Lady Laurel Abbington lifted up her skirt and lightly stepped into the waiting carriage. She sank back against the plush seat with a sigh and arranged her skirts carefully around her. The carriage rocked slightly as her mother, the Dowager Duchess, Lady Theresa Abbington, climbed in, assisted by a footman, wearing the red and white livery of the Trevellyan house.

The duchess, settled in the seat opposite her daughter, and also smoothed her skirts then clasped her hands in her lap. Laurel studied her mother beneath her lashes. At fifty-five, the Dowager Duchess still looked every bit as beautiful as when she'd been sixteen and had stolen the hearts of the ton, at her coming out ball. Now, her blond tresses had lightened to elegant silver, though her face was still smooth and free of wrinkles. However, her once full and lush lips had thinned into a straight line, probably the result of raising three hellions.

The carraige jerked forward and they set off for on the shopping expedition. Laurel sighed again and turned to peer out the little window of the carriage, drawing aside the fine lace curtains.

"It's a beautiful day today Mama," She said, turning slightly so she could address her mother. "There's nary a cloud in sight, and the skies are so impossibly blue."

Lady Abbington leaned forward so she too could see out. "Yes, dear one. It is a perfect day, we shall have a grand time getting your costume for the masquerade."

"Oh yes!" Laurel said, trying to quell the shiver of excitement that shot through her. "I hope Madame Devine has got some new bolts of fabric. I have no desire to wear something that has already been seen by all of London."

"If the note she sent yesterday is any indication, I believe she has something wonderful for us." Lady Abbington smiled fondly at her daughter, this season's Incomparable.

Laurel continued to stare out the window, lost in thought. She thought of her dear friend Lady Farnsworth, and idly wondered what she would be wearing to the masquerade ball, and made a mental note to call round at the Farnsworth mansion the minute she got home.

The carriage slowed and came to a halt and Laurel was startled out of her thoughts. She quickly reached for her reticule and matching parasol, and alighted from the carriage. The sounds and odors of London hit her senses, as she glanced about, drinking in the sight of other well-dressed women and men, all taking advantage of the lovely day.

"Come now child, let's not stand about" Her mother said and began walking towards the dressmaker's shop. Laurel followed, stopping to study the bolts of fabric in a rainbow of colours that lined the glass window. A particularly breathtaking gold fabric caught her eye and she moved closer to peer at it, wondering if the gold would go well with her complexion.

She was suddenly bumped from behind, and she gasped as she lost her balance. She braced herself for impact with the hard cobbled ground, but instead, she fell against a warm hard body.

"Steady now! My lady" A masculine voice said, with a hint of amusement.

Laurel started and looked up at the face of her rescuer. The words she had been about to say died on her lips as she found herself staring into the handsome face of Lord Giles, the Marquis of Rosehaven. He was grinning down at her, his arms wrapped around her waist, his face mere inches from her own.

"Are you alright?" He asked, his eyes never leaving hers. Laurel could only nod, unable to speak because of the emotions that robbed her of breath.

Lord Giles gently steadied her, removed his hands from her person. Laurel felt an inexplicable sense of loss.

"You should be more careful Lady Abbington," He admonished, "The streets are crowded and you might get hurt"

Laurel found her voice. "Thank you for saving me, Lord Giles, I would have hit the ground and hurt myself for sure if you hadn't."

He executed a gallant bow and reached for her right hand, pressing his lips to it. "It is always a pleasure to rescue you my lady." He murmured.

Even through the silk glove that covered her hand, Laurel could feel the pressure and heat of his touch as though her hand were bare. She quickly withdrew her hand and curtsied, gracefully.

"I hope I shall have an opportunity to repay you someday" She said, rising from her curtsy.

He studied her for several seconds, drinking in the glorious sight of the girl in front of him, the wind whipping her frilly white petticoats and pink skirt around her slim ankles, teasing strands of midnight hair around her stunning heart-shaped face, with its emerald green eyes, and full lips that hinted at a promise of passion, her elegant shoulders and graceful neck, he could just make out the gentle swell of her bosom beneath the square cut neckline of her pink gown, and her tiny waist, created for a man's hand to encircle. His pulse quickened and he knew that he would have her. He had to have her in his bed or he would go mad.

Laurel shifted, suddenly uncomfortable under his intense scrutiny. He had a look on his face that, though was not altogether unpleasant, caused shivers to roll down her spine. She took a step back, knowing that any second now, her mother would come looking for her.

"Will you be attending Lady Worthinton's masquerade?" He asked abruptly.

"Yes," she replied, relieved that the uncomfortable moment had passed. "As a matter of fact, I'm here to order a gown from Madam Devine"

"Ah" Lord Giles smiled, nodding. "She is an excellent seamstress. My sisters are always in raptures over her creations."

Laurel smiled, "Of course"

"Will you save me a waltz at the ball?" He asked, looking deep into her eyes.

"I shall put your name on my dance card" Laurel promised, "But how shall I know you, since everyone shall be in disguise?"

He pondered this for a moment. Then inspiration dawned. "I shall be coming as Othello."

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