As Mary pinned the last curl into place, Eliza looked at her reflection in the mirror. Her hazel eyes sparkled, and the hair she usually referred to as “mousy brown” in colour seemed to shine in the candlelight on this particular night. The string of pearls around her neck sat just right about her collarbone, and Eliza even thought her upturned nose looked a little more regal than it ordinarily did, balanced out by her narrow chin.
“Mary, you’ve done a marvelous job, thank you,” Eliza said, turning to thank her young chambermaid.
“I think you look ever so pretty ma’am. I wouldn’t be surprised if every eligible bachelor attending the ball asked you to dance,” Mary replied with a small curtsey.
“Oh Mary, I’m not quite sure I would know what to do if such a thing were to happen. If I meet just one eligible bachelor, I shall deem the night a success.”
“I should think you’ll be fighting off the suitors! Word of your beauty has spread far and wide, and it’s been a mystery to many as to why your father has kept you out of society for so long now. But perhaps I speak out of turn on this account,” Mary said bashfully.
“Not at all, that’s quite all right. Thank you, Mary, you may go,” Eliza said, and Mary took her leave. The truth was that the chambermaid had struck a nerve with the 23 year-old. It had been a mystery to her indeed as to why her parents had prevented her from entering into society until now. It was true that in the countryside it was quite common for young ladies to make their introductions later, but in London, most of Eliza’s friends had been out since the age of 20.
Mr. and Mrs. Dowling, however, were protective of their only daughter, and Eliza was constantly jealous of how much freedom was afforded to her older brother Edward by comparison. Her father had long been grooming him to take over the family business, but Eliza had been kept to the estate just outside of London in Winchester, where she focused on her studies. She longed to develop more connections, and she treasured the ones that she did have. Though they had no titles, the Dowlings were respected as one of London’s finest factory-owning families, boasting several well-to-do and well-connected investors, and both of Eliza’s parents hoped that she would make a good marriage. For her part, Eliza simply hoped that her mother and father would respect her wishes when considering a match. Though she’d never experienced love herself, Eliza could not imagine life, or a marriage, without it.
“Eliza? Come, come, we’re all waiting!” called Mrs. Dowling from the hallway as she swiftly passed.
Considering herself in the mirror one last time before joining her family, the thought crossed Eliza’s mind that she might indeed meet her future husband that very night. The notion brought a hopeful smile to her face, and she smoothed down the front of her lavender dress, bracing herself for change.
The ball was hosted by Lord Sherridan, and though it was not in London, many of the capital’s elite would be in attendance. After that evening, if everything went well, her father and brother would take her into the city for the season and Eliza could hardly breathe for excitement.
“One might think you’d never been to a ball before,” Edward said, chuckling at the wide-eyed innocence on his sister’s face as he helped her out of the carriage and she took in her grand surroundings.
“Don’t tease your sister like that,” Mrs. Dowling said shortly after, chastising her cheeky son. “Come, Eliza, your moment has come! I must insist that you enjoy every minute of it.”
Inside the grandiose ballroom Eliza peered up at the shimmering chandeliers, and gazed around at the stunning skirts, spinning and waltzing around the dance floor. “Try to seem vaguely sophisticated,” she said to herself, as she refocused on the announcer in front of her.
“Mr. Matthew and Laura Dowling, in attendance with their son Edward Dowling, and introducing their daughter, Eliza Dowling,” the announcer said loudly and sharply. Without a title attached to the family name, their presentation went relatively unnoticed by the crowd, though a few heads turned and Eliza knew they were for her. Proudly, she stepped forward, enjoying the attention.
