An Undeniable Passion Ch. 06byopels©
Virginia looked through every glove in the mercantile and could not find a pair in gray kid in her size.
"Vi, I'm going to go up to the counter and ask if they have any more of the gloves I want in stock."
Violet nodded as she perched a bonnet on her head. She was settling it on her dark curls when a deep voice behind her complimented her, "Why Miss Adams, you look quite fetching in that bonnet."
She turned to thank the man to find Drake standing behind her. Playing with the bow beneath her chin and cocking her head she said, "Why thank you Mr. Stratford. Do you think I should buy it?"
"If it strikes your fancy, I think you should."
"I think I shall, but only because it strikes your fancy," she flirted. She saw him looking about and guessing his quest she said, "She's over at the front counter."
Taken aback that he was being so obvious he asked, "Who?"
With a knowing smile, she replied, "Virginia." Seeing his look of surprise, she continued. "Come now, Mr. Stratford, you should know that best friends tell each other everything. I know how smitten you are with her."
"Not smitten," he said, "just very, very intrigued."
Turning to face the mirror and adjusting the bonnet she asked conversationally, "Are you going to the Summer Ball at the Harrison's? Virginia and I are both very excited about it."
"You're both going?" he asked, with great interest.
"Yes, we are. We wouldn't miss it. I don't think I've ever seen you at any of the social events. Do you not enjoy balls and parties?"
"Yes, of course, I'm just out of town a lot on business. But I will be attending this one. Most definitely."
"Well, I'll be sure to save a dance for you, then."
Smiling at her he said, "You do that, Miss Adams, and please ask Miss Templeton to do the same. Now, I really must be going. It was a pleasure running into you. Good afternoon."
"Thank you, Mr. Stratford, it was delightful chatting with you. Good afternoon."
She walked over to where Virginia was standing at the counter, looking through a stack of gloves. "I just had the most pleasant conversation."
Distracted by the gloves she asked, "Who with?"
Watching for her reaction, she said, "Mr. Stratford."
Virginia gripped the glove she was holding. "He's here?" she asked, not looking up.
Nodding towards the door, Violet said, "He's just leaving."
Virginia turned towards the door just in time to see him pass through it.
"Don't worry, he's going to be at the Summer Ball. He asked me to request that you save him a dance."
"I'm not worried," she said with studied indifference, releasing her hold on the glove in her hand. "And I have no intention of dancing with him. I don't even care that he'll be attending the ball."
"Of course you don't. I was just repeating his request," she said with a sly smile.
"Suck in your breath just a little more Miss Violet." Violet's maid Maggie pulled on the lacings of Violet's corset one more time before tying them. Violet was determined to have the smallest waist at the party.
Trying to suppress her laughter, Virginia asked, "Vi, can you even breath?"
"Sure I can, just not deeply," she replied. "Maggie can you please help me with my gown?"
It was two days later and the girls were getting ready for the Summer Ball held annually by the Harrison's, the wealthiest family in town. It was always a grand event and everyone was invited. Virginia wore a simple yet elegant gown of dark green silk with short puffed sleeves and a modestly low cut bodice. The dark green of the dress set off her porcelain complexion and matched her eyes.
As Violet's maid fastened her dress Virginia was startled to see how low cut the bodice was. "My goodness, Violet," she gasped in shock. "Practically your entire bosom is exposed! You can't wear that!"
Violet twirled about in the brilliant sapphire blue gown, trimmed with an abundance of cream colored lace. "I know, isn't it daring?" she giggled. "You could be a bit more daring yourself." She pulled the short puffed sleeves of Virginia's dress from her shoulders down to the tops of her arms. "That's much better. We're women, not chaste little girls anymore."
"You really are terrible," she chastised, with a laugh. She looked at herself in the mirror and decided that maybe she did look a little more grown up with the sleeves down.
Maggie added the final touches to Violet's elaborate hairdo while Virginia pulled on her elbow length gloves. The girls found their wraps and made their way downstairs.
