Authors: Ella J. Quince
Lady Wickenham and Patience gushed over his words. Obedience stood still as a scarecrow, her cheeks flushed with pleasure. She took another sip of her sherry to hide it.
Gable entered and announced that dinner was ready. Obedience heard the duke mumble ‘thank god’ and hid a smile. Chance took the duty of pushing his father’s chair, leaving the women to follow. They entered the dining room and took seats at a round table. Obedience could tell her mother was surprised by the informality. Lady Wickenham sat beside the duke, Obedience on his other side, with Chance sitting between Obedience and Patience. The footmen entered to serve them. There was silence while plates were filled.
Her mother was the first to break the silence, asking Chance about events in London. Obedience looked down at her plate in longing. Everything looked delicious, the duck moist and steaming, the potatoes soft and dripping with sauce. Looking up to see her mother’s attention focused on Chance, she took a few quick bites. Looking up again, she caught her mother’s freezing
glare before it melted and returned to Chance. Obedience sighed and set her fork down softly.
“Is it not to your liking?” The duke’s voice halted all conversation and all eyes turned to
“It’s delicious, sir
,” Obedience responded shyly.
“I teach my daughters moderation in all things.” Lady Wickenham beamed at the duke.
The duke ignored her completely. “I see you almost every day, Obedience. You will wither away to nothing if you keep this up. I want to see that plate cleared of everything.”
Obedience froze and looked at her mother. Her mother nodded stoically. “I’m sure it’s just excitement chasing her appetite away. It’s been such a long time since Lord Willowton has been home.”
The duke never took his eyes from Obedience. “Is that so?”
“Be that as it may, I will take it as an insult if you do not eat everything on that plate.” The duke returned to his own plate and continued eating. Obedience looked back at her mother. Her color was high, but her attention was focused on stabbing insubordinate peas. Obedience sighed and turned her attention back to her own plate. She may as well eat all that she wished while she could.
Chance struck up a conversation with Patience about the latest fashions about town, and that led to Patience describing every single one of her blue dresses lasting four courses of dinner. Obedience was both grateful and annoyed. She was now blissfully full and sipping her wine as Patience went on and on and on. Chance appeared to be giving her his rapt attention, and that was what Obedience found so annoying. He couldn’t possibly b
e so interested in her wardrobe. The man she knew him to be would not… though the man she knew would also fake interest for the sake of being kind. Yes, that was it. She should rescue him, but this is exactly what her mother had wanted to happen for the evening, and as long as it was happening, Obedience was not the target of her icy glares. She decided to let Chance take care of himself. After all, this was the sort of thing he must do all the time during society affairs. She turned to the duke and gave him a grateful smile. He nodded and sipped his wine, his eyes fatigued. She unconsciously reached over and squeezed his hand. He favored her with one of his rare, genuine, smiles, the ends of his wiry mustache lifting with his cheeks. It was the first time this evening she was actually enjoying herself. It suddenly occurred to her that the room was silent. She turned and found her and the duke the focus of the other occupants. Her mother looked intrigued, her sister looked confused, and Chance was smiling in a way she couldn’t interpret.
“Patience, have you told Lord Willowton about your new kitten?” Obedience deflected the attention back to Patience, and Patience was eager for it. She chattered excitedly while Chance nodded and smiled politely. Her mother seemed pleased to watch them and sip her wine.
The duke leaned closer to Obedience and whispered, “Are you throwing my son to the wolves?”
Obedience stifled a laugh. “He can handle it, I think.”
“You are encouraging them. Are you a traitor?” He smiled wickedly.
“I would never betray you, but I have to pretend otherwise for the moment.”
“Rather devious, I would say.” He sat back in his chair and the dessert was brought out.
This time Obedience only took one bite under the watchful eye of the duke and the glare of warning from her mother. Every time Chance tried to speak to her, she directed his attention back to Patience. She was growing tired, her nerves waning under the volley of appearing normal and throwing Chance at her sister. She was devious and now feeling rather guilty. She felt no loyalty to her sister and yet here she was encouraging her, when in all reality
, a marriage between her sister and Chance was the last thing she wanted. She would have to warn him. Not that he didn’t know how to dispense with marriage-minded ladies on his own, but a warning certainly wouldn’t hurt, and would go a long way toward soothing her conscience. She would apologize, as well.
It was time to return to the drawing room. Chance stood and pulled out Patience’s chair for her. She smiled at him, batting her eyelashes again
, and he had to stop himself from shaking her. This night couldn’t end any sooner. He went to help his father, but he raised his hand. “I think I will retire. Please enjoy the remainder of your evening without me,” he said.
Chance could tell the evening exhausted him
. He felt exhausted, too. For whatever reason, Obedience was trying to feed him to her sister, or maybe just avoid him. The duke said his farewells and a footman wheeled him from the room. Chance escorted the ladies back to the drawing room, praying they would depart soon. It didn’t seem likely the way Patience sat beside him on the sofa with her mother on the other side. He almost groaned aloud. He watched Obedience bolt for the sideboard, still determined to keep a distance from him.
“I’m sorry your father couldn’t join us
,” Lady Wickenham said with a sympathetic smile. “Perhaps we can get to know each other better another time.”
“He tires easily these days
,” Chance responded.
“My dear Patience has endless energy
. I’ve even let her take over the running of the house for me.”
Obedience rolled her eyes and poured herself a sherry. Chance had been right about spirits making the night more tolerable
. Her head felt pleasantly light. She held up a glass to catch his attention and he nodded. She poured him a liberal amount of Brandy and took it to him.
“My, Obedience, you serve so well, maybe you should become a maid?” Patience giggled into her hand.
