I stood in one corner of the grand hall, holding a glass of punch in my clammy hands. Balls and parties made me weak in the knees and it had been a long time since I had attended any function of the ton. It had been four years to be precise. But thankfully nobody had missed me, and neither had anybody recognized me when I had been introduced to the hostess by Cousin Margaret. Although it was not surprising in the least because my family had not been associated with the ton in any manner.
My father had spent his days in a liquor induced stupor for most of his life, and my mother had been forced to work and put a meal before us at the end of the day. She had been a housekeeper in the services of Baron Hudson and had been taking care of his country house for as long as I could remember. But everything had changed for me on that winter night when the carriage in which my parents were travelling had fallen prey to the ravages of nature. A heavy snow storm had swept the travelers off the road and into the hungrily waiting ravines by the side.
After that unfortunate incident, I was taken in by my mother's sister and her husband, Mr. White. They were a family of modest means and simple tastes and welcomed me with a loving embrace. My aunt and uncle had four children, Margaret, Edward, Elizabeth and Marianne. Although I couldn't claim to know them very well, I shared a warm relationship with each of them. The youngest of them, Marianne, was the one I was closest to. She was the beauty of the family and a very affectionate and trusting person. She had to share her rooms with me but not once did she complain about this intrusion.
Even now, in this hall, I thought she was the prettiest of the ladies, twirling around the floor on the arm of the stately Mr. McConnely. They made such a fine pair, I thought to myself as I took another sip of the punch. I saw Edward talking to Margaret, and Elizabeth standing some way off in the middle of some ladies I didn't recognize. I swept my gaze across the room, taking in the fancy blazers, the shimmering gowns and the expensive baubles being paraded by the genteel.
And in that instant, I felt slightly deprived. Although I lived a life of much more comfort than I was used to earlier, I still had very less to call my own. Even the clothes on my back had been borrowed from Marianne. Her kindness had not stopped with the beautiful green muslin gown and she had also lent me a silver bracelet to wrap around my wrist. I had chosen to wear my mother's pearls earrings, one of the few things from the past that I still cherished, and my neck was unadorned.
I did not long for these fragile belongings, but I felt that I would have been more successful in my endevour to make myself melt in the crowd had I looked a little more like the other attendees. My riot of black curls was already garnering me more attention than I was comfortable with, and my unease was further exaggerated because of my unfashionable appearance. Unpainted lips were never a trend, I made a mental note.
Just when I was getting tired of holding the glass, I felt a light tap on my right shoulder. Turning around with a start, I saw a rock solid chest, encased in a black blazer, very close to my face. As I looked up, my eyes locked with a piercing blue gaze. Accented by thick black brows, those eyes spoke volumes and seemed empty at the same time. Aristocratic cheekbones, a full mouth and dark hair tied at the nape with a leather band, caught me off guard as I stared at this unknown gentleman.
"May I have the pleasure of a dance with you, Miss Finch?"