Summary: Caroline Humphrey is in her fourth Season and has yet to secure a husband. She has, however, fallen head over heels for a man who, although genteel enough to be suffered within her social circle, is considered far too common for the daughter of a duke. A true pity, seeing as Daniel Seaton is everything she could want in a husband. Still, what's the harm in a bit of besotted fancy? Then, in a sudden and cruel change of circumstances, Caroline does indeed find herself engaged to a Mister Seaton - only it's not the one she wanted.
London, England, 1817
Caroline Humphrey leaned against the stone balustrade, a glass of lemonade in one hand, and her parasol hanging from the other. Late July sunshine beat down upon the terrace, making tiny beads of sweat from at her hairline. Heavens, but what she would give to be sitting under one of the old oak trees at Hadyn Park with a set of oils and an empty canvas. She sighed wistfully and regarded her lemonade dubiously. The chill drink only seemed to make her more aware of the surrounding heat and burn her fingers where they touched the glass.
Setting the drink on the tray of a passing waiter, Caroline looked about. Another wedding that was not her own, she thought glumly. She should probably accept the Marquess of Norsea's proposal, no matter that he was a good two dozen years her senior and had absolutely nothing in common with her. He'd been sniffing around all Season, after all, and she was fast approaching her twenty-first birthday. Oh, but to marry a man she had some feeling for… She glanced at the beaming bride and groom, now Mister and Missus Melvin Knighton, and sighed. Some people were so very lucky. Earlier in the summer, she had thought perhaps her childhood friend, Adrian Morey, might have taken an interest in her, but not so. Norsea, then, it would have to be. That, or a life of spinsterhood, dependent on her father and brothers, snickered at as she grew elderly and neglected in her old age. Oh, but she couldn't imagine such a life for herself.
Across the terrace, she spotted her groom apparent conversing with two other aging gentlemen. She turned, grimacing, not quite in the mood to face him. The ballroom, unlit but for the sunshine spilling through the three sets of French doors, was less crowded than outside, and Caroline slipped in, rejoicing in the cooler temperatures. Spying an empty settee, she manoeuvred towards it, but as she did, her parasol caught against someone's leg and slipped from her hand.
"Beg pardon." The repentant party, a man of average height with reddish-brown hair, bent to retrieve the fallen object. Straightening, he held it out to her.
"Thank you." She reached out and wrapped her fingers around the folded silk panels, and at the same time, her eyes met his and her breath caught. It was not that he was strikingly handsome, or that he was gruesomely unattractive. In fact, he seemed absolutely average in every way, from his plain brown eyes to the reserved tie of his cravat. Perhaps the most captivating thing about him was the way he was looking at her , as if he couldn't tear his eyes away. From her.
"Hello," she said.
"How do you do?"
"Wonderful, thank you. And yourself?"
"Indeed." This last seemed more a breath than a word.
Heat suffused Caroline's face, and she dropped her gaze to the parquet floor, hoping the cool light hid her blush. Abruptly, she felt his hold of her parasol fall away, and she dropped her hand to her side, fiddling with the ivory handle nervously.
"May I escort you somewhere, Miss…?"
"Humphrey," she told him, forcing herself to meet his eyes once more. "Lady Caroline Humphrey."
"Ah." Was that disappointment in his voice? She peered at him from beneath her lashes, and indeed his spirits seemed somewhat dampened.
"If you would not mind, might you help me locate a place to sit down?" She waved her hand at her former destination. "I was heading for that settee over there, but it no longer appears available."
"Ah, I see. I apologize for waylaying you." He had reverted to strict politeness. How disappointing. She had quite liked the look that had been in his eyes a few moments ago
"Oh, nonsense," she told him, trying for careless ease. "Even if I had been seated there, those biddies would have come along, regardless. In fact, you have saved me; I should have been miserable having to put up with their gossip."
He blinked at her, and a slow smile began to spread across his face. It was a very nice smile, Caroline decided. She should very much like to capture it on canvas. "In that case," he said, "I'm very glad I could be of service."
"And it is very much appreciated."
They shared a smile, and then he turned slightly, offering his arm. "Despite my rescue, I feel I should aid you in locating a new seat, my lady."
"That would be very kind of you, Mister…"
"Seaton. Daniel Seaton."
A.N. So here's the start of the new story. I want to put up the first chapter next week since this prologue isn't so long, but I'm going to be in San Fran and I'm not sure yet whether or not I'm taking my laptop. We'll see. Hope you enjoy.