She was the eldest daughter of an earl, of a slender ankle and golden hair. She was smiling prettily with the eldest son of a duke, with unruly black curls and a dashing grin. She brushed delicate gloved hands against her silver skirts, tilting her head back to look upon the Duke's son. Words had yet to pass between them, they chose to fill this meeting with looks and infinitesimal movements.

The matrons of the ton shared looks, silent commentary on the jointure of the most eligible maid and most eligible buck. Lady Sheridan, her peacock feathers shaking with excitement, scurried away from the huddled women and sought to share the news with her husband.

Lord Sheridan had just taken a long swallow from his glass of port, listening placidly to the chatter of a few young débutantes. Tonight was the coming out of his youngest daughter, though it seems the gossips had found a more interesting subject of chatter. He sighed heavily, bemoaning the fact he had two daughters and no sons. Sons were easier to deal with. You just sent them away to school until they were finished and then pushed them out on the world to find a wife and hoped to God that they were not the selfish fools who sought to claim their inheritance early. But daughters, Lord Sheridan sighed again, oh they were quite some work. For sixteen or seventeen years, one had to keep them busy with governesses, in an attempt to make them marriageable. And then at the end of those years, you were forced to fund their first Season with dresses for every single hour of the day and enough fripperies to drive a man mad. Of course, one could never be sure that it would be a single Season. And there was the matter of ruination due to some other son. Lord Sheridan shuddered to think of the scandal that would cause of course, she would be handsomely paid and maybe a forced marriage. A forced marriage was better than a spinster daughter who would be nothing more than a burden to the world.

But such a burden he had. Making a marriage for two such daughters. One was sure to be compromised and the other a spinster. Why could he have not had two well-behaved, elegant daughters instead of the mess his wife had birthed.

He caught sight of the outrageous feathers that only his wife would wear and braced himself for whatever absolutely pressing news she had to relay.

"Lord Sheridan, I have absolutely wonderful news! Our dearest, lovely daughter is talking to the Marquess Hartwell, the Duke of Kellaway's son! I do sense a match coming along, do you think not?" She beamed widely at her husband.

"I do hope you mean our youngest, Emmeline, instead of Caroline, my dear. Seeing as this is Emma's coming out ball, which Caroline had about three years ago," he replied dryly.

"It is Caroline, of course. Emmeline has been ensconced with the rest of her trio instead of making herself known," she rebuked with a sniff. "But, my dear Caroline, the apple of her dear mother's eye, has never had a problem with entreating herself to the males." Lady Sheridan stated, puffing with motherly pride. Her eyes fell upon her younger daughter, standing near the dancers with her two friends. The three of them were a perfect pair: a redhead, a blond and a brunette. Her daughter was the brown hair, not having the good grace to inherit her mother's golden blond over her father's brown. Then the impertinent girl took her father's general distaste for balls as well.

"And yet, Lady Sheridan, Caroline remains unmarried. Perhaps you should advise her to curtail her flirtations as a way to settle upon one man and give her sister a chance. This is her fourth Season, it is hardly proper."

"Oh dear, there is never any harm in too much flirtation. Caroline will make a match very soon."

"With this Duke's son?" inquired Lord Sheridan, hazel eyes tiredly focusing on the selfsame son.

"Why, I sure hope so."

"He is dancing with Emmeline, not Caroline."

With a gasp, Lady Sheridan turned so quickly that she nearly stumbled, sending the young débutantes into a titter. Lord Sheridan hid his own amusement and waited for the sharp retort that was sure to follow.

"That girl takes after you too much. Such an upstart!" declared Lady Sheridan. "Is she trying to embarrass her sister by making a better match?"

Her husband rolled his eyes, greatly appalled by his wife. "I am retreating to the men's corner to discuss business," he announced, gulping the rest of his port. Lady Sheridan waved him away absently with her fan, too busy focusing an unhappy gaze upon her daughter.

Emmeline Wren, daughter of the Earl of Sheridan, did not have many hopes for her first ball in the London home. Firstly, her sister's gown was more elaborate and ostentatious, adding to her fair beauty and thus supplanting Emma's right as the belle of the ball. Secondly, Emma found that the pink of the ton tended to flock around an entirely different set of girls than those that she called friends. Not to say they were unpopular, but frankly it seemed to be the case. Thirdly and most importantly, she had no care for balls.

Yet, she did adore her dress. It was made from the finest Indian silk, a pale green colour that nicely complimented her complexion. The neck was low enough to be fashionable, but modest enough for Emma so she did not display to the world her well-endowed bosom. Her slippers were the same pale green silk with matching ribbons that laced up her calves. The sleeves of the dress were short, trimmed with a small band of embroidered white roses. Her brown tresses had been set into an elegant Grecian design with long curls hanging from the back to tickle her neck. She wore now jewelry save a pair of pearl drop earrings and a matching necklace.