Gazing around the room, Eliza searched out familiar faces, and found a few. There, coming towards her, was Derrick Blackwell, along with his cousin Leo, and they were certainly a welcome sight. As his father had been an early investor in the Dowling factories, Derrick and Eliza had grown up with one another, fast friends from a very young age. They shared a passion for music, and had the kind of teasing relationship one could only have with an old friend. It was not entirely a brotherly or sisterly relationship however, and it never quite had been. Though they were very comfortable in each other’s company, as they grew older there developed an unspoken understanding that if their circumstances had been different, they may have been a good match for the other. Baron that he was, however, Derrick had been told over and over again by his widowed mother that he needed to find a strategic marriage for himself. Seeing the connection from an early age that her son had developed with Eliza, Honoria Blackwell became concerned when she witnessed the two pretending to be husband and wife, though the children were too young to understand the symbolic nature of their games. Ever since then, Honoria had encouraged the friendship but made sure that both of the children understood that was all it would ever be.
Because she valued her friendship with Derrick so much, Eliza had taken his mother’s words to heart over the years, and understood that their acquaintance would always remain platonic. Throughout their friendship, Eliza had pushed aside any developing feelings she felt coming along. Despite her best efforts, there were times when she would catch sight of Derrick’s handsome profile, or the look of his dimples smiling in her direction, and her heart would flutter, thinking of what might have been. But it did no good to dwell on what couldn’t be, and Eliza had tried her best to put all romantic thoughts of Derrick out of her mind. Given her years of practice, she was fairly good at it now.
“Miss Dowling, you are looking very purple this evening,” Derrick said, referencing her dress and kissing her hand.
“Very purple? You know, Derrick, you may simply say that I look nice and be done with it,” Eliza said, enjoying the banter and smiling.
“Derrick has never truly understood how to properly compliment a lady. May I say, Miss Dowling, that you are strikingly beautiful in that gown,” Derrick’s cousin Leo said, giving her a small bow, and Eliza laughed at the pleasant competition between the men.
“Ah, the Blackwells have arrived. Can I leave you safely in the company of these brutes, Eliza? I see Lady Danton over yonder, and I should like to orchestrate an introduction,” Edward said, edging away from the small group. Eliza noticed that her parents also had wandered off, and her father was talking to some politician or other.
“We’ll take good care of her, not to worry,” Derrick assured Edward, and Eliza’s brother skipped off towards the young lady.
“Can’t resist a pretty face, can he? Not that many of us can,” Leo said with a smile. Leo Blackwell was very similar to his cousin Derrick in many ways, with the same dark brown, almost black hair, and stark grey eyes. Where Derrick was taller, with shoulders that filled out his jacket nicely, Leo was slimmer, with a more mischievous glint in his eye.
The dance ended, and the floor emptied to prepare for the next group of dancers. Eliza couldn’t take her eyes off all the beautiful dresses swirling around the room, and suddenly she felt quite simply dressed by comparison. Looking around at the ladies tossing their heads in laughter, and lifting champagne to their lips delicately, Eliza desperately wanted to be like one of them. Her mother had had a distinctly middle-class upbringing before she married Eliza’s father, so she was unable to teach her daughter the etiquette of the fine society which their hard-won fortunes now afforded them. Eliza’s governess had done her best to impart all the wisdom she could, though Eliza had had few opportunities to practice her manners. Because of this, she felt stiff among such respected company, and wished to have as much fun as all the other ladies in the room seemed to be doing.
“It seems as though you could do with a spot of fun, Eliza. Would you care to dance?” Derrick asked, holding his hand out to Eliza, who took it gratefully.
“Yes, thank you. I did not expect my parents to abandon me so quickly. How am I to be introduced into society if there’s no one to make my introductions?” Leading her out onto the dance floor as the musicians started the next song, Derrick laughed at Eliza’s complaint.
“Not to worry, I’m sure your parents are spreading the word about your presence, and preparing the crowds so as not to overwhelm them with your beauty and wit all at once,” Derrick said with a smile, as they stepped in time with the music.
“Oh, save your teasing of me for another day Derrick, I beg of you. I feel like a child and an old maid all at once here, ignorant of such festivities, but too far along in years to explain it. I will never understand why my parents waited so long to introduce me into society.” The song clipped along, and Eliza turned up the middle of the column of ladies and gentlemen, lightly stepping towards her new place in the line.
“I was being quite serious on one account,” Derrick said, meeting up with her once more in the caper.
