Lady Spencer’s Ballroom
The ballroom was packed to capacity with only the country’s most important and influential people. One couldn’t be here without something special that set them apart from the masses. As the daughter of a gentleman and merchant, Christine knew she didn’t belong, but her circumstances were different. She wasn’t here as an equal, but as a lady’s companion.
“Everyone is looking at me,” said Estelle, nervously twirling a lock of hair around her finger. “I do not think I should have gone against Mama’s choice.”
Christine put a hand over Estelle’s fidgeting one, halting its movement. “They are looking because you are beautiful, my lady. You are simply not accustomed to it.”
“Oh, I do not know,” said Estelle, gnawing her lower lip. “Perhaps we should return home and change into something less… ostentatious.”
Christine chuckled. “Wearing something other than white and having your hair loose and adorned with ribbon does not make your attire ostentatious, my lady. This light pink gown complements your fair skin, and your loose hair accentuates your youthful appearance. If we truly wish to speak of ostentatious attire, we can look no further than Lady Spencer herself.”
They turned to the duchess, dressed in a shiny silver dress with a long cape attached to the shoulders with olive-leaf silver clasps. Her hair was not to be overshadowed. Its coiled plait was entwined with silver thread that worked well with the silvery strands of her brunette hair. The effect was magnificent, but far too loud for Christine’s tastes. She preferred a plainer style of muslin fabric in soft colours of green, blue, pink, and yellow; with little embellishments. This evening, she wore a light blue dress that reminded her of a cloudless summer sky and a gold necklace with little sapphire stones intertwined with diamonds. The piece of jewellery was from a large collection her mother owned.
Christine’s father had gifted the entire collection to her on her eighteenth birthday, but she would have rather wished for the life of her mother instead. Unfortunately, bringing one back from the dead was not possible.
“I suppose I look tame in comparison,” Estelle agreed. “The gold thread you weaved into my hair is much thinner than hers, so it looks like it’s part of my dark gold locks. I particularly like how the threads catch the soft candlelight.”
Christine smiled. Estelle’s shoulders relaxed, and she had finally ceased to bite her nails, a remarkable change from when they first arrived.
“I’m glad you are no longer fretting,” said Christine. “You are far too lovely to have two permanent lines between your brows.”
“They certainly will not help me attract a suitor,” Estelle replied. “Not that I believe someone will take a keen interest in me. No one has spared me a second glance since the Season began. Nor the last one, for that matter. I think I’m cursed.”
“What have I always told you? You are as you think you are. If you believe you are cursed, then you shall be cursed. If you believe you will meet the right gentleman, then you shall.”
“I thought you said everything would happen at the right time,” said Estelle.
“That too,” Christine agreed. “These two beliefs are go hand in hand.”
“I’m afraid I do not see how.”
“You can receive all that you should, but if you do not believe you should have it, then it shall pass you by,” Christine explained. “Papa would always remind me that one can be in the right place at the wrong time. I wish you to be ready when you finally meet the one you’re meant to marry. Do not allow your low opinion of yourself to rob you of happiness.”
Estelle nodded. “I understand. If my husband-to-be is in this room, I should do all I can to meet him with the right mindset, but you will have to help me.”
Christine held Estelle’s hand. “I will not leave your side. Unless you have to dance,” she said, lightening the mood. “I cannot be with you then. Your partner might think it strange.”
Estelle laughed. “That would be an interesting sight. Perhaps we should try it and see what sort of attention we would garner.”
“Goodness!” Christine exclaimed, chuckling. “You were rather timid moments ago, and now you’re ready to do something daring. That’s a remarkable transformation.”
“The thought of failing again has given me the courage to look uncomfortable situations in the eye and laugh at them,” said Estelle. “Well, I certainly hope I laugh at them. It would be rather embarrassing to tuck my tail between my legs and run at a crucial moment.”
“I would grab your tail and drag you back,” Christine claimed.
Estelle’s eyes widened. “You would?”
“I jest with you,” said Christine, nudging her shoulder. “I would likely run with you, drown our sorrows in a cup of sweet tea, and think of our next plan.”
“Creamy hot chocolate is my beverage of choice,” said Estelle. “Father loved adding brandy to his, and now I cannot do without it, although I cannot add as much as he did. I only need enough to feel deliciously warm.”
A servant approached them with a tray of punch and ices, for which Christine was thankful. The heat in the room was nearly suffocating, which was why they were in the corner of the ballroom, where some air had reached them from a window above. Had Estelle’s mother been here, she would have insisted they be in the thicket of the crowd where everyone could see her daughter rather than in a dimly lit corner.
