Anna Carrington is anything but naive.
It's 1816, and Anna can't help but see the absurdness in her frivolous peers. Her father has sent her to the city, amongst the wealthy and educated, and most of all, she can't help but struggle with watching her childhood friend marry another woman. Adding a reluctant hostess, two confused men, and a scandalized society, Anna's first session will be memorable enough.
Chapter One: The Dream
Just the way he looked at me made me breathless. Omitting his crooked smile, teasing eyes, and irresistible coffee colored curls, he was still the perfect example of an amiable gentleman. Had I never noticed before how every word he spoke sounded like music, how kind his expressions? I silently chastised my self for being for so unobservant. All the while I had been fantasizing about finding my one and only true love, when all along he had been right in front me.
Looking around the dim lit room, I was still surprised that he had appeared with so little notification. I had only just received his letter from the man-servant, when Milly, the maid, came in with Thomas in tow.
“Miss Carrington? Mr. Anchester, ma’am,” she had said, curtsying as she left.
“Anna!” Thomas explained just as the library door shut. He rushed to my side, leading me to a seat, and sat us both down, all the while grinning. His eyes were bright, and I remembered how dull they had looked when we last parted.
“Anchester, how wonderful it is to see you!” I welcomed him. “Have you been long back from town?” My heart was pounding, a silent reminder of my newly found feelings for him.
His smile broadened, although a quizzical expression replaced the delight on his face. “I do not know what you talk of...”
I frowned. Was he so soon ready to talk of the death of his mother? “Well... I was sure the... arrangements would keep you longer, you see.”
He lost his confused look. “Forget it. All that matters is that I am here now...” He took hold of one of my hands, and I was sure my heart would leap out of my chest. “... With you.”
“Thomas.” Was he really saying this about me?
He slid towards me on the couch. I could feel his cool breath on my face, and one of his hands snaked around my waist. I shivered.
“Anna,” he started, his eyes locked with mine. “I must tell you. I love...” He leaned in closer. “I love...” He was even closer now, so close that I could see his each and every individual eyelash. “Love...” His head was leaned to the side, and his lips slightly parted. His lips... they looked so inviting. “Love...” I was closing my eyes, aching for those lips to touch mine. “...you.” Our lips suddenly locked, and our bodies pressed tightly against one another’s. His hands ran up and down my body, and I let my fingers roam through his fine hair and explore his defined muscles. He was fumbling with the laces on my dress. Now? I thought. Here? But he was too much for me. I just wanted him now, and nothing would stop that---
I jolted awake, throwing the sheets from my hot body. Mrs. Williams stood at the edge of my bed, her hands on her hips, and scowling. “Do my eyes deceive me, or are you still lazing about it bed?”
I rubbed my eyes, no favorable answer ready. “Uh... no?”
“Humph! Just as I thought! What did you do? Stay up last night howling at the moon?” In truth, I had sat by the window, fretting over poor Thomas. Thomas... at his name I felt a slight thrill, although I couldn’t possibly think why.
“Well, you’d best get out of bed. Your mother is in quite a tizzy. Fretting about some relation of yours visiting on the morrow.”
I blinked. Relation? Who could that possibly be?
“I agree, quite surprising.” She busied herself by pulling out various dresses and holding them up for me.
“Oh...” I grumbled, laying back down in bed with a sigh. “I suppose the blue one shall do. I’ve practically worn the others out with over-wear.”
Mrs. Williams huffed, placing her hands on her hips again, her favorite stance. “Well? Just gonna lay there, are you? Let me dress you while you take a morning nap? Hurry! Hurry! Out of bed!”
I moaned again, and dragged myself to my feet. The sheets were in a disarray, and my heavy quilt lay on the floor. What had I done? Decided to go midnight waltzing on top of my bed? Perhaps I had a frightening dream... a dream. A dream about Thomas.
“Don’t just stand there!” said Mrs. Williams. “Wash your face!”
I did as she bode, but my thoughts were elsewhere. What an odd dream! I had had others like it, but never before with someone I knew as dear as my friend Mr. Anchester. It might be difficult to look him squarely in the face when he returns from London, I thought. But perhaps by then the dream will have faded.
“Oi! Miss Anna! Did you hear me?” Mrs. Williams stood at my elbow, holding the blue dress.
“I’m sorry, what?”
She sighed while sliding me out of my night gown. “I said: Would you like me to speak to your mother about a new dressing gown?”
“A new dressing gown?” I frowned. “I suppose. But surely we cannot afford it after sending Samuel away to school? Pa has enough to worry about without the thought of debts caused by my mere trifling wants.”
“Eh! You girls deserve something special now and then. I wouldn’t be a good nurse if I didn’t help you out now and then, would I?” She buttoned up the dress, then spun me around to work on the white collar.
I kissed her on the cheek. “Here you are still dressing me at my prime age of seventeen! Shouldn’t you be helping Cynthia or Sophie or baby Agnes? Surely I am able to ready myself.”
Mrs. Williams pulled a brush through my light hair. “Aye, but I won’t be having you look sorry when some handsome gentleman comes to call. You’re the one who’s really being in want of me.”
“Gentleman! Nana! I haven’t any men knocking on the door, you know so.”
She smiled. “Nay, Mr. Stevenson was around this morning around ten to call upon you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Mr. Stevenson is a good natured man I suppose...”
