Staff feature: Leslie DeVooght
Bea lifted the bow, aiming for the crowded target. She pinched her left eye closed, pulled back on the string, and released it. The arrow zipped through the air and pierced the center of the ringed target, besting the other archers.
“Another precision shot from my older sister.” Cecilia spun her parasol. “Too bad your aim isn’t so good when it comes to gentlemen’s hearts.” Laughing, she caught the arm of Lord Whitworth and started for the tent.
“Never thought one worthy.” Bea crossed the distance and snatched the arrows from the target. If not for the perfect weather outside and her mother’s scowl inside, she would’ve remained at the house. She marched several paces from the target spun and shot an arrow. While it soared, she readied another and sent it to meet its friend. Hopefully with Bea’s next birthday, her mother would accept defeat. Everyone else had.
Bea positioned her final arrow and released the bow’s string. It landed, forming a perfect triangle.
A hearty clap erupted behind her. “Nice shot.” A man’s voice joined the applause. Probably one of her sister’s suitors.
“Thanks.” Bea glanced over her shoulder.
The stranger’s smile softened his chiseled jaw, and his brows rose over dark eyes that seemed to be both intense and warm. “Where’d you learn to shoot like that? Don’t believe I’ve ever seen a lady as talented as you.”
Bea hurried to the target and removed the arrows. “You should see my needlework.”
“Really?” He joined her.
“No. I’m terrible.” She dropped the arrows into her quiver and fisted her tingling fingers. Surely her stomach’s flutter was telling her to beware of this stranger and nothing more.
Bea stepped back, folding her arms over her chest. “Since I have no idea who you are or where you appeared from—”
“Forgive my manners.” He bowed. “I’m Henry.”
“Title is not so important when you’re a mere second son, a traveling companion of the prince’s cousin.” He straightened. “And who is the captivating lady with the unparalleled vision?”
“Beatrice, and sir, if you’re looking for the picnic and the ladies who will happily swoon at your charming words, they’ve retired to the tent.”
“But I’m full of energy.”
“Surely you’ll want to save some for the ball being held in honor of the prince.”
“Will you be in attendance?” Henry asked.
Henry chuckled. “Perhaps, we could endure a waltz together.”
“I don’t think you will have to endure anything. The ladies won’t refuse an offer from you to fill a spot on their dance cards.”
“I tend to lose it as soon as my mother is out of sight.”
Henry nodded. “How about a friendly wager?”
“Depends.” She narrowed her eyes. What was his game?
She smirked. “You are aware of my skill level?”
“Then you have nothing to worry about.”
“What are we playing for?”
“If I win, you don’t lose your dance card and enter my name for three dances including a waltz.”
Henry laughed. “Thank you for this humbling experience.”
“Words are nothing.” Bea slipped an arrow from her quiver, twirling it in her fingers. “What do I get when I win?”
“I’ll create a distraction tonight, so you can slip into a quiet corner.”
“Not sure how you’ll accomplish that, but watching you try to evade Mother will be entertaining.”
“First, you must win.” Henry cocked a brow.
“One arrow, closest to the bull’s eye.” Bea nodded firmly.
“Ladies first.” He gestured at the target.
She slapped her arrow into his palm. “I’ll go second.”
Henry selected a discarded bow and stepped behind the line drawn in the dirt. He aimed and shot. The arrow landed a hair from the target’s center.
“Nice placement.” Bea chuckled. She had never had this much fun with a man. Too bad Henry was about to lose. She might’ve enjoyed a spin around the ballroom with him.
“Bea.” Cecilia skittered to a stop and dropped into a dramatic curtsy. “Your Royal Highness, we are delighted you’ve joined us.” She rose, covering her chest with delicate fingers. “I do apologize for my sister and her games.” How did Cecilia manage to scowl and smile at the same time? It was—
“Your Royal Highness?” Bea flipped her attention to Henry.
“Second in line to the throne.” He shrugged, grinning. “Your turn, my lady.” He stepped to her side and leaned in close. “But forgive me if I pray you miss the target entirely.” His breath tickled her ear, sending shivers down her arms.
Bea’s pulse raced as she reached for an arrow. With trembling fingers, she placed it against the bow’s string and inhaled deeply. She’d made this shot hundreds of times. Exhaling, she raised the bow. But never in front of a prince, and more importantly, never in front of a man who made her muscles tremor. She pulled back the string.
“Wait until Mother hears about this.” Cecilia stomped.
The arrow slipped from Bea’s fingers. “That doesn’t count.” She bent and grabbed the arrow, positioning it.
“Take your time,” Prince Henry said, “and perhaps, consider my offer. I know you have the ability to choose.”
Bea pressed her teeth into her lower lip, while her heart sounded a message to her brain. What was she thinking? Love at first sight was a myth. She glanced at the man making her question everything she believed.
His focus met hers, stilling her nerves. He seemed different from the others … confident yet unassuming, and it was only one night.
She shot the arrow, sending it to the target’s outer ring.
“I don’t believe it.” Henry clapped. “Hope you don’t regret spending the evening with a second son.” He drew up beside her and offered his arm.
Bea passed her bow to her pouting sister and placed her fingers around her prince’s arm. “Hope your toes don’t regret spending the evening with an archer.”
When Leslie isn’t writing, she serves as Director of Women’s Ministries at her church, cheers on her three children, and enjoys date nights with her husband, who loves that she researches kissing. Leslie is represented by Bob Hostetler of the Steve Laube Agency.