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Ok this piece is my first attempt at a period piece. Please don’t read it too critically as it’s from a 90 minute timed exercise and I don’t normally write historicals, though I love to read them. The writing is challenging because nothing is stated flat out; it’s passive voice, long flowing sentences and melodrama delivered in an unaffected monotone.
Esmeralda alighted from her carriage and strolled toward the entrance of the final public ball of the season. At five and twenty, this would be her last ball, her last public display of availability. If the evening brought no hint of suitors, she would begin posting for governess positions in the morn.
That was what her guardian had decreed after enumerating the significant costs “to guild the lily” that she’d incurred in the eight years since Esme had come out. For her part, Esme was glad to be nearly done with the entire posturing and preening. She’d stay the three hours with her guardian in tow, then return home and embrace her spinsterhood. The thought unleashed her smile.
Pausing at the top of the stairs, Esme took a deep breath and held it, then exhaled as she crossed the threshhold.
“Miss Esmeralda Crenshaw. So delighted you could attend tonight’s ball.” Mrs. Fairfax’ greeting dripped with solicitous cheer but Esme knew it masked contempt borne from Esme’s refusal of her son, John’s attentions.
Esme offered the slightest of curtsies, probably not low enough to suit, but she had no concerns for such. “Thank you, Mrs. Fairfax. You are looking well tonight, ma’am.”
“As are you my dear. No one but one with as sharp an eye as I would discern that you’ve so cleverly masqueraded last month’s gown. You are quite brilliant my dear.”
She linked her arm with Esme’s and guided her to the interior of the room. When they reached the sitting area, favored mostly by the widowed, elderly and shunned, she detached herself from Esme’s side and leaned in as if to share a salacious secret.
“Have you heard, dear Esme, that my John is betrothed to Miss Ann Garrison? A lovely girl. Henry and I are so thrilled with his choice of bride.”
Esme smiled and tried to ignore the pang of something that coursed through her. “No, Ma’am. I had not. Please give Mr. Fairfax my best and tell him I wish him the greatest happiness in his upcoming nuptials.”
Mrs. Fairfax’s lips curled at the edges, the lines etched with barely concealed triumph. “Of course, but I daresay you’ll be able to offer them yourself as he and Miss Garrison are in attendance this evening. I believe they are…,” she turned and pointed to the couple near the head of the line, dancing a reel, “over in yon corner. Don’t they dance beautifully together?”
“Indeed.” Esme curtsied once again and took a seat next to Mrs. Stephens, who was mercifully hard of hearing and not prone to prattle on much.
Mrs. Fairfax moved to take her leave, then froze, an expression of utter disgust in full command of her features. “Oh dear. That…odious Mr. Vallotte has decided to torment us with his presence tonight. Miss Crenshaw, I daresay even a girl such as yourself who is dancing on her last hope of finding a match should take care to avoid that man. Spinsterhood is a far, far superior choice to any sort of…association with that man!” And with those words, she nodded her head at Esme and dashed off, most likely to gossip about the new arrival.
Esme cocked her head to study the detestable Mr. Vallotte. She had met the man some five years prior and found him amiable, but unenthusiastic. His attentions that evening had been directed more to the likes of the Misses Damereaux. She’d heard that he had returned to London the next morn and never called upon any of the young ladies in whose bosoms he’d stirred hopes of a match. In truth, Mr. Vallotte possessed a great fortune that was missed even more than the man himself, a grave offense to the matchmaking mothers of Meridian.
He turned and caught her eye, raising a satirical brow at her scrutiny. Esme raised her hand to her mouth and giggled. No. She’d not waste any further thoughts on Mr. Vallotte. Instead, she closed her eyes and tapped her toe, enjoying the music.
“The music is much better enjoyed on the dance floor.” A deep male voice uttered the words mere inches from her ear.
Esme’s eyes flew open in time to see Mr. Vallotte straightening to his full height, quite a long ways up. She’d not recalled him being quite so tall.
“I’ve no doubt that is the case,” she said. She met his whiskey-colored eyes, that twinkled with poorly concealed sinful thoughts.
“Miss Crenshaw, is it not?”
“Yes. It is good to see you again, Mr. Vallotte. Your memory is quite remarkable.”
He extended his gloved hand. “Since you appear to have a vacancy on your dance card at the moment, might I claim the last remaining stanzas?”
Esme wrinkled her brow and stared at the hand extended before her. In the distance, she noted the horrified expression and head shake of her guardian. Mrs. Fairfax, who stood at the lady’s side, fixed Esme with an equally appalled stare.
She regarded Mr. Vallotte, whose gaze lingered on her mouth most indecently. The morn would bring what it would bring, but the now afforded the most delicious opportunity to flirt with wickedness.
She placed her hand in Vallotte’s and stood. “You may indeed, Sir.”