Charles and Virginia's father were waiting for them in the sitting room. The two men stood as the girls came down the stairs. Charles remarked, "I say, it takes you two forever to get ready." His eyes widened as he stared at the two of them. "But upon seeing the results, it was worth the wait, although Miss Violet you might catch cold in that dress," he chided as he gallantly kissed her hand. He turned to Virginia. "And you, my darling, are a vision of loveliness," he declared as he kissed her on the cheek. He held out his elbow for Virginia while her father offered his arm to Violet. "What do you say, Mr. Templeton? Are we not the luckiest men in Liverpool, to be escorting two such lovely ladies?" His carriage was ready and waiting and the girls climbed in looking forward to a grand and wonderful evening.
There was a long line of carriages outside the Harrison's mansion when they arrived. The wait until they got to the door was frustrating. "Why can't we just hop out now? The butler at the door will tell the driver where to take the carriage. We don't need to stay in here until then." Violet was anxious to get inside. She loved balls and dancing and flirting will all the men.
"I'm sure it will only be a few more minutes Vi," Virginia said. She was nervous about the ball. Ever since Violet had mentioned that Drake was going to be there, she hated to admit it, but she was excited about the prospect of seeing him again. She felt a tingle in her belly just from thinking about him but it was soon followed by a stab of guilt. What was wrong with her, she wondered. She shouldn't be excited about seeing another man when her fiancé was sitting directly across from her. She tried to banish him from her mind but when she caught a glimpse of a tall dark haired man alighting from a carriage ahead of theirs she couldn't help but feel her heart leap. He turned to assist a woman emerging behind him and when she realized that it wasn't Drake she was angry with herself when she felt a tinge of disappointment.
A few minutes later they alighted from their carriage and entered the house. A butler escorted them to the ballroom, indicated to them where the hostess was and retreated. Both girls gazed in wonder when they saw the sumptuous decorations. The room was overflowing with flowers and along with the elaborate chandeliers, there must have been a hundred silver candelabras lighting the room. A large orchestra filled one corner. There were already quite a few couples dancing and enjoying themselves. They found their way to Mrs. Harrison.
"Mrs. Harrison, the ball looks to be another tremendous success, thank you for inviting us," Virginia said to their hostess.
"Oh yes, thank you ever so," Violet chimed in.
"You're very welcome ladies. You both look lovely. Your gown especially, Miss Adams is particularly...eye catching." Mrs. Harrison eyed Violet's dress disapprovingly and said under her breath, "What there is of it."
She turned to Virginia's father, extending her hand. "Mr. Templeton, how pleasant to see you again."
Turning to Charles, she echoed the sentiment. Charles took the older woman's hand and kissed it. "Thank you as well for the invitation. We're honored to attend."
"Thank you, and I hope you all enjoy the evening. Ladies." With that she turned to greet the next set of newcomers.
They walked around the ballroom, nodding to acquaintances, and chatting with friends. Charles and Mr. Templeton began a very earnest conversation with another man also involved in the cotton industry while the two girls continued to see who else was in attendance. Violet suddenly gripped Virginia's arm. "Ginny, look!" she said discreetly pointing across the room. "It's your Mr. Stratford. He did come. And he appears to be alone."
Virginia turned to look where Violet was pointing and there he was speaking with Mrs. Harrison. He must have just arrived. She felt a quick rush of warmth as she saw him chatting with her. His dark hair was tied back with a ribbon and he looked so handsome in his black formal suit. His perfectly formed lips were smiling , as he laughed at something Mrs. Harrison had said to him.
"Oh, Ginny, I think he's even more handsome than before. Just look at him!" Violet whispered to her.
"All men look handsome in evening dress, Vi," she replied trying to quell the tingling she felt.
She continued to stare as he dipped his dark head over the older woman's proffered hand.
"Let's go back to Father and Charles. I don't want Mr. Stratford to see us. I don't care to speak with him."
Violet cast Virginia a knowing look.
Flushing at the memory of her last encounters with him, she stiffly said, "Don't look at me like that. I would just rather resist any temptation."
As Drake stood up from kissing Mrs. Harrison's hand he caught a glimpse of Virginia as she turned and headed away from him. He quickly finished his conversation with the hostess before heading in that direction, hoping to steal a dance with the woman who had lured him to this party.
Virginia and Violet rejoined the men just as they were finishing their conversation. "Sorry, that took so long ladies," Charles apologized, not even realizing that they had been gone.
A young gentleman approached Violet and eagerly asked her to dance. She cheerfully accepted and twirled out onto the dance floor.