“Yes? And to which account might you be referring?” Eliza asked skeptically.
“You do look quite pretty tonight, and none of my teasing can take away from that.” He looked straight into her eyes as he said this and Eliza almost tripped over the hem of her dress, taken aback at his sincerity. It wasn’t like Derrick to compliment her, and she knew that if his mother was within earshot he would never say anything so flattering.
“Th-thank you,” Eliza replied, stumbling over her words.
“I’m sure your parents have already identified half a dozen young men anxious to make your acquaintance.” Derrick looked away from Eliza’s words, and the moment ended abruptly. This was the Derrick she was accustomed to. “And it would seem there’s one that already has his eye on you.” Derrick nodded towards where Edward was standing, conversing with a taller, handsome man who happened to be staring straight at her. Eliza blushed and looked away quickly, embarrassed to have been caught staring back. She wanted to look at the man again to get a better view of him, but the dancing turned them away and he was out of sight once more. Speaking of such things with Derrick had always been uncomfortable, so she turned the focus towards her partner’s marital prospects.
“And you, Baron Blackwell? Are there any fine ladies in your purview?”
Derrick turned his head in surprise, as it was not often that the two old friends spoke of love and marriage. At least not since they’d played at it as children. “Oh, you know my mother. No one is quite good enough, and she simply will not entertain anyone that I suggest. Though she still seems to find a way to blame me for her lack of grandchildren.”
“Are there ladies that you have suggested to her?” Eliza could feel the tension between them growing, though logically it was silly to not be able to discuss such topics, old friends as they were.
Derrick did his best to deflect the question. “Here and there. I am not so much like my mother that I think there are no accomplished, learned, respected and well-to-do young ladies in existence, and nor do I think my wife need be all of the above. Simply finding an enduring love and respect should make me happiest, I do believe.”
He looked at her again as he said this, and Eliza’s heart skipped a beat. She ought never to have brought up such a dangerous topic. They were headed towards perilous ground, and Eliza’s heart was at risk. She’d vowed to herself long ago not to fall in love with Derrick, the one man she could never have, and it would do no good to break that promise now. The world was her oyster, and it had only just opened up for her. Eliza’s prospects were promising, and if she allowed her affections to be caught up with Derrick Blackwell, she might neglect other perfectly acceptable gentlemen in the fray.
The song ended, and Eliza felt Derrick’s hand reluctantly let go of hers. They caught each other’s eyes and he flashed her a sad sort of smile, as if he was bidding her farewell. It only served to confuse Eliza, as she wasn’t going anywhere and neither was he.
As they walked back towards Edward, and the handsome stranger standing with him, Eliza left all thoughts of Derrick’s odd behaviour behind. Here was a good-looking gentleman who could not take his eyes off her after all, and perhaps one who didn’t have a meddling mother to keep them apart! It was unfair of Derrick really to pay her such compliments, and give her such significant looks when he knew that nothing could come of it.
“Dear Eliza, there you are. I’m very glad to see that the colour has returned to your cheeks. May I present to you Viscount Heath Ashby of Watton, gentleman extraordinaire and decorated officer. Ashby, this is my sister Eliza. You may recognise her by her eyes as wide as that of a doe. This is her very first ball, and I do believe she’s been looking forward to it fiercely since the age of twelve.”
Eliza glared at her brother and blushed hotly, as she curtseyed to Ashby and he bowed politely back. His face was kindly, and despite his somewhat imposing stature there was something sweet about the way his blue eyes looked into hers. Based on appearance alone, he seemed the kind of man who would be good at cheering up those around him.
“Miss Eliza, I’m honoured to make your acquaintance,” Ashby said with a friendly, swoon-worthy grin.
“The honour is all mine, I’m sure. I do hope that you don’t have the misfortune of having an older brother such as mine. Not an hour goes by without Edward comparing me to some ridiculous animal,” Eliza said, taking the opportunity to make a jab at her brother.
“Ah, I’m afraid to admit that I am such an older brother myself, and I must confess, we are a wicked bunch. Your eyes do have the look of a deer’s, however, but only insofar as they are wonderfully large, and I feel as though I might get lost in them. And never again want to be found.”