“Two peach ices, please,” said Christine, taking them from the tray. “Or would you rather have another flavour, my lady?”
“Peach is fine, Miss Nettle,” said Estelle, addressing her formally.
Between themselves, they referred to each other as Estelle and Christine, but no such freedom was afforded to them when in company. The only one to think it perfectly natural to call each other by their Christian name had been gone for over two years to travel the continent and the world beyond. Christine often wondered how Adam, Estelle’s brother, fared.
“Thank you,” said Christine to the servant, smiling at them.
The male servant widened his eyes, startled by her smile. He dipped his head in acknowledgement and moved off, turning to look at her once more.
“I think he likes you,” Estelle commented. “He is handsome. All Lady Spencer’s servants are. You are above him in station, and it wouldn’t be right, but it is a pity.”
Estelle nodded. “I believe we all would be happier if we did away with our titles and focused on finding love.”
“That’s a rather romantic notion,” said Christine. “One that her ladyship would not support. Like marries like.”
“Oh, I know that,” said Estelle with a sigh. “’Tis only a foolish thought.”
“One that you can indulge in while her ladyship is not here,” said Christine, frowning when she heard smothered giggles to her left.
She looked around and found a woman and man standing closer together than was proper. No one paid them any attention, as they were partially hidden behind a statue of Apollo. However, Christine could clearly see them from her position.
“Are they…?” asked Estelle, leaving the end of her question open for Christine’s interpretation.
“Look away, my lady,” said Christine, standing in front of her.
The couple had done nothing terribly scandalous, but Christine didn’t want Estelle to witness anything that would soil her pure mind. She had promised Adam that she would protect Estelle and ensure kept away from anything that would sully her pure heart.
“But I wish to see,” Estelle insisted. “’Tis not as though I have never witnessed a kiss before. The servants always sneak in a quick kiss when they think no one is watching.”
“My lady!” Christine protested. “What would her ladyship think? Or your brother?”
“Mother is miles away calling on a sick cousin, and Adam is likely still travelling to London,” said Estelle. “It is perfectly safe for me to look.”
“That does not make it right, and we need to talk about peeking at the servants when engaged in particular acts,” said Christine. “However, now is not the right time. Why don’t we move forward and catch a gentleman’s eye?”
They had moved into the shadows when Estelle had grown paranoid about the stares she was receiving.
“Oh, very well,” she conceded, taking a step forward.
However, Estelle had obviously grown sneaky without Christine’s knowledge because she sidestepped her and looked her fill of the young couple.
“I know them,” said Estelle. “Her mother will not be impressed at all. Is she not already betrothed to another? My goodness!”
“Lady Estelle,” said Christine, pushing her along while trying not to laugh. “This is highly irregular. I might not speak to her ladyship about it, but your brother will surely hear of it when he arrives.”
Estelle’s jaw dropped, but then she shrugged her shoulders. “I do not care. Adam has had his fair share of kissing fair maidens in darkened corners. I could get him into trouble just as much as he could me.”
Christine placed a hand over her mouth. “My lady! What else have you done without my knowledge?”
“Not much at all,” said Estelle, smiling innocently. “I have only seen enough to know a little of what happens after marriage. Or before― I haven’t managed to understand it all yet, and Mama refuses to explain it to me. I think it ridiculous, considering everyone expects me to get married.”
“Oh, hush now,” said Christine, mildly scandalised. “Your brother might surprise us and attend the ball. I wouldn’t want him to overhear how forward you have become.”
“Oh, I doubt he will come this evening,” said Estelle. “He hasn’t sent a letter about his arrival in London yet, so he must still be some distance away. What kind of business affairs can take over two years to do? I think he enjoys being away from home. Mama can be rather difficult.”
Christine nearly snorted. Rather difficult was an understatement. Lady Camberley was a strict woman who preferred to control every area of her children’s lives. Estelle suffered the most as she wasn’t even allowed to choose her own attire, choose her hairstyle, or keep friends with anyone her mother disapproved of. Christine would have been removed from Camberley Manor after the late marquess’ death, if not for the specific instructions left in his will.
Christine’s father and the late marquess had been best friends, so she had grown up around Adam and Estelle for much of her life. However, such bonds did not matter to Lady Camberley because she believed Christine was not good enough to be affiliated with her family. Still, she had given the late marquess her word that Christine would be with Estelle until she was no longer needed.
“Where is your dance card?” Christine asked. “I wish to see how many partners you have.”
“One,” Estelle replied. “I do not need to look at it to know the answer.”
