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Meet Me at Dawn

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Prologue

October 1888

I watched him as he circled the periphery of the crowded ballroom, moving gracefully as a stalking panther would its prey. He was on his fourth glass of sherry, continuously downing each one with the flick of a wrist. His dark waistcoat and crisp black cravat contrasted with the stark white of his linen shirt. His unruly hair was longer than was in fashion, but he had such an air of authority and poise that no young lady would dare to mention his lack of fashion sense.

I tore my eyes away from this Adonis and concentrated my sights on the dancing couples before me, absent-mindedly tapping my toes to the melody of the jaunty reel.

Lady Mayfield had outdone herself tonight. Vases of white hothouse roses scattered the ballroom floor, leaving their lingering scent on those who ventured by. Elongated white beeswax candles occupied each candelabrum, casting a romantic glow onto the intricately gilded designs of the rosewood wall panels. The refreshment table presented a generous variety of hors d’oeuvres and punch for the ladies, while the gentlemen indulged in port and sherry from the card room. Lady Mayfield ensured there was at least one eligible gentleman present for each young lady looking for a partner.

The marriage-minded mommas were indeed in heaven to elicit an invite to such a country party.

However, not all eligible gentlemen were in need of a young malleable wife, as such was the case of the gentleman occupying my current thoughts. At least, that is what I heard amongst the hordes of simpering misses throughout the season. He attended the soirees and dinners for the sole benefit of his mother’s happiness, yet pointedly defied his father’s wish for him to find a young English bride.

I held my breath as I watched him leisurely walk through the open French doors out onto the terrace, and into the cool darkness of the night. He left behind the grandiosity of the ballroom without a backward glance.

I excused myself from the company of my fellow wallflowers and followed him. They hardly spared my departure a glance, too occupied staring starry-eyed at the gentlemen standing languorously across the row of dancing couples. I paid them no heed, for there was only one gentleman in my sights tonight. I walked as quickly as possible in my kid slippers and abundant fabric that was my petticoats. The corset stays impeded the ability of my lungs to expand as I felt my breath quicken with each urgent step. I had begged Mama to allow me to go without them tonight, but she had adamantly refused.

“No proper young lady would ever attend such an event without a corset,” she admonished, while my lady’s maid helped me dress. I rolled my eyes at her lecture of proper lady’s attire. I detested the ghastly contrivances that gentlemen invented to torture ladies. I believed the sole purpose of ladies’ fashion was to impede an expedient departure should an unsavory man make any untoward advances.

That was neither here, nor there. I would be the dutiful daughter and finally snare a husband, for this upcoming season was the last my father would allow. Although I possessed a meager dowry, both Mama and Father expected my striking looks to catch the attention of a peer. However, after two unsuccessful Seasons, they quickly became worried that they would forever have a spinster daughter.

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