“I’ve learned my place, you could say,” Obedience quipped.
“It appears you haven’t
,” Her mother snapped. “Lord Willowton, I must apologize. Obedience has strayed far from her lessons in gentility. I hope she hasn’t been too intolerable.”
Chance was about to speak, but Obedience cut him off. “I consider myself very tolerable
, Mother. Compared to Patience, I’m a bloody saint.”
Patience gasped. Chance coughed and immediately set down his drink.
“I beg your pardon?” Her mother fumed.
“Running of the house,” Obedience scoffed. “Patience can’t even pour her own bath water.”
“It seems you haven’t the tolerance for spirits.” Lady Wickenham stood. She ripped the glass from Obedience’s hand, spilling sherry on the rug.
Chance stood in bafflement
and was doing everything in his power to keep himself from laughing. Obedience looked belligerent and mischievous, her eyes glazed from too much wine.
“My sincerest apologies
, Lord Willowton. My daughter is not well, and we must return home.”
Mother!” Patience shot to her feet, her arms rigid at her sides.
“That’s enough, Patience. Tomorrow you can tell your sister how disappointed you are with her behavior.”
Patience glared at her sister with hatred. Obedience stuck her tongue out at her.
“I’ll have your carriage summoned
,” Chance offered and walked away before completely losing control of his laughter. He wished his father could have witnessed this farce.
In the blink of an eye
, they departed, Obedience towed out by her arm like a petulant child. In the carriage, Obedience slumped against the squabs as her mother glared icily at her. Once they passed the gates of Willowton Park, she unleashed her sword-like tongue, and proceeded to cut Obedience to pieces, but this time, Obedience didn’t care. Her words fell on cotton stuffed ears. The carriage rattled on, the coachman hearing every word her mother said until suddenly her mother stood and banged on the roof.
“Why are we stopping?” Obedience asked.
“Get out.” Her mother bit off.
“What?” Obedience looked back and forth between her mother and her sister, twin expressions of hatred staring back at her.
“I said that you would regret ruining this evening for us. You will walk back to the manor and think about what your life will become if you have ruined your sisters chances. Now get out.”
“But... you’d have me walk in the dark?” Obedience said numbly. She looked to her sister for help. “Pat
—” She was stunned by the stinging slap her sister gave her.
Holding her hand to her cheek as her eyes began to water, she scurried out of the coach. The door slammed, and the coachman didn’t even spare her a glance as they rolled away.
Chance stood on the terrace with his violin in his hand and looked up at the sky. It was crystal clear. A blanket of black velvet sprinkled with white diamonds. The moon was full and bright, illuminating the lawn and paths up to the side of the oak grove that bordered the lawn. He was trying to settle his thoughts after the disastrous dinner. Thoughts of Obedience had plagued him when he tried to retire for the night, so he pulled his old violin out from the music room and came outside to play. He lifted his violin to his chin. It felt awkward at first, his fingers stiff from lack of play. He hadn’t picked up his violin in years, but as he set the bow to the strings, it was already becoming familiar. The first chord wafted into the air, and the frogs and crickets quieted. To an audience of creatures and stars, he tested each chord, tuning the violin until its music drifted from the strings in perfect harmony. He started with a sultry song that vibrated and hummed to warm his fingers, and then took things higher to a lively ballad that burst with joy and excitement. He was really feeling it now, his fingers sliding effortlessly over the strings and his arm and bow becoming one fluid motion of music. He was lost in the sound, closing his eyes and swaying on his feet.
He opened his eyes, his skin tingling with the awareness that his audience had grown. Across the lawn, a figure moved in the shadows of the trees. He was about to stop playing, but the figure moved into the light, swaying and spinning with the same joy as the music. He continued to play, never taking his eyes from her. His playing became second nature as his senses drank in the magic of her. She danced her way across the lawn, smiling and laughing, until she reached the bottom of the steps. Chance switched into a slow building waltz and smiled as she put her hands onto an imaginary partner and began to revolve in a small circle.
He watched her dance, entranced. She looked uninhibited, and he was acutely envious. She stopped dancing, and he suddenly realized it was because he stopped playing altogether. She smiled at him, her breathing rapid. “That was beautiful.”
Without thinking, he set his violin and bow gently on the ground. He tripped down the steps and approached her, noticing how her breathing hitched as he came closer and her eyes widened. He stopped before her and presented his hand. “May I have this dance?”
“But... there isn’t any music?” She laughed nervously.
“I hear it, don’t you?”
He took her hand and placed it on his shoulder. She stepped closer, and he slipped his arm around her waist. As if on cue, a chorus of frogs and crickets began, and they slowly started to move. Chance had never waltzed with her before, and that was probably a good thing. His body instantly remembered hers, and the way she had pressed it against him only yesterday. He could feel the warmth of her body through her dress and the shift of the muscles in her back as she moved. He'd never seen her like this, never known her as this beautiful, sensual being. How could he have been so blind? How did he not notice years ago that she would bloom into such a rare woman? Her hair was madly escaping its pins, half falling out at the bottom. Her cheeks were rosy from exertion, and her eyes were dark pools of mystery. He slowed them to stop and gently brushed a fall of curls from her shoulder.
“What are you doing here?” His voice came out far more serious than he intended.
She bit her lip. “I cut across the field after mama ordered me from the carriage. She said I had to walk home as punishment.”
“Punishment?” Chance pulled his hands away from her. His fists clenched in anger. “Your mother left you on the road at night as punishment?”
Obedience nodded and looked down. A stream of light from the drawing room illuminated her face and the redness that spread from her jaw to the corner of her eye.