Whenever Eliza read of such blatant flattery in novels she would cringe, and think to herself that never would she fall for such fawning ingratiation tactics. Yet somehow out of Ashby’s mouth the words sounded magical, and so sincerely romantic that Eliza felt quite swept away.
“I say, if you cannot find your way out of a pair of eyes, I’m not quite sure how you manage to find your way to the enemy across a battlefield,” Derrick interjected, startling Eliza who had almost forgotten he was there at all.
“Yes, well, they’re generally the ones shooting at you, so I haven’t had any trouble thus far,” Ashby replied with a good-natured tone, unbothered by Derrick’s rudeness.
“Apologies, Blackwell, I have neglected to introduce you properly. My sister’s debut has proved to be quite distracting for us all. Some more than others though, I presume. Ashby, this is Baron Derrick Blackwell, of Woolcaster. One of our most valued investors, and a businessman in his own right,” Edward said. It seemed to Eliza that Derrick’s bow was curt and cold compared to the friendly one Ashby gave in return, and she couldn’t explain it. Something was off about the baron this evening, as his usual demeanor was one of kindness and cheer. She made a mental note to inquire as to his well-being at a later point.
“I must take my leave now, as I owe this dance to the elderly Mrs. Wallace, but if I may be so bold as to ask you for the next dance, Miss Dowling?” Ashby looked at her expectantly, and his attentions flustered her.
“Y-yes, that would be lovely.”
“Wonderful. I’ll come find you when the time comes,” he said, bowing once more and taking his leave. Eliza gazed after him, impressed at the strength and assuredness of his gait.
“Eliza, did no one ever teach you that it’s rude to stare?” Edward teased her, and Eliza resisted the urge to step on her brother’s toe. “Still, I think I ought to be very proud of myself, don’t you think? I’ve single-handedly managed to find you a marriage prospect within minutes of your debut, and our parents have produced none. Aren’t you impressed with me, Blackwell?”
Derrick’s face was unreadable. “He is tall, if that can be considered a virtue. Is he with the militia?”
“He is tall? If I didn’t know any better, Derrick, I’d say you’re becoming more and more cynical in your old age. Is that what happens once you surpass six and twenty? As to Ashby’s outfit, I haven’t the slightest. You know I’m not much of a military man myself.”
“I only ask because I believe I’ve heard his name before, perhaps through my acquaintance Colonel Kenton, but I can’t be sure.”
“Never took you as one for gossip, Blackwell! Still, what are balls for? Gossip, a little bit of cards, and a large bit of dancing, I say. Eliza, is that Hattie Conway?”
Eliza turned around to see her friend buzzing towards them, looking resplendent in a light blue silk gown with embroidered sleeves, matching gloves and ribbons in her hair. Hattie was the sort of girl who knew everything about everyone, and she would be the perfect companion to guide Eliza through the ins and outs of the ball. Shorter than Eliza, Hattie had a pixie-ish look about her with bold red hair, and she always wore the finest of garments. Her family was one of great wealth and repute, and Hattie had sort of taken Eliza under her wing, thrilled to have a new friend in society – especially one as pretty and witty as Eliza.
“There you are Eliza! They did not announce you loudly enough at all, and everyone’s been saying it. It’s taken me ages to find you! You look so lovely, in a perfectly simple kind of way. There’s too much adornment and decoration in the latest trends, it’s time we retreated to more classic styles. I don’t doubt that all of London will be taking notes from your choices in dress! Mr. Blackwell, Mr. Dowling. I’m surprised to find you both standing here without dance partners. There are plenty of ladies about!”
“You’re quite right, Miss Conway. I must see to my mother. Eliza, my mother would be quite vexed if the whole evening passed and she did not get a moment to congratulate you on your debut. Do say hello to her when you have a moment. Excuse me,” Derrick said, bowing and starting off towards his mother, again flashing Eliza a sad sort of smile. Undoubtedly there was something on his mind that he was reluctant to share with her.
