The Blind Duchess and Her Rakish Duke – Preview

A Historical Regency Romance Novel

About the book

“I simply do not have any sense when it comes to you..”

 

Lady Bridget has given up on finding love. Ever since the tragic fire that cost her her eyesight, her prospects have changed drastically, and she is certain she will remain alone. Now, she pours everything she has into supporting her younger sister in her first season.

 

Joseph always keeps his promises. And his most important one was to his father: he would never father a child, his father’s legacy would die with him. And he’s been living his life as a rake ever since. Until he meets Lady Bridget, the sister of an old friend of his. And suddenly, his heart threatens to get the best of him..

 

While their Mamas try to match Joseph with Bridget’s sister, a passion neither of them expected threatens to consume them. But what they don’t know is someone has set out a trap for them. And they are falling right into it..

Chapter One

Just thinking of attending her first ball filled Lady Bridget Beaumont, the daughter of the Marquess of Fernside, with dread. But somehow, the more Bridget thought about it, the less dreadful the idea became, and instead, it started to transform into something thrilling.

“You absolutely must come, Bridget,” her younger sister Sarah urged, her voice soft and soothing, but Bridget could hear the note of pleading underneath. “I need my sister there.”

Of the two sisters, Bridget was the lighter one with honey-blonde hair smooth as silk, usually fashioned into a chic chignon which revealed her alabaster toned complexion. Sarah, only a single year younger than her sister, was the one with chocolate brown hair and eyes of the same deep, brown shade. Their eyes, although of strikingly different colors, blue and brown, were equally stunning. Unforgettable, even. But one main difference between them was that Sarah could easily see her reflection in the mirror. She could see the beauty of the world around her and pinpoint everything with just her sense of vision while her sister did not have that luxury. Still, although she was blind, Bridget’s sky-blue eyes and the milky hue that fell over them could not conceal the innate perseverance which adorned this lady.

“You are not thinking this through, dear Sarah,” Bridget replied as she sat on the chaise lounge with her back straight and her hands resting in her lap. “Being at a ball means conversing with people and, of course, entertaining suitors. How are you suppose to go about that while tending to me?”

The idea of finding herself alone without a guide in a place she had never been before and surrounded by a large number of people filled Bridget with more dread. However, what really mortified her was the fact that she might, at any moment, become a burden to those she loved the most.

Coming out was the biggest event of every young lady’s life: her stepping into the world of adults and the announcement of her availability as a future bride. Bridget never came out to society. Both her father and brother urged her to do so, but she would not hear it. Instead, she managed to convince them that her coming out was a futile affair, for no one would wish to court her anyway. Repeatedly, her family tried to assure her that would not be the case, but Bridget was reasonable enough to know better. She did not have her head up in the clouds. Perhaps she did before the accident, but now, she was a different person, a person who knew where her place in society was. It was much less painful to accept reality than to have false hope and have it break her heart.

“But we shall all be there,” Sarah reminded her gently.

Bridget could hear that her sister had stood up from the armchair and started to pace about the room. As a blind person, Bridget’s hearing was acute, especially in an old house such as their own where each of the floorboards made a sound. Those with eyes paid little heed to such things, but Bridget’s dark world relied on sound to make sense of it.

“Mama and Papa will help you acquaint yourself with the ballroom in my absence. You know they will not leave your side unless you want them to, and Oliver will be there as well.”

Yes, Oliver. The other sibling who was even more protective of Bridget, and who would sacrifice his own good time in favor of taking care of his blind sister. Oliver Beaumont, the Viscount of Hatcher, was five and twenty years of age, and he was expected to find a lady from a good family and marry her. He was not expected to be by his blind sister’s side at a time when he should be paying attention to ladies attending the ball.

If anyone were to be Bridget’s eyes, that would be Sarah. Bridget particularly enjoyed their strolls down Market Street, when she could smell the fresh bread being baked, but she could not see it. The two sisters would stop in front of the bakery window, and Sarah would describe everything she could see, down to the minutest detail. Then, with her mind’s eye, Bridget could recreate the image for herself, only hers was much more potent, amplified by the overpowering smells.

Sarah was her eyes, and during a ball where she was to speak to potential suitors, that was the last thing Bridget wished for her sister to be. Sarah needed to use her eyes to see for herself, not for her blind sister.

“You both should have fun and not constantly worry about me.” Bridget could not be convinced although she appreciated her sister’s efforts. “I shall remain home, like before, and have Henrietta read to me.”

She was referring to her lady’s maid, who had always been of much help on occasions when the rest of the family had gone off to balls and other events. Not wishing to be a burden on anyone, especially not her family, Bridget had managed to become accustomed to a life in the darkness. She found out how to see with her ears, with her nose, and, most importantly, with her hands.

“Oh, dearest Bridget, have you not remained home long enough?” Sarah’s voice finally managed to pierce through the veil of Bridget’s refusal.

Bridget felt a sudden discontentment. If asked whether there was something wrong, she could not reply affirmatively, for there was honestly nothing wrong. Then again, she felt like there was nothing quite right. Life had become lackluster somehow as if every day were the same.

She knew she had much to be grateful for, mostly her family who she could rely on no matter what. But that was inside this grand old house while outside people went about experiencing romance and adventure. The thought of her never experiencing those things made her sigh heavily.

“You cannot tell me that you enjoy sitting home alone,” Sarah continued, seeing that Bridget was lost in thought. Her voice was now laden with worry although Bridget didn’t think that Sarah had any reason to be worried about her.

