Alexandra looked across the city from the terrace, her heart lifting as she gazed over the close tiled roofs. She had never seen anything so lovely. She looked to her left, towards where Matthew stood, just behind her, looking down at her.
“It’s so stunning,” Alexandra said, shifting on the rail so that she could lean an arm on it. Matthew came and stood beside her, looking into her eyes. She made room for him on the rail. He leaned forwards, staring out over Salzburg, stretching out to the horizon in a mix of gracious stone buildings and sweet pitched-roof houses.
“It is rather nice, I must say,” Matthew nodded. He put an arm around Alexandra, drawing her close. The evenings were warm now, it being late springtime, but she was wearing a dark gown with short sleeves, and it was not that warm either.
“I still can’t quite believe it,” Alexandra admitted. The fact that they were here, where the great Mozart himself had written his works not so long ago, was astonishing. She looked around them, awed by the beauty of the place.
“It does seem a little surprising, doesn’t it?” Matthew grinned. “Though on the globe, it doesn’t seem far.”
Alexandra chuckled, remembering when she and Arabella had showed him how to measure distance. She looked up fondly at him. He leaned closer, drawing her against him for a kiss.
Alexandra felt his lips descend on hers and wrapped her arms around him, turning to face him so that they could kiss properly. Up here, they were sheltered from view from most of the street, though she was sure that if anyone had seen them kissing, they wouldn’t have minded.
They had arrived a week before, and taken up residence in the house of an army acquaintance of one of Matthew’s associates. The house was beautiful and Alexandra could scarce believe that they would be staying there for a month. She had learned German as one of her languages, and she and Arabella were proving themselves invaluable as translators, though most of the household staff were simply following routine as they would have for the family they worked for.
“It was lovely to go to a coffee-house,” Matthew agreed. The coffee-houses were famous, and Alexandra recalled the delicious, steaming brew washed down with cream and a slice of cake. She smiled up at Matthew warmly.
“Shall we go again today?” she asked. “I have to admit I truly enjoyed it there, and it would be fun to go regularly, while we stay.”
Matthew squeezed her hand warmly. “I agree…I would certainly like to go again, and every day too, if we might. We should try to enjoy everything here as much as we possibly can.”
“Yes,” Alexandra agreed.
She heard a pianoforte being played, and looked up at Matthew, who raised a brow.
“I suppose we should go inside,” he said.
“Yes,” she nodded. Arabella was there, and at teatime they would be expecting a visitor.
She walked in, feeing the cool parquet under her slipper soles. It was not particularly cold inside, but somehow the interior of the house always felt a little cooler – until the fires were lit. Then, the wood paneling in the rooms made everything cozy and intimate.
She looked over at the pianoforte as Arabella finished playing.
“I am having a go at this sonata again,” Arabella grinned. “I really want to try to perfect it. Or at least to make it good enough to play at a party someday soon.”
“You’re a fine pianist, Arabella,” she assured the young woman. “I know that you can already play it very beautifully. And you look lovely.” She noticed that Arabella had dressed carefully in a pale peach gown, her hair ringleted.
“Thank you.” Arabella smiled.
They were all sitting in the drawing-room, talking about the sights and experiences in the city, when the butler came in.
“He says we have a visitor,” Alexandra translated for Matthew, while Arabella was already getting up from her seat, hurrying to the door.
“I see,” Matthew said. Alexandra looked across the room as Frank came in. Arabella curtseyed. She saw the warmth kindle in Frank’s eyes as he looked at Arabella and her own heart melted.
“I am…honored…that you are here,” Frank said. He bowed low, kissing Arabella’s hand. The warmth in his voice warmed Alexandra’s heart. Arabella blushed.
“Frank. I’m so happy…to see you,” she stammered. She looked up into his eyes and Alexandra felt her own heart ache at the love that passed between the two in the gaze that lingered in their eyes as they turned around.
“Welcome,” Matthew said to Frank, nodding and holding out a hand to shake quite formally. “We have sent for tea. If you’d like to sit down?” He gestured at the chairs in the room. Frank, shaking his hand, nodded.
