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Authors: Audrey Harrison

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BOOK: An Inconvenient Trilogy
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“Don’t let Michael know that he was right about something. He has enough of an air of superiority about him without him thinking that he knows best adding to it,” John advised giving his friend a sidelong glance.

“Oh I think being my guardian will give him enough of a challenge to avoid developing any feelings of superiority over others.” Elizabeth grinned at Michael.

“I would have a far more peaceful time if you two did not constantly undermine my steadfast guidance.” Michael pontificated with the air of someone who was expecting his comment to be ridiculed. Elizabeth and John both happily obliged him throughout the remainder of the outing. 

Chapter 5

When Michael escorted Elizabeth back to Violet’s home, Elizabeth asked to speak to him in private. He led the way into Edward’s study. “Is something troubling you?” He asked as they sat in the chairs near the shelves of books.

“Only that we have never spoken about the estate in Yorkshire and I don’t want to lose it,” Elizabeth explained.

“Are you still as determined as ever to leave London?” Michael asked. “You haven’t been here for very long.”

“I know, but even now I realise I will never be the type of woman that fits into this society. I am amazed that Violet is so lovely after spending so long here. I would probably become bitter and twisted and slightly mad if I stayed,” Elizabeth said with feeling.

Michael laughed. “Violet uses her husband and family to keep her sane, but she enjoys the shopping, visiting and gossip too. That is where we differ as brother and sister; I prefer the country so I do understand your longing to return.”

“And yet still you encourage me to stay. You did not strike me as so inconsistent,” Elizabeth said with a grimace.

“I want you to give it the best chance that’s all.” Michael responded, with a smirk at Elizabeth’s expression. He could also have added that he was beginning to dread the thought of her leaving. If London was unbearable before, it would be completely intolerable without Elizabeth to brighten every event.

“Thank you, but I would be happier if you would secure my estate.”

“I have actually been working on your behalf.” Michael replied loftily.

“Have you? You absolute dear, what have you done?” Elizabeth asked, all excitement.

Michael could not help but smile at her enthusiasm. “I have instructed Charles to make enquiries and he has been compiling some information that I was going to go through with you in a day or two.”

Elizabeth’s mouth twitched, “So you haven’t actually done anything except give orders out.”

Michael glowered at her defensively. “While he is undertaking business for you, he isn’t doing business for me, so I have to exert myself, I’ll have you know.”

His words had the effect he had hoped, Elizabeth roared with laughter, “Oh, you poor Lord, you.”

*

The Duke of Richmond’s party was to be one of the biggest of the season. Even Elizabeth had been looking forward to it and had planned her dress carefully. She had chosen a pale blue silk, almost aqua marine, edged with ivory lace. The dress appeared to float around her, the fabric was so sheer. She loved the feel of silk and had chosen it over other heavier materials for her dresses. Her hair had been tied with loose curls, cascading down from secure pins. It was not as formal as the current fashion, but it gave innocence to her appearance which suited her. Small flowers were attached to her hair, matching the colour of the lace and emphasised the warmth of the colour of her curls. A simple string of pearls finished the outfit. Even Elizabeth did not think that no jewellery was acceptable for such a prestigious event.

Michael waited for Elizabeth in the drawing room, happy to be entertained by his sister. Violet took great pleasure in updating him on the reparation Lady Wilmslow was undertaking to try and make things smoother between the two families.

“It is time she was stopped in her tracks. She is making a fool of Wilmslow,” Michael said with some asperity.

“She has a willing partner in his brother, but it is really none of our business how they conduct themselves. It is best not to get involved at all. I am glad the silly episode is over, I think everyone was in danger of becoming overly upset about it,” Violet countered, ever the more diplomatic  of the siblings.

Michael wondered if Violet was going to mention anything about what happened in Elizabeth’s bedroom, but they were prevented from further conversation by Elizabeth’s entrance. Edward stood to greet Elizabeth and engaged her in trying to tempt her with some refreshments.

“Your ward will be the Belle of the Ball tonight dressed so exquisitely,” Violet whispered.