There were so many opportunities for distraction, however, and the concern did not last long with Eliza. Hattie was here, and she was to dance the next dance with Ashby.
“Are you quite alright Eliza?” Hattie asked concernedly.
“Yes!” Eliza said, looking back at her friend. “Simply overwhelmed, if I’m to be quite honest with you.”
“Oh Eliza, I’ve been longing to see you! Shall we take a turn around the room, and you can tell me all that has passed since your arrival?”
Arm in arm the ladies took their leave of Edward, and started walking around the room, passing feathers and lace, fluttering fans and laughing guests.
“Tell me Eliza, when do you come to London? I simply cannot wait to start the season with you there. We must spend a week or two in Bath! Now that you are out there’s simply no reason to keep you cooped up in London, or Winchester. There’s plenty of society to be had all over the country.”
“We travel to London the day after tomorrow, and then I swear I’m all yours Hattie! I’m ever so grateful to have you as a friend. I don’t know how I would face all this pomp and circumstance without your wise guidance,” Eliza whispered, catching another glimpse of Ashby dancing with the elderly woman he had mentioned. She had a wide smile across her face, and Eliza thought it awfully charitable of Ashby to bring some joy into her life, in whatever small way he could.
“The day after tomorrow! That is wonderful. I’ll help you to secure all the best invitations, and we shall never spend another night at home for the entire season! Tell me, have you danced with anyone yet?” Hattie asked conspiratorially.
“Yes, well, only Derrick, but I do owe the next dance to a gentleman by the name of Ashby. Heath Ashby, do you know him?”
“Heath Ashby… I’m not sure I do. Can you point him out to me?”
“Yes, he’s the tall blonde gentleman dancing with the older looking woman. And now he’s looking at us!” Eliza said, quickly turning away, feeling herself flush once more.
“Oh my. I must say, Eliza, he is quite undoubtedly the handsomest man in the entire room! I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him, however. Not to worry, I’ll inquire to my circle about him. One must never make assumptions of worth based on looks, but if I was to, I should say that Ashby seems like the most valuable of gentlemen if his jawline is to be trusted!”
Eliza laughed at her friend’s candid statement. There was something so refreshing about Hattie’s irreverence towards her surroundings that appealed strongly to Eliza. The song ended, and Eliza could see out of the corner of her eye that Ashby was approaching.
“He’s coming this way,” Eliza hissed, and Hattie quickly changed the subject.
“As I was saying, Bath this time of year is simply lovely, and in many ways- oh hello there!” Hattie curtseyed, and Eliza introduced her friend to the young gentleman. Somehow, he seemed even more handsome than the last she’d seen him. Soon the music started up again, and Ashby led her towards the floor once more, Hattie staring after them with good-natured jealousy.
“Who is the woman you were dancing with just now?” Eliza asked as they started dancing the steps, in towards each other, then out again.
“She is the mother of a former colleague of mine. A fantastic officer, who died tragically on the field. I consider it my duty somewhat, whenever I see her, to spend some time with her, and share pleasant memories of her son. It’s no easy loss, of course, and I appreciate the sacrifice she has made.” Genuine emotion crossed Ashby’s face, and struck a chord with Eliza. He did indeed seem to be a good man who cared for those around him, though she knew so little of the details of his life.
“It’s very good of you to care for her so.”
“It’s the least I can do, really. But here we are, on this joyous night! We ought to be celebrating your debut, and not talking of such sullen things,” he said with a smile, his hand holding hers as she twirled beneath it, the space between them shrinking. “Tell me, will you be spending the season in London?”
“Yes, my family will be at our London estate. I shall miss Winchester of course, but I very much look forward to seeing the world, for a brief moment at the very least.” The dance took them away from each other for a moment, and she admired the way he carried himself once more.
“Well, I look forward to seeing more of you, Miss Dowling. It is always a pleasure to meet someone as vivacious and clever as yourself.” Again, his dimples were mesmerising.