“He’d make a better husband,” she said slyly, pulling my hair into a bun.
“Nana! I don’t want to marry the rector. He’s nearly twenty years my senior!”
“Twenty years? Fah! Twenty years isn’t a thing to worry about. He’s a good looking man, Miss Anna, if you think about it.”
I scoffed. “Yes, but he’s a man of clergy. Everybody knows that a woman who marries the town rector only does so because she can’t catch another man.”
Mrs. Williams cuffed my ear, being done dressing my hair. “List you, Miss Anna. Don’t you go off thinking less of a man of religious duties, just because other young ladies think so. He’s a good man, and owns a comfortable looking parish, which could be yours if you thought on it. You know he pays you particular attention, above all of the village girls. And you not even the most wealthy!”
“Oh, Nana, I didn’t mean to seem pert, forgive me. But you know every girl’s dream is to marry a young, handsome man of riches. I’m just being fanciful, you know so.” I stepped away, viewing myself the mirror. “When the time comes, I’ll marry sensibly, dutifully, but for love. And I could very well fall in love with Mr. Stevenson.”
Mrs. Williams shook her head sadly. “Sorry to enlighten you, Anna my dear, but sensibility, duty and love don’t often come in the same package.”
Due to some mishap involving a set of four horses, a snake and a carriage, our cousin Simon Richard and his friend would arrive at our humble estate the next morning. They were some distance away from London, and Simon thought it about time to make a visit anyways. Naturally, my sister’s were ecstatic, rushing about the house with their heads held high, whispering and giggling all the while. Although I found Simon’s manner slightly too arrogant and pompous for my taste, he was very handsome and an extremely proficient horseman. I had been caught countless times mesmerized in his smile.
Sophie was the worst effected of my sisters. She just about fancied herself engaged with Cousin Simon, since he happened to pay her the most attention. But I saw him as he was: a tease and a rake. And Sophie, being energetic, naive, and beautiful, was just the kind of girl he noticed. I always kept close attention on her for that reason.
Mother was stricken with nerves. When I suggested that she might go upstairs and take a rest, she snapped at me and asked how would the house look presentable if she were not there to clean it.
“Mother, Milly, Nana and I can very well get things in order,” I argued. Her anxiety was affecting us all, making us jump when she spoke, and speak she did, in the most aggravating tones.
“Ha! I’d like to see you try.” She gave a dramatic sigh. “But not today, Anna. With your father in town, this is of too much importance to make sport of. Oh...” She ambled down into the kitchen. I followed, afraid for our cook, Mrs. Martin.
“Martin!” Mother said, glancing around the sunny room. “Do tell me we’ve an extra hen for tomorrow night. The Riley sisters are off visiting their mother in Hollinsville, so you’ll have to take care off the... necessities.”
Mrs. Martin frowned, whipping her hands on her apron. “A hen, ma’am?”
“Yes, a hen, Mrs. Martin! What else would I want? A goat!?”
Mrs. Martin picked up her knife and started chopping potatoes. “Of course, ma’am. A hen it’ll be.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Martin.” Mother turned and left the room, leaving a flash of skirts in her wake.
I gave the cook an apologetic smile.
“Eh,” mumbled Mrs. Martin. “No matter. She’ll be right back as ‘er sunny self in a bit, you’ll see.”
I nodded, unsure of my mother. Sunny self? I smiled, and left the kitchen, hoping to find Nana and discuss things other than maids and poultry.
“Mr. Anchester?” I exclaimed, staring at Mrs. Williams, who held the letter.
“Yes, yes, my dear,” she replied. “Apparently, they met in London, at another of those gentlemen clubs. He and your cousin Mr. Richard decided to take a trip to some Lord’s estate way down in Delany. And on their way back... well you’ve heard. And, since Mr. Anchester sold the manor when he lost his mother, they’ve nowhere to stay but here. Of course, they could use a borrowed trap from an Inn along the road, and travel back to town, but you know how cramped those become after a day or so. They’d much rather wait it out with family until their carriage is repaired; I’ve heard the damage is remarkable.”
I sighed, and slumped down in the nursery rocker. “Oh, how dreadful for Mr. Anchester to find a friend a Cousin Simon. They don’t suit each other in any way. I’m fearful that my cousin will influence him, Mr. Anchester’s countenance being one of forgiveness, kindness and common sense! Simon on the other hand... Oh, how terrible.”
Mrs. Williams gave me a questioning look. “My, you seem highly worried for Mr. Anchester. Surely he can watch out for himself? As it is, he is nearly twenty and three.”
“He is such a dear friend,” I replied. “That is all. I would not want to see him harmed.”
Mrs. Williams laughed. “Harmed!? Dear, you sound as if Cousin Simon is planning on chopping one of his limbs off!” Her smile became more sympathetic. “I doubt Mr. Simon is the first friend to influence Mr. Anchester. He must have many friends, and he is none the fool. Thereby, Mr. Anchester must be well aware of your cousin’s behavior, and is most likely sticking with his own principles as we speak.”
I stood up from the rocker and smiled at Mrs. Williams. “I suppose you are right, Nana. I should have nothing to worry of.”
“As you should,” she agreed. “Now, if we are going to chat like this all day, you might as well help with the chores.” She beckoned with her free hand, her other full of baby Anges unclean clothes. “Come, help with the wash, or I’ll send you to your mother, and God knows we wouldn’t want that.”