privacy of country life to London and had resided at Westonbirt almost continuously since their wedding. Of course the season was over, so no one was in London anyway. Belle sighed. Back at the marriage mart, looking for a husband.
She was getting heartily sick of the entire process. Some of the men had been completely unsuitable, but most were decent sorts, well-connected and quite likeable.
Belle spurred her horse into a canter as the rain began to thicken. That left only Belle, and since Emma was now a married lady she was a suitable chaperone, so Belle went off to stay with her cousin.
Belle breathed a sigh of relief as she rode up a hill and Westonbirt rose over the horizon. The massive building was really quite graceful, with long, narrow columns of windows marching across the facade. Belle was already starting to think of it as home. She headed into the stables, handed her mare over to a groom, and made a mad dash for the house, laughing as she tried to dodge the raindrops which had started to fall at a furious rate.
She stumbled up the front steps but before she could push open the heavy door, the butler opened it with a flourish.
Emma made a face which told her exactly what she thought of that. Belle made an equally unpleasant face. Belle headed up the stairs and through the labyrinth of hallways which led to her room. She quickly peeled off her sodden riding habit, changed into a soft blue dress, and headed back downstairs.
Belle smiled to herself. She was learning more and more about this married love thing by the minute. Some chaperone Emma was turning out to be.
Belle looked down at her shoulders. The fabric of her dress was damp from her hair.