“Yes. Thank you. It is good to see you, your Grace.”
“And I think you’ve met the Duchess?”
Frank looked at Alexandra, eyes wide. But, without missing a beat, he bowed as she curtseyed low.
“I am delighted, Lady Blakeley,” he said. He looked at Arabella. She blushed.
“It’s so good to see you, Frank,” she said shyly. “I am so glad we could invite you to tea. And I hope you will stay a while? I would like to show you my progress with the pianoforte.”
“Of course,” Frank nodded, graciously accepting a cup of tea. “Though the word ‘progress’ surprises me. From what I could remember, you are already excellently talented.”
“Oh, Frank…” Arabella flushed. Alexandra smiled at them.
“I am going to cut some of this cake,” she said, gesturing at a delicious looking cake with fruit in it. “I take it I am not alone in wanting to sample it?”
“Oh, certainly,” Frank said. Arabella giggled.
“You must tell us all about your stay,” Arabella asked him. “You have been here so much longer than I have! You must have seen much!”
Alexandra looked across at Matthew, who was watching the two with the same fondness as she felt. She looked back to Arabella, who had all but forgotten her slice of cake, gazing at Frank, who was talking to her in a soft, warm tone. He might have been speaking to the room at large, but Alexandra knew that he had forgotten anybody else was there. Arabella was his only interest just then.
“And I go to a coffee house nearly every other day,” he told her. “It’s near the university, just around the corner. It’s very pretty. I think you would like it. Maybe I could escort you there?”
Alexandra saw him glance hopefully at Matthew, who lifted one shoulder elegantly.
“Of course,” he said. “I would like to come with you, though…myself and Lady Blakeley would like to be there and sample the coffee shop as well. After all, finding a special one to go to regularly was our goal.”
Alexandra grinned and saw Arabella’s eyes light up.
“Oh, thank you, brother!” she said. She beamed at Frank. “Mayhap we can go tomorrow? Are you busy?”
Frank grinned. “I think for the privilege of escorting you, I could absent myself from the university for a few hours.”
“Only if you’re sure…” Arabella trailed off. Frank smiled delightedly.
“Arabella! For you I would take any risk. But I trust that absenting myself for a few hours from the classes I should attend would do no harm to me.”
Arabella took his hand, and Alexandra could feel her joy as if it was part of her heart. She smiled at Arabella, who beamed back.
“Oh, Alexandra!” Arabella said when he had gone. “He invited me to a ball! Just one that many of his associates at the university will attend, but I understand it is fashionable and many people are invited. Will you go?”
Alexandra raised a brow, looking at Matthew. It would be something they would both enjoy, she thought, going out into the society of the city. She nodded fractionally. He smiled warmly.
“I think that would be a grand notion,” he said fondly to Arabella. “I trust you brought your clothes?”
Arabella giggled. “Oh, brother! Alexandra, tell him! I packed nothing else, and I took a month to prepare everything!” She beamed, in fondness, at Alexandra. She turned to her dearest, and grinned at him. He grinned warmly.
“Yes, Arabella has her ball dresses and all manner of other clothes for parties. I am sure we’ll be able to look very fashionable and pretty.”
Matthew grinned and took her hand fondly. “I’m sure.”
Arabella looked at them and laughed, delight on her face. “We’re going to a ball!”
It was exciting, Alexandra thought to herself, to attend a social event in Austria. She had no idea if the way they dressed in England was the same as the way the people would dress here, though Matthew assured her it would at least be very similar. With France setting fashions in everything, they would be sure that the similarities would at least be enough so that they wouldn’t stand out.
She hoped he was right, but then, she also felt she wouldn’t mind too much if he was not. She was so happy that even looking different to everyone else at the ball would just be a new experience.
“I think that’s done,” she murmured to herself, looking at her hair in the mirror. She stood and went out into the hallway, where Matthew waited. She walked over and stood next to him, looking up at him and feeling that dark gaze on her, approving and warm.
