Author's Note: Here's the second chapter!
Two years earlier: June 1853
Lucy had known Andrew Sutherland by sight nearly all her life; his family lived not far from hers, and they were often invited to events hosted by the Harpers. She might have even danced with him a time or two when dancing partners were scarce. But until the night of the Bedingfelds' ball, she'd never spoken more than two words to him in her life.
The Bedingfelds were without question the wealthiest family in Hampshire, and their home was a sprawling mansion decorated with the most exquisite paintings and furnishings. The ballroom was almost large enough to fit all of Harcourt Place; dozens of chandeliers and wall candelabra had to be brought in to light it. The white marble floors had been polished to a high shine, so that it reflected the dancing couples as they turned across the dance floor. The attendees of the ball themselves were something to behold; the women were a sea of colored silks in every shade imaginable, their wide skirts swishing as they danced, each gown more elaborate than the last. The men in contrast were nearly all dressed in black suits.
Lucy had taken great care with her appearance that night. Her mother had insisted she get a new ball gown, and she had settled on a silk dress in a shade of blue that perfectly matched her eyes, with white lace trim and a low bodice. Her hair had been carefully arranged into a small bun with ringlets framing her face. She'd gotten several compliments since arriving for the ball and twice as many dance partners as usual, which left her feeling much more self-conscious than she normally did.
After dancing several sets she was breathless and in need of a break. The room was far too warm and the odors of sweat and perfume were suffocating. The smoke from the many candles stung her eyes. She was desperate for fresh air.
The tall glass doors at the opposite end of the ballroom were open, leading out to a balcony, and she headed there. Once she stepped out into the fragrant night, she breathed a sigh of relief. Candles that had been strategically placed among the flowerbeds and hedges glowed softly, illuminating the lush garden the balcony overlooked. They reminded her of fairy lights, she thought to herself with a smile as she rested her arms against the balustrade. Relishing the cool air on her face and listening to the music pouring out of the open doors, she didn't even hear the young gentleman step outside behind her.
"You're much too pretty to be so lonely, Miss Harper," came a smooth, low voice in her ear.
When she turned, it was to find him smiling down at her. Andrew Sutherland was every bit the "tall, dark and handsome" man described in Gothic romance novels; she'd noticed that in passing before, but many men of her acquaintance were just as handsome – some even more so. Now, something in his smile and the warmth of his gaze immediately made him stand out, and she wondered why she'd never taken more notice of him before.
"Mr. Sutherland, is it?" she asked, returning the smile.
"I'm honored that you remember my name," he said with a small bow.
Lucy laughed. "Charming, Mr. Sutherland."
Brown eyes shining with humor, he held out a hand. "Care to dance, Miss Harper?" he asked. "I've been waiting all evening for a chance, but it seemed you'd been asked by nearly every gentleman in attendance."
Lucy cocked her head to the side and studied him. "I came out here to escape further dancing," she said, not quite able to hide her smile.
"I will not allow you to escape. I insist on at least one dance," he said, taking her hand and leading her back inside. She did not object.
A waltz was playing. With one hand on Mr. Sutherland's shoulder and the other held tightly in his, they began to dance.
"You've never asked me to dance before," she said to him. "What changed your mind?"
"I must have been blind not to notice you before," he said.
"And will you forget all about me before the next ball?"
"Of course not!"
Lucy threw back her head and laughed again as they whirled around the dance floor. "I don't believe you," she said. "You flatter me tonight, but tomorrow morning you won't remember my face."
"How could I forget a face as beautiful as yours?"
She knew he was flattering her, but that didn't stop the blush of pleasure she felt at his words.
"You're incorrigible, Mr. Sutherland. Do you use the same lines on every girl in Hampshire?"
"I don't recall meeting a Hampshire girl as worthy of the compliment as you are."
"You seem so sincere I almost believe you, Mr. Sutherland." Lucy couldn't stop smiling. She enjoyed his company more than she had ever enjoyed any other gentleman's.
"It's Lieutenant Sutherland now, Miss Harper." He was still smiling at her, but looked more serious than before.
"Oh, you're a soldier now?" she asked teasingly, looking down at his suit. "I see no uniform."
"I am. My father gave me a choice between becoming a clergyman and enlisting in the army. As I've never had any inclination to join the church, I chose the latter and purchased a commission. I finished training some months ago."
"Oh," she said, her smile falling as she realized he was serious. "Where will you be stationed?"
"I don't know yet. I'm supposed to leave in October."
Lucy tilted her head to the side as she looked up at him, her brows knitted together. "Aren't you afraid? I hear there is trouble brewing between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, and that Britain is willing to step in if need be. What if it leads to war?"
To her surprise, he laughed. It was a pleasant sound that sent a shiver down her back.
"You're remarkably well-informed, Miss Harper," he said.
"I read the papers," Lucy said, smiling up at him again.
Lieutenant Sutherland's face settled into somber lines again. "You ask if I'm afraid, Miss Harper," he said, his eyes boring into hers as they danced. She realized that she was barely breathing. "Right now, I am not. I'm much more concerned with enjoying the present, and having pleasant company. I will worry about possible war when the time comes."
"And do you find my company pleasant?" she asked. She noticed that there were flecks of gold in his eyes.
He gave her a small smile. "I don't think I could have found better company," he said, and this time she thought he might have been sincere.
The waltz ended, far too abruptly in her opinion, and she reluctantly let go of his hand, realizing for the first time in minutes that they were surrounded by other couples. Still giving her his small half-smile, he held his hand out to her again. "Another dance, Miss Harper?" he asked, his voice quiet.
She spent the rest of the evening dancing with him, and didn't think she'd ever enjoyed another dancing partner more.