“Mr. Ashby, you hardly know me at all; how can you say that I am vivacious and clever on such a short acquaintance?” Eliza wasn’t so naive as to the ways of men so as not to question a gentleman, though her tone was one of light teasing.
“Questions like that, my lady, are precisely what make me think you must be so. You are quite right, of course – I hardly know you, and you hardly know me! And if I may be so bold, I intend to change that.” It was bold, but after years of trying not to pine over Derrick, it felt like a great relief to hear Ashby’s intentions stated so clearly. Upon the thought of his name Eliza looked around the room briefly for Derrick, but he was nowhere to be found.
“Stop thinking about him,” she thought to herself, focusing instead on ensuring she didn’t trip over her own feet. “I think I should like that,” Eliza said aloud, looking up at Ashby’s clear blue eyes once more.
Once the dance ended, he immediately asked if she would step out onto the floor with him once more, but duty called to her and Eliza knew she ought to see what had become of her own mother and father. Doubtlessly they had people they wished to introduce her to, and she didn’t want to appear rude so soon after entering into society. So she made her excuses but promised to dance with him again before the end of the night, and she hoped to find the chance to acquaint him with her mother and father. Their approval meant everything to her, and she knew they would know more than she regarding who ought to be trusted and who couldn’t be. Her brother Edward had many fine qualities, but discerning taste wasn’t one of them. If she was to entertain Ashby’s attentions, she wanted to be sure that he was worthy.
Making her way through the crowd once more, Eliza saw Derrick looking her way from across the room. They held each other’s eyes for a moment before too many people crossed between them, and Eliza turned away. There, right in front of her all of a sudden was Derrick’s mother, Honoria Blackwell, striking an imposing stance.
“Mrs. Blackwell!” Eliza said, taking a quick step backwards, “How do you do?”
“Well, thank you Miss Dowling. What a pleasure it is, seeing you out like this. Finally, after all these years. I will never understand why your parents kept you in for so long, but then again, these things can’t be rushed. I saw you take to the floor earlier, and I think you presented yourself very well.”
“Thank you Mrs. Blackwell, that means a great deal coming from someone as accomplished as yourself,” Eliza responded, catching her breath. There was something about Mrs. Blackwell that always frightened her. She was certainly a force to be reckoned with and Eliza yearned for her respect, but hated herself for caring what someone thought of her so deeply all at the same time. Perhaps it was because, deep within herself, Eliza thought that if she could prove herself to Mrs. Blackwell in some way, she might change her mind about allowing Derrick to marry someone as humble in birth as herself. It was a holdover of her feelings for Derrick, and she fought to push the thought aside.
“I couldn’t help but notice that you danced with my son.” Eliza’s breath quickened as Mrs. Blackwell spoke. “I hope you know that the optics of your acquaintance with Derrick have changed somewhat now that you’re out in society. For your own good you ought to distance yourself from him, so as not to deter other gentlemen from courting you. If it appears that you belong to another, no man of any decency will approach. But if you appear to be available, then there will seem to be a clear path to your heart. Men appreciate a simple engagement. Any complications will put them off.”
Eliza didn’t know quite how to respond. It was precisely this sort of statement from Mrs. Blackwell that made her dread their conversations. Derrick’s mother couldn’t stop herself from offering patronising advice under the guise of being helpful, and there was nothing Eliza could do but receive the guidance with enthusiastic thanks, or else risk offending the dowager.
“Yes, thank you Mrs. Blackwell. I am new to society of course, and hadn’t thought of such a potential misconception.” Eliza looked about, wondering if Derrick was nearby and might save her. No such luck.
“In addition to considering your own well-being in this manner of course, I must put a mind to my son’s reputation. While his friendship with someone of your stature is generally perceived as quite charitable, I fear that the connection may deter other potential matches for him. You are quite pretty and have grown nicely into your face, and though you are not of noble birth, I do not think that your closeness will be appreciated by any eligible young women he chooses to court.”
Eliza bristled at Mrs. Blackwell’s words, knowing full well that anyone that Derrick courted would not be of his choice at all, but rather his mother’s. She bit her tongue, however, made her excuses and stepped away from the dowager as quickly as possible.