“You look ravishing,” he said. He drew her close, looking into her eyes and her heart thudded. She pressed her hand to his cheek warmly. He had a cravat tied up around his neck, the tie filling the collar of his jacket and making ruffles on his white shirt-front.
She smiled up at him. She was wearing a gown in dark red, patterned with leaves. It was a very fashionable dress. He was wearing a dark suit, the velvet a blue that was almost black. He smiled down at her, resting a hand on her cheek.
“Those jewels suit you,” he said.
Alexandra blushed. He had given her the set of topaz that had belonged to his mother. She reached a hand up, feeling the warm, yellow-gold stones resting at her throat. A matching pair, set in rose gold, hung at her ears.
“Thank you,” she said. “And you look grand.”
He blushed and looked at the wall.
“Thank you,” he murmured, looking at her with a soft grin on his face. He had never got used to compliments and it always amused her to see that. “Now, I wonder where Arabella is?”
“Brother?” A voice called down the hallway. “Are you all ready?”
Alexandra grinned. She turned to see Arabella, dressed in a cream gown decorated with white flowers worked into the fabric. The sleeves were soft and fluttery, made Her hair was drawn back in ringlets, a thin silken ribbon holding them back from her face. It was a bold and fashionable outfit, and Alexandra smiled.
“You look lovely,” she said.
Arabella blushed. “Thank you. Now, shall we go?”
“Oh, how a youth can be so impatient!” Matthew chuckled.
Arabella grinned at him. “I’m not much younger than you are, brother.”
“Not that much, no,” Matthew agreed. He turned to Alexandra and bowed low. “May I escort you downstairs?”
Alexandra chuckled. “Of course, you may. I am delighted to be escorted by so handsome a man.”
Matthew blushed and Alexandra giggled and they went down the stairs together, Arabella following them.
They arrived at the handsome residence of the host within half an hour. The coach that they traveled in was most comfortable, pulled by four strong horses. Alexandra watched the city move around them, the sound of the hoofs echoing from the stone buildings. She peered up at the house.
“It’s very fine, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Oh, yes!” Arabella sounded impressed. “I didn’t reckon it was so big.” She glanced sideways at Matthew, with the air of one seeking reassurance. Matthew nodded.
“It does look very big. Let’s go in.”
He jumped down from the coach and helped them out. Alexandra took his hand, breathing in the crisp air. She waited for Arabella, and all three of them went up the flight of stairs towards the two-floor, gracious stone manor.
Alexandra curtseyed as the host greeted them, saying a few words of thanks for the invitation. He smiled welcomingly at her, and bowed low to Arabella, and then to Matthew, who followed them in.
“Oh! Isn’t it grand!” Arabella said as she looked up. Alexandra had to agree – the high ceilings were most elegant. She took Matthew’s hand and they walked down the steps into the ballroom.
“It seems like most other balls,” Matthew commented, looking around. “The fashions, I mean. And the way we are supposed to behave.”
“Yes, quite so.” Alexandra nodded. She took his arm and they stood at the edge of the ballroom, just watching. She felt her fingers twist through his and they stood there, simply looking out over the dancers and watching the people.
“I’m so glad we came,” Matthew said softly.
“And I am too,” Alexandra agreed. She could hear the waltz playing, and watched the couples getting ready for the next dance. She looked up at Matthew.
He raised a brow. “Next one?”
“I think so,” Alexandra agreed.
They didn’t do a lot of dancing – Alexandra had never attended many balls, and so she wasn’t used to it. Contrastingly, Matthew was too experienced. He didn’t enjoy dancing anymore.
“So,” Alexandra said, as she looked up at the ceiling, her arms around Matthew, his one hand on her waist. “I reckon after this, we can go outside for a while.”
“We need to keep an eye on Arabella,” Matthew reminded her. She nodded.
“Yes, we do. I think for the moment, all they will be doing is waltzing, though. It’s her new favorite thing. I have never been so surprised by anything as by the way Arabella has taken to society.”
