She’s beautiful. That’s the only word for it. I’m not sure what it is though that has made her the sole focus of not only my attention but every other man’s in the room. She’s wearing the same boring white coloured gown as the rest of the debutantes. Her hair is up, perhaps for the first time and her eyes are bright with innocent excitement. But none of those things make her special. Those things are common at this time of year. In fact I’d go as far as to say they are irritably common. She’s just like the rest; except a voice inside me tries to contradict me.
The men are circling and she flirts politely whilst I pretend not to watch. I can’t watch. I won’t watch. And I definitely won’t dance with her. Everyone knows I don’t court debutantes but everything inside me itches to grab a hold of her dance card, to cross off all her other partners and write my name in each and every space – but that would be scandalous. If more than two dances is tantamount to a proposal, how could I explain away keeping her captive in my arms for the whole evening? “Pretty isn’t she?” Jasper asks me as he leans against the pillar beside me.
We went to Oxford together and it’s fair to say he might be my closest friend but right now I feel like growling at him. She’s not pretty. “Although pretty doesn’t quite seem to cover it,” he continues. “Might ask her for the waltz.”
“Have you been introduced?” I ask. My heart is racing and my palms sweat at the idea of her dancing the waltz with anyone but me. Only I should be allowed to hold her that closely.
“Not yet but the master of ceremonies is around here somewhere.”
“Do you know who she is?” I ask, aiming to sound detached and uninterested.
“Lillianna Hendon,” he tells me with enthusiasm.
I don’t recognise the name. Just another thing that tells me I shouldn’t think she’s different. She’s not remarkable, no matter what that little voice is saying in my head. She’s no one of consequence and she’s definitely not worthy of my rank or title. It’s not just that though. She looks like the sort of girl my mother and sister would eat alive.
Jasper has gone off in search of the master of ceremonies and I’m stood here ignoring the glances of all the young debutantes around me whilst I watch Miss Hendon dancing with Edward Curten, perhaps the biggest dandy of them all. I wouldn’t be here at all if it wasn’t for mother. I’d be at my club, enjoying some peace and quiet but instead I’m here surrounded by a handful of chits who all want to marry me. They’re all giggling and whispering between themselves. Mother is insistent that I marry. Something about needing a duchess to run my household and needing an heir to my dukedom. Tomorrow evening when I go to dinner at her town house she’ll have a handful of these girls sat at her table all fighting for my attention. She’ll choose the cream of the crop so I know that Miss Hendon won’t be there. She’s no one of consequence. It’s a shame really. She might have made it a little bit more bearable, although I’m sure she’s just like the rest of these silly girls; all nonsensical rubbish, chattering away constantly, frivolous... she’s bound to be the same. They’re all the same.
I dance twice. I spend the majority of the night in the card room. I lead one young lady into the super room but her conversation is dull. She’s pretty. The gentlemen around me are jealous of me yet I’m not at all interested in anything she is saying. My focus is still on Miss Hendon, who just so happens to be sat at a table not too far away with Jasper. It looks like the master of ceremonies did introduce them after all. I walk the young lady back into the dancing hall and leave her to her own devices. Jasper on the other hand, walks Miss Hendon around the room. My face feels tight. I don’t seem to be able to get it to relax. It’s set in a frown as I watch my friend with her. Watching her from across the room, I know I’m being ridiculous. Logic tells me that she might not be what I imagine her to be. She probably has a horrible high pitched voice. She might look hideous up close. She might be boring. She might be just like the rest. Yet, logic aside, I still want her.
I cross the room with intent. I want to ambush them. I want to get in between them. I want what I shouldn’t want. I should turn around and dance with one of the other girls in the ballroom. There are plenty. At least four or five looking my way. I should ask one of them to dance, except I don’t want to dance with them, I want to dance with her. I’m next to them within a minute. Jasper shakes his head as if calling claim to her. I wait for the introduction. He sighs, “Miss Hendon, this is my good friend the Duke of Harrington.”
Usually girls’ eyes sparkle when they hear the word duke. Her eyes don’t. The word passes her by as if it doesn’t matter, as if it doesn’t imply money or power. I like her more now. I want her more now. I ask her if I can have a look at her dance card. She smiles politely at me, as I look her card over. The waltz is taken. I regret that I didn’t get to her earlier. I want that dance. There’s only one free dance so late in the evening. I’ll take whatever I can get at this point. I add my name to her card and hand it back. Jasper is sulking.
An hour later we dance. We barely touch. Just hand on hand, nothing more, and yet it feels like everything. It sends electricity through my veins and leaves me craving more of her touch; her face, her breasts, her legs… It’s too much, being this close to her, but not close enough. She talks and her voice is anything but hideous. She’s witty, “you were a little late asking for a dance,” she comments.
“I was too late for the waltz,” I reply with a smirk.
She retaliates in kind, “should have asked for my card earlier.”
“You are quite right.”
We flirt easily. When our dance is over, I politely hand her over to her next dance partner and walk away. I can never have her. I refuse to glance back. It’s not that I won’t, it’s more that I can’t. Mother would object. She’d expect more money. It’s not that we need it. We don’t. It’s just greed. But nothing about this young debutante tells me, she’s worth a fight with my mother. I’m disappointed as I walk out the door and away from Miss Lillianna Hendon.