The evening passed without her seeing Derrick again, though she knew she would see him in the coming months in London. Derrick was frequently in town for his various business ventures but it simply hadn’t occurred to her that their friendship might be changing now, for good. Perhaps that explained the melancholy that she had perceived in Derrick’s eyes throughout the night.
“And did you enjoy yourself?” Mary asked, taking Eliza’s dress as she slipped out of it before returning to brush out her mistress’ hair. It seemed to Eliza that there were enough hair pins to keep up a horse’s mane. A sense of relaxation came over her as her curls came down, and the anxiety of the evening fell away.
“I did! I really did.”
“Did you dance with anyone particularly diverting?”
“Perhaps. There was one gentleman, a Mr. Ashby, who seemed to be paying me quite a bit of attention. He was… very tall. And handsome. The handsomest man in the room I dare say,” Eliza said, secretly thinking she preferred the delicacy of Derrick’s countenance.
“Oh my! The handsomest man in the room. I won’t tell your brother you said so. Well I expect to hear more of this Ashby once we’re in London for the season, though I doubt he’ll be the only gentleman attempting to court you. With eyes such as yours, ma’am, I do believe there will be a graveyard of suitors in front of the house.”
“I dearly hope not.”
“And did your parents meet this Mr. Ashby?”
“No, though he did promise to call, so I don’t doubt they will soon enough, if he is a man of his word. My parents did introduce me to several other men, though I hardly remember all their names. No one told me how challenging it is to remember the names of so many whilst one is busy listening to your own name being said. It sounds ridiculous, but truly, the titles fly out of my mind almost instantaneously.”
Eliza went on to describe all of the men her parents had introduced her to. There was the kindly, though quite slow speaking parson from a neighbouring parish, several militiamen who were indiscernible from one another, and a well-to-do tea merchant twice her age. It was clear that her parents were not looking to climb the social ladder so to speak as they searched for a husband for their daughter, but instead they had their eyes on someone who would be able to provide in the long term. Someone stable who could support Eliza, title or no title.
“But you remember Mr. Ashby’s name?”
Eliza smiled at Mary’s question. “Yes, I remember his name quite clearly. And his smile.”
Perhaps this was the answer to the question of how to forget Derrick. In truth, Ashby was a wonderfully distracting presence, and Eliza went to bed hoping he would continue to be so.
“A Dance with the Charming Baron” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Miss Eliza Dowling is belatedly coming out into society in the hope that she might meet a potential suitor who will make her heart race. When she crosses paths with a handsome childhood friend, she finds herself captivated by his mesmerising gaze. Her life will soon take a strange turn, though, when the man she daydreams about is to marry the daughter of a wealthy noble. Feeling emotionally wounded and struggling to forget him, she shifts her attention to a charming Viscount, until she realizes she is about to make the biggest mistake of her life. Will Eliza manage to tame her overpowering feelings and forget this elusive dream forever? In the end, will she discover the path to the happy life she craves?
After his father’s death, Derrick Blackwell has inherited the title of the Baron, and now it’s time for him to find a suitable wife. Even though in his heart, Eliza is a woman worth dying for, he knows that his mother would never allow a match with someone of a lower status. When he sees her with a charming Viscount waltzing around, pangs of jealousy soar through his heart, though he knows there’s nothing he can do but stand by. Yet, the moment he discovers that the same man who sets his sights on Eliza, is also the main suspect of a series of disasters, Derrick is determined to solve the puzzle and do whatever it takes to protect the woman he loves. Will the caring Baron uncover the truth? Will he prevail against the Viscount, defy his mother’s orders and choose a wife on his own terms?
Eliza and Derrick might come from two starkly different backgrounds, but their feelings for each other are too strong to be buried. When external circumstances insist on keeping them apart, the two of them have to find the strength to claim their happiness. Will Eliza and Derrick save their love before everything turns to ashes? Or will insuperable obstacles keep them from following their heart?
“A Dance with the Charming Baron” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.