“Yes. I think you helped…I would have been reluctant to immerse her in it so fully.”
“Well, you must have been part of it. And it’s thanks to you that she is here, now. I am sure she is having a wonderful evening.”
“It’s thanks to you, too.”
She smiled into those dark eyes, the ones that had so enraptured her always, and they danced and then bowed.
“That was lovely,” Alexandra said, clapping along with the other dancers, admiring each other’s skills and that of the chamber-orchestra. “Shall we go outside?”
They went out onto the terrace together. It was a warm night, and Alexandra drew her shawl close as she leaned on the stone support around the terrace. It looked out onto a garden arranged in steps leading down to the road, each level arranged thoughtfully and planted with beautiful trees and flowers. She stared out over the exquisite shrubbery and down to the road below, and then turned to Matthew.
“I am so happy to be here,” she said. “So happy to be here with you.”
“And I with you,” Matthew said softly.
She looked into his eyes and he leaned forward and his lips touched hers, so sweetly. She shut her eyes drawing him close as they stood on the quiet terrace, with the light from the torches spilling out and the softer light from the sky overhead.
When she looked up, his gaze was on her, his eyes soft. She rested a hand on his shoulder and he drew her close, his arms wrapping around her body as he stared into her eyes.
“It is wonderful, to have the chance to be here in your arms,” he murmured, kissing her. “I didn’t think I would ever…could…” He shook his head, his eyes soft. “I shouldn’t speak of it now. I mean to say that I am so happy.”
“I am too,” Alexandra said. She pressed her lips to his cheek. “Should we go in?” she asked, hearing the music drifting out, lively and full. “We can have something to eat.”
“Yes, perhaps we should,” Matthew agreed. He glanced across the terrace. Alexandra stood watching, and then smiled up at him warmly.
“Arabella has come out, too. And she has a companion.”
“Quite so,” Matthew agreed. They stood together and watched as Arabella and Frank walked over to the railing. Alexandra felt her own heart flutter as Frank took her hands. Arabella stared up into his eyes. Very gently, so as not to cause the slightest resistance, Frank bent and kissed her lips.
Alexandra looked up at Matthew, who smiled down indulgently at her.
“I don’t think I can stop them,” Matthew said with a grin. “After all, I don’t think we did much differently.”
“No,” Alexandra agreed. They had kissed first in the coach, but they had weeks of longing for it and gentle touches whenever they could. She didn’t think they had anything to say. “And it was very respectable.”
“It was,” Matthew agreed. “I’m not in the least worried about anything to do with these two.”
“Me neither.” Alexandra nodded.
They stood for a while until Arabella returned to the ballroom, Frank behind. Then they went in too.
Alexandra looked up at Matthew lovingly, and wondered what it would be like when their heir – or heiress – was born. She suspected that she might already be carrying them, but it was too early to tell.
When they went back home, she sat down beside him on the big chair in the bedroom. She smiled and looked into his eyes fondly.
“When we return to England, we’re going to have to set about thinking of names,” she said.
“Names.” Matthew was quite hesitant.
“Yes. In the instance of naming our heir, or heiress…we need ideas.”
“You mean, you are going to have a baby? Our baby?” Matthew sounded shocked. And delighted.
“Yes,” Alexandra smiled. “Well…I think so. I don’t know for certain yet, but it seems that I am.”
“Alexandra!” he cried, and drew her close to him, pressing his lips against her face, wrapping his arms around her so that he held her in a safe, delightful embrace. She rested her head on his shoulder and he kissed her lips tenderly and she wrapped her arms around him and held him close.
“Alexandra, I love you so much,” he murmured.
“I love you, too,” she said, and drew him close to her, resting her head back and shutting her eyes as he snuggled in next to her. His arms were warm around her and she kissed him, her heart full of warmth.
She knew now that life could be wonderful, joyous and magical, if you let it be. And that love can cross all barriers and open all gates and transform one’s life.