"I suspect that is the last we'll see of her for the evening," Virginia laughingly said. "Come on Charles, let's dance as well. You don't mind, do you, Father?
"Only if I get the next one," he replied and she and Charles twirled out onto the dance floor. Charles was a passable dancer, he knew the steps but didn't really put any life into it. Virginia wished he would hold her a little closer, show a little passion, but instead his eyes were looking everywhere but at her. "Are you looking for someone Charles?" she teased him.
Turning his gaze to her, he replied, "I was just curious to see who else was here."
The dance ended and just moments after the next one began, Violet floated by in the arms of a different gentlemen. She was giggling and batting her eyelashes.
Charles thought she was a silly girl who usually made a spectacle of herself, and said so again as she passed by.
"Oh Charles, she's just having fun. There's no harm."
"I suppose not. Oh, there's old Barrington. I really must go and say hello." He danced her back over to her father and then disappeared into the crowd to greet his old college friend.
"May I have this dance?" her father asked with exaggerated politeness.
"Certainly sir," Virginia replied, imitating her father's playful seriousness.
She enjoyed dancing with her father. He was light on his feet and he could always make her laugh. She remembered him trying to teach her to dance as a little girl. Memories of them dancing in the music room of their house, she standing on his feet as her mother looked on while playing the piano, flickered through her mind.
Drake stood on the sidelines watching Virginia dance with her father. He was once again captivated by how lovely and graceful she was. How her eyes sparkled when her father made her laugh. He also recalled how her eyes usually flashed with anger whenever he was around. He admitted that, even though he had tried, he had been unsuccessful in forgetting her. He normally would not attend an affair such as this but knowing that she would be here, he hadn't been able to stay away.
Gregory begged Virginia for a rest after two dances. "Have mercy on an old man, my dear. I'm afraid I'm not able to dance the night away as I once could. Go find Violet or Charles and enjoy yourself. I see some old friends that I can entertain myself with. Go off and have fun."
Virginia kissed him on the cheek and he ambled off to his colleagues. She glanced about for Charles but couldn't see him anywhere. She was adjusting the top of one of her gloves when a soft, deep voice in her ear made her jump. "Good evening Miss Templeton. You're looking ravishing this evening." She turned to thank the gentleman for his compliment only to find herself facing Drake Stratford. He had seen her father leave and took the opportunity to approach her.
"Thank you Mr. Stratford," she said coldly, even though she began to blush as she recalled their hour in his carriage. Drake noticed her coloring and couldn't help but smile, correctly guessing the cause of it.
The band started playing a waltz. "May I have this dance?" he asked, and before she could answer he swept her onto the dance floor.
Tightly wrapping his arm around her waist, he pulled her to him, pressing her body against his. A warm tingling began in her belly when she felt his thighs brush against hers as they moved about the floor. Even through the layers of fabric that separated them she could feel the heat of his body. His golden eyes burned into hers causing the warmth in her belly to spread, flowing through her limbs.
"Mr. Stratford, please," she pleaded breathlessly as she tried to put some space between them. The heat in her veins was causing her breath to become uneven and her thoughts disjointed and she was struggling to keep a clear head.
He laughed at her efforts and relaxed his hold a little. With the few inches of space he granted her Virginia was able to calm herself. She was able to notice how gracefully and effortlessly Drake glided around the dance floor. "You're a very good dancer, Mr. Stratford," she said stiffly
"Why thank you, Miss Templeton. How kind of you to say so."
Virginia was trying to avoid his eyes but the slight mocking tone of his comment caused her to look up. She was immediately drawn into his gaze and before she knew it the space between them was gone again. She felt like she was floating and was oblivious to everything around them as she stared into his warm hazel eyes. As she was drawn into their depths she once again felt the heat of him, warming her own blood, causing her to relax in his arms, almost melting beneath his touch. Her breathing quickened and she unconsciously bit her lip.
Another couple bumped into them, jostling her, causing her to tear her eyes away from his and the spell was broken. Suddenly acutely aware of how he was holding her, and purposefully avoiding his captivating eyes, she again attempted to move away from him. However, this time he refused to relax his hold on her.
"I saw your friend, Miss Adams, earlier. She seems to be attracting quite a bit of attention from the single gentlemen here tonight."
