"Find an excuse. Claim you are ill and do not wish to be disturbed. Meet me at Boodles."

Clara eyes widened at what he was proposing. "He told you?!"

"We have no secrets from each other. He is my brother by way of experience not by blood. We have suffered much together. It would seem the problem with our existence is that our experiences contain more hate than love. Something, that if I can change for him, I would stop at nothing to achieve. Can you say the same?"

Clara only nodded to affirm. She dared not speak. She could not, too overwhelmed by her emotions. The waltz ended, Beau bowed to her deeply, and strode from the room.

It took a few hours to track down Benjamin. Beau should have known he'd pick the more miserable section of Town to drown his sorrows.

"Chosen to slum it have we?"

Benjamin looked up and laughed. Not at what Beau said but at the very sight of him. It was too comical. Beau being so refined became a stark contrast to his surroundings.

"People are beginning to stare. You know how I feel about that," Beau said pointedly and Benjamin threw some coins on the table and left with him.

"Where to?" he asked once they reached the doors.

"Boodles? If you insist on drinking yourself into some sort of stupor, at least this way I can be certain to order a carriage to take you home."

"You are too good to me."

"I know," Beau said as they rounded the corner. "I also know Mr. Banks does not have a membership to Boodles so... we can be left undisturbed for the rest of the evening."

"Thank you. This ... none of this is your fault," Benjamin said, as they continued to walk.

"I should not have encouraged," Beau said, remorsefully.

"No, you were right to encourage. I was wrong to wait so long. I should have spoken up. I had opportunity...weeks if I am honest with myself. I knew how she felt about me and I her from that very first night. Now..."

"Now, we do as any of us can when made a miserable failure at love... play some billiards, lose at cards, and drink the night away hoping for a better tomorrow."

Benjamin chuckled, "Sounds like you speak from experience."

"We all suffered at one time or another," Beau said. Soon enough they found themselves outside of Boodles. Beau was good to his word at keeping him distracted. Although Clara was never far from his mind.

As time ticked on Beau thought he must have asked the impossible. Clara would be a no show. It may not have been through any fault of her own but he felt certain...

Then he'd seen the expression on Benjamin's face change suddenly. Beau knew better than to react. He continued to play out his hand at cards.

"What the deuce...it can't be!?" Benjamin stood up abruptly, folded his hand and stormed from the room.

"What was that about?" several of the other gentlemen asked Beau. "You know Mr. McAllister... he grows more mysterious everyday. Come, let us play on."

Benjamin thought his eyes must have been playing tricks on him. He could have sworn he had seen her peek her head into the game room. Once he reached the hall however he did not see her at all.

He shook his head. He was being nonsensical. Certainly she wouldn't risk exposure by coming here the very night she got engaged. What was he...

"Benjamin..."

A hushed voice came from the alcove and she stepped forward. She was not a dream. This was no apparition. She was real and standing now before him.

He gripped her up by her arms, "What are you doing here? I thought I told you never to attempt such foolishness again?"

"I had to see you."

"Why? Wished to show me the ring? I'd seen it, when Banks said he was going to give it to you. Along with an empty promise to wed if he found you lacking betwixt the sheets."

"He said...,"Clara could not even think to repeat what Benjamin revealed.

"Why do think I came to you tonight?"

"Is that only reason?"

Benjamin let her go. He straightened to his full height. "It is now. Go home, Clara."

She flinched at his words as if he struck her with his hand. "NO!" She raised her voice and several men passing by looked at them strangely.

Benjamin took her arm again and led her outside. "You don't belong here. You need to go home, and I will take you there myself if need be."

Clara stared at him defiantly, "I am not moving an inch until you tell me what you came out to that balcony to say."

"To hell with that! And to hell with you! Your choice has been made and you have condemned us both with your decision. I owe you nothing."

"I own you, Mr. McAllister. You can run from it all you want but there is no place to hide. You belong to me, just as I do you. No marriage to Banks will change that. I did not believe before. I failed you, us. I should have been more direct then perhaps..."

Benjamin hailed a carriage. This was no conversation for the street. He picked her up and placed her inside. He paid the coachman and gave him her address.

Clara was positively seething by this point.

"How dare you man handle me? You have no right!"

"You are correct, Lady Bentley. I have no right, to you or any other. My heart is my own and that is how it shall remain."

"Of all the stubborn bull-head infuriating men, YOU Mr. McAllister are by far the worst," Clara said whipping the hat from her head causing her hair to fall.

"Put that back on. We have not reached your residence yet. What if you are seen?"

"I don't care. Let them see me. Let them talk. Let the gossips have their fun and ruin my chances. I don't care!"

"You are moaning like a petulant child," Benjamin grumbled, but he relented a little, picking up her hat and handing it back to her. "Please."

She snatched it out of his hand and placed it back on her head taking only a moment to tuck her long locks away. "Satisfied?"

"No," he crossed the carriage to sit beside her. He reached for her face and for one insane moment Clara thought he was going to kiss her however he just reached over and tucked some hair that had escaped its confines behind her ear.

"Better."

Clara sighed in frustration, folding her arms at her chest.

Benjamin stared at her profile as she stared out the window. "What do you want from me, Clara? What would you have me say?"

The carriage reached her Aunt's home. "I expected you to say, I love you." The coach came to a halt and she stepped out. "Now, I see I was expecting too much." She shut the door on him. She did not even wait to see if he would follow. She knew that he wouldn't. The carriage left and with it went Benjamin and her heart. 

Forever RuinedRead this story for FREE!