By Alanna Spencer
My dear readers, it has come to my knowledge that our very own Dastardly Duke attended a coming out ball and danced with a young (although not too young), unmarried lady! Ah yes, I know exactly as you are thinking, what precisely has come over London's favorite rake?
Charlotte reflected on the fact that she was no longer living in the country and was about to present her younger sister, Louisa, to the ton, a celebration that Louisa was guaranteed to enjoy to the fullest. Her family had finally thrown off their mourning clothes and embraced London life with zeal. Her elder brother, Derrick, had accepted the role of provider far sooner than any of them had imagined with the fierce determination and stubbornness the Rothchilde's could pinpoint to an excellent bloodline. The thought made her roll her eyes, an excellent bloodline indeed.
Derrick Rothchilde, the new Marquis of Everbrook, watched his sister roll her eyes and grinned. He knew she was thinking of him. His smile eased though when he also turned his thoughts inward. He had come home from his tour of the Continent ready to begin his life, but then the fever had struck and he no longer thought of sowing wild oats, but rather running two estates and a family. His loving, but financially silly parents had tumbled the family quite into debt with their life of luxury abroad and Derrick was just now coming up for breath. There was still so much to do! His twin, Charlotte, and his younger siblings had helped shoulder the weight, but he could not help feeling the burden of his life, and theirs, pressing down upon his broad shoulders. He shook his head against the thoughts of money and farming to concentrate on Louisa. It was her night after all.
His shoulders squared as guests started to pour into his newly leased London townhouse to meet the newest debutante, already whispered to be the Season's Original. "And like sheep led to the slaughter" he whispered morbidly to Charlotte.
She stifled a giggle, "Stop it. You're incorrigible."
They pasted smiles unto their faces and greeted guests, hardly pausing for breath before the next in line were presented. Charlotte's mind swam with names and faces. Despite the fact that she knew every person's name and rank, the sea of faces still confused her and she quickly excused herself to walk outside in the fresh air for a moment. Derrick nodded compassionately before continuing his discussion with Lord Calloway's about the markets new horse flesh.
Charlotte hugged herself against the chill and took a deep breath. It was already dark outside and she could hardly see a thing on the balcony. After all, the garden was not a featured part of the festivities this evening. A cold, February wind blew and Charlotte hugged her shawl around her tighter, grimacing at the fact that her clothing in no way protected her from the climate but also unwilling to return to the night's festivities at the moment.
Louisa was doing splendidly. Her flaming hair, spring blue eyes, and fair skin made her out to be a sprite of myth and the London gentlemen were already enamored with her. Charlotte smiled ruefully; she was also a tad wild. She had tried to curb her sister's tongue as best as possible, but the wild child and third sibling had refused to heed and could erupt at any small thing given the opportunity. Charlotte loved her sister, but sometimes, even she needed a moment's peace without the harridan running about. She sighed, beginning to enjoy the bite of the night air as her body warmed itself internally.
A soft clearing of throat alerted Charlotte to the fact that she was not alone. "Well, well, if it isn't the lovely Miss Charlotte Rothchilde returned back to me."
Charlotte shivered at the silky, utterly male, and utterly familiar voice. "Lord Cave, I hear congratulations are in order." she responded shortly.
"Yes, the old man finally died. About bloody time, I was just about ready to smother him in his sleep. But, that would have been too kind for the selfish, old bastard. How did you hear of my inheritance?"
Charlotte squared her shoulders and faced the man she had left seven lonely years ago. A soft chuckle resonated through the gentleman before her. "You look lovelier than ever Charlotte." She could not make out his features clearly, but she knew his eyes would be glinting down at her own.
She made a sound of derision, "If you could even see me, I would still doubt your words. You always were the worse sort of liar. How could I not know?"
"Haven't you heard? I've gotten better at it since you left me. You're right, that was a silly question."
"I have been living in the country and have missed the London gossip, so sorry. I did hear about your dukedom though, even living so far from Town."
This was a blatant lie. Charlotte had practically swallowed any news on the rake, Lord Cave, nicknamed the Dastardly Duke since he came into the title. She would rather die than admit that small weakness to anyone but herself. She did try to make an effort to never lie to herself, if not to others.
Charlotte pushed down the feelings of discontent in her heart and went to brush by him, only to have her arm manhandled. Her gaze flew to the masculine hand encircling her arm to the devastatingly handsome face and glared, "If you'll excuse me, I have a party to host."
Sebastian's eyes glinted down at her, though she could not see their color, she knew they would be the blue of an ocean during a storm, that raging darkness flecked with turquoise. She remembered them so well. "It may have been a long time Charlotte and we are not children anymore, but I will take my time with you. They always said 'revenge is a dish best served cold.'"
Charlotte shivered at his tone. Gone was the loving boy/man of her childhood, in his place stood a powerful adversary that she knew would take all her willpower to resist. She wrested her arm from his grasp and barely resisted sighing in relief when he let her go without a fight. No longer facing him Charlotte murmured, "We were young and foolish, but you shouldn't begrudge me coming to my senses before you. In fact, you should thank me; as if we had eloped as planned you surely would not be a duke today."
