Sophia ran inside. Rain had started to pour down outside, and she had been out on the property. It was a cold kind of rain, and she shivered as she slowly shut the front door. She stood just inside the front door, dripping wet.
“Sophia!” The voice calling her name stopped her in her tracks as she started towards the staircase. “What are you doing, soaking wet in the entryway?”
She turned around towards the voice. Her aunt had come into the entryway, and now looked at her sternly.
“I got caught in the rain, Aunt Louisa,” Sophia admitted sheepishly.
“That silk dress was expensive, Sophia. Now it’s ruined because you were out in the rain with it on.” Her aunt shook her head. “What are we going to do with you? Come upstairs; you’ll catch your death from chills if you do not change this instant.”
Aunt Louisa grabbed her arm and practically dragged her towards her room. Sophia did her best to keep up with her aunt, but in wet clothes with her arm slipping up and down in her aunt’s grasp, it was not an easy task.
When they got up to her room, one of the maids hurriedly helped her change. Wet silk was hard for one person to handle, let alone two trying to get someone out of a wet silken dress. Her aunt paced to the side of the room, fretting over both the dress and Sophia’s imminent case of chills. The maid managed to get the buttons on the back undone, and Sophia slid the wet dress off.
Though she had been caught in a sudden rainstorm, it had not been enough to get her crinoline and stockings wet.
“Get her a dry dress, and a towel,” her aunt gave the maid an instruction.
With that, Sophia was alone with her aunt in the room. Aunt Louisa strode across the room and picked up her hairbrush.
“Come here, Sophia. At least your crinoline was not soaked.” Her aunt sighed.
Sophia walked over to her aunt, knowing what was coming. The moment she was sitting on the stool, Aunt Louisa started brushing her hair. She cringed a little; her aunt was always rough brushing her hair.
And her aunt wondered why Sophia tried her best to keep Aunt Louisa from brushing her hair.
As the brush ran through her hair, it yanked on the tangles that a day of walking and having it ruined by the rain had created. Sophia’s head tilted further and further back with each yank, until her head was against her neck.
This was not the first time Sophia had felt that Aunt Louisa had other plans and other things she had wanted, and that she did not want to be here for Sophia. Every yank, every fret, everything almost made Sophia want to yell at her aunt to stop with the harshness, the cold attitude.
But that had not helped her much at all when she had been younger.
Sophia ran across the field in front of her aunt’s house. The sun shone down beautifully on the flowers and fruits that adorned the field. She felt as though she were a faerie, flying through her kingdom.
Her aunt sat in a wicker chair, watching her run back and forth.
“You are making me dizzy watching.” Aunt Louisa smiled at her. The smile turned into a frown almost immediately. “Stop running about like that, Sophia. You will make me dizzier, and then where will we be?”
“Aunt Louisa? Why don’t you love me anymore?” She ran over to her aunt, half-ignoring the command to stop what she was doing. She was going to run up and down if she pleased.
She had a feeling she was too strong and stubborn for her aunt.
“My dear, sweet child, I have loved you as my own for some time, but the truth is you are not mine. Your golden hair contrasts my auburn locks. Your face is a perfect heart, and mine is not. You,” she put emphasis on this word, “You, my child, are your mother’s child. She is dead. Why do you think your father has come to me for advice? She never could have allowed such a child as you to grow up as you have, and I think it all the better that you have grown up under my eye. But you are not my child, and I cannot love you as your mother would have. That does not mean I do not love you.”
Sophia felt tears running down her cheeks, and she managed to say something more, asking for a reason why.
“Sophia, don’t cry. I simply mean that I cannot love you in the same way your mother could have,” Aunt Louisa added. “Come here. Don’t cry, now.”
Instead, she ran to her father. Tears streaked her cheeks.
“What is wrong, dearest?” Her father put his book down, and then looked at his sobbing child.
She did not know how, but she told him what Aunt Louisa told her. There was no way she could have loved her as her own.
He took her onto his lap, and then he wiped her tears away.
