About the book
“Even in a thousand lifetimes, my soul will find yours…”
Being the youngest of five sisters, Cecilia Banfield was told she had to wait her turn for marriage. The rules of polite society dictate that her oldest sister must marry first, and Cecilia can only oblige. So why can’t she get the image of the handsome Duke courting her sister out of her head?
Benedict Brown, the Duke of Fitzroy, is one of the most eligible bachelors of the Season. Under immense pressure to wed and produce an heir, as well as pay off his father’s debts, courting the woman his mother chose for him seems like the right choice. Except his heart is beating for her sister..
A war soon begins in their hearts and in their lives. Whilst fighting their own feelings, they fail to notice the shadows lurking in the corner. Someone would rather see them both fallen and broken, than happy together. When all seems darkest, can love prevail?
Cecilia Banfield watched the hustle and bustle around her with an inquisitive eye. The momentous event of this evening had been anticipated for many a fortnight, and now that it had finally arrived, it seemed that every female in the Banfield household was eager to look her best.
As the youngest of the Banfield sisters, Cecilia was privy to many a conversation regarding tonight’s ball held between her mother, Martha Banfield, and any of her four older sisters, Julia, twins Anne and Diana, and last but certainly not least, Elizabeth.
In fact, it was Elizabeth who was considered to be the most beautiful of all the Banfield sisters. It was her who had always been pushed right into the very center of attention for the sole reason that she was the eldest of all the daughters. Cecilia gazed at her in awe as Elizabeth patted her raven black glossy hair which was now curled beautifully around her porcelain white face. Her chocolate-colored eyes were of unavoidable charm, and her smile only accentuated her soft features. Her beauty was unparalleled, a fact which even before her coming out started with their mother, only to be fortified by her first appearance, and every subsequent one.
Most were eager to turn their inquisitive gaze to each and every one of the Banfield daughters as they appeared on the social scene. To all, it seemed that every Banfield daughter possessed a virtue of her very own making her unique, and as such, a good prospect for a wife. That was the reason the Banfield matron had subjected her entire life to: marrying off her daughters into well to do families.
Elizabeth was the beautiful one, there was no doubt about it. Anne and Diana were almost indistinguishable one from the other, a part they loved to play, if only to irk their mother. Tonight, however, they were forced to wear ball gowns of contrasting colors as punishment. Hence, their mischievous nature would be subdued if only for one night. Anne shone brightly in a blushing pink gown, while Diana resembled a forest fairy in her green dress.
Julia, the sister with whom Cecilia had had always been most close with, was the quiet one. She was often referred to as the wallflower of the Banfield daughters, a nickname Julia didn’t seem to mind. Any social circle outside the confines of her family and the close friends she’d known since childhood made her clam up and withdraw into her herself. This very evening, she was seated in an armchair in the corner of their room with a book in her lap. Her gown had crumpled underneath her feet, which she had placed under herself.
“Julia!” Mrs. Banfield’s thunderous voice exploded in the room. “Do mind your gown, child! Do you wish to bear the semblance of a servant girl?”
Julia stole a glance towards Cecilia and rolled her eyes once she was certain that their mother’s scornful gaze was turned away. Cecilia chuckled. Their mother would not allow a single thing to go wrong this evening, not if she could help it, and most of the time, she very well could. Cecilia waited for her mother’s huffing and puffing to subside, then she turned her attention towards the bed.
Her own gown still rested there, untouched, waiting to be put on. She had been particularly eager to attend this ball, for many reasons. Cecilia enjoyed balls, although she was never the center of attention. Elizabeth was. It was simply how these things went – her mother would keep reminding them on a daily basis. It had become something of a hymn in their household.
However, tonight’s ball would be special. It was finally Cecilia’s turn to purchase a new ball gown, and one had been procured for her more than a week earlier. Cecilia would open her closet several times a day, if only to touch the soft, twinkling fabric with the tips of her fingers. It was the most beautiful gown she had ever seen. In a way, it was a gift from her father, for he alone, apart from maybe Julia as well, understood the infinite displeasure in always being the last one to receive something. Thus, her choice of a dress on this particular evening represented all of her efforts at understanding that as the last in a row of daughters, she would also be the last to receive gifts and favors, but also the last to leave the house. It was simply how these things went.