“Yes Halkyn will be all over her,” Michael muttered.

“Lord Halkyn? Is he back in London?” Violet asked in surprise.

“Yes I saw him the day before yesterday. He wants the first two dances with Elizabeth tonight,” Michael replied not meeting his sister’s surprised gaze.

“I do not need to ask how he has found out about Elizabeth’s presence, you have obviously arranged things, but are you sure you know what you are doing?” Violet was well aware that Halkyn was the catch of the season. Good looking, single and wealthy, he gave the impression of being perfect, but there was a cold streak in him that made Violet uneasy. Violet had a suspicion of Michael’s developing affection towards Elizabeth and worried that her brother might regret introducing such a person into their circle.

“I am giving her every chance to find a husband as is right,” Michael shrugged non-committedly, but he was fighting the increasing knotted feeling in the pit of his stomach as he looked at Elizabeth laughing with Edward. Halkyn would be smitten within minutes and he could offer her everything.

They arrived at the party and almost immediately Elizabeth was introduced to Lord Halkyn. He was slightly younger than Michael, probably three or four years. He had blonde hair that fell in waves around his ears; his eyes were a deep blue and seemed to sparkle in the candle light. His lips were almost like a rosebud, more suited to a woman really, but gave the appearance of being angelic, although Elizabeth was not so easily taken in. He was dressed in the height of fashion, but there was colour in his clothing. Most men opted for cream silk waistcoats for evening wear, but Lord Halkyn wore a deep blue waistcoat. It seemed to reflect his eye colour and Elizabeth was sure that it had been chosen for that reason.

She was surprised by, but accepted, the request for the first two dances, only raising her eyebrow in question at Michael when Halkyn had turned away. Michael did not respond with his usual smile which increased Elizabeth’s wariness about the introduction.

As the first dance started Elizabeth was aware that her dance partner was causing quite a stir in the crowd and the fact that he was dancing with her seemed to increase the whispers. She was speculating as to why she had been chosen when Lord Halkyn spoke.

“I am glad to have made your acquaintance so early on my return to London, I hope to see a lot more of you over the coming weeks,” he smiled down at her.

Elizabeth was convinced by his words that there had been some sort of matchmaking done behind the scenes after such a comment, and decided not to act like the simpering women she despised. “I would suggest you reserve judgement until the end of our dance Lord Halkyn, before making such a comment. I could prove to be a tedious bore.”

Halkyn smiled, “I very much doubt that and even if you were, at least I could gaze at you while ignoring your tedious conversation.”

Elizabeth smiled despite herself, “I can see why you are a friend of Lord Dunham.”

“Ah yes, the King of the direct comments. Yes we are acquaintances, although no-one is really close to Dunham. I admit that he was the first person I looked up on my return to see what had been happening in this den of iniquity.”

“Ah that explains it,” Elizabeth replied cryptically.

“That explains what?” Halkyn responded.

“Why you asked me for the first two dances. A bribe from my guardian. I am grateful, but there was really no need. From the stir around us, I gather you would not have been short of a partner.” Elizabeth was a little harsher than she intended, mainly because she did not want Michael to feel he needed to beg for a partner on her behalf. She presumed he had arranged things as they were because of the wager, and it still made her cheeks burn with embarrassment that she had been the victim of such a scheme.

“I cannot give your guardian the credit for my actions,” came the smooth reply. “I am my own man enough to make my own choices, and Dunham barely mentioned your existence in passing. After all, he did not realise he had a ward when I left London. I found the whole situation hilarious, but wanted to get to know you for myself, so asked for the first two with you for that reason alone.”

Elizabeth took a moment to reply, looking at Lord Halkyn as if to weigh whether he spoke the truth. She smiled after a moment. “I am sorry, the last few days have been a little trying, and I am guilty of judging everyone by the same standards that guide the more shallow members of society.”

“Your apology is accepted and I beg you let us start again. Just in case of further misunderstandings, I am rich, therefore not looking for a rich wife, I have no madness in my family and I do not have to marry until I find a wife who has a similar outlook on marriage as myself,” Halkyn smiled down at Elizabeth his eyes dancing with laughter.