“My child, you are being silly right now.” He laughed a little. “I am sure your Aunt Louisa loves you very much. She left everything she had to come take care of you. How could someone that has sacrificed so much to come take care of you not love you enough to go through all that sacrifice?” He looked at her lovingly, his eyes wide with hope. “I am sure you have simply misheard her muttering about a book.”
“But Father!” Sophia refused to believe that Aunt Louisa could simply say that to be mean, and she was not going to receive any kind of punishment for scaring Sophia so badly.
“I will talk to her, but I do not believe that she would have said any of what you said. If you heard what you heard, perhaps ‘tis time for you to go to bed for the night.” He took her into his arms as he stood up. “I will go talk to Aunt Louisa.”
“But Father, I am sure of what I heard!” Her sobs renewed.
He spent another hour trying to calm her down, but in the end, Aunt Louisa admitted what she said, but told her father that she had misunderstood Sophia’s question.
Again, and again, Sophia tried to tell her father that it could not be, but her father would brush her off every time.
“Silly Sophia,” he’d say. “She was reading a book, was she not?”
It was true. Ever since that night, Aunt Louisa had taken to carrying a book with her everywhere she went, and it was her best defence to keep her brother-in-law from realising that Sophia was telling the truth.
Sophia startled out of her dreams. More like nightmares. There was no way she could have enjoyed that kind of dream.
What had brought on that memory in her sleep? Had it been something Aunt Louisa had said that day? Or was she simply disappointed that her father would not listen to her, no matter how much she had tried to justify that night?
She got up from the bed. Then she saw the book, a copy of the fairy tale Cinderella that her Aunt Louisa had left her a few years ago, when she really was too old for fairytales anymore. Then again, she had picked it up to read, apparently.
“Oh boy…” She took in a deep breath. “Why have I allowed the fiction to influence my recall of the past?” She shook her head.
Sophia grabbed the book from the nightstand. The moon was still high, but she now could not believe that she had only recalled the one instance of when Aunt Louisa had acted as the stepmother had in this fairy tale.
They had been small things, and her father still had no idea that she was being mistreated like this. She had grown up with both her father – the sweet, gentle Duke Eisendowr – and her Aunt Louisa watching out for her. The night she had dreamed about had shattered her confidence in her aunt’s love, though she was able to feign it for her father.
Then again, she had never stopped loving her aunt. She had simply learned not to trust everything Aunt Louisa said. She knew best, but when was she using that to her benefit instead of Sophia’s? It had tossed everything into a whirlwind for quite a few years.
For the most part, now that Sophia was reaching the age where she ought to marry, she had forgotten that night. Now, she sided with her father a little more. She believed that Aunt Louisa had been tired that night, as those incidents happened more and more when Aunt Louisa was too tired to filter her thoughts before they reached her mouth.
She took in a deep breath as she put the book back on her bookshelf. Her father had insisted she have a bookshelf in her room, though Aunt Louisa had worried that the books would encourage her to stay up too late and have bad dreams.
If she had known that Sophia had indeed had a bad dream because of a book she fell asleep reading, then Aunt Louisa would have the books moved out of her room for good. She did not want to lose the one activity that she could do in the privacy of her own room.
As Sophia walked back to the bed, trying not to make more sound than she had to on the old creaky floors, she wondered if her aunt was even awake.
It was well before sunrise, from what she could see in the window. The moon still sat high in the sky. It shone across her bedroom floor, illuminating just enough of the room that she could get around without having to light a candle.
She laughed softly to herself.
Once, as a child, she had been able to go out stargazing at this time of night with Aunt Louisa. That had been before the night where she had started to avoid doing things alone with her aunt for a while.
She could not fathom the change in the household. It had been building slowly. That night had been the hammer to shatter the mirror, she felt. Before that outburst, her aunt had always been encouraging her, acting as though there was nothing in the world that Sophia could not do.
After that, and more now that she was of an age where she could be married, Sophia had noticed that Aunt Louisa had allowed a distance to grow between them. Many of the commands were now issued with a harsher tone of voice. She wondered if her aunt’s words that night had been true, but she forced that thought away.
