It was a world before cars, when social galas and debutant balls were the norm. As the only son of a railroad tycoon, duty was expected; and duty for Edward was to marry the woman of his father's choosing--the daughter of a wealthy coal miner. Angelina had been promised to Edward, but tonight was the night he would reveal the identity of the real woman he would marry.

A fresh layer of snow had fallen that morning early before the sun had risen to warm the ground. The world outside the quiet mansion was covered in a blanket of sparkling white. Pine boughs hung from the ornate railings of the two-story porch and wreaths were hung in every window and on every door. Red velvet bows accented the beautiful yuletide decorations.

Carriages and guests cluttered the narrow dirt driveway that circled the large pond in front of the mansion. Laughter and gleeful greetings fluttered as old friends gathered to celebrate the holiday spirit. Presents and ornaments piled up as each guest entered into the vast foyer. Ornaments were shuffled into the conservatory and presents got ushered directly to a massive table in the ballroom.

He waited at the base of the stairs for his one certain mystery guest that no one but he knew was coming. Glittering blue eyes shone out from beneath handsomely tousled brown hair. A smile and a warm word were offered to each attendee as they passed by, even if he did not know them personally. Many were guests of his father's, but that was no matter to him at all.

"Good evening, dear, Edward." One of the elderly women drifted over to him. "Are you ready for this evening?"

"As ready as I could ever be." He tenderly kissed her hand.

"You are you mother's son." A warm smile came to her lips. "I am glad you do not take after your father." The woman passed onward to the steps leading down to the ballroom as he went on greeting other guests.

A ceiling-high pine tree was situated in the center of the conservatory. Each of the party guests who had brought an ornament were ushered to the grand room to place their contribution on the tree. Red and white candles were scattered like an explosion of stars amongst the perfect boughs of the great tree. Yuletide music echoed through the entire mansion from the enormous organ in the ballroom as guests were directed to the festively decorated room.

Wreaths adorned every window and pine boughs were hung over each door and window frame. Not an inch of space was missed in the decorating of the spacious ballroom. Even the chandeliers held silver and gold tinsel on their arms to reflect the candle-light. The best china was placed upon a pure silk tablecloth for a dinner that would commence at midnight just after the unmasking of the guests.

As it was customary for the man of the house to greet guests, Edward had to take on the job as his father was attending to business dealings in the south parlor. It was always that way with his father; business always came before family and social obligations, and that was where they differed most. Edward had spent his growing years studying art and had no intentions of following his father's footsteps.

Guests had been arriving for hours and hours since the noon chimes had rung through the foyer. His heart jumped each time a lady would enter through the grand double doors. Edward kept waiting with each passing moment as his patience wore down. Hundreds of guests had poured in the front doors and mingled down to the ballroom after greeting him on the stairs, yet she had not shown her face.

As the grandfather clock against the wall chimed the hour of five, he could wait no longer. He knew she had been invited, and he was sure of it because he had delivered the letter to her doorstep himself. The party was beginning and Edward's father finally emerged from his office and requested him to join the festivities. Regrettable to leave his post waiting for his lady, he complied and made his way down to the ballroom.

"I am glad you are going along with my request to announce the engagement tonight." His tone was very formal and impersonal.

"I will make my choice tonight father, and I hope you will still give me your blessing." Edward was hesitant at implying he was not choosing the woman his father had selected.

"You are not going to marry Angelina?" Shock was evident as he realized his son was going against his wished.

"You will love Illeandra, I promise you." His features grew tender. "She is my true love." Moving away from his still father, Edward immediately took his seat at the large banquet table.

Edward was careful to avoid eye contact as he continued to search the crowds for his lady. A servant brought a glass of wine for him to sip as he waited. His father paced the fireplace trying to figure out who this Illeandra was and why she was the lady who stole his son's heart.

As the hours slipped by without even a hint of any late arriving guests, Edward finished off a bottle of wine. His only thoughts were of her and all he wanted to say of their plan to wed that spring. Wishing to speak more with his father about his decision, he could not get passed his father's silence and pacing. He feared that if she did not arrive by midnight, his father would be furious.

"How could this have happened?" Gaylord writhed his hands as he whispered to himself. "Angelina is the wealthiest lady in the whole of London. Why would he deny her?"

Gaylord lifted a glass of wine from the silver tray of a passing servant. As he sipped the wine and watched his guests in their cherry states, his anger at his son's disobedience began to fest and grow.

"It is not his duty to find love." He tossed back more of the wine. "It is his duty to marry a woman who will submit to her duty as a wife."

The footman outside waited in the cold for the arrival of any late guests. He rubbed his hands together to keep the warmth alive in his fingers. Casting his gaze down the lane to the mansion, he watched for any other carriages that were traveling the dirt road. Having see nothing more than the white snowflakes that had begun to fall, he turned away to enter through the doors. Just as he turned his back to the lane, the familiar sound of clattering horse hooves came from the distance. The footman turned quickly to see the approaching carriage seemingly materialize out of the snowy mist over the lane.