“Do not be discouraged,” said Christine. “We arrived forty minutes ago, and we’ve been standing in this corner for some time. You’ve barely looked anyone in the eye, so we should be more inviting and smile at everyone.”
Estelle nodded and pulled her shoulders back. “I can do that. Smiling isn’t hard at all.”
Christine choked back her laughter as Estelle bared her teeth in a ferocious grin. “Less teeth, Lady Estelle. Soften your mouth.”
Estelle’s mouth twitched into something between a grimace and a pout, making Christine bite the insides of her cheeks to stop herself from laughing. Perhaps Estelle didn’t have as much courage as she had claimed moments ago. Christine wasn’t going to take the air out of her sails by pointing that out.
“I wonder what Snowflake is doing right at this moment,” said Christine.
Estelle’s face immediately softened. “She must be missing me. She hates it when I leave for hours.”
Snowflake was Estelle’s new puppy. Usually, her mother would refuse any pet, but her uncle had especially given her one from his new litter. Estelle’s uncle was one of the few people who could handle Lady Camberley.
“The servants are taking care of her,” Christine told her. “There’s no reason to worry. We only need to focus on the evening ahead and being seen by all potential suitors.”
Estelle nodded. “Yes. We will do all we can to come away from this evening with more than we entered with. Perhaps someone might take a liking to you. I’ve already noticed a few gentlemen look your way.”
Christine shook her head. “Do not concern yourself with that. We are here for you.”
She didn’t want to say that no one in these circles would pay her more than an interested look―their mothers wouldn’t allow it. Christine was just a gentleman’s daughter, one who had also been a merchant. These guests didn’t see such a profession as honourable, but the late Marquess of Camberley had thought differently. Adam was much like his father, which was why she had gotten along with him well. She had often wondered about him over the years, but her daily chores would soon push those thoughts away.
It would be lovely to see him again. I miss his humour and our talks about the books we’ve read. I wonder if he managed to find time to read while travelling the world?
“Lord Camberley, Marquess of Camberley,” Lady Spencer’s butler announced.
Christine turned to the door in surprise. While she knew Adam might make it to the ball, she hadn’t expected it.
“Adam?” Estelle cried. “He’s here?”
A handsome man appeared at the door, his hands behind his back as he looked around the room. It was Adam, but he looked different and somewhat alluring. A sudden thrill coursed up Christine’s spine, startling her.
That has never happened before.
Adam wished for the comfort of his bed as he looked around the ballroom. He hadn’t wanted to attend, but Lady Spencer somehow spotted him enter his townhouse the previous day and insisted he attend the ball. Adam had thought to rest another evening before going home to see his family, but Lady Spencer had ensured he couldn’t.
She certainly knows how to corner a person.
Shaking his head, he narrowed his eyes slightly, scanning the room for his sister and Christine. They were definitely here this evening. His mother would have insisted her daughter attend the ball to hunt for a husband. Estelle was only nineteen and had a few more years before she needed to worry, but his mother didn’t think the same way. Adam was glad he had been away for a while and escape his mother’s attempts at getting him married and bearing an heir. However, she would resume her favourite pastime as soon as they were living under the same roof again.
Not going straight home after arriving in London the previous day had been a selfish but necessary choice. He was exhausted and needed rest before facing his family. They would want to know where he had been, who he met, what odd foods he ate, and if he intended to stay in England. Adam wasn’t certain about the latter question, but he had plenty of time to consider his next move before living at home became unbearable.
Where are they? It shouldn’t be difficult to find a fair blonde and a dark-blonde standing or sitting together.
He took a step down, turning his head as he continued to look. Finally, his eyes fell on the women he was looking for. Estelle had done something different to her hair, and the dress she wore certainly wasn’t something his mother would allow. He wondered why his sister wore something so different from the usual. It suited her far better than her typical style and made her look entirely different this evening.
Perhaps Mother has finally come to her senses and allowed Estelle to choose her own dress. Although, my gut instinct doesn’t agree. Mother isn’t one to relinquish control so easily.
Adam turned his attention to his sister’s companion, a young woman he had known for much of her life. Christine’s gown flowed over her slight figure and likely brought out the pale blue of her eyes, although he couldn’t see them from here. He had always believed her eyes were an interesting shade of blue, and the dark ring around the iris made them stand out further.
A commotion near the musicians caught his attention, but once he confirmed it was just a guest knocking over a tray of refreshments, his gaze returned to Christine. She was now looking at him, so he waved, frowning when she didn’t immediately return his wave. Her hand slowly went up, and she gave a half wave, nudging his sister. Estelle looked up and started waving excitedly, gesturing for him to come over. Grinning, he approached the pair, but as he drew nearer, he noticed something different about Christine. She had always been pretty, but her beauty came alive this evening and captivated him. He paused briefly, confused by his thoughts. He had never thought much about her appearance because she had always been like a younger sister to him. However, this evening seemed different.