Unsettled by his closeness she distractedly said, "Yes, she always has more than her share of admirers."
"And where are your admirers, Miss Templeton?"
"Oh, I don't attract admirers like Violet does." She was still struggling for some space between them. "Mr. Stratford, a little distance, if you please."
Drake chuckled. "I'm afraid that would not please me at all." Lowering his voice he said into her ear, "I rather like having you this close."
She looked up into his eyes and saw the way they burned into hers. Struggling to maintain her composure she retorted, "It is quite improper for you to be holding me this close."
"I don't care," he replied. "You're far too delightful to hold at a distance." With that he held her even tighter as they continued to twirl about the floor.
The waltz ended, and she firmly pushed herself out of Drake's embrace. "Thank you for the dance Mr. Stratford," she said shakily. "Good evening." She turned to walk away but he swiftly took her hand and bowed over it.
Looking up at her he said seductively, "The pleasure was all mine." He straightened without taking his eyes off of hers. "May I have the pleasure of another dance later this evening?"
Angered at how quickly he was able to unsettle her she snatched her hand back and said hotly, "With the behavior you have displayed this evening, you expect me to accept another dance from you? Well, you are sadly mistaken." Virginia turned on her heel and stalked away.
Drake chuckled to himself as he wandered outside to enjoy a cigar in the cooler air. His dance with Virginia had warmed him more than he had expected.
Fuming at his arrogance, she got herself a glass of punch, found a chair and sat down. She tried to calm her breathing but found that just recalling the feeling of his hard body pressed against hers set her pulse racing. Shaking her head, she tried to rid herself of the feelings. She looked about for Charles and saw him chatting with Mr. Williams and his wife Meredith. Mr. Williams was very wealthy and quite a bit older than his young and pretty wife.
Virginia decided to finish her punch before joining them. Scanning the dance floor, she looked about for Violet again and saw her dancing with yet another gentleman.
The crowd had shifted and she could no longer see Charles. She walked over to where he had been standing but he was no longer there. She searched the crowd but he was nowhere to be seen.
She finally spotted him just as he was slipping through one of the doors that led to the gardens. She quickly crossed the room and followed him out thinking to join him for a breath of fresh air. She spied him just as he disappeared behind a hedge. Curious as to where he was going, she followed, but as she neared she heard whispering and a feminine giggle. She crept closer and peered around the edge of the bushes. She couldn't believe her eyes. Charles and Meredith Williams together, kissing, passionately. Charles never kissed her like that, or held her like that. Astonished, Virginia watched as Charles' hands roamed over Meredith's body, coming to rest on her breasts.
"Oh Charles, must you marry her? Can't I keep you all for myself?" Meredith whispered to Charles as he was kissing her throat.
"Yes my darling, I have to. We must keep up appearances. If your husband found out about us, it would ruin you," he replied, his kisses trailing down to her breasts.
"I would gladly suffer ruin if it meant I could be with you always."
"You know I love you, my dearest, but things are best the way they are." Charles gently tugged on the bodice of her gown, revealing a rosy nipple. Virginia felt ill as she saw him take it in his mouth.
"Oh Charles, I love you so," Meredith sighed, as she ran her fingers through his hair and held his head to her.
Virginia quietly stepped away and stumbled back to the terrace, where she found a bench in the shadows. She collapsed onto it and began to sob quietly. Someone handed her a handkerchief and she gratefully accepted it, but her gratitude turned to dismay when she looked up and saw that it was Drake who was standing over her.
"Why Miss Templeton, what is the matter? Why all the tears?" he inquired as he sat beside her.
Still furious over their last encounter, he was the last person she wanted to see. She stood to leave, but was trembling so much that she sank back to the bench.. "Thank you for the handkerchief but could you please just leave me alone?" she sobbed.
At that moment she saw Charles walking back to the party followed at a discreet distance by Meredith who was smoothing her dress. Drake saw the stricken look on her face as she stared at them. He had been enjoying his cigar earlier and had seen Meredith come out into the garden and disappear behind the hedge with Charles following her. He had also seen Virginia's discovery of them and had witnessed her shocked reaction. Gently he asked, "Are you in love with him? Is he the reason for your tears?"