Cecilia walked over to the bed, and just stood there, admiring her gown. She was referred to as the quiet one, and just like Julia, she maintained a constant smile, which made her amicable. Often, Cecilia would be scolded by her mother about daydreaming at a time when there were chores and obligations to be tended to. Therefore, Cecilia would stop with her fantasizing and do whatever it took to make her mother happy. In fact, the entire family seemed subject to that task. For, when Mrs. Banfield was happy, the entire Banfield family was happy.
Cecilia bent down and once more gripped the soft fabric with the tips of her fingers. It felt as soft as a cloud, and she couldn’t wait to put it on. She could already imagine the sheer pleasure. She had never required much to be content. She believed that happiness came from within and could be found in the smallest of places. On this very special evening, happiness would be wearing her dress and feeling like a princess who had arrived from some far away land to attend tonight’s ball. Pride washed over her. Joy seized her little heart, promising wondrous things, for tonight, it seemed that anything was possible. Cecilia shut her eyes tightly, feeling the magic all around her.
“Elizabeth!” Mrs. Banfield’s roaring voice destroyed all the semblance of peace that reigned inside the household. “What on earth is that!?”
Her face had been slightly over-reddened, and now that she obviously found herself in some sort of a predicament, those cheeks became almost poppy red. Her chest, budding from the slightly tight dress, rose and lowered quickly. Her hand was extended in the direction of her eldest daughter, with her index finger trembling in the air. All eyes fell on Elizabeth.
Cecilia glanced in the same direction. Her mother’s countenance made these four walls resemble a tiny, crowded place with barely enough room to breathe. For some inexplicable reason, Cecilia’s stomach ached, as if it sensed the oncoming storm. The magic was gone, just like that.
“What is it, Mother?” Elizabeth trembled, looking down at herself, at her feet, at her gown, confused at this unknown accusation.
Cecilia could see nothing. The glow in Elizabeth’s complexion had been scared away, and Cecilia was certain that Isabel, their ladies’ maid would be required to pinch Elizabeth’s cheeks twice as fervently as those of others. Mrs. Banfield stomped over to the other side of the room, deciding that Anne’s hair was fine even devoid of that flower comb that she meant to put on the back of her head. She bent down in front of Elizabeth. All the girls wondered what on earth she was doing, but then she grabbed the hems of Elizabeth’s gown and brought it closer to her face, inspecting it scrupulously, as her little eyes beaded like a rodent’s.
“What is this?” she announced sounding both victorious and defeated at the same time.
“What, Mother?” Elizabeth tried to bend down and stared at the spot her mother was showing her.
“Here, look!” Mrs. Banfield pointed her quivering finger adorned with a bejeweled ring. “A stain!”
All the girls rushed over, apart from Julia, who remained seated on her armchair, albeit in a much more lady-like position than a few moments ago. A few gasps filled the room. Cecilia squinted at the so-called stain. It was barely noticeable. In fact, seeing that Elizabeth would be walking and dancing, the hems of her gown would barely be evident, least of all that stain. It was hardly an emergency or a tragedy, as their mother would have one think.
“You can barely see it, Mother,” Anne dared to speak, but immediately pressed her lips together once Mrs. Banfield sent her a contemptuous gaze. Poor Anne looked down at her still bare feet, and Diane immediately rushed over, taking her twin sister by the hand, silently offering camaraderie.
“We cannot have your sister looking like this,” Mrs. Banfield spoke at everyone.
She got up, then shook her head just to fortify her displeasure and shock. Her hands rested on her laden hips, her chest still in a threat of overspilling from her dress. She pursed her lips, as she always did when she was lost in deep thought and needed a solution.