It would not be worth worrying the night away over words that had been said a decade ago, at the least.
Sophia laid down on her bed. She closed her eyes.
Though she did not want to stay awake for much longer, her body refused to let her sleep. It seemed that the jolt of energy from when she had relived that night for the first time in at least two years was stronger than she had thought it had been.
“Oh, Father, I wish I could confide my thoughts to you.” She whispered softly to the air, looking towards her father’s room. “Why do you brush me off as though you know everything about Aunt Louisa? You do not spend all day with her… you do not have to spend every minute being fussed over instead of doing as you please.”
If her father had heard this, she would have been thoroughly scolded.
So, instead of continuing to whisper aloud, she walked quietly to her writing desk. Her father had got her a journal the year before, and though she wrote a few things in it regularly, she did not use it to house her deepest thoughts.
Today, that changed. She picked up the pen, and then she confided all her thoughts about Aunt Louisa to the journal. It felt as though it had all been bottling up for years, and now that she was letting it out, she could hardly stop her hand from shaking.
She was suddenly thankful that everyone else was asleep in this house.
When Sophia finished writing all her misgivings about Aunt Louisa in the journal, she felt better. It did not solve every problem that she could list, but it would help her keep it all from bubbling to the surface when her aunt provoked her tomorrow.
She could feel it coming. Her aunt would certainly try to get a rise out of her the next morning, especially if she found that Sophia had been awake at a time when she should have been asleep.
So, Sophia put her journal and pen away. Then, she slid her slipper-clad feet across the wooden floor, attempting to prevent anything from squeaking at her.
When she lay on the bed this time, closing her eyes brought a sense of relief.
It did not take long for sleep to come back over her, and for another memory to take over her dreams.
She watched the butterflies fly. She was older now, and still hurting from being told she looked too much like her mother. The glass between her and the butterflies felt too thick, as if being behind it was suffocating her.
“May I chase after the butterflies, Aunt Louisa?” Sophia looked longingly out of the window.
“No. Chasing butterflies is a pastime for childhood, and you are no longer a child. Now, if you do not focus on your studies, I will draw the curtain closed and make you study by candlelight.” Aunt Louisa only looked up from her needlepoint to give Sophia a stern look.
“Yes, Aunt Louisa.” Sophia sighed. “I understand.”
“Good. Now, finish the paper. Aloud.” Her aunt looked back down to her needlepoint.
Sophia envied the butterflies that day. They could fly away from Aunt Louisa, but she was forced to recite the paper again. She had already said it thrice, not messing up in any of the recitations. Her aunt was never pleased where her memory was concerned.
“Sophia, you have it wrong.” Aunt Louisa shook her head. “More feeling. More intonation.”
“You told me to lessen my intonation…” Sophia furrowed her brows.
“You must aim for somewhere between this recitation’s intonation and the last one’s.” Aunt Louisa still did not look up from her needlepoint.
“Yes, Aunt Louisa,” she gulped.
“Recite it again.”
Sophia recited it again.
She tossed over in her sleep. Why did her aunt not like the way her voice sounded? Too monotone. Too excited. Too… just too much of everything.
Her sleep was not peaceful that night, but she did not know why she had expected anything better after letting everything out in the journal.
Louisa looked down at the letter she held in her hands. It was the last one she had ever received from her sister. It told her that she was close to childbirth, but the doctors were worried about her. They were worried she would not survive. That she was going to lose her child, and perhaps her own life, when she delivered. She was too weak to even walk when she sent that letter.
Louisa sighed. Why had her sister been so weak? Had it been something she had not done? Was it a food she had been eating while she had been pregnant?
Whatever the case, Louisa knew one thing that had rung true since that letter arrived: her sister had been living a life that Louisa coveted. She was unmarried, while her sister had married a duke. She even had a child.
Louisa held the letter in her hand. It had not come from her sister, but instead from her brother-in-law, Duke Eisendowr. Her sister had died in childbirth.
The young child – a girl – would need a mother in her life. Duke Eisendowr did not feel that it was his place to look for another bride, but that was another problem for another day. For the moment, the letter was asking Louisa to come out to the mansion and help care for the young girl.
