There was a rustle of crinoline as she swept away on his arm, laughing throatily at something he said. I pushed my chair further back so that I was sitting against the wall. I longed to be absorbed into it, to become a true wallflower so that I did not have to watch my cousin make a fool of herself.
Ball after ball it was the same. I had to pretend not to listen when I heard the other women begin to whisper behind raised fans, whisper about her:
“Such a pretty little thing, Isabelle Montgomery -“
“This season is her debut and already she’s well known -“
“And no wonder! Such an easy little thing. I heard Mr. de Grave stole a kiss in the gardens a fortnight ago.”
Women could be so cruel. I slapped my fan shut remembering how my stomach had curdled the first time I heard those words. I wish I could tell my cousin, warn her somehow.
But she would never listen. She was madly in love with Vincent de Grave, the man with whom she was dancing now. The man who was singlehandedly ruining her reputation.
Usually I was able to ignore the heated gossip of these women, but tonight I was distracted and letting it get to me. The sound of my name suddenly caught my attention. This was new; they didn’t normally talk about me.
”’Tis a pity the cousin, what’s-her-name…”
“Yes, that’s it. As I was saying, ‘tis a pity she doesn’t share her cousin’s looks. I mean, she is handsome, albeit in a rather feline way, with those strange slanted eyes of hers.”
I was holding my fan so tightly that the sticks snapped in my hand. I hid it under a fold of my skirt and tried to compose my frayed nerves. Suddenly I felt someone standing over me. Looking up, I found myself staring into a pair of pitch-black eyes.
“Would you care to dance, miss?”
I blinked and resisted the temptation to look around and make sure he was really asking me, and not somebody else.
“Oh no – no thank you. I don’t dance.”
To my surprise, he heaved a sigh of relief and pulled up a chair. “Oh, thank goodness. I don’t either.”