Cecilia could only understand now where that unpleasant sensation in her abdomen had come from. It was a premonition. An all too well-known premonition of something that would inevitably happen. It always did. It was simply how these things went.
“Cecilia, darling,” Mrs. Banfield’s voice took on a honeyed hue, dipping sickly sweet sensations. She spoke solemnly, carefully choosing each word, and Cecilia knew that the darling was only added because a favor was to be asked.
Cecilia had been anything to her family but a precious darling. The last child, a daughter at that, had arrived at a time when the other four daughters had already consumed up her parents’ will power, effort and at times, even love. Cecilia never doubted that she was a wanted child, and as such loved, but that love was an exhausted love, barely managing to surface among the remnants of obligations, concerns and woes.
Cecilia wished she could just plug her hears closed with her fingers and not hear a single word her mother was saying. Unfortunately, even if she couldn’t hear the actual words being spoken, she knew exactly what was demanded of her. She was to give up the gown that had been given to her with the reason of being rewarded for her patience, her understanding and her kind behavior. Now, once more, she would be forced to give it up.
“You do understand why I am asking this of you, don’t you, Cecilia darling?” her mother asked, as she walked over to Cecilia’s bed and picked up the gown with far less tender care than Cecilia had so many times before this moment.
Cecilia understood. How could she not? Hadn’t this been explained so many times before?
Her heart gave a wild, rebellious beat, as if it refused this explanation, but Cecilia herself said nothing. She merely listened, as she did a million times before.
“You will simply take one of Elizabeth’s old dresses.”
That was that. The matter had been settled.
Cecilia watched as her mother brought the beautiful ball gown over to Elizabeth, who didn’t take it immediately. Elizabeth’s gaze lingered on Cecilia awkwardly. It was not Elizabeth’s fault for being the eldest one, Cecilia kept reminding herself. But it is also not my fault for being the youngest one. Her mind echoed with her life truths; the ones she couldn’t run away from no matter how hard she tried.
Elizabeth granted her a shy smile, and Cecilia smiled back. After all, what else was there to do?
She watched as their mother helped Elizabeth take off her stained gown, but she turned away at that very moment. She couldn’t watch her sister put on the dress she herself had chosen with so much happiness, with such anticipation.
She excused herself with a weak excuse of going to the kitchen for a glass of water. She doubted anyone even heard her. Her mother least of all. She was far too busy tending to her eldest daughter, assuring that every single hair on her head was in its proper place and that she was dresses immaculately, in the dress meant for someone else, someone whose heart was now endeavoring to come to terms with her condition, for the millionth time ever.
Everyone was busy getting ready, for they were all about head to Whittington Hall very soon. It was only the head of the household, Frederick Banfield, the Viscount of Blackmore, who was waiting in his study, well aware of the fact that having five daughters already out meant a whole afternoon of preparing for the ball that was to take place in the evening.
Silently, Cecilia left the room, heading downstairs, feeling her heart in her throat. She swallowed heavily, knowing that this starved feeling would not be quenched by a mere glass of water.
As soon as Cecilia had reached the bottom of the staircase, she heard the upper door open, and she knew exactly who it might be. She lifted her gaze and within moments, welcomed her favorite sister Julia. Her cheeks were pink at the centers. Cecilia could guess with great accuracy that those cheeks were most probably the result of a bout of pinching.
The moment Julia’s eyes fell upon hers, she approached her and held her arm snuggly around her sister’s. Then, Julia proceeded to walk her towards the drawing room, away from the ears of servants. Carefully, Julia closed the doors and the sisters found themselves between four walls where they could share their feelings regarding what had happened.
Cecilia wiped away a single stray tear that threatened to reveal her emotions and the tenderness of her current state. Although Julia hadn’t seen the tear, she knew exactly what ailed her younger sister. She had always known. That was why the two were so close, as close as Anna and Diana, and although they weren’t twins themselves, Cecilia always felt like they were connected on a far deeper level, one that allowed far greater understanding of the heart.
“I know how joyful you were about wearing your new dress, Ceecee,” Julia spoke calmly.
