The Flighty Fiancee(2)

By: Emma Shortt

“No, why would I be? I’ve been to countless numbers of them.” India paused and shook her head, a riot of rooms and people flittering through her mind, finally dislodging him. “I think the ton itself would fall apart without the balls there to keep them afloat. They’re like the lifeblood of society.”

Anjika laughed and eyed India’s skirt. “Or maybe like the structure. Like the ribs of that whale carcass we saw?”

“Exactly, and the matrons of the ton are the big curved bones arching over everyone, rigid and fixed.”

Anjika narrowed her black eyes and bent to judge the length of the crease. “England itself is rigid and fixed, you knew this long ago. Now at tonight’s ball, Lord Bartholomew will be there will he not?”

India lifted her arms, not fooled by the innocent tone of her companion’s voice. “Yes he will. He’s always there. Every ball I go to there he is waiting.”

“As he should be,” Anjika agreed, tugging on the skirt.

“I….” India paused before shaking her head. “It doesn’t matter.”

“What, naari?” Anjika prompted. “Tell me.”

“The balls are becoming…tiresome. Each one is the same as the other.”

“You would like them to be different how?”

“I don’t know. I just want excitement, Anjika,” India said slowly. “I want something to happen. Something to shake things up. I want to be lured into compromising situations, tempted to walk down dark alleys and shaded terraces. I want rakes to stalk me and intrigue to befall the room. But it never happens. I go, I dance, I gossip and then I come home.”

“That is not what you want,” Anjika said. “The rakes and the intrigue. You know it isn’t.”

“It is—”

“No,” Anjika interrupted. “You want what you thought you were going to have, before you had realized the truth. That is what you are longing for. That is what is making you anxious and angry.”

“The truth—”

Anjika nodded, the light of the room dancing off her perfectly black hair. “Of the situation. Of the reality of marriage here in this world. It was always going to be hard for you. You have never been like the other debutantes.”

“Because I’m not one.”

“Exactly. This is why you are finding it hard to accept your fate. You want the grand passion.”

India scowled. “No. I’ll never want that again,” she said, her skin prickling all over again, but she suspected the lie in her voice was obvious. “I know better now than to hope for something that will never be.”

A final tug on her skirt and Anjika straightened before sending her a look filled with sympathy and love. A look that said she knew the truth as well as her employer. “Stop grabbing the material, naari,” she said, leaving the lie between them. “You will ruin the dress. Now go, your Papa is waiting.”

India patted her friend’s cheek and picked her reticule up from the dresser. “I promise to try.”

The grand passion. Sweeping from the room and down the winding staircase India played the words over in her head. They made her feel hot and uncomfortable and she hated herself for it, more than that though she hated him. In an effort to clear her thoughts she considered the night ahead. She imagined the food, the dancing and tried to make herself feel excited about them. When that failed she considered the men who were likely to be at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball. She ticked the names off her mental tally and frowned as one dreary face after another sped across her mind. Too old, too young, too fat, too thin, too poor. No one measured up.

Not against Bartholomew.

She shivered, heat dancing along her spine, the throb returning, as his face once again teased her thoughts. No one could suggest Lord Bartholomew was too anything. He met every requirement a suitor needed. A big estate, an excellent annual income, a face and form like the hero of a gothic novel—everything exactly how it should be.

Everything but the passion.

India glared at an ancestor’s portrait, seeing Bartholomew in the rigid planes of the distant uncle’s face. Because that was what it all came down to. Where all the tension and the anger came from. And the disappointment, her mind whispered. It all comes from him. From the reality of the situation. Because where she was concerned, and despite her best efforts to make it otherwise, Lord Bartholomew was, and always had been, a cold fish.

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