A/N: Thank you so much to all of my reviewers! Your comments mean so much to me! I hope you all enjoy this chapter! And don't forget to review! If there are any lurkers out there, I would love to hear from you! ; )
Lynn found her mother in the library, speaking with a group of other women, all mothers themselves. When Lynn entered, she heard a shrill of laughter erupt from the group and she wondered what could all be so hilarious. Then she heard the words "knitting a shirt" and "looked like a sock." She only rolled her eyes, for old women were always laughing at the most obscure things. Walking to the group she cleared her throat, which immediately got the attention of the women.
"Mother," she said, ignoring the rude looks she was receiving, "may I have a word with you?"
Her mother stepped forwards. "Of course Lynn dear. If you would please excuse me ladies, it seems my daughter has something to tell me. I shall be back in a bit."
She walked away from them and joined her daughter in the hall. They walked up to the office and Lynn closed the door behind them.
"What is it dear?" Beverly asked.
"Mother, do you know what "surprise" Henry O'leary has planned for tonight?" Lynn replied, while she crossed her arms over her chest.
Her mother choked on the beverage that she was drinking and looked at Lynn with surprised eyes. "What ever are you talking about? I know of no surprise."
Lynn raised her eyebrows. "Oh really? Then why are you so nervous."
Beverly laughed nervously, a sign that she was lying. "Oh darling, that's just the alcohol in my drink. There is no surprise."
"Mother, you know I can tell when you're lying to me, and you are definitely lying now. You can either tell me about the surprise or I'll scream."
Beverly fidgeted for a moment before she began to speak. "Alright, Lynn, you beat me. Of course you always do." Lynn smirked. I knew she'd tell me.
Beverly took a deep breath; she knew that this was not going to be good. "Well, when your father was still alive, and I was pregnant with you, he loved to gamble. One night, when he was gambling with a few other men, he was losing all his money, but he thought he had a good hand, so he wagered his firstborn child's hand in marriage. The rest of the group figured he must have a great hand, so they all folded, except for one. He had a son that was about four years old at the time. The man knew that it might be hard for his son to get a wife, for the family wasn't very rich. So the man met your fathers' bet with his house deed. It turned out that the man had a royal flush, and your father only had a full house. The man ended up winning, and your father was devastated, he really was. When he told me, I just couldn't believe that he had gambled with my unborn daughter's life. But he said that there was nothing to do about it now, and that my child was now betrothed to that man's son. Well as you now, that child was you, and the man's son was Henry O'leary."
After she had finished the story, she waited to be yelled at by Lynn, but was surprised when she was first met with only silence. Lynn was stunned, to say the least. She just couldn't believe that her father had gambled like that with her marriage. Now she fully understood what Henry was talking about and why he was so affectionate. He knew that she would be his in due time, he just had to wait. When Lynn finally got a hold of herself enough to speak, she was furious.
"How could he have done that to me?" Lynn asked, her voice hoarse and quiet. Her mother knew this was bad, for when Lynn got angry, she was not loud, but immensely quiet; she knew this was not good.
"He was drunk at the time, and, well, Henry is a nice boy."
"A nice boy?" Lynn spat out. "Mother, I do not love him! Isn't that what marriage is all about? Love?"
"Love cannot be the only thing in a relationship. There's money, and how you get along with one another. And from what I've seen, you and Henry get along splendidly."
"No we don't! Every time I am with him I have to pretend to be nice! I can't stand that skunk!"
"Lynn!" her mother yelled. "You cannot speak about your future husband that way! You know that there is nothing I can do about it! You two shall be wed in holy matrimony the day after your eighteenth birthday."
"That soon!" Lynn cried. "That's a month away!"
"Yes I know," said Beverly sadly. "That's barely any time to plan. But the announcement is to be tonight. I wanted it to be made at a ball, and I don't know if there shall be another one after tonight."
"I want to marry Nicholas," Lynn said stubbornly. "Not that low-down, sap Henry."
"I know Lynn. But you'll just have to make the best of it."
"Make the best of it? Are you insane! How can I live with that unbearable creature! He doesn't know left from right!"
"He has a fortune. Once he turned 15 he set out and started his own business, you know that. He owns the biggest lumber business in Georgia, and is a wonderful gambler. He makes half of his money at card games and half of it at the lumber business. He's most likely a millionaire."
"Nicholas is just as wealthy and I love him."
"Well, you can't have Nicholas, you have Henry. So go back down stairs and have a good time. I don't want to see you moping about," Beverly said sternly.
Lynn stomped her foot impotently. "I will not have a good time. And I shall avoid Henry at all costs."
With that Lynn went the room, slamming the door behind her.
What am I going to do? She thought helplessly. How am I going to get on with that foul man? I hate him!
The rest if the afternoon, Lynn was all pouts. She barely spoke with anyone, unless the person was Nicholas. With him she tried her hardest to be pleasant, but couldn't get her mind off of Henry. Multiple times she saw him staring at her from a distance, which made her even more uncomfortable than she already was. She knew she was going to have a tough time getting over this, but she always stood strong, and she was determined to make this situation no different.
After the girls' afternoon naps, it was time for the ball. All the girls hurried to get ready, except Lynn. She was forced out of bed by her Mammy and dressed in her gown. Her ball gown was gold with diamond trim and satin ruffles layering down at the bottom. Her train was most likely the longest one there, which would normally have made Lynn glow with pride, but tonight it just wasn't the same. To her, tonight wasn't a ball at all, but a death sentence. Tonight would seal her fate with Mr. O'leary, and have to live the rest of her life with him.