She had felt so elated to hear that the child was safe, but she had been devastated at the same time to know that her sister had passed away. Either way, she had a decision to make.
She had not taken more than perhaps two days to think it over. As much as she resented her sister for living the life that should have been Louisa’s – after all, all the men had chased Louisa as a child and not her sister – she could not leave her brother-in-law to wonder if she was going to come.
She wrote back, using the guise of not having received the letter until a couple of days after it arrived because she was away on business, and told her brother-in-law that she was willing to help him raise the child. Her only request was that the child call her by the title Aunt instead of anything else. She wanted that boundary to remain clear in the child’s mind.
When she had arrived at Duke Eisendowr’s home, she had not realised the state of the house. It was a beautiful, large estate. Its warm white colour seemed to welcome Louisa immediately, as if it could sense that she was wearied from her travels and that she only wanted to sleep.
There seemed to be an air of hope to the home. She wondered if that was the collective hope that her sister would have survived the childbirth issues, or if that was the hope that Louisa would be a suitable woman to help raise the child.
One of the butlers opened the door for her, and then escorted her into the sitting room.
Inside, the house was no different. There was a sense of lost hope or false hope – she wasn’t sure – but it did not overpower the sense of hope that had come over the home. It felt comfortable and calm in the hallway, and the sitting room felt grand and powerful.
Her sister had certainly picked a good man to marry, she had to admit that.
She was surprised to find that the child was in a crib in the sitting room while Duke Eisendowr was working on his papers.
“Louisa! What a beautiful surprise. I was not expecting you until tomorrow,” Duke Eisendowr smiled at her.
“I suppose my coach was able to travel faster than I had anticipated, Jonathon.” She smiled.
The one thing she had never told her sister was that she had suffered a miscarriage the same day her sister passed away in childbirth. A man passing through the woods, through the town, had wooed her, and she had fallen victim to the man’s charms. He had not stuck around when he realised that he had got Louisa pregnant.
He would not have cared. While all she wanted was a family, that man had never shared her wishes. Realising that had hurt more than the miscarriage.
“So it seems,” he nodded slowly. “Here’s the child. I have called her Sophia, after your mother and in accordance with my wife’s wishes.” His face paled as he spoke of his wife.
“I am sure that she would be glad to know that I am here to help you, Jonathon.” Louisa smiled before picking up the child.
Young Sophia had had beautiful brown eyes, something that both sisters had. However, she had been born with no visible hair, and her face was slightly more like a heart than round. She certainly had traits of both her father and her mother.
Louisa felt nothing but love that first day she held Sophia.
“What is it that you expect of me, Jonathon? How long do you expect I will need to stay?” She did not know what he had thought when he sent the letter, and she had warned him when she wrote back that she would be asking these questions.
“I do not know, honestly. I expect a helping hand, of course, but beyond that, I have no answers for the questions that must be buzzing around in your head like bees around flowers.” He shook his head. “I apologise if that makes it hard for you to stay, but I know that I need the help. I am too busy with my business, and I do not feel comfortable hiring a nanny.”
“Do not worry about it, Jonathon. I will help you for as long as I can. With young women, that may mean until she is married.” She looked down at the young child. “I can make sure she marries well. Sometimes, we women pick up on things that men do not see before ‘tis too late to protect the young woman from it.”
“I would appreciate it if you could stay until Sophia marries, but with that being at least sixteen or seventeen years away, perhaps more if it takes her longer to marry, I cannot ask that of you comfortably now.” He looked at Louisa. “I would not blame you if you did not stay that long.”
“Of course,” she nodded slowly.
“I appreciate anything you can give me.” With that, Jonathon returned to what he had been doing before Louisa’s arrival was announced.
Louisa sat down on a couch, holding the little girl to her chest.
The little girl opened her mouth as if to cry before closing it and falling asleep on Louisa. Louisa only smiled.
“I promise that I will do right by your mother, Sophia.” She spoke quietly to the sleeping infant. “She would have wanted to see you do the best that you could, and I plan to help you do that.”