When Emma descended the stairs tonight, she had felt like a true London débutante However, the sentiment was squashed when her sister, in a flurry of pink muslin skirts, joined her in the main hall shortly after. Her blond hair was decorated with tiny pink rosettes and it curled prettily around her face. The rose pink muslin was woven with gold thread that made it glint in the candlelight. Her over skirt of the same muslin, was probably three inches off the ground, displaying an underskirt of costly gold muslin. Caroline's pale face was prettily covered in rouge and a lip stain, further accentuating her ivory cheeks and bright blue eyes.

Emma bit back a grimace. This simply would not do at all, she thought. It was her night. Even though she had not shared the slightest interest before about this world of handsome sons and tittering daughters. It had become very important to her to make match and escape the incessant wailing of her dear mother, Lady Sheridan. And Emma truly meant that in the best way possible. She was near the point to accept the first man who made an offer, but that would be most unwise. All she hoped is it came soon, so she could lead her own household happily and quietly.

All of her practical thoughts left the window at the arrival of her closest friends, Lydia and Alice. The former had her pale blond hair dressed elegantly with pearls that matched her simple ivory dress, the only colour coming from the broad red ribbon beneath her bust that tied in the back. The latter's fiery red hair was escaping from her pins and tumbling down her back in plentiful red curls. Alice cheerfully waved at Emma and hiked up the lavender skirts of her gown to hurry over to her dear friend.

With that, Emma truly had no expectations. This was doubly true when she spotted her sister with the pink of the pinks, Lord Thomas Blake, Marquess of Hartwell and the Duke of Kellaway's heir apparent. He was five years Emma's senior placing him at four and twenty. Since her father had decided to let her wait two years to come out for a sojourn in the country, she did not come out at the usual sixteen or seventeen, she was now nineteen. Lord Thomas was the paragon of elegance and manliness to which many young men of the ton aspired. Not only was he tall, she mused, but he also had the broad shoulders, slim waist and muscular legs that set off the day's fashion to its best. Girls swooned at the way his black curls fell so carelessly into his eyes and the way his dimples showed themselves with conversation, a smile, a frown, et cetera. Emma had to admit he had a pair of fine eyes, grey in colour with an intelligent and kind light to them.

Yet, she stressed mentally, she was not in Lord Thomas' book of women that she was most sure he had. All men had a secret list or book of women that were their "type", the sort they always courted and would someday marry. They very rarely strayed from said book and oftentimes shared the women so entered.

Oh, there was no doubt he would make a fine husband, but Emma had to admit having such a man could drive a woman crazy with jealousy. There was no doubt that for all his promises, he would be taking mistresses like the other members of the ton. But discretion was key. Appearances must be kept. And with a face like that, he had his pick of women.

Emma turned her attention back to her friends. Lydia was rolling her eyes at some hoydenish scheme that Alice was likely hatching.

"Frankly, Alice, I think that is a terrible idea. What is the point of forcing your cousin, Percy, to dance with Emma. If he wanted to, he could ask. Besides, he's a terrible dancer and Emma deserves better than that at least."

"But, Lydia!" exclaimed Alice, her red curls shaking with excitement. "Caroline is being herself and hogging all of the attention that should be Emma's. This is her ball, so she should dance."

"I would advise her waiting," Lydia replied simply. Her pink lips quirked into a small smile and she added, "Besides, to make a real love match, the woman should wait for the man to approach. She should not parade herself for that to happen." Her impassioned speech on love fell on the deaf ears of her friends, who had been shocked into silence at the arrival of a man to their little circle.

Lord Thomas, finely dressed in a white waistcoat with a simply tied cravat and a black coat, bowed to Emma and her friends. His trademark grin, one belonging to a boy rather a man, greeted them warmly.

"Good evening, Lady Emmeline, The Honourable Lydia, Lady Alice." The trio curtsied simultaneously, earning a broader grin from him.

"Good evening, my lord," said Alice, beaming widely and winking at Lydia. The blond rolled her eyes at her friend's gauche behaviour.

"Hello, my lord," she delivered coolly.

"Hello, my lord," said Emma at last, before chewing on her lip in apparent nervousness.

"I," he began kindly, "would like to know if you had the next dance available, Lady Emmeline."

The namesake blinked rapidly, her mind processing his simple statement. Or was it a question? It had to be a mixture of both though the intent was clear. She smiled slightly and dutifully scanned her blank dance card.

"Why, I do believe I can manage that," she decided lamely. Lydia stared at her with raised eyebrows and Alice gently nudged her forward.

"That is very lucky for me that you have an open spot," said Lord Thomas, grey eyes dancing in amusement. He knew full well that her card was completely empty; however, he could not understand why. Of course, he would not have come over if Caroline had not so implored him, but upon closer inspection he found her face and figure to be very agreeable. She could hold no candle to Caroline, of course. There was something about her sunny smile and easy graces that no other girl had yet to compare.

Emma bestowed a rare grin upon him, her face lighting up in humour. She placed her hand on his offered arm and walked with him to the set of dancers. She was supremely lucky to have her first dance with a future duke. This would surely cause other potential suitors to take notice. She tilted her head back to look at her partner, but his eyes had strayed to Caroline. She nodded her head in recognition and thanks. And he nodded in return. Emma turned her gaze away and let out a silent sight.