Once she was all dressed, she got her hair done by the servants in an elegant up-look and curls hanging down the side of her face. She remembered that she had taken hours to pick out this hair arrangement, and she looked quite lovely in it, but it mattered to her not. Tonight was the end of her life, but at least she would go out being the most beautiful girl at the ball.
Yes, she thought. I shall not go out like a ninny. I'll go out like a queen. She raised her chin. I shall not pout anymore, and feel sorry for myself. I'll be happy and the most pleasant girl there, so all the boy's will be sorry that they are not getting me.
With this new resolve, Lynn rose from her chair, and went down to the ball, her chin high and her shoulder's squared.
When she got down to the ballroom, she was quite pleased with what she saw. The whole room had been transformed to look it's best. It was decorated with bouquets of flowers (mainly red roses), and had gold satin wrapped around the supporting columns. The room looked like one that the Queen of England herself could dance in. At once, when Lynn entered, a line of men formed around her, asking to dance. To her dismay, Henry was the one that was closest to her, and to keep her image as a lady, she could do nothing but except the offer her made.
The first dance was a waltz, and it just so happened that Henry was pleasantly good at dancing. Not once did her step on her feet or stumble. This pleased Lynn, for she could not stand being married to someone who couldn't dance. Now at least she wouldn't be ashamed to take him to any balls.
"You are a lovely dancer, Lynn," Henry said kindly.
"Thank you. So are you," she said, putting on her best fake smile.
"And your gown makes you look like a queen," he added, his eyes twinkling with admiration.
"Of course it does! I couldn't go to my mothers' ball looking like anything other than a queen."
"Why of course," Henry said seriously. Though Lynn wondered if he was being completely serious or just mocking. Probably serious. This man doesn't have a funny bone in his body.
But at the moment, Henry burst out into laughter, but not loud enough to disrupt the whole party.
"What are you laughing at?" she asked, mildly offended that he would laugh at her at a time like this.
"The look on your face! It was one in a million. I don't think I've ever seen anyone so deep in thought before," he replied, still smiling.
"I'm sure I didn't look that awful," Lynn said defensively.
"Please don't get offended, my darling. I meant no disrespect," he said sincerely.
Just then, the music stopped and Lynn stepped gladly away from Henry's embrace.
"Thank you for the dance, Mr. O'leary," Lynn said with a slight inclination of the head.
"The pleasures all mine," Henry said before Lynn turned and left.
"I'm sure," she mumbled once she was sure that he was out of hearing distance. Lynn left him standing with a look of wonder on his face and in his deep brown eyes.
For the rest of the ball, Lynn danced with many men, and enjoyed most of the dances. The only one she didn't enjoy was with Gregg Manson, who proved he was the worst dancer in all of Georgia. He stepped all over Lynn's feet and stumbled across her dress many times as well. He deeply apologized many times, and Lynn reluctantly said that it was no matter, even though she was sure that her feet would be all bruised by tomorrow. She did get to dance with Nicholas, but only once. He, like Henry, was a marvelous dancer, and Lynn cherished every moment she got to spend with him.
She did have to dance with Henry a second time, but she didn't mind it too much, since he would be a great relief to her after that klutz Gregg she danced with. The night was going splendidly; at least it was until it was nearing the end of the evening. Lynn knew that there was only one more dance left, and that her wedding announcement was to be made soon. Her heart beat so loudly in her chest when she heard the chime of a glass, signifying that someone was about to make a toast. She turned to face the owner of the toast, and was horrified to see Henry standing with a glass in his hand, getting ready to speak.
This is it, she thought sadly. The end of my life as a belle, and the end of my chase to get Nicholas. Goodbye, Nicholas.
She nearly fainted when she heard Henry begin to speak.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said loud and clearly. "I would like to take this moment to make a toast to the wonderful, and beautiful Mrs. Gentry." A round of claps sounded. "Every since I've known her, she has helped me with everything, including the start of my business. I owe her all that I know about the lumber business. And it is amazing to me that she doesn't look a day older than when I first met her, seventeen years ago. She is the definition of a perfect lady, and treats all with loving respect. No one can outdo her in her treatment of family and friends. Thank you, Mrs. Gentry, for everything that you have done for me, for your family, and for all of Athens." Another sound of applause echoed through the halls. "And I would also like to take this time to announce a wonderful engagement between me and Mrs. Gentry's beautiful daughter, Miss Lynn." Many gasps sounded throughout the crowd and many looked at Lynn. She forced a smile and nodded her head to indicate that it was the truth. As much as I loathe it.
"I am pleased to announce that she and I will be wed on the 11th of September, in this marvelous year of 1870. And I also thank you, Mrs. Gentry, for giving me the pleasure of having the permission to wed your daughter. I thank you too, Miss Lynn, for agreeing to make me the happiest man alive. So, I toast to the loving Mrs. Gentry!" he raised his glass, as did the rest of the crowd, and they repeated "To Mrs. Gentry." They all drank with happiness to the ball and the newly announced wedding of two of the most beautiful people in all of Athens. Everyone was sure that they would be happy together; everyone except Lynn, who drank just because she needed a drink. The next month, she knew, would be filled with wedding plans, but for a wedding that the bride wished would never occur.
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