The Christmas Surprise
If I hear one more debutante declare that they will never marry unless it is for love, well. I shall break my quill! And we all know what happens when I break my quill. Things become very upsetting and it isn’t long before I--- Well, that is quite another story. Let this author, this matriarch, this paragon of society guide you with her infinite wisdom. It is apparent that many of you have gotten this silly notion of love in your head, most likely from American influence, and please do not get me started on those savages. The point, young dears, is that love, is silly. Take for example Lady Aleece, poor young dear never stood a chance! Can you imagine being mauled in public? By a commoner no less? Although, rumors have been running rampant that this very delicious commoner is in fact the Marquess of Somerset, I have my doubts. For one thing, a Marquess should be more unfortunate looking which is clearly not the case with Somerset. Let this be a lesson dear readers. If you marry for love, there is a very big chance that you will end up with your heart broken, or in that wretched commoners case—kidnapped (though many believe he should have been killed for even breathing the same air as our fair lady). Dear readers, have I taught you nothing this holiday season?—Mrs. Peabody’s Society Papers.
Lady Aleece curtsied to her dance partner. Rising, she settled her gloved hand on his proffered arm. Although she would have preferred to grimace, from when he’d trod on her toes, she nevertheless graced him with a weak smile. She was secretly glad the waltz wasn’t allowed yet at Almacks. If it was she’d be a cripple for life after dancing with the dunderhead.
“May I have the pleasure of the next country dance, my dear?” Sir Albert, third son to the Earl of Carno asked, returning Aleece to her friends.
Incensed at his familiarity for which she’d not given her permission, she spun around, almost causing him to trip. Something that wouldn’t have surprised her, considering how poor a dance partner he had been.
“I have not, nor will I ever give you permission to address my personage in such a familiar fashion. As for another dance, I fear my dance card is full, so I must graciously pass,”
Lady Aleece, daughter of the Duke of Carlisle, informed him, even though she’d have preferred to be a little more forceful in her refusal. Once near her group she turned back and stepped into the protective circle of friends.
Once safely ensconced, she glanced over her shoulder upon hearing the sputtering attempt of an apology. With a scowl she sent him packing back to, she could only wish, whatever rock he’d slipped from.
As Aleece turned back to respond to a question from one in her circle, her eyes caught sight of a vision of pure delicious wickedness. In an instant she felt her heart pound in her chest, and her mouth grew dryer than the cakes served in one of the anterooms at Almack’s.
Redirecting her attention to one of her closest friends and confidantes she quietly asked,
“Susan, who on earth is that devilishly handsome man over there? The one talking with yourbrother.” Aleece cocked her head oh so subtly toward the man she was referring to.
“I’m not sure. My brother arrived recently from Spain and only today came down to London. I wonder if the gentleman is a friend from the Guards?”
Aleece lifted her opened fan to hide most of her face as she peered over the top again at the man. “That must be it,” she said before turning back to her circle of friends.
Now partially screened from view she was able to better assess the handsome man.
Dark brown hair, fashionably cut and swept forward with a wisp falling over his forehead, which her fingers itched to brush back. A Bath superfine black evening coat tailored to emphasize his broad shoulders, so typical of the Guards’ officers, graced his torso, enticing her hands to want to touch him.
With the distance and crowd between them, Aleece wasn’t able to completely evaluate the entire form of this intriguing person which frustrated her. She did suspect from what was visible, the rest, she suspected, would be as perfect.
Slightly embarrassed at her thoughts she felt her face warm when this so mysterious individual looked directly at her and seemingly devoured her with his eyes before he gave her a slight nod. Aleece watched as Lord Jeffery, Susan’s older brother, and the man circled the dance floor heading directly to where she and her friends were conversing.
She turned to Susan saying, “They’re coming over here. Do you think this gentleman will garner an introduction?”
“I shan’t be surprised, considering how focused on you he appears.”
Aleece watched as this gentleman made his way toward her. When the crush separated briefly, it was then she noticed he was walking with a slight limp. From this her initial assessment of him she wagered he must have been injured in a battle.
