Life was fresh among the courtyard. Ladies in fanciful gowns gathered in clusters, smiling politely and talking with the wives of well known Earls, Dukes and soon-to-be Kings. A giant gazebo had been put up, covering at least 200 square feet, done up with ribbons in pastel shades: blues, lilacs and pinks.
From my spot in the bedroom, I could see Harry stood with his father, engaged in conversation with my own father. His eyes flickered up and met mine briefly before I looked away. Of course he'd show up today. I wasn't sure how I was going to face him, or what it'd be like, but there was no way I could stay holed up in my bedroom for the day.
It was the celebration of the Lady Isabella Hurston and Sir Robert Bray. They had announced a marriage, and my father instantly took it in his hands to organize some sort of recognition for this. It was completely extortionate and ostentatious but what else could be expected?
The memories from the previous night flickered through my mind and a wild smile crossed my lips. I could still feel his touch against my skin, the way he had whispered my name, his body moving against mine, the surge of pleasure coursing through both of us, the danger and excitement. But then the expression that had crossed his face at the end, when it was all over. It passed by far too quick for me to identify and discern properly, but I remember being slightly curious about it. He hadn't said much, just that he'd like to see me again. I also remember being described as 'exquisite'.
'Natalia?' My sister's voice came from outside the door. 'Are you in there?'
'Yes, come in.'
Madeline entered the room, looking young and fresh. She had a spot of color in her cheeks and her normally icy blue eyes looked rejuvenated and invigorated. She was wearing a purple cotton gown and had her ringlets pinned up, giving her the appearance of an angel, with a golden halo.
'Father wants us to mingle. We should be downstairs.'
'I'll be right down,' I told her, watching her leave the room again. I turned to the mirror, ran fingers through my hair once more and went outside to join my sister.
The first person that I came across upon entering the courtyard was, of course, Harry. I imagined his expression somewhat mirrored my own. His eyes widened almost imperceptibly, and he suddenly became a little uncomfortable.
'Natalia, Madeline. I imagine you've met the Earl of Wessex, and his son Mr Gatsby,' our father began.
'I do believe I have,' I smiled, looking him straight in the eye. 'He was very happy to help the night of the ball, Saturday I think it was.'
'Well sometimes my son is all too happy to help,' the Earl chipped in, completely oblivious. 'Just like his mother he was, far too soft.'
'Really?' I feigned surprise. I knew Harry had a little reputation among the ladies, but it was quite apparent that his father didn't know this.
'Well, my eldest daughter is soon to be wed.'
I heard Madeline's small exhale of breath beside me at our father's announcement, just like she always did whenever he brought it up in conversation.
'Oh lovely. Who is she to be wed to?'
'The Duke of Kent's son? Oh what a noble choice. You are certainly lucky Miss Beaufort.'
'Yes,' she smiled sweetly. 'I am.'
My sister could be quite the actress sometimes.
'I have told my son many times he should be looking for a suitable wife.' The Earl's eyes flickered to my face for a moment, and I felt my heart drop, all the color drain from my face. I couldn't. I just couldn't do that. Harry apparently felt the same way, although he certainly composed his features better than I did.
'Father I am only seventeen,' he chuckled lightly. 'Must we talk of such things?'
'Maybe when they're older,' my father laughed. I wasn't sure if he was joking or not.
'They're beginning to look like their mother each day that passes.'
Our mother was a sensitive subject to us both. She was the reason we were now living in England. She had died of illness, shortly after I was born, and my father was forced to move back to his own home, taking us both with him. I never knew my mother personally, but I imagined she was incredibly beautiful. I sometimes imagined she was watching over me, guiding me to make the right choices, frowning when I made the wrong ones.
'Ah! Mr Ereon, do come over here, I have someone I wish for you to meet.' My father suddenly spoke, causing me to jump. I whipped my head in the direction he had spoken, and sure enough, Brink was on his way over, a modest smile on his lips.
He gave a little bow as he approached, keeping his head low.
'This is the Earl of Wessex, and Mr Harry Gatsby, his son. This is Mr Ereon, the new guard for the castle. He will also be watching over my daughters, to make sure no harm comes to them.'
I had the sudden urge to laugh, but I bit my lip and kept my eyes fixed on the ground.
'It is a pleasure to meet you,' Brink's voice was a perfect facade.
When I glanced up, I saw Harry was speculating Brink with intense curiosity. I could have imagined it, but it looked as though a spot of jealousy also crossed his features.
'We should not all stand here,' the Earl said. 'We must go and congratulate Lady Isabella and Sir Robert on their upcoming nuptials.'
All I could think about as we all dispersed, was the way Harry had looked at Brink. Surely he couldn't be opposed to the idea of Brink guarding us could he? Unless...unless he had feelings? For me?
I watched his dark head disappear, alongside his fathers. It looked as though things were going to get very complicated.