An Earl's Agreement(3)By: Joyce Alec
Clapping her hands together, her mother let out a squeal of glee. “Wonderful! It is about time that girl learns her place.”
“I shall speak to Hutton as soon as possible,” her father finished, his footsteps carrying him across the floor. “Shall we, my dear?”
Lucy kept silent until the sounds of their footsteps died away, leaving her entirely alone once more. Putting her head in her hands, she allowed the pain and hurt she felt bubble to the surface as fresh tears began to fall. Her parents had, unwittingly, alerted her to their intentions, but she had never expected them to be so cruel. Was she really so much of a burden that they would push her onto Lord Hutton, a man almost the same age as her father?
Lucy dried her eyes and lifted her chin, staring out of the window. She would not allow this to happen. She could not. Now that she knew exactly what her parents intended, she would have time to try and find a way out.
Unfortunately, her mind was so cluttered and her emotions so fraught that she could do nothing more than stare out into the gardens, the book slowly falling from her fingers and landing with a bump on the floor.
Lucy hugged the wall, keeping as much to the shadows as possible. She had not wanted to attend the ball, given what she had heard only this very afternoon, but she could not allow her parents to guess that she was privy to their conversation.
Pretending that all was well had been difficult, but not entirely unmanageable, although she had hated the sudden gleam in her mother’s eye as she discussed the upcoming ball and the various gentlemen that Lucy might meet.
She had managed to escape her parents’ attention almost immediately and had rushed to where she would be least likely spotted. It was not her usual behavior, of course, but she had to discover whether or not Lord Hutton was there—and if her parents were intending to speak to him that very night.
Her stomach rolled with distaste as the man himself came into her line of view, mopping his red, sweating face with a large, yellow handkerchief. His balding head gleamed in the candlelight, his rotund figure adorned in swathes of bright yellow and green fabric. It was an almost comically grotesque sight. Lord Hutton, of course, was known to be wealthy, and it was only because of his status that he was given so much leeway by society. However, Lucy found him utterly detestable. Shivering, she imagined his pudgy hand taking hers, his large fingers sealing her to him. Shaking her head, she diverted her gaze. She could not allow this to happen. She would not allow her parents to even introduce him to her.
Unfortunately for Lucy, that was exactly what unfolded in front of her. To her horror, she saw her father shaking Lord Hutton’s hand, his eyes searching the crowd. Lucy knew exactly who he was searching for, her stomach rolling with alarm and anxiety.
Her feet moved before she even thought about where she was going. Practically clinging to the wall, Lucy walked slowly, ducking behind tall gentlemen so that she remained hidden from view.
A blast of cool air hit her, making her heart beat a little faster. Cool air meant a door.
Moving as carefully as she could, she caught sight of the open French doors. The orchestra began to play and couples took to the floor, leaving her a little more exposed. Her breath hitched as she scrabbled for the door leading to the gardens, keeping herself low as she hurried outside.
The darkness welcomed her like an old friend, wrapping itself around her and hiding her from the prying eyes of Lord Hutton. Lucy drew in a long breath and scurried further into the gardens, wishing she had brought her shawl. The path was lit by only a few stray lanterns, bathing her steps in shadow. Lucy did not know what to do or where to go, realizing that she was only delaying the inevitable.
Her slippers grew cold and damp as she left the path and crossed the grass in search of a quiet place where she could be alone. If she remained on the path, she might very well come across courting couples, which would bring her only embarrassment.
Stumbling further into the gloom, she managed to find a small, enclosed arbor, encircled by a thick hedge and revealing a small bench within. A single lantern lit the way, and, to Lucy’s surprise, she found it slightly warmer inside, hidden from view.
The arbor was exactly the place she needed, somewhat sheltered from the cool night air and giving her the privacy to gather her scrambling thoughts. Sitting down heavily on the bench, Lucy put her face in her hands and tried desperately not to cry. She struggled to see any way out of her predicament while Lord Hutton’s leering face swam into her mind.