Every time Cecilia looked into those eyes, see could see a perfect understanding of the sacrifice that Cecilia was forced to undergo. Unfortunately, there was only so much sacrifice one was willing to endure, and slowly but surely, Cecilia felt like she was reaching her end. It appeared that throughout her entire life, she had constantly been required to give and give. A frightening thought suddenly appeared. What would happen when she had nothing left to give? She refused to believe that fate was so cruel to her on purpose. She hadn’t done anything to deserve such unfair treatment, and yet… it was simply how these things went.
“You really chose a lovely gown,” Julia continued.
“Well, not like it matters now, does it?” Cecilia pouted, turning away from her sister, only to stare through a row of books on a nearby bookshelf. She tried to focus on them and read the titles, but her mind refused to acknowledge anything that wouldn’t revolve around her lost gown and the heartache that resulted from the loss.
She patted her own hair, which still needed to be done for the ball. If she would even go to the ball, that is. She felt so opposing to everything right now that she was on the verge of lying to her mother that she was coming down with something, solely so that she wouldn’t have to watch her sister shine in the dress she herself had chosen.
“Actually, it matters a lot,” Julia corrected her. “You are the youngest one, Ceecee. As such you are forced to give up a great part of your dreams. But, believe me that Elizabeth is forced to do the same, only in a different manner.”
Cecilia grumbled under her breath, still feeling one with that inner, spoiled child that urged her not to forgive Elizabeth for stealing her dress. It was hers. She had chosen it. It had been a special gift. Now, it was a source of anguish.
“Ceecee,” Julia said with a calming breath, approaching Cecilia and forcing her to turn around.
Then, she cupped her sister’s chin with the tips of her fingers. Cecilia’s lips were still pouting. Her brows were furrowed in displeasure. But they both knew that Julia always knew exactly what to say to alleviate the pain of any situation.
“Elizabeth must be the most presentable of us all,” Julia reminded her calmly, although the truth of what she was saying had been in the back of Cecilia’s mind the entire time. “You know that Mother has been putting great efforts at finding Elizabeth a good husband, because the reputation of whoever she marries shall reflect upon us later on as well.”
Cecilia thought about it for a moment. “Why can’t Elizabeth find her own husband?” she wondered. “Why can’t she fall in love and make her own choice regarding her husband and her own future happiness?”
Julia smiled, her deep green eyes evoking the images of a forest in bloom. “You truly are a sensitive, romantic soul, Ceecee. I’m not certain if that is a good thing to be or not.”
“Why not?” Cecilia frowned, the pain of her lost dress already a little lessened by her sister’s wise words.
“Because in our world, marriage is a business settlement.”
“You can’t possibly mean that.”
“I would like it not to be so, but I do not wish to lie to you,” Julia spoke more honestly than she ever did.
“But what about love?” Cecilia gasped. “Love is what makes people happy. It is what makes a marriage truly joyful. Certainly, there might be affection and fondness, but those are merely superficial compared with love. Without love, there is always something missing.”
Julia smiled again, a little solemnly this time. “A man and a woman learn to be happy with one another. Sometimes, even love happens, and then, that is truly a gift.”
Cecilia thought about it more gravely. In a way, Elizabeth would be forced to sacrifice her own happiness and allow herself to be married off to someone she might not love, just so that her marriage allowed the rest of her sisters a better chance of finding good husbands.
“Mother is merely endeavoring to assure that everything goes well tonight,” Julia concluded. “You know that Elizabeth wouldn’t take your gown on purpose. In fact, hasn’t she lent you her pearl necklace for the last ball?”
Cecilia looked at her feet, feeling slightly overcome by shame. Julia was right. Elizabeth had indeed lent her the pearl necklace, and Cecilia somehow felt that Elizabeth owed her that much. Then, she realized that she had been acting like a spoiled child all this time, instead of appreciating the sacrifice Elizabeth would be undergoing.