Sebastian watched as the former love of his life stormed away from him. She had ripped his heart to pieces and had barely flinched herself that fateful night. Perhaps she was right and he wouldn't be the Duke of Roseborough if they had made it to Gretna and married, but he wouldn't be a man that felt incomplete either. He could still remember that broken feeling when she hadn't shown up as planned and the feeling had only deepened when she told him the next day that she would not be leaving with him and then, the feeling had never gone away.
His thoughts shifted to the present and the woman who still haunted his dreams. He knew she was going to be in Town, he hadn't counted on the gut wrenching feeling of seeing her again in the flesh. His memories of her hadn't done her justice. The beautiful young woman had blossomed into every man's fantasy. She had lost any extra plumpness she'd had, without losing any of the curves that had made men's heads turn since she was thirteen and still in the schoolroom. He wished the balcony was better lit so he could have stared at her face. Was it as he remembered?
He shook his head, the thought was obsolete. All he wanted was to make her feel as she had made him feel then. This Season would be devoted to wooing her until she surrendered herself to him, at which point…the thought dropped off. Could he be so heartless as to leave her as she had left him? Could he? He banished the misgivings. First, he needed her to fall in love with him and, that in itself would be a challenge.
Charlotte danced and laughed and kept up her end of the conversation admirably considering her thoughts were spinning with thoughts of the man she had left behind. She berated herself. She knew that it would only be a matter of time before they would come into contact with each other. After all, the ton wasn't exactly a large group and it was expected to know everyone. But she couldn't explain the kick in her heart when she heard his voice, or the sorrow that had enveloped her when he had touched her and spoken to her. She also couldn't explain the rush of desire his touch had evoked. It had been so long since she had felt that.
She silently cursed him. How dare he come accost her at her sister's coming out ball. How dare he! The nerve of that man! Of course, he was a duke and his appearance certainly would help ease Louisa's entrance into Society, but inwardly Charlotte stomped her feet like a child and grimaced, careful to, at the same time compliment Sir Humphrey's scarlet waistcoat, which was actually quite hideous.
Her thoughts stopped when she saw Sebastian's golden head of hair cross in front of her vision. She watched as he surveyed the crowd before his eyes found hers. She swallowed nervously; he cannot be coming over here! Blast, he is coming over here. Charlotte moved to escape any sort of confrontation, but she wasn't fast enough. "Miss Rothchilde, may I have the pleasure of this dance?"
Sir Humphrey looked from one to the other and then cleared his throat, "Actually, this is my dance. It says so right on her dance card."
Sebastian didn't spare the poor man a glance, just removed Charlotte's dance card and ripped in two pieces. Charlotte gasped, but it had created the desired effect and Sir Humphrey made a speedy escape and surrender. Left only to take the outstretched hand, Charlotte did so with as much grace as she could spare for the infuriating man.
He led her onto the floor as the first strains of a waltz started. Pulling her closer than really necessary, Sebastian initiated the dance. Charlotte kept her head turned away, not even bothering to pretend to make light conversation. He didn't talk either, just danced.
Slowly Charlotte eased, her spine becoming less rigid as she realized that she was actually enjoying herself. She looked at Sebastian, "You've gotten better at this."
His laugh was low and smooth, "I learned."
"And why is that? You danced well enough before."
"Yes, but I was only average and you are an excellent dancer and always have been. I needed to learn some finesse so that I didn't look the total buffoon while holding you in my arms."
Charlotte quickly looked away, causing her powdered curls to bounce and emit a soft cloud of powder. Sebastian looked askance at her before stopping and sneezing loudly. Charlotte stifled a giggle underneath a gloved hand before moving backwards. He proceeded to sneeze three more times, thoroughly interrupting the dancing couples around them. Charlotte curtsied and rushed off the dance floor, leaving Sebastian behind to murmur that yes he was fine, just allergic to powder.
Charlotte turned to look back and caught the murderous glare, before quickly scurrying to the safety of her brother. From the safety of Derrick's side she watched as several young females descended on the Dastardly Duke to comfort him. The cloud of powder continued to make him sneeze, but he was unable to leave the foray. Derrick turned to his sister, "What could possibly be wrong with him?"
Charlotte grinned widely, "He's allergic to hair powder."
Derrick stared at her, "Well that certainly explains why he never wears it himself."
Charlotte laughed, "Yes it does."
His humorous look turned sober, "Are you alright? We issued the invitation because he is a duke, but Louisa for one, didn't think he would show."
Charlotte closed her eyes; sometimes it was hard having such a close relationship with her siblings because although they didn't know the whole story, they certainly knew enough to know that Charlotte and Sebastian held a tendre for each other at one time. She nodded, "Yes, I'm fine. It was a long time ago after all and he has changed."
Derrick, fully aware of Sebastian's reputation, stared at the man struggling to make his way away from the simpering misses and outside. He would have to talk to the man and discover his intentions. After all, Sebastian had asked his younger sister to dance and in the last seven years he had never led an unmarried female unto the dance floor. Ever.