Louisa sighed, putting the letter down. Sophia had been a delightful child to look after. A delightful baby, perhaps, was the better phrasing. As Sophia had grown older, and now that she was twenty years old and unmarried, it had become harder to believe that Louisa had been taking care of her as she would have her own child.
The house too had seemed to change while she had been here. Time had ravaged the outside and inside, but Jonathon had done his best to take care of any damages. The spirit in the house, however, had changed from something Louisa perceived as hopeful to something more dour and constricting. Perhaps it was because she had to impose more rules on Sophia as she had grown older than she had when she was younger.
She looked over to her bookshelf. The books there had been covered to make sure that her brother-in-law did not suspect something was wrong. She felt too much like it would be a burden to leave Jonathon with Sophia and no woman to help raise her, but she had started to resent the young woman.
Her hair became more of a strawberry blonde as she grew older. Her face morphed into the same shape as her mother’s. Sophia had, for all purposes, become a mini version of her mother, and it made Louisa uncomfortable.
Perhaps if she had kept her mouth shut that night all those years ago, Sophia would still believe that she was looking out for her. She was still looking out for Sophia, but it was done in a different manner.
How was one to look out for someone that she hoped would come to live the same kind of disappointing life that oneself had? It did not make sense to Louisa, but for Sophia, her mother, and for Jonathon, she was trying.
Louisa startled out of her thoughts when she heard a knock at the door. Who could be knocking so late at night, when she was used to having the house to herself and had already sent the servants to bed?
“Louisa? Are you awake?” Jonathon’s voice echoed quietly in the hallway.
“Yes, Jonathon.” She walked to the door and opened it. “What is wrong?”
Sophia, now, was about eight.
“Sophia says you said that you cannot love her as your own any longer.” Jonathon did not have the child with him. “I have put her to bed for the night, but I promised that I would come talk to you and see if that was indeed the case.”
“No, no, Jonathon. I was reading a book earlier and must have accidentally quoted it to her. I apologise if I have upset her in any way.” She frowned deeply.
She had not realised that Sophia would go off to her father and complain that she no longer felt loved by Aunt Louisa.
“In the future, could you refrain from telling her things like that without making certain that she knows you are talking of a book?”
“I can do that, Jonathon. Is that all you needed?” She looked back at the book on her nightstand.
While the mother was completely absent in this book, the father did not love the daughter. She knew there was no way that Jonathon would understand that from what Sophia had told him, but she recalled her words too clearly to try and refute them by changing the gender of the unloved child, or of the unloving relative.
“Yes, that was all I needed. I apologise for keeping you away from your book.” Jonathon left with a half-defeated look.
Louisa shut the door to her room and returned to the letter she had been reading.
It had been the one that Jonathon sent her to tell her of her sister’s passing. The same day she had suffered a miscarriage…
She could not believe that she had once thought this was fate telling her that her sister’s life was meant to be hers. If that was the case, then why had Jonathon not proposed marriage to her? If that was the case, then why was she starting to wonder why she had even answered the letter as she had eight years ago?
Why did she wonder and worry that she had made a major mistake by coming to take care of Sophia instead of passing along a few names of nannies that would do wonderfully for a duke’s daughter?
She shook her head and put the letter back in the keepsake box.
Louisa shook herself away from those thoughts. Now that Sophia had come of age to marry, and to be presented at court, there was not much left for her to do. She could rid herself of Sophia by marrying her off to any man, and then she could find the life she was meant to have.
But what man would marry a spinster who had put her courtships on hold to help a brother-in-law raise a daughter?
Jonathon certainly hadn’t wanted to marry her. That had severely disappointed Louisa; she had expected him to propose within the first year after her sister had passed. That way, she could have had her own child and been able to enjoy the kind of life she wanted from the very beginning.
She took a deep breath.
This was not the time for those thoughts. She had promised her brother-in-law that she would help Sophia become the best woman she could. For that to happen, Louisa would have to make sure she got the right amount of sleep herself.
So, she readied herself for bed.