Cecilia herself doubted she could ever marry a man she didn’t love. At the tender age of nineteen, she was still a stranger to the complexities of love. However, she knew that there was nothing quite like it in all the world. Nothing could fill a voice left by a lack of love, and nothing could ever be more powerful or influential. That was at least what all her romance book had taught her, the ones where brave heroines always found a way to defeat the fate on their own, without much help from the knight in shining armor. However, love was a ubiquitous element to all of them. Without it, it was all purposeless.
“You speak nothing but the truth, dearest Julia,” Cecilia admitted. “I just wish I didn’t have to share things all the time. I wish I had something that is mine and mine alone.”
“Mayhap there is something out there that is yours and yours alone,” Julia spoke mysteriously, lifting her eyebrow as she spoke.
“What do you mean?” she wondered, as candlelight flickered throughout the drawing room, emphasizing the soft lines of Cecilia’s face.
“I mean that you are destined to find something you will never be forced to share with anyone,” she explained. “You just need to be a little more patient, and it shall find you.”
Cecilia’s honey-blonde curl fell over her forehead, and Julia tried to push it back with her fingers, but it stubbornly refused to fall back into its place.
“Come now,” Julia took Cecilia by the hand, and led her towards the door. “We need to choose which one of Elizabeth’s dresses you may borrow. How about the blue satin one? It will look absolutely wonderful with your skin complexion.”
Cecilia blushed at the compliment. Julia had managed to pick out Cecilia’s favorite of all the dresses that had belonged to Elizabeth. It was silly really to get upset over a dress. She could see it now.
Perhaps the night would not be a complete disaster, after all.
“I say, old chap, just take a look at all these blushing ladies!” Andrew Brown, the next in line for the Earldom of Crampton, stood next to his cousin Benedict, eyeing the row of gowns before them.
Benedict glanced at his cousin, in no particular mood to comment on the young women present. They were all lovely, all eager for his attention, but most of all, they all yearned to become someone’s wives and start a new chapter in their lives.
He sighed silently. His charcoal black hair was parted on the side, sleek and shiny. His steel blue eyes refused contact with anyone who looked in his direction, but that only made him appear more mysterious, as girls leaned over to whisper one another assumptions about him and Andrew.
Andrew, on the other hand, had always been the more sociable of the two cousins. More often than not, Benedict found him talking too much, but he had already gotten used to it. Some, however, believed that those who talked too much did so out of some inner imbalance. Andrew seemed to have everything in perfect balance, Benedict always thought. His cousin would focus on the appearance of the ladies present, as their gowns floated around them. They would turn and skip and flaunt their visage albeit shyly standing in front of handsome men in their finery. It was all a well-rehearsed game, which repeated over and over again, with nothing changing, save maybe the location. The same faces smiled with equal fervor, driven by the same desires.
Benedict was tired. He managed to suppress a yawn, but he was certain that another one would follow soon after, and mayhap, he would not be able to conceal that one. It was most fortuitous that his mother, the Dowager Duchess of Fitzroy, was not there to scold him for not partaking in the festivities in a more joyous manner, like Andrew. He had almost managed to convince his mother that he was exhausted by the trip he had taken, only having returned a mere day ago. Still, she wouldn’t have any of his explanations, and almost pushed him into getting ready.
He examined the attendance. The ladies were all lovely, Andrew had been right in making that statement. However, to Benedict they all appeared the same. Beautiful faces who might as well have been blind or deaf, for all they could see and hear was themselves. His words held no weight. To whatever he said, the answer was always affirmative or a mere nod of the head. Benedict was growing increasingly tired of it, for even the most beautiful sunset would eventually become dull and grey if one kept staring at it for too long without truly seeing the sun.
“Look, there’s your mother,” Andrew suddenly pointed to the other corner of the ballroom, across the shiny, polished floor, over which hung a massive crystal chandelier with what appeared to be a million candles.
Benedict glanced at his mother. Despite her age of five and forty, she still possessed remnants of her youthful visage and beauty that had made his father fall head over heels in love with her the moment he had seen her. They were both from families with good social standing, so finances and the notion of dowry were of no issue. They were allowed to choose their own partner, and eventually, they had made the right choice, with his mother being the more pragmatic of the two.
