Always Proper, Suddenly Scandalous(10)

By: Christi Caldwell

She looked toward the long row of floor-length windows at the central part of Lord and Lady Hughes’s ballroom and imagined herself far away. Through a slight slit in the gold brocade curtains, a distant glint flickered, beckoning, calling, as it so often did.

The London sky, thick with fog and dirt kept hidden the jewels of the sky she enjoyed in her seaport home. But sometimes, on the rarest of nights, rarer than a star shooting through the sky, the fog and dirt lifted and presented the stories contained within the stars.

Abigail took advantage of her position along the wall to plot her escape from the ballroom. With purpose to her steps, she skirted the perimeter of the spacious room, and then stole down a long corridor, needing to put distance between herself and the hot crush of guests. Abigail came to a long row of floor-length crystal windows with double doors that overlooked a grand terrace. She glanced over her shoulder to ascertain that she was in fact alone, and then opened the doors.

Abigail slipped outside. She picked her way around the stone patio, and wandered over to the balustrade. Gripping the edge, she leaned out much the way she had from the hull of her father’s ship and surveyed the magnificent sight of the star-studded sky. The full moon hung high above, casting a white glow upon the walled in garden of thick green shrubbery and cascading flowers.

Abigail closed an eye and pointed her finger out at the darkened horizon, fixing on the bright tip of the Corona Borealis. She studied the crown-shaped constellation not feeling remarkably different than Ariadne abandoned by Theseus.

She inhaled deep in hopes of a familiar scent of the sea, but the slightly stale, stagnant air drove back memories of home.

Mama had grand aspirations of Abigail making a proper English match with some wealthy, young lord. Her mouth twisted bitterly. As though one of the proper English gentlemen could dismiss the scandal Abigail had created back in America and forgive a lack of virtue in his lady wife. Abigail stood a greater chance of the mythical Dionysus coming down with the crown of stars from the heavens and placing it atop her head.

No proper English lord would be willing to take to wife a young woman who’d given her virtue to a scoundrel. No, what was left of Abigail’s heart belonged to the seaport home she’d been born to. Soon she’d return.

Her heart twisted. It would never be the same. She could not regain what had been lost; her virtue, her pride, her good name. When she returned, which she would, the same derision she’d fled would still await her there.

Abigail opened her eyes. Mama had asked the Duke of Somerset to give Abigail a proper London Season…and when the Season was done, Abigail prayed she would be welcomed back into her family’s fold.

“I suspected you’d be looking for me, lovie.”

Abigail jumped at the nasally voice that slashed into her private musings. She spun around.

The heavily wrinkled Lord Carmichael, stared at her through watery, brown eyes that bulged in a way that put her in mind of a great bluefish she’d once caught fishing with her brother.

She cleared her throat, and spoke with hesitancy. “Lord Carmichael. If you’ll excuse me, I was just returning to the ballroom.” She made to step around his corpulent frame, but he placed himself directly in her path, cutting off escape.

Her stomach roiled with unease.

“What is the rush, lovie?” His paw-like fingers reached out and caught a strand of her hair. “I saw you direct your pretty little chin toward the outside window.”

He’d misconstrued her focus on the starry night outside Lord Hughes’s long windows as an invitation. She shook her head. “No. You were mistaken, my lord. I merely desired fresh air.”

Lord Carmichael rolled the lock of hair between his fingers.

“Remember yourself, sir,” she bit out.

He gave the curl a sharp tug that caused tingling pain to radiate along the sensitive flesh of her scalp. Tears sprung to her eyes.

“My lord,” she said in the same tone she reserved for her youngest brother and sister. “Remember yourself. My family, the duke, will be missing me.” She hoped the reminder of her uncle’s status would force Lord Carmichael to relinquish her.

Her efforts were met with his cackling laugh. “I’ll release you.” He leaned close so his breath fanned her cheeks. “Just as soon as we have a bit of fun out here.”

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