As she observed them approaching her circle, it seemed by some unspoken order from this mysterious person her friends parted, allowing Lord Jeffery and this Adonis to step in.
“Dearest sister,” he said with a casual nod, before turning to Aleece. “Lady Aleece Taylor, may I introduce Mr. Thomas?”
Not being presented with a peerage title, Aleece gave the gentleman a shallow curtsey.
When he gave his hand to raise her, she graciously accepted the offer and a heated tingle rush up her arm only to settle in her middle.
“Mr. Thomas, it’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
The smile he bestowed on her would have made a lesser female faint. This was truly a warm, welcoming beam, not the typical pinched-lip ones most men gave. She even noticed a twinkle in his eyes.
“The pleasure is all mine, Lady Aleece,” he said, his words forming a warm blanket
If he’d been introduced to any of the others around her, Aleece had no idea, she was so focused on his eyes. The way the candlelight reflected in them, one moment hazel, then when he shifted his head, a dark brown, like his hair.
“Are you staying in Town long, sir?” Aleece asked, not sure why she did. Maybe, deep down she was hoping he’d call on her.
“Yes, m’ lady.”
The musicians struck up a quadrille. “I am so sorry to disappoint you, Lady Aleece, but with my injury I find it difficult to dance.” He leaned forward and whispered, “Mayhap a stroll properly chaperoned, of course, in the garden would make up for the lack of my dancing?”
With a smile and nod Aleece settled her hand on his sleeve, noticing the strength of his forearm even through the fine material. Turning to her friend she said, “Come, Susan, bring that reprobate of a brother and join us for a stroll in the garden.”
Aleece didn’t even wait for a reply as she and Mr. Thomas headed for the far end of the hall and the doors outside.
Once free of the mob, she let him guide her to the balcony overlooking the flowerbeds.
As they walked along the terrace, Aleece noticed several other couples taking the air as well, with at least one stepping into the maze. The one place she wouldn’t go for fear of being caught in even the most innocent of compromising situations. Not that being with this Greek god standing beside her wasn’t risking that kind of danger.
Just to be in his presence outside created enough danger for her and might even set tongues wagging. With a mental shake of her head to clear those girlish thoughts from her mind, which was so unlike her as she tended to think and speak her mind, Aleece turned and settled the small of her back against the balustrade.
“Kind sir, pray tell would it be improper to inquire as to the cause of your injury which prevents you from partaking of the main reason to attend a ball?” she queried, knowing she’d probably overstepped her bounds.
From her mother she’d learned, as a girl in pigtails and pinafores, that one never truly learned anything about anything by being quiet. Knowledge, in all things, was important to her.
This, she knew, was one of the faults many gentlemen found objectionable about her and had said as much.
He laughed, soft and sensually, sending shivers of delight down her spine. Never had she heard such a pleasant sound. It wasn’t the high-pitched squeals of silly chits or the nose-snorting noise most men make. This was almost like music to starving ears.
“I will answer your question, if I can ask you one in return,” he asked quietly, his voice soft as cotton and smooth as butter.
“Certainly, sir,” Aleece murmured back.
“You’re going to find this strange, but I was thrown from my mount.”
“That’s not so strange, many times I’ve come close to being tossed off the back of my horse,” she replied, leaving out that she’d been riding bareback. That little piece of information he didn’t need to know.
“Yes, but was your horse standing still at the time when the stag spooked you both? The horse reared, I went over his rump, and my leg landed on a log.”
What surprised Aleece was she didn’t laugh at his misfortune but felt sympathy for him.
With no concern to her action or even what Sally Jersey might think, much less say, if she were to grace the balcony, Aleece reached and settled her hand on his chest.
“I am so sorry. Does your leg trouble you much, except when dancing?”
“It is getting better. Having been laid up on my back, the muscles of course weakened,but with exercise, I’m quickly returning to my old self. Now, does that answer to your query to your satisfaction,” Mr. Thomas asked, as she watched him glance around. Before she could take a breath, he swept in and placed a chaste kiss on her ear.