My eyes scanned the room over the rim of my glass, hoping that he would be here like he had promised. The night was already in full swing and my friends were gliding across the ball room floor with their partners, while two young men stood beside me vying for my attention. What a fool I am, to believe he would come. I finally turned toward Louis and Michael, determined to not waste another moment waiting for the likes of him.
“So, which of you gentlemen would like to be my partner in the next dance?” I gave the two my most demure smile and batted my eyes. In sync, the two took a step forward. Louis answered first.
“I would be honored to dance the next dance with you, Ms. Elizabeth.” Louis bowed his head slightly as he spoke before looking back down at my face. His eyes were a deep brown that matched his unkept hair. Being barely 18, his smile still held a boyish charm. Nearly a head taller than his brother Michael, Louis was often talked about amongst the younger girls. In contrast to his brother, Michael stood only a couple of inches taller than I. His hair was the color of fire and his eyes were a jade green. Nearing the age of twenty-two, he had joined the Royal Navy and was set to depart the next week. My sister Lilly, only 18 herself, was in love with him, though he hardly noticed her.
I, myself, was nearing my twentieth birthday. My mother considered me a rare beauty. She would tell you my hair was as dark as a raven with grey eyes that if you looked into them, could captivate you forever. And yet, the man I loved had still not come.
I looked at Michael in his naval uniform and then glanced behind me at my sister sitting by the piano staring at us. I smiled brightly at the two gentlemen.
“Louis, I would be delighted.” I said with a curtsy before I reached out and touched Michael’s wrist.
“Michael, dear, I do hope you aren’t disappointed. Louis did ask me first.”
“Of course, Ms. Elizabeth! It would be impolite to say no.” His manners grated on my nerves. I forced a smile and replied.
“I’m so glad you understand. I do have a favor to ask of you, however.” I batted my piercing grey eyes at his jade ones. He looked nearly ready to faint.
“Yes, of course, anything. What can I do?”
“You do know my sister, Lilly, do you not?” I nodded my head toward her as she laughed at something father said. Michael followed my gaze.
“Yes, she looks quite lovely tonight.” He looked back at my angular face with a quizzical expression.
“Do ask her to dance, please. I have yet to see her move from our father’s side all evening and she so loves to dance.” I pressed my hand to my heart as though I only wanted for my sister to be happy. He had no inkling that I was trying to play match maker.
“I would be delighted, Ms. Elizabeth.” He bowed his head and took leave of us. Once alone, Louis took yet another step closer to my side and bent to whisper in my ear.
“Alone at last, my dear.” The childish smile I had seen moments before had disappeared and in its place sat a smirk. His eyes looked into mine as though he was imagining something unspeakable. It took all of my strength not to role my eyes. Suddenly, I felt a hand grace the small of my back. I jumped and turned.
He came. My whole body felt the urge to step closer to him. I resisted.
“Mr. Acker, so happy you could make it to our little party this evening.” Louis stepped forward to shake his hand before I could speak.
“Yes, it was kind of your family to extend me and my family an invitation. We are still new to Hertford and always enjoy a good outing.” The two continued to shake hands in front of me as I looked up and saw their icy stares at one another.
“Mr. Acker,” I spoke up, my body trembling at his closeness. “I was just about to dance with Mr. Kett here. Do excuse us.” Despite my excitement at his arrival, I kept my voice level and hoped my eyes didn’t give me away.
“Yes, Ms. Keaton promised this dance to me.” Louis took a step closer, acting as if I was his to control. I took a step away and smiled politely at him. The music began to play and I watched as my sister and Michael made their way to the floor with the other couples.
“Come along Elizabeth, the musicians are about to start the next song.” I followed Louis to the end of the line of couples. The men stood to one side of the floor, the women, the other. Without realizing it, I stole a glance back at Oliver Acker. Our eyes met and I felt my resolve and anger toward him begin to melt away. I averted my eyes back to my partner as the music began to play and we began to move around the floor.
I could barely focus on the dancing as all I could think about was him.
Did he come for me? We haven’t spoken since the Rivertons’ ball last week when he… oh has he thought any more of it?
My mind raced and by the time I forced myself to focus on the music and dancing, it was over. We all clapped for the musicians and I saw Louis begin to make his way back to my side. Before he reached me I felt a hand on mine. I looked down and then back up at the man that it was attached to.
“Dance with me, Elizabeth.” Oliver whispered. “Dance with me and forget the rest of the world.” His deep blue eyes, no longer full of anger or lies, shown with passion as if pleading me to say yes.
And just like that, there was no turning back.