Though the thoughts of what tomorrow would bring for her worried her, she knew one thing for certain: Sophia would be married by her twenty-first birthday. That had been one mistake in her own life that she did not want Sophia to make.
With less than a year to make that happen, she only had one chance to make it work.
This upcoming season in London, Sophia would be the dazzling star of the court, and she would have her pick of any of the men.
If Louisa could not have the pick of the men, then she would try her hardest to make sure that Sophia had plenty of suitors to choose from. That would take a lot of work, and it was certain to be a challenge.
As Louisa closed her eyes to make sure she was able to sleep, a smile slowly crept along her face. She would make sure that Sophia could marry well, and that was her new goal in life.
Once she was done with that, she was not sure what she would do, but this much Louisa knew: Sophia would dazzle everyone at the first ball. Just as her sister had dazzled at her first ball… the thought reminded her too much of her lost youth and the way she had lost her sister.
She shook her head and then lay down on her bed. She would not allow those thoughts to steal any sleep from her today.
Sophia woke up the next morning, thankful that her aunt was still caring for her. Though they had had their own bumps in the road, she knew that there was no one else on the earth that could have given her the kind of childhood she had with Aunt Louisa and her father.
Then again, perhaps if a governess or nanny had come in to help her father instead of Aunt Louisa, she would not feel like her aunt had betrayed her trust. She would have known for a fact that her aunt did not love her enough to come help her father raise her right.
She took in a deep breath. There was nothing more for her to do in her room.
There was to be a large ball tonight, and Sophia had no reason to stay in her room all day long. She would have to make sure she ate, got ready, and made sure that her dress was ready. She would have to make sure that Aunt Louisa approved of her dress and of her plans for the evening, though she had already known that her aunt would want her to go to the ball for a while.
It would be her debut to the town, her entrance as a lady into society.
That thought made Sophia’s stomach all aflutter.
Could she really find the one man that she was going to love like no one else in one season, as her aunt had boasted her mother had? Or was she going to have to have multiple seasons?
And why had her father decided to make her wait until she was twenty to make her debut into society? It would be harder for her to find a suitor because she had had a late start, but Aunt Louisa seemed to believe that it would be the best thing for her, and so her father had allowed Aunt Louisa to decide when her debut would be made.
It was not entirely too late, but she certainly felt it these last two years. She had heard stories of wedding and parties that she had not been allowed to go to, but that had not stopped Aunt Louisa from forbidding her to debut into town until she was twenty.
Apparently, it was when her mother had debuted into society, and it had gone well for her mother. Who was she to question methods that had been proven in the past?
“Sophia?” There was a knock at the door.
“Come in.” She quickly threw a dressing gown on over her shift. This was not exactly the best start to the day, already late for something. “Am I late for breakfast?”
“No, no.” Her father entered the room. “I simply came to see if you were awake. I heard reports from the servants that they had heard someone awake late at night, and I was curious to know if you had slept all right.” His face turned a bright red. Something was wrong, and he did not know how to address the problem with her.
“I slept fine. Perhaps ‘twas Aunt Louisa who woke up. You know how restlessly she sleeps.” She smiled a little. “Is that all, Father?”
“No, ‘tis not all.” He sat down at the writing desk, and she took a seat on the bed.
If her father was going to take a seat, then something was seriously wrong.
“What is it, Father?” She pursed her lips. He never took a seat to tell her something. Not unless it was something that he was afraid would upset her more than it would him.
“I believe that tonight is the first time I have ever wanted to wish that you were still a little girl.” He sighed, shaking his head with a slight laugh. “I remember when you were younger and came running into my room, hoping that I could help you with a problem.”
“I have grown up, yes.” Sophia smiled a little. “I will always be your daughter, though. Is there any reason you do not wish for me to grow up?” She found this an interesting change in her father’s demeanour.
“’Tis always a hard thing to realise your child is no longer a child. I hope that some day, when you have children, you will be able to understand it more than I could ever hope to explain it.” He stood up again. “I do not know why I sat down to say that, but there it is. I have said it. However, with tonight being your debut into society, I wanted to give you this.” He pulled a small box out of his suit pocket. “It belonged to your mother.”
