Chapter 53

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It was nearly time for the dancing to begin, as one of the servants had just announced, and the people in attendance began moving toward the solarium. Elizabeth smiled anxiously as Edward returned and offered his arm to escort her.

As they walked, Edward dipped his head near her and whispered, "Don't look so frightened my dear, I rarely bite while dancing."

Elizabeth caught a glimpse of his smirky grin and swallowed, whispering back, "It's not you I'm anxious of, Edward. It's the dancing... I've not had many opportunities to become comfortable with it. What if I trip or step on your foot while the whole room is watching?"

Edward reached over, gently squeezing the delicate fingers resting on his arm, "What if you do? I'll not love you any less for it, I assure you, and certainly not a person in attendance can say they've never had a single misstep while dancing. Forget about the crowd and focus on me. You'll do just fine, you'll see." He chuckled, "Perhaps you'll even enjoy it; I know I will." He winked and grinned down at her again.

Elizabeth blushed, understanding his meaning quite well, and her stomach fluttered at the thought of his nearness. Perhaps she was just a mite anxious over him, as well...

As they entered the solarium, the soft sounds of the small orchestra, tucked into the corner, met her ears as they finely tuned their instruments to begin playing for the evening. Elizabeth surveyed the room; the same theme of decorations adorned the solarium as in the parlor, the wall of windows facing the terrace and garden warmly reflected the bouncing candlelight throughout the space.

Elizabeth clung to Edward's arm as she watched the guests shuffling into the room, pressing against the walls, leaving a central space open. When everyone had settled, Elizabeth watched her father move into the middle of the room to address the assemblage.

"My dear family and friends, I am honored to have all of you here to join me in celebration of this grand occasion. May I present to you my dear daughter, Elizabeth Montgomery, and her affianced, Edward Stanton." Papa gestured to the pair, and Edward bowed slightly as applause pealed through the room. Taking her cue from him, Elizabeth dipped a curtsy in response. "I have asked them to grace us with beginning the first dance." Papa winked at her as he retreated from the center of the room.

The time had come for the dreaded yet thrilling ceremonial dance, and Elizabeth allowed Edward to take her by the hand and lead her out onto the floor space designated for dancing. Her heart was pounding out a desperate rhythm as she tried in vain to draw breath into her lungs; the air so cunningly evaded her nostrils. All eyes were fixed on the two of them; she could feel the whole of the assembly's gazes as they seemed to penetrate her flesh. As she focused on her dear Edward's face, she tried to draw from his strength and forget about the many pairs of eyes which made her feel so vulnerable.

Waiting for the orchestra to begin the song felt like an eternity, standing out in the open with only Edward to anchor her to the very spot. Elizabeth dropped her gaze to the floor, trying to steady herself. In the space of a breath, Edward placed his hand just under her shoulder, pulling her closer to him, causing her to gasp and glance up at his bold touch. He grinned at her and whispered, "Remember what I said. Just look at me."

Elizabeth blinked back at him. In a flash of movement, Edward began twirling her along to the first strains of a waltz.

Her eyes locked with his as she realized in astonishment that she was dancing a waltz with her beloved, a waltz before a room full of eyes... A waltz indeed!

Elizabeth's confidence strengthened as the room blurred and there was only, him.

Quite suddenly Edward let out a laugh, "My dear, you have no idea that you're the most bewitching woman in the room!"

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