44. A Duel of Eyes

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She was slim and fair, with delicately curved lips, deep green eyes, and black hair that tumbled in rich curls down her back. She held herself regally, and it was clear that unlike me, she felt perfectly at home in a ball room. Her luxurious green and black ball gown, perfectly complementing her eyes and hair, fell down in elaborate folds over an elegantly sweeping crinoline. In short, she was very beautiful, and obviously knew just how to accentuate that beauty to attract a man's attention.

I hated her at first sight.

Well, what do you expect? I am a proud fighter for women's rights and independence. Of course I instantly despised somebody who conformed so absolutely to the female stereotype of the damsel in distress that I was trying to fight.

You despise her for being unfeminist, do you?

Yes, of course I did.

And the two-hundred and fifty other women in the room who are just the same kind of unfeminist wimps? You don't despise them, do you?

Well...

Might the fact that it is for her specifically that you feel an intense loathing have something to do with the fact that she is clinging to Mr Ambrose's arm like a limpet?

Sometimes, I really wished that inner voice of mine would shut up!

My eyes flicked from her to Mr Ambrose and back again. Could he... could they be...? No. They couldn't be, could they?

Mr Ambrose strode over to Lady Metcalf, who stood at the edge of the crowd, gaping at him in a rather unladylike manner. In this, I noticed, she was mimicked by almost every female in the room. Blast! Why did that annoy me so much?

He made a quick, curt bow.

"Please forgive this intrusion, My Lady.  I changed my mind about not accepting your most recent invitation. I hope I'm not too late and the ball has already started?"

Since, from the floor full of frozen dances around him, it was quite blatantly obvious that the dance had indeed started, this remark was rather redundant. It was also as impolite as one could get. Colour rose to Lady Metcalf's cheeks. Her mouth closed.  And opened, and closed again.

Was she thinking of letting her servants chase him out with hunting crops? That's what she would have done if I or anyone else had pulled off something like this. But Mr Rikkard Ambrose wasn't just anyone.

"N-no, of course not, Mr Ambrose."

My mouth dropped open. The voice coming out of Lady Metcalf's mouth wasn't the usual vulture's croak. It was soft, uncertain, almost demure. Under Mr Ambrose cold gaze, she lowered her eyes.

Good God! Is she possessed or something?

"Of course we haven't started yet, Mr Ambrose. You've come just at the right time. May I introduce you to my family?"

"You may," Mr Ambrose granted with infinite generosity.

The raven-haired beauty stepped up beside him.

No... not raven-haired. Crow-haired! She's a crow! She's just the sort to pick at rotting carcasses. She's probably just waiting to sink her beak into Mr Ambrose.

She smiled. And it was an artificial smile that didn't reach her eyes. I knew it! I knew she couldn't be trusted. You could never trust females – they were so bloody conniving! Apart from unfortunate young secretaries and other kinds of feminists, of course.

She directed her smile at him, and he, although he didn't smile, nodded graciously. More graciously than he had ever nodded at me.

A thousand questions buzzed through my head. Who was she? Why was she here? Why had he brought her? Was she rich? Was he in love with her? Were they engaged? And most important of all, why the blazes were all of my questions about her?

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