Sophia took the box, curious to know what he was gifting her. Well, what her mother was gifting her. She had never known her mother to have had anything like this, and she did not know what to expect.
She opened the box. Inside, there was a beautiful locket, with a small flower on it. There was a small gem on the middle of the flower, and there was plenty of red paint to make it clear that the flower was a rose.
“She wore that around her neck every day we were married, Sophia.” Her father smiled softly. “I know that ‘tis not much, and it may not match what you plan to wear tonight, but I would be honoured if you would wear it to one of your balls this season. I know your mother would have wanted you to have it.”
Sophia took it out of the box and opened it.
Inside sat a picture of her father, and on the other side, a young woman. The young woman looked much like Sophia did.
“She put a picture of both me and herself in there. She said that it was to keep us close to her heart when we were physically apart.” Her father shook his head. “I never knew why she did that, but I knew she was clutching at it in her final hours. I was unable to make it to your birth… and I have never regretted anything more than that.”
They walked down to breakfast together, with Sophia still holding the locket.
It took her much longer to get ready than she thought she would need. Aunt Louisa had her own requirements for so many of the pieces that it was hard to find anything in her extensive ballgown wardrobe – that Aunt Louisa had specified – that made her aunt happy.
Eventually, they settled on a light yellow ball gown that had a cinched waist. Her corset had to be pulled tighter than she would have liked to accommodate it, but she loved the final product of the fussing. When Aunt Louisa was not looking, Sophia added her mother’s locket to the outfit.
Aunt Louisa gave her one final look over before they exited the home, but she did not notice the locket. That, or she did not care, given that this was her first outing to the societal events where she could land herself a husband.
Sophia rode quietly in the carriage, only glad that her locket had escaped notice.
When they arrived at the event, which was held in London, she found herself overwhelmed by the number of men and women there. Aunt Louisa had not told her that she would be only one of many young women that night… her stomach started to turn flip-flops.
“Would you like an escort inside, mademoiselle? You do not look well,” one of the young men approached her.
“Perhaps a stroll through the gardens would better suit my composure.” Sophia managed a small smile.
“Then, would you allow me the honour of escorting you on a stroll through the gardens?” He offered her an arm.
She took it gingerly, all her manners suddenly evaporating into the air.
“I am Baron William Droft. Who do I have the honour of escorting?” He looked down at her face, but it was not a look of condescension.
“Sophia Eisendowr.” She smiled a little at him.
He was quite handsome, and he had a manner about him that could not be mistaken as anything but kindness.
The walk around the gardens was quiet, as though Baron William could feel that she was overwhelmed by the event. He did not mind the quiet, he noted at one point, because it gave her time to become comfortable at the event.
“May I have the first dance of the night, Lady Sophia? I know this is quite forward of me, but as I am the one escorting you in, I see it only fair.” Baron William looked down at her abruptly.
“Yes, you may have the first dance of the night, Baron William,” she said. “I do not believe it too forward at all of you to tell me that you believe you deserve the first dance.”
“Then, I hope you do enjoy it.” The man smiled at her, and then opened the door for her.
They walked into the ball, and Sophia’s eyes widened. The hall had been decorated with crepe paper and lanterns, all white and yellow. With summer closely approaching the city, it only made sense that there would be plenty of the colours in the room.
As the music began, the musicians striking the first notes on their instruments, she took the proper dance position with Baron William.
There was not much of a conversation between them. Sophia felt as though he was only dancing with her because of the expectation to dance with the young woman you escorted in, if you escorted one at all. He did not look at her much, but he did a good job of not running into other couples.
If he had actually spoken to her, Sophia would know better where she stood on her own feelings about him. She felt as though there was only expectation and no attraction, but who was to say that would not change if he were to open up about himself to her?
When the music faded into the oblivion, Baron William took her hand gently on his arm, and then led her to the doors.
“This is where I shall leave you, since I picked you up outside, and to leave you outside would not be fair to you.” He smiled.