Even after all this time, she was still the one who took part in social activities, became a member of the Women’s Suffrage Society, and in all, endeavored to make the world a slightly better place for her family. The untimely death of her husband had made her a still desirable widow, but Benedict knew that her focus was on finding a good match for her son who would provide her with heirs to their family name and fill her afternoons with children’s laughter.
He recognized Martha Banfield instantly, for the Viscountess of Blackmore was a face not easily overlooked. Her eyes were small and beady, something that didn’t escape Benedict’s attention, and her lips constantly moved, without a moment’s peace. He wondered how her husband felt about a wife who always had something to say, even when she wasn’t asked for an opinion.
Not having yet been officially introduced to any of her five daughters, Benedict knew what his mother’s secret plan was. In fact, it wasn’t so secret at all. Benedict had the reputation of one of the most eligible bachelors in all of London. It was no wonder then that his mother had been receiving constant invitations which included himself, from duchesses and countesses wishing to introduce their daughters to him, daring to hope for a marriage between the two families.
A marriage was certainly something Benedict was hoping to obtain and very soon, hopefully. However, he held little hope that the woman he married would also be the woman who would make him happy. The death of his father had brought unforeseen repercussions, and with the state of affairs as it was, he doubted that he would have the privilege of marrying for love.
The ache was still fresh in his heart, but Benedict knew well what his role in society and in life was. It was a universally acknowledged truth which fell upon him like a heavy burden. Since the death of his father, everything had become a burden. Things which used to bring him joy were done out of mere necessity.
Even now, Benedict felt like fish out of water. At least he had Andrew by his side. It was one of those small, heavenly mercies, which he appreciated, as he steadied his gaze on his mother, still in a heated conversation with the Viscountess of Fitzroy. She was most certainly laying a matrimonial trap for him, which he would knowingly and willingly walk into. Certainly, his mother loved him. And, even more certainly, she wished to see him married.
Benedict noticed her waving at him, but he quickly turned his attention to Andrew, pretending as if he had not seen her. Mayhap she would leave him alone, if only for a few precious moments longer.
Cecilia stood by Julia’s side, watching at all the guests in attendance. The dance had already begun, with young men and women already starting to mingle. She wished she could say that the evening had begun well, and that it had only become more impressive and enjoyable.
It had not. Cecilia would occasionally glance at Elizabeth, who was beaming in her turquoise-colored dress, with dainty embroidery at the sleeves and neck. She resembled a mermaid that had washed up on the shore. Cecilia whined silently. The knowledge of the dress still brought her grief, although she had come to terms with the knowledge that she simply had to give it up.
Julia squeezed her sister’s hand, then suddenly, pulled her back to their table. Cecilia wondered why, but once she noticed that their mother had been speaking in a hush-hush manner with the Dowager Duchess of Fitzroy, all had become clear. Mother had evidently been leading the conversation. That much was obvious. The Dowager Duchess’s heart-shaped face was focus on the other woman, her slightly reddened lips set in a pleasant expression of agreement.
Cecilia wondered where Father was. Her eyes searched the room for his dark brown hair and his neat moustache. It wasn’t difficult to find him among a small group of gentlemen whose countenance was equally strong and reliable. Her attention switched back to her mother. She leaned in closer, trying to catch snippets of their conversation.
“… and they say she was caught alone in the hallway with Mr. Thomlinson,” her mother had shared yet another gossip she overheard. “Can you imagine that!?”
Cecilia wondered who the poor woman in question was. Most of the time, it didn’t matter. Her mother rarely knew the people in question. She had only heard stories about them, which she was more than happy to share with others. It was as if she felt there was a wall of decency that separated her from the protagonists of her gossips, and she felt safe enough to retell the story no matter how indecent it might have been.