Her sister had put him up to this. They must be courting and he could not resist a favour from his beloved beauty Caroline. So she pawned him off for a dance or two to bring the ton's acknowledgment to whose ball this really way. Emma had no clue whether she should be incensed or thankful. She chose embarrassed. For herself at the lack of star quality she possessed, her sister for stealing it at birth, to her parents for failing at marrying her off, to Lord Thomas for falling in love with her sister, for Lydia and her romantic notions, for Alice and her hoyden qualities and the ton for not having any respectable boys that do not have to be bribed to dance with her.

That was a lot of embarrassment, Emma decided. As she danced with a man who was thinking of another woman, Emma knew her expectations were right to be low. This way she was not disappointed. This way she would not retreat to her room at 3 o'clock in the morning when all the guests left and weep bitter tears over her sad lot. Her life was better than a lot of the Londoners, but she was a flighty female taken to bemoan her existence and wish for a new family: a concerned father, a proper mother, an ugly sister. Is it too much for one to ask for?

Apparently it was. So Lady Emmeline Wren tucked her worries away and smiled politely to her partner as they began their dance. It would be the first of many dances for her that night with the pink of the ton. When she went to bed, she tried her hardest to remember their names and faces, but found them all, even Lord Thomas' to be a great blur. That meant she certainly had not met her Prince Charming, or at least that would be Lydia's opinion.

The day dawned with bleak skies, but it was not going to thwart Emma in her plans to visit the library this afternoon. Since it was only nine o'clock, the sky had plenty of time to clear up. Even if it did not, she was going to go out of this house. Her abigail, Mary, was ready to help her dress for the morning, which, to be honest, Emma could have done herself.

Mary was about five and twenty and had been Emma's maid for most of her life. First as a playmate and then responsible for insuring she was a respectable young woman in the eyes of the ton. Her nimble fingers worked wonders on Emma's unruly hair, taming it into elegant coiffures that showed off her elegant neck and rounded shoulders.

"Will ye be callin' upon Lydia and Alice?" she inquired, running a brush through Emma's think hair. Emma began to nod, but decided to answer instead.

"Yes, I believe I shall, Mary."

The maid stared at her mistress in the mirror, biting her bottom lip.

"And ye ball, how woz it?"

"I danced with many eligible young men," said the girl simply.

"Isn't that good?" she asked, brow furrowed.

"Caroline thought it would be best to pawn her beau, Lord Thomas, off on me for one dance. No one had been dancing with me before that. We had been there an hour and a half already, Mary..." she trailed off and shook her head.

"Oh dear..." breathed Mary. She patted Emma's shoulder gently. "'Tis my prediction, Emma, that you shall marry first. This is her fourth Season, 'tis just shameful now that your parent's let her continue in this fashion."

"My mother is all for parading her beautiful daughter as long as possible. I do believe she is keeping track of how many suitors her daughter can wrangle. And yet none have broached the subject of marriage. That is laughable and shameful."

"Mama always used to say, 'Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?'"

Emma giggled, her eyes crinkled in mirth. She dropped her hands to her lap and stared at Mary's reflection.

"I just want a marriage to leave this house," she confessed, voice dropping to a whisper.

"I hope you'll take me with ya when you leave."

"Of course I shall, Mary."

"I don't think that I could deal with Lady Sheridan's screeching and Caroline's spending for much longer."

"Than you know how I feel."

The two girls shared a soft giggle. Their laughter died at the intrusion of none other than Lady Sheridan. She was immaculately garbed for the morning hour, her hair done up intricately for such an early hour. Her face was the mature twin to Caroline's youthful one.

"Emmeline," she began magnanimously. Her blue eyes flicked to Mary, a frown tugging on her lips. The maid needed no other instruction. She curtsied to the Lady and her daughter, then shuffled out of the room.

"Good morning, mother," greeted Emma, smiling politely at her mother. The woman in question rolled her eyes and closed the door. Emma's smile faltered and she rose to her feet. She walked quietly to her settee and sat down on it. Her hands clasped on her lap and her gaze focused solely on Lady Sheridan.

"You, daughter, have received a marriage proposal," her voice was heavy with dread as she relayed the news. Lady Sheridan had hoped she would be spreading this joyful news with Caroline, not her insufferable Emmeline. The girl did not have the grace to cry or shriek with joy or at least disappointment. She merely continued the unnerving staring at her mother. "Well, what do you have to say?"

"W-who is it?" she asked suddenly, her hands grasping one another tightly in her shocked state. "I can scarcely recall anyone from last night, mother."

"I am quite sure you shall remember this man," Lady Sheridan replied wryly. She proffered an ivory card to her daughter who accepted it with trepidation. She held the card near her face to read the name.

"Thomas Blake, Marquess of Hartwell...oh dear, this cannot be right," Emma muttered, dropping the card to her lap. To the best of her knowledge, this man was in love with her sister. Her beautiful, free-spirited sister. He certainly did not want to wed her little sister.

"At least we agree with something."