“Thank you for the dance, Baron William.” Sophia smiled back.
He disappeared into the crowd, and Sophia took in a deep breath. One dance on her card, and nine left. This was going to be an interesting evening.
However, it was not long before she was swept away into the hustle and bustle of the room, and she was dancing around the room with several men, one song at a time. Many of the men were too scared to ask her much, but there was one who asked her for two dances.
This young man was rather thoroughly amused by Sophia, but she did not get his name. They spent the entire dance talking – both times – and she had forgotten to get his name.
Either way, by the time she was able to pull herself out of the horde of men asking her to dance with them, she found herself walking towards the refreshment table. There was a young lady next to it, wearing a pale pink dress. Her hand with the cup of punch shook, and Sophia wondered if she too were being debuted into society tonight.
“Excuse me,” she smiled at the young lady. “I am Sophia.”
“Anna, my lady.” The young woman smiled. “Do you always approach other young ladies at the balls?”
“I have only been to this one ball. This is what you might call my debut into society.” Sophia poured herself a glass of punch as she spoke, though she was technically supposed to wait for a young man to do that for her.
If that was the case, then she would surely faint!
“Oh. Then I suppose we are evenly matched.” Anna managed a smile.
“You need not be so worried about it, Anna.” Sophia furrowed her brows. “Tomorrow, this will all be but a dream, like the ball in Cinderella’s story.” She managed a smile.
This opened Anna right up. They started to compare the other young ladies to the characters in the fairy tale. Some of the young ladies looked like they would be the stars of the book – young, kind, and with an air that was unquantifiable. Others looked like they were the stepsisters, beautiful outside but with an ugly inside that could not be believed from without.
The chaperones mainly looked like the stepmother to them, and Sophia found this an appropriate mental comparison for her own life. Aunt Louisa…
She managed to quietly shake those thoughts away. She did not want to worry herself about it all tonight.
“Is something wrong, Sophia?” Anna looked at her, frowning.
“No, no.” She smiled a little more. “Simply laughing at the absurdity that we have amused ourselves with.”
This continued the fairy tale comparisons. Anna knew some fairytales that she had never heard. When Sophia asked her to tell her the stories, Anna obliged, and Sophia learned of two new fairytales that night. The first was a story of a mermaid who loved a human, and the second a tale of something that did not make sense even to Anna.
As the stories were being told, Sophia could not help but cast her eyes around the room again. She was glad to see that there was nothing more she could do but wait. Most of the men were engaged in the current dance, and those not dancing were engaged with ladies on the side of the room.
Then, she caught the eye of one of the men. It took her a few moments, but she pulled away, almost positive her cheeks were flushing as she looked down at her punch again.
The conversation stalled.
“Sophia… I believe you have a visitor.” Anna smiled.
Then, a throat cleared behind Sophia.
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Ever since her mother died in childbirth, Lady Sophia Eisendowr has grown up with her beloved father and aunt Louisa. She has always been dreaming of finding true love, and she eagerly anticipates the day she will meet the one. When she sees a charming man at her first ball, her heart skips a beat. Sailing in a sea of emotions, she finally believes that a chance at love may be within reach. But her bitter aunt has different plans, arranging for Sophia to marry the worst suitor a woman could ever have; an arrogant man, who only cares about chasing young girls, one after the other. Will Sophia find the courage to spoil her aunt’s plans and stand up for love, or will she be condemned to a life of torture?
After exploring almost all the corners of the world, Lord Sebastian Colfield decides to settle down. One dance with Sophia is enough to make him feel a magnetic attraction, and long for the moment he will see her again. But little does he know that he is not the only man who has an interest in the beautiful lady, and it will be an uphill struggle to conquer her heart. Will Sebastian find the courage to rescue her from an arrogant man? Could he be the salvation Sophia has been looking for?
And when their paths begin to intertwine more than they could expect, Louisa Hinnings is determined to ensure that her niece will not get the match she wants. Will Sophia and Sebastian find happiness in the midst of a bewildering situation? Will true love prevail in the end?
“A Dreamy Lady’s Ever After” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.