1816, London

Lady Bella Morris daughter of the Duke of Amherst was ready to scream. Her name might mean beautiful but if her eyes were compared to emeralds one more time she would show these gold-digging dandies her ugly side. She was twenty and on her third season. She supposed she was being particularly impatient this evening but she was at Almanacs and it was the first ball of the season so it was a massive sweaty crush. As Lord Pendwin brought her back to the side of the room she smiled at him through clenched teeth. Much to her relief she spotted Lady Carmen Farwell, Lady Danielle Nostrum, and Lord Collin Fairfax the Earl of Graydon her three best friends in the world across the room.

"You lost me a shillling!" Exclaimed Collin

"How?" Bella asked mystified

Carmen elaborated saying "Collin and Dani had a bet that before the end of the dance you would spit in Pendwin's eye."

"You thought I would be that undignified?" Bella said in mock horror.

"No, I know you would be that undignified if given half a chance." Collin chuckled

Collin had known Bella ever since her come out. His mother and her father had some unexplainable notion that they would suit. Both Bella and Collin had realized they were not attracted to each other. So Collin, in his notoriously bold way, had promptly told her he was not interested in marriage to her and she, much to his shock, had burst into laughter in surprise. When he bluntly asked her if she was crazy she had told him that her father had forced her into talking with him. He told a similar story only with his mother being the nefarious one. They had a good laugh and quickly become friends and allies. Now when any of the three girls needed to escape a horrid suitor he stepped in. But they did the same for him to keep the marriage-minded mamas at bay.

"Well at least someone has some faith in my respectability." Bella expressed

"No, I knew you would if you could but you were in the middle of the two biggest busybodies in town and word would get back to your father." Dani stated

Bella sighed in resignation. Some people called Dani quiet, shy, or even timid. But her friends knew different. In private Dani had wit and a quiet intelligence. She was loyal to a fault and would always stand by her friends. Poor Dani was also considered an ugly duckling, especially when she was being overshadowed by her horrendous family. When you took the time to look at her Dani was quite pretty. She had hair that was a luminous blond and she had glinting silver eyes that lit up when she was amused and shot silver lightning when she was mad. Her, Bella, Carmen, and Collin had quickly become a foursome. They often teased Collin that he only stood with them to avoid fainting debutants. He would quickly retort back, true to his charming nature, that they were more attractive company.

Now the last but definitely not least there was Carmen. Carmen, was one-fourth Spanish decent and it was often held against her. Her mother was one-half Spanish and her father was as English as they come. Their marriage had been arranged but both shared some sort of fondness for one another. The reason Carmen's lineage was held against her was that she looked so Spanish. She was quite beautiful with hair as black as pitch and a flawless olive complexion. Her most enchanting quality was her ice blue eyes she got from her father, which were most of the time sparkling with mischief.

Carmen jumped to defend herself form Bella's wrath "I was merely an innocent observer!"

"For once in your life." Teased Collin

"Why do you tolerate all those bumbling dandies?" Carmen questioned

"Much the same reason you do, we have to. All four of us do."

"Nope, not me." Dani laughed. But they all heard the slight strain in her laugh. Collin swooped in.

"Well I for one hear a waltz starting up and would be delighted if you would save me from the wraths of Miss Blythe, or more to the point her mother."

As Collin swept Dani up for a waltz both Carmen and Bella looked towards Lady Jersey who was, as Collin had observed, was towing her eighteen-year-old daughter Blythe toward them at a remarkably fast pace considering her generously endowed figure. Poor girl looked miserable in so many flounces. She had yet to grow into her skin and was very gangly. Bella and Carmen exchanged glances and silently agreed to save the poor chit. Carmen went for the distraction because she was eminently good at gushing and prattling when she put her mind to it. Bella went for Blythe.

"Oh! Lady Jersey, I have been meaning to talk to you all night! I saw your dress and must know who made such an exquisite creation! It fits you so well. Might we sit down and talk?"

Lady Jersey now thoroughly flustered and proud started chattering about her dress, its maker, its cut, and its ever last grueling detail. Bella quickly focused on the task at hand, to sooth and make the girl feel lees awkward.

"Miss Blythe, how is your first time at Almanacs?"

Blythe seemed to sense she was sincere she even smiled slightly. "Truly I find it rather hot and over crowded." The girl answered.

Bella laughed with real amusement. At least Blythe had a mind that she used. Some debutants she swore her dachshund Diane was smarter, and much easier to converse with.

"How did you manage Mother so easily? I have never gotten away with such ease!"

"Years of practice and unwanted suitors. Carmen should be able to detach your mother in a few minutes. Don't worry about her finding you, there are far too many people."

"And she is bound to search for someone to tell her big gossip of the day to." Blythe stated wryly.

Bella was about to question that statement when Carmen glided up.

"What did I miss?" She questioned

"You are both amazing! Thank you!" Blythe raved as Dani and Collin came up

"Nonsense it was-" Bella was cut off when every one turned towards the door and fell quiet murmuring.

In the doorframe was a tall man in formal dress like all the rest of the men there. But you could see that he was even under his coat very strong and powerful. His hair was a dark mahogany but she could not decipher the color of his eyes from across the room. His gaze skimmed the room settling on no one in particular and started a slow prowl forward.

"This was the gossip that I was telling you about!" Blythe whispered excited.

"Who is he?" Bella asked in the same hushed tone.

"Garret Livingston, Duke of Warning." Collin cut-in

"How do you know him?" Asked Dani

"We were friends at Eton. I haven't seen him in a long time."

"Well according to my mother he is just like you, a rake." Blythe blushed when she realized what she had just said but Collin only laughed and sketched a bow.

"At your service." He grinned

Bella looked back to Lord Warning. The little scene had caught his eye because he started sauntering their way. People whispered and stared as he passed by. Collin went out to greet him as he approached. Every one finally started talking without hushed tones.

Garret saw all of them stare and felt bad for the poor animals at the zoo always being gawked at.

"How have you been Warning? I haven't seen you in ages!" Collin said happily

"I've been good. It has been a long time." Garret sighed, "We should catch up. Will you be at Whites tomorrow?"

"I'll go if you will be there. How does one sound?"

"I'll be there. Sorry if I took you away from such lovely company." He said nodding to the three gels behind him all staring curiously. He had noticed another one in white earlier but he did not see her now.

"Oh, yes these are my saviors and very good friends Carmen, Danielle, and Bella.

Garret observed each girl in turn. His instincts had been trained after ten years in the military to observe and judge quickly. He looked over the three but he felt himself focusing on only one.

She had sea-green eyes and thick brown hair that bordered on aubern. She was dressed in an attractive off the shoulder gown that displayed her creamy skin to perfection. Collin had called her Bella. Why had he focused on her? Yes, she was an attractive woman but he had seen other far more beautiful wenches on the contenent. Damn it had been to long since he had tipped a woman.

Again focusing he bowed and turned to Collin.

"It was good to see you Graydon but I'm afraid I cannot stay. This was only to show the ton that I'm back. I will see you tomarrow."

With that he quickly left the ballroom and thanked god that he was out unscathed. Strangely he could not get the girl in the green dress out of his mind.

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