Elizabeth returned his smile, but hers had the impish quality about it. “And yet you are unmarried. What deep dark secret prevents you from marrying, my Lord, especially with you having so many qualities to offer any single lady?”

Halkyn laughed out loud, “You really are an impertinent chit aren’t you? I can see this Season is going to be far better than I anticipated. I am not married because I have not found someone who is in agreement with my view of family life.”

“And yet we are surrounded by eligible young ladies,” Elizabeth said drily. She knew that it was inappropriate to have such a conversation so short into an acquaintance, but there were too few people she could spar with. She had guessed correctly that Lord Halkyn was no fool and had responded to him, enjoying being able to banter with another member of society.

“Have you looked about you, Miss Rufford? Your opinion of eligible and mine obviously differ greatly,” Halkyn responded with feeling.

The couple continued to banter throughout both dances. Most people looked on with curiosity and speculation. One person watched with a feeling he had never experienced before in his life,- extreme jealousy. This was jealousy beyond that which he had experienced when she was surrounded by men her own age. This was the type that made him want to be rid of Halkyn in any way possible. It was ironic that the one woman that he thought about all day every day, was the woman he was encouraging to form attachments with other men. The contradiction and idiocy of his behaviour was not wasted on him.

Lord Halkyn secured escorting Elizabeth into supper. She had faltered at first explaining that her guardian usually escorted her. “He will not mind my taking over tonight.” Lord Halkyn assured her.

“You are very sure of yourself, my Lord,” Elizabeth said, trying to dismiss the disappointment at not having the time with Michael.

“I understand the role of a guardian, as does he. The more time we spend together, everyone will suddenly notice that there is a delight within their mix and you will become even more popular than you already are.”

Elizabeth snorted, “That wouldn’t be difficult. I have definitely not been the hit of the season!”

“Did you just snort Miss Rufford?” Lord Halkyn laughed loudly, “You are my favourite woman in this room. I may have to whisk you away to Gretna Green immediately.”

“I’m nearly shocked,” Elizabeth smiled; taking the jest in the spirit it was given. “I think it is time we returned to my guardian.”

Lord Halkyn did not remain with Elizabeth for more time than was appropriate. He was attracted to her. In fact he was delighted that he had found such a diversion for the remainder of the Season, but he was not going to increase speculation any more than it had been already. If anything was to develop it would be on his terms.

Elizabeth was sought by partners for each dance after the first two with Lord Halkyn. He was correct when he had speculated that she would immediately become more popular, something which she was not entirely happy about. She had never wanted to be popular, especially after the incident with the betting scheme. She mistrusted most of the people in the room, and in fact missed the company of Michael and Violet whom she had hardly spoken to all night. After the sixth dance she was flagging visibly and almost sank into a chair when her partner left her to fetch some refreshments.

“Do not tell me you are struggling to keep up?” came the familiar voice of Lord Dunham.

Elizabeth smiled at him without pausing in using her fan. “I am a sorry specimen, my Lord. Are you very disappointed in your ward?” She always reverted to formal address when they were in company.

Michael smiled the smile that was reserved for her alone, “I am constantly disappointed. I hope you have kept the next waltz free?”

“If it improves your opinion of me how can I refuse?” Elizabeth smiled, suddenly feeling more energetic at the thought of being in Michael’s arms for the next half hour. She sent up a prayer of thanks that the next dance had not been claimed by anyone else. She could not have insulted anyone by refusing to dance with them in preference to her guardian, but she would have been tempted to, her need to be in his arms was so great.

Elizabeth accepted her drink from her partner, but soon left him when the music started and she was guided onto the dance floor by Michael. Neither spoke for a while, each enjoying the other’s touch. Finally, duty forced Michael to pull himself out of his reverie and try to at least start a conversation.

“You seem to have made an impression with Halkyn,” he said, trying to sound light hearted.

“I wouldn’t say two dances could decide whether I had made much of an impression or not, but he is quite pleasant,” Elizabeth said dismissively.

BOOK: An Inconvenient Trilogy
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