A white carriage pulled up to the steps just as the moon was rising her glorious orb above the cemetery hill behind the mansion. As the horses halted, the footman stepped down from the stairs of the porch and opened the carriage door for the passenger to exit the extravagant conveyance. From the darkness, a slender female are covered up to the elbow with a rose-pink satin glove was stretched out for support. He instinctively held onto it and assisted the lady from the carriage.

Another soft hand held onto the rose-pink satin skirt that layered beneath a delicately trimmed bodice. White lace edged each skirt, as well as the fitted satin bodice and sleeves. As she stepped down onto the landing that lay before the steps, her long dark brown hair trailed over her shoulders in exquisite ringlets. She wore a mask which concealed her identity just as the rest of the guests had, but she was different. There was a supernatural beauty surrounding this strange woman as he released her hand to allow her to ascend the stairs to the open doors of the mansion.

The multitude of guests had coupled off and joined in with dancing that was progressing throughout the ballroom. A bright rainbow of skirts layered in silk, satin, and lace rustled amongst the taps and shuffled of highly polished boots. Women and men alike wore extravagant masks to conceal their identities. No detail was overlooked in any costume of any guest who had come to celebrate the yuletide spirit that night. The gala was sure to last in memories forever.

Just as the cheerful music grew louder, one of the many servants sauntered passed the table and refilled Edward's glass with wine. He paused from his thoughts to give a nod of thanks to the young man as he turned away towards the kitchen. Everywhere he looked laughter and immense joy clouded away the thoughts if Illeandra that had overtaken his mind. He could not help but wonder if she had been detained on her way.

A glittering presence at the top of the ballroom stairs grasped his attention from the corner of his eye. The dark brown curls framed her face amongst the soft pink tosebuds woven through her hair. She stood as an angel waiting for the gates of heaven to open to her as the crowd seemed to part. Dancers twirled and shuffled across the ballroom floor as she descended the staircase towards the blue-green marble floor.

Edward rose from his chair and gradually approached the steps through his blind captivation. Stretching out his hand as she reached the bottom, Illeandra immediately took his hand and allowed him to escort her directly into the crowd for a festive yuletide waltz. No one would know he under her mask, but he could not mistake her spectacularly charming blue eyes.

As she drew closer into his arms, a glorious cascade of perfumed curls traced against he face. He breathed in the precious scent of the fresh rosebuds as his hands softly caressed the satiny fingers hidden by her gloves. He was in disbelief of the beauty that was his.

The railroad industry in London had turned his father into a money-hungry and power-loving man. Gaylord's once-gentle disposition had grown into a tyrant of the business world. His own wife had been one chosen by his father for monetary gain. He had never loved her. He did not believe in love, only duty. Now, as he watched his son with this mystery woman, his heart slowed and his blood ran cold.

In his mind, this lady and the illusion of love she carried with her would end everything he had built for himself and his son. Gaylord stood by the mantle with a harsh glare of hatred in his eyes.

"If Edward does not marry Angelina, he will not inherit her riches." Grumbles of anger came from deep within. "I will lose the favor of her father and my largest investor. Our fortune will falter."

He began to pace the hearth again as thoughts of the grim future toiled in his mind. There had to be something he could do to change his son's decision of marrying Illeandra instead of Angelina.

"I could not sway him with words; he has been bewitched by her already." Writhing his hands, he tried to think.

"My lord, I have been observing your mindfulness to this woman." The butler appeared behind him. "Is there anything I can be of assistance with?"

"Yes. Yes, there is." Rage broke through his calm demeanor. He glared up from the blazing fire.

Nodding discretely, the butler moved away to carry out his orders. He understood exactly what his master wanted him to do. Retrieving a tiny vial from the locked liquor cabinet, he slipped off down a small side hallway. Glancing around to be sure he would not be seen, he poured a few drops of liquid into a crystal goblet of wine. Adding a second unaltered glass to the tray, he lifted it and mingled back into the crowd.

A knife was tapped against a wine glass as Gaylord watched his son step up onto the landing of the staircase. His eyes narrowed as his son began to speak.

"I thank you all form coming this evening." He paused as the butler offered the wine. "And, for making the yuletide season so bright." Turning subtly, he smiled at the lady beside him. "I would now like to announce my engagement to the woman I have fallen in love with, Illeandra."

A thunder of applause rose from the observing crowd at the announcement. Guests raised their glasses in a gesture of well-wishing to the engaged couple.

"To us, my love." His eyes glimmered as his glass tinked against hers.

The couple drank to their toast, and Edward waved the guests back to their dancing. Organ music rolled its way through the ballroom again bringing with it the rustling of silk, satin, and lace. The cheerful notes rang out loudly into the night and yuletide guests drank and danced their nights fill. Illeandra and Edward finished their wine before returning to the dance floor.

