Shortly, they arrived at the Great Hall of Essex, where the dinner party would hold. There was a stout man by the entrance of the enormous hall. He had a bushy moustache and a black hat on. His duty was to announce all the guests that had arrived.
“Keep your head tall and your shoulders high. Everyone is going to be amazed.” Ariana advised Lucy as they strolled majestically into the hall.
Lucy giggled, “Why would anyone be amazed?”
Ariana patted her shoulder, “You are the Baron’s only sister. And you are quintessential tonight.”
The Duke of Wandsworth arrived shortly after the two friends stepped in. He had come to the dinner party with his cousin, Beauregard.
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Aldrich still relished in his win from the night before. Not that he was in need of Elan’s inheritance, because he knew that the Baron had no money to spare; he was glad that he had proved himself as an expert gamer.
“What are you smiling about?” Beauregard stole a glance at his cousin’s face.
“You should learn to mind your own business.” Aldrich chuckled. He could never let anyone know of his visits to the gaming house. Unknown to him, his cousin had bribed the carriage man and he knew exactly what took place at Morglay’s Street at each visit of the Duke.
The men stepped out of the carriage and were announced by the butler for the night. There was a different reaction when the Duke of Wandsworth was announced. All the young ladies turned their attention on him; they swooned and fawned. He was an attractive and generous man. He couldn’t blame them for giving him so much attention.
Beauregard felt out of place. He lurked in his cousin’s shadow, and this was what he hated most. Why did everyone stare at the Duke and not him? What was so special about Aldrich that all the women wanted his attention?
It wasn’t long before the other noble men took notice of the Duke, and Aldrich had to move away from his cousin.
“Enjoy your time Beau; I am sure you can find a pretty woman for yourself as you wished me.” Aldrich winked, and joined some young noblemen like him, at the corner of the hall. He was yet to see the host of the dinner party. He knew Elan was ashamed of his loss. He hadn’t dreamt that Aldrich would beat him. Well, the Baron’s secret of losing was safe. It wasn’t as if what they did was legitimate for men of their standing.
Aldrich lost himself in the crowd and began to socialize with the men he’d met. Wine flowed like a fountain; unstopping. There were many large tables, and food was served on them. It was a banquet!
“I never knew Elan Wesley had it in him.” One of the Noble men spoke. He was an Earl whose father had left behind a huge fortune. His own weakness was philandering.
“The Baron could be many things, but he knows how to organize a fine party.” Another chipped in.
“And compose profound verses,” Aldrich added. The men laughed and touched the tip of their glasses together.
Just in time, the Baron showed up. The first group he noticed was that of the Duke and the young earls. The Duke and the others were surprised to see him.
“We thought you had developed stage fever.” Aldrich teased.
“You wish,” Elan grinned and snapped his fingers. A server rushed towards the group with a tray. Elan swiftly fetched a glass of wine and joined them.
Aldrich was asked to make a toast. It came as a surprise to him.
“To future banquets and profound verses!”
“To banquets and verses!” The men chorused.
When all food and wine was served and all the guests had eaten to their fill, the show began. It was opened by a short play, featuring the finest dancers and actors from the heart of the country. It was a tale of betrayal, but told in a comedic style; which got everyone amused.
Aldrich sat on a table alone, but he was later joined by a lady.
“May I join you sir?” She asked in a polite voice.
From the way she looked at him, she had not seen him before. And he hadn’t seen her either. But there was a glint of familiarity in her golden eyes. He felt like he had known her all his life.
“You are free Milady.” Aldrich was immediately distracted by her beauty. Her orbs were like moon stones; sparkling and bright. She had a sharp and straight nose; her lips were full and plump. He wondered what kissing her would feel like. To his surprise, Aldrich realized that he had not been with a woman for two years now. His father’s death had changed him in many ways.
He adored the jewel on her neck. It befitted nobility, not that he cared of her roots. She carried herself with grace and elegance. Aldrich had interest in her; but this was neither the place nor time. He knew he would never be the same, after witnessing such an angelic sight. His heart raced. Blood rippled in his veins. His ears thumped. The belle was a grand distraction.
The play was soon over, and the second act was a singer. Her powerful voice penetrated all the crevices of the grand hall. Her song was of love; of hatred; of weakness; of strength; of wealth; of riches; of death. It had a lulling effect on her listeners; to some it made them very sad, for she sang of the truth and misery in the life of man. Her words spoke of vanity and the meaningless of life.
After the second act, came the recitations of epic poems and dirges. At this point, Aldrich had lost interest in the show. He felt bored. His mind was occupied with thoughts of the lady sitting across his table. He knew the rules and etiquettes of the society; he couldn’t engage her in a proper conversation here. They will need a chaperone. But there wasn’t any around here.
He noticed that the flame in her eyes had gone extinct. Her eyes were lost and distant.
“You do not enjoy the recitations?” Aldrich’s fingers drummed against the table.
“I do,” she swallowed.
She lied. He noticed the redness of her cheeks.
“You lie. You do not enjoy the recitations. You are not alone.”
Her eyes caught fire again, “why don’t you enjoy them?”
“Tell me your name and I will answer.”
The lady smiled and peeled her gaze away from him. She fixed it on the stage and pretended to enjoy what was going on. But he knew better. Soon, she would be weary of her pretence.
After what felt like eternity, she spoke in a hushed tone.
“Lucy Wesley of Ox-Dale; what is your own name?” She waited for a response.
It was his turn, but Aldrich would use this opportunity to make his imagination come alive.
“Meet me outside by the tall tree to the east of the hall. I shall tell you my name then.”
At once, he rose to his feet and strolled out of the hall. It didn’t take long, before the lady joined him. No one in the hall suspected a thing; except the haunting eyes of the Duke’s cousin, that had been watching at the table, all night long.
The light in the tree area was dim, but the moonlight still shed her brightness upon the tree. Aldrich was the first to reach. He never knew that Lucy was trailing behind, until he heard her sharp breathing. When he turned around, he noticed that she was about to trip on a piece of rock.
In one swift move, he caught her in his arms. In that moment, all was lost and time froze. Eyes mated with eyes; hearts danced to the rhythm of expectation and anxiety. Aldrich was lost in her eyes. She had enchanted him. He would never be the same.
“I am sorry,” he whispered. His breath was hot against her face.
She smiled and was about to say something, when his mouth brushed against her lips. His hot mouth conquered her soft lips. At first, she resisted as she was in shock, but the sweetness of his tongue, dancing inside the walls of her mouth, broke every resistance. In that moment, Lucy surrendered herself to his desire and to the passion that pumped in her veins.
To be continued…