The Dowager Duchess seemed to be the right audience for her mother’s gossip. The two had been seen conversing many a time during balls and other celebrations, and Cecilia wondered if there was a more profound reason the two had gotten so close over the past several months.
“Why, I never,” the Dowager Duchess expressed her distaste for women behaving freely around young men. “I hope that after such a sordid episode, she doesn’t hope to find a good, decent husband.”
“I certainly doubt she would,” Mrs. Banfield spoke fervently, nodding her head.
Just as Cecilia was about to lean slightly more backward, in an effort to hear more of their conversation, Elizabeth approached them, and grabbing both her sisters by the arm, led them to the other side of the ballroom, where ladies stood waiting and blushing, hoping that the young man they had been glancing at timidly would approach them and ask for a dance.
“What is it, Elizabeth?” Julia asked. Cecilia was on the verge of asking the same, but the blush on Elizabeth’s cheeks assured her something monumental was taking place, something the two of them had yet to find out about.
Elizabeth huddled around her two sisters, as if there was a conspiracy taking place, and the three sisters were the main conspirators. Cecilia almost chuckled out loud with excitement. She had forgotten all about the dress, and eagerly awaited the reason why Elizabeth had pulled them aside so suddenly.
“Have you noticed Mother speaking to the Dowager Duchess of Fitzroy all evening?” Elizabeth spoke softly, although there was no need, as the music spilled all around them so loudly and so effortlessly that Cecilia doubted anyone could overhear them, even if they were standing quite close.
“Yes, and?” Julia shrugged, an action their mother deemed highly unladylike and often corrected it.
“What do you mean and, silly?” Elizabeth beamed, and suddenly, Cecilia understood the reason. “You do know that the Dowager Duchess is the mother of Benedict Brown, the Duke of Fitzroy, who also happens to be one of the most eligible bachelors in all of London!” She almost shouted this time, then quickly pressed her hand to her lips, blushing gently.
Cecilia glanced at the crowd around her. She wondered who this Duke of Fitzroy was. Perhaps the man in the corner conversing with that lady in the lavender colored gown? Or, mayhap he was the one seated alone at a table, with a drink in his hand? If he was considered one of the most eligible bachelors, then he certainly must have been handsome as well. That conclusion only seemed logical. Yet, Cecilia could not pick anyone out particularly.
There were certainly handsome men there, all of whom seemed to beam with joy at being there, as if a new chance had been given. In a way, every new ball was a new chance of finding the one to spend the rest of their life with. Cecilia almost felt sorry for Elizabeth, who could not make a choice of her own, but rather relied on Mother to do it in her name.
“Which one is he?” Cecilia suddenly wondered, as her gaze stopped on a man who seemed to be the only one displeased at being here.
She took a few moments to study his countenance, hopefully undetected. His solid jaw stood firm, without the slightest indication of a smile in his cheeks or on his lips. There was a slight indentation in his protruding chin. He stood with his both hands behind his back, his dark hair sleek and in place. There was no sign of amusement on his handsome face, although the man he was with seemed to have fun for both of them.
Vaguely, his face seemed familiar. Cecilia felt as if she had seen him somewhere before, but she couldn’t quite remember where. His look was one of deep concentration. Only then did she notice that the man was looking in the direction of the Dowager Duchess and her own mother.
Could he be…
“Cecilia?” Elizabeth’s voice brought her back to the present moment. “Are you even listening?”
“What?” Cecilia blinked heavily a few times, then glanced at Elizabeth. “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. What was it you said, Lizzie?”
Elizabeth seemed to ponder something for a moment, then continued. “I said, that the duke is the man over there.”
She tried to point, but that was easier said than done. Elizabeth tried to glance in the direction of the man in question, who was just now approaching the Dowager Duchess and their mother. Cecilia gasped; her chest constricted by a sudden arousal of curiosity. Her inhale was sharp, but she managed to keep it unnoticed. She felt rooted to the ground as her eyes followed the man that had been identified as the Duke of Fitzroy.
The man who had caught her attention. The man who, like her, wished he were somewhere else entirely.
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