Dancers twirled and stepped about as the happy newly-engaged couple took the center of the floor. Laughter rose above the organ music as midnight drew near. Edward was as happy as any man could be and more as he was now engaged to the love of his life. He looked into her eyes as they danced in each other's arms. Those beautiful heaven-given blue eyes that could cost any man his every drop of composure with one look. Gorgeous eyes that were now possessed by him alone.

A slow composure of sleep began to descend upon her as the bridal waltz echoed along every inch of the ballroom. Her cheerful mood gradually slid down as the cloudy world of exhaustion consumed her. Edward ended their dance and steadied her as she began to waver with imbalance. As the ballroom began to spin, her consciousness began to slip away. Fear rose in his eyes as her delicate body slumped into his arms.

The dancing paused as horrified guests slowly ended their waltz, but the organ music played on. Calmly stationed by the fireplace, Gaylord made no effort to help. Guests were stunned into frozen form as Edward gradually knelt with the greatest care as he laid her down onto the blue-green marble floor. Her breathing slowly ceased as her head laid into his shoulder.

"Illeadra." He tried in vain to coax her back. "My love, please, speak to me." Her gentle body went limp against him as her spirit cascaded away. "Illeandra!" Edward cried out in pain as he stroked her perfumed ringlets. "Why?" Tears filling his eyes overflowed and stained his cheeks with loneliness and anger. "Why were you taken from me?"

"Because she was in my way." Gaylord whispered to himself and began to pace the hearth once again. "He does not understand what this woman will cost him; what she will cost me." Blind anger clouded out any sympathies that had remained in his mind. "You were supposed to marry Angelina!" His voice rang clear over the silenced room.

"Father?" His voice was choked by the tears.

"You were always weak when it came to women." Growls flung forth from his mouth. "Always choosing the prettiest; you should have been choosing the wealthiest!"

"Is that what really matters to you; money?"

"Money is everything!"

A shock filled with anger overcame Edward. Holding his silence as much as he could, he lifted Illeandra's lifeless body up into his arms. With cheeks stained by pain and tear-filled eyes, he carried her through the crowd and up the ballroom stairs.

"You always cared more about how much money you could make than you ever cared about me." Edward did not turn around to speak to his father; he just kept climbing the stairs. "You have won, father." Stair after stair passes under his feet as he trudged to the top of the staircase with the limp body of his beloved in his arms. "The money is all yours."

As he reached the top of the staircase, Edward crossed the empty foyer. Slipping into the library, he laid her gently into an old chair that sat by the window. Tears of sorrow and hate streamed down his face as he kissed her forehead one last time. He placed a red rose from the crystal vase on the desk into her hand and turned to an antique trunk beneath the window sill. Swiping his arm across the top, he sent miscellaneous items crashing to the floor.

Edward threw open the top with furry and rabidly began to sift through its contents. Pulling a tattered twine rope from near the bottom, he quickly knotted a loop at one end. He pulled the trunk out from the window and placed it below the upper balcony of the library. Standing tip-toed on top of it, he tied the rope around one of the iron spindles.

Gaylord burst into the room flinging the double doors to the walls. His anger was still fuming as he approached his son with blind eyes.

"Love has no place with duty, Edward." The bark flew forth without delay.

"Love is everything." Sorrow and tenderness clouded his eyes as he gazed down at the limp figure of Illeandra. "And, love is what I follow." Edward's eyes locked with his father's as he stepped from the trunk.

"Edward!" Screams tore from deep within Gaylord as he saw his legacy strangled before his own eyes. Lunging forward, he tried to lift the flailing feet of his son.

The screams echoed down into the ballroom drawing the fearful crowds up into the foyer. Cries of terror came from women as the sight of the library scene reached their eyes. A wave of fear and guilt swept over the aging man as the reality of his own selfish deeds flowed into his conscious mind. His son was now dead because of his ceaseless pushing; it was nearly his fault. What would his associates think if they heard of this?

"Look what you have done, Gaylord." An angered voice broke from the crowd. "Someone summon the constable."

"Out." Gaylord's words were choked as he tried to clear himself from any fault. "All of you, get out!" He turned to the swinging body of his son. "Edward, how could you chose a woman over your own father?" His anger spilled forth without any holding. "You destroyed my legacy."

"You will answer for your actions, Gaylord." Another man spoke up as the crowd slowly shuffled towards the door.

"No one shall blame me." He pulled open a desk drawer and removed a pistol. "I want all of you out, now!" Waving the pistol at the guests, a panic arose as they vacated the mansion. "I have no fault!"

Only the clattering of horse hooves and the shallow squeals of carriage wheels could be heard in silence of the midnight sky. The mansion was enveloped in shadows as the candles slowly burned down their wax. While the full moon slowly rose above the cemetery on the hill, the grandfather clock in the foyer began to chime the hour. As the chimes echoed through the empty mansion, a gunshot shattered the silence and left all the emptiness in the tranquility of death.