Resuming his approach, Adam tried to tell himself that his absence had given him fond memories, but that reason didn’t resonate with him.
“Adam!” his sister cried, grabbing his arm and squeezing. “When did you get here? We were just talking about you!”
“Indeed?” he said, tugging on her hair.
“Do not do that,” Estelle complained. “It took Miss Nettle a good hour just to arrange the threads and ribbon.”
“Did Mother allow you to come here looking like that?” he asked. “It’s not like her.”
“That is because Mama does not know I’m dressed like this,” said Estelle. “Miss Nettle helped me choose this dress, and I asked for a loose hairstyle. Do you like it?”
Estelle twirled around for him, making him chuckle. “You haven’t changed, dear sister. I thought you might have matured during my absence, but you are still the same little sister I left behind.”
Estelle pouted. “That is not what I wished to hear.”
Adam tugged her hair again. “I think it rather obvious that you look exceptionally beautiful today, but you likely already knew that. You did a wonderful job, Christine.”
“Do not call her Christine here!” Estelle scolded. “Reserve that for home.”
“You do not mind, do you, Christine?” asked Adam, looking at her.
She smiled at him, making his heart flutter slightly. Frowning, he rubbed his chest. That had never happened to him before.
“Is something wrong, my lord?” Christine asked.
“No,” he immediately denied. “I was thinking about something.”
“Something about your travels?” asked Estelle.
“Yes,” Adam lied, grateful for his sister’s interruption. “I suppose you’re waiting to hear all about it?”
“Certainly!” Estelle exclaimed.
“I look forward to hearing about your travels, my lord,” Christine added.
Adam nodded. “I’ll tell you both all about them tomorrow at home.”
“Why not when we return tonight?” asked Estelle.
“I’m staying at my townhouse at the moment,” he explained. “Besides, I doubt we’ll reach Camberley Manor by tonight. You could both stay at my townhouse if you do not wish to travel home at such a late hour.”
“This is not our first time travelling at such a late hour,” Estelle pointed out. “When did you return?”
“Yesterday, but I was so tired that I didn’t bother to let anyone know about my arrival,” said Adam. “However, Lady Spencer saw me and insisted I attend her ball. I didn’t plan on coming.”
Adam’s gaze travelled to Christine, admiring her loveliness. She undoubtedly seemed different this evening, and he couldn’t decide if that was a good thing. He had noticed several gentlemen look her way since he arrived, and he found he didn’t like that at all.
Am I jealous? That cannot be! I have known Christine since childhood. I cannot be jealous of other men looking at her. How can I change so suddenly?
Adam regarded her carefully, trying to decipher what had changed about her. She looked the same, but perhaps she had matured a little since he left. Christine laughed at something Estelle said, which should have seemed normal to him, but Adam’s heart had other ideas. It leapt, somersaulted, and landed with a hard thud against his ribcage. That was certainly not normal.
“Lord Remington,” the butler announced loudly, drawing Adam’s attention away from Christine.
Adam blinked as though he was just pulled out of a daze, one that was self-induced. Something was undoubtedly wrong with him.
“Destined for her Charming Marquess” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Christine Nettle enjoys the simplicity of being her best friend’s lady companion. Knowing her position in life, she doesn’t seek anything above her station. However, when her best friend’s brother returns from his travels, everything is about to change… Christine will fight with the challenges of her unexpected feelings for him, while also worrying about losing her position. Is she destined to lose everything, or will fate gift her with everything she has been longing for?
The harder she tries to brush her feelings aside, the more her heart flutters…
Adam Archer, Marquess of Camberley, returns home to England after running away from his responsibilities for two years. His father’s death led to his withdrawal, but he is now back to take the reins. The last thing he expected though was the undeniable connection with his sister’s lady’s companion. While Adam tries to fulfil his duty to marry well, he cannot ignore his overpowering love for Christine. Sooner than later, he will realise he cannot both honour his title and have Christine by his side- a realisation that leaves him with a painful dilemma…
As a Marquess destined to marry his own kind, will he manage to suppress his blossoming feelings?
Adam and Christine quickly discover that being together requires sacrifices and difficult decisions. With Christine risking everything she has ever worked for and Adam pushing the limits of what is acceptable, they are both torn between two opposing pathways. Will they throw caution to the wind and follow their hearts, or will society force them apart forever?
“Destined for her Charming Marquess” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.