“I have a non-existent social life,” Bridget reminded her sister with the truth of those words pricking her ever so softly, like the thorn on a rose she would bend down to smell during a walk in a garden. “It suits me this way. Why change anything now?”

Why change anything now indeed? She had finally come to terms with never marrying, never becoming someone’s wife, never becoming a duchess, and never holding a babe in her arms. Those truths hurt like a knife through the heart, but Bridget knew that false hope would hurt more.

“Because people wish to see you,” Sarah exclaimed excitedly. “Not only us, your family, but you have invitations to balls which you yourself keep refusing.”

“I do not wish to go out in public, only to be reminded how cruel and tactless people can be.”

Bridget had more than enough brushes with people who believed they were entitled to rude comments and even more rude questions regarding her eyesight. Some of them were well-meaning, she had to admit that. They were simply driven by curiosity about her condition, but that that still didn’t mean that she enjoyed those conversations, or the way people would talk to her, not as if she were blind, but as if she were a child. These conversations and the resulting feelings were part of the reason why she had refused her own coming out. She wanted to save herself the heartache in more ways than one.

“We shall be there with you, every step of the way,” Sarah assured her. “As soon as you feel overwhelmed, we shall be there to whisk you away, so you don’t need to endure such bothersome people.”

Bridget could hear her sister walk up to the chaise lounge, her carefully measured footsteps making very little sound which would immediately get absorbed in the Axminster carpet. Gently, Sarah took Bridget’s hand as she sat down beside her. Bridget could feel all the love that flowed from her sister’s warm touch. There, she could find all the assurance she needed to face the world again. Perhaps Sarah was right. Bridget had indeed grown bored of her life inside these walls. There was a big world out there. One needed to explore it, even when one could not see it with one’s eyes. After all, there were many ways of seeing something.

“Oh, I’m still not certain…” Bridget hesitated. The house was safety, comfort. It meant that here, she could tend to herself easily. If she agreed to go, she would be in a completely new place. She would be in need of a guiding hand at all times, dependent on someone throughout the entire night. That was the part she disliked.

“There is nothing to be uncertain about,” Sarah chirped, jumping up and pulling Bridget up with her. “We shall inform Mama immediately that you are to join us. This news will delight everyone!”

Bridget smiled. In moments like this, she would give everything to see her sister smile again. Instead, she had to be content with merely touching her sister’s face with the palm of her hand and feeling the gentle motions of her jaw and cheek, but even that was enough to fill Bridget’s heart with joy and remind her how fortunate she was to be surrounded by loving family.

“Oh, and we must choose a dress for you!” Sarah squealed in delight, almost a like a kitten. Bridget chuckled softly at the sound.

“I’m afraid I have no new dresses,” Bridget observed, “but I suppose we shall find something appropriate in my wardrobe.”

“Appropriate is not god enough. No, no,” Sarah corrected tenderly. “My two newest dresses have arrived just this morning, and I shall be happy to give you one of them to wear tonight, whichever one you’d like.”

“Oh, sweet Sarah, that is too much. I can’t ask that of you.”

“You can, and you will,” Sarah insisted. “Now, follow me. There is not a moment to lose!”

With those words, Sarah flew out of the room, leaving Bridget alone, but Bridget was not the least bit concerned about navigating her way around Fernside Manor. The first days of her blindness were spent in bumping the edges of tables, bumping into doors and walls, and turning before it was time to turn. Now, she had gotten used to the silent whispers of the house. She could hear where a draft was coming from. She could recognize which window was open before she even got close to it. The house had become her friend, her ally, keeping her safe and sound. She wondered how she would manage in a new place.

“Bridget! Are you coming?” Sarah shouted from outside in the corridor which echoed with the enthusiasm in her voice.

“Coming!” Bridget smiled.

Quickly, fear was overcome by the thrill of finally embarking on an adventure. Indeed, it was only a ball. To many, it was an ordinary affair, but to Bridget, whose heart felt as if it were about to burst out of her chest, this was the beginning of something new, something unexperienced, and something that promised perhaps a life she could never have imagined for herself before. 

Chapter Two

The Duke of Sculthorpe felt like he was wearing a noose instead of a cravat. It was too constricting, too tight, and it was choking him.

He knew it was all in his mind, though. As he watched the gathering of lords and ladies, Joseph wished he had whisky. He felt empty, devoid of the drink that he usually had on a night like this where he indulged in a vice that was of particular liking to him. Joseph liked to watch women, especially beautiful women. That in itself was no crime, and it made such occasions as attending balls less tiresome.

He had lost his mother somewhere in the crowd, but he knew that blessing would not last long. He had promised her exactly three hours. Three hours of torture, listening to ambitious mothers endeavoring to lure him into courtship of their daughters. The thought disgusted him more than anything else he could imagine. Marriage was not for him. He would rather die than have an heir that would prolong his despicable line. His father’s bloodline would end with him.

“Darling, you do remember Lady Allencourt and her daughter, Olivia?”

Joseph was brought back to the present moment with his hand still devoid of any hard liquor, only to see the overly zealous face of his mother, standing next to the aforementioned Lady Allencourt. The woman smiled politely at him, but it was her daughter, Olivia, who could not take her eyes off of him.

Joseph knew that he had such effect on women. The rotter that he was, he did not refrain from using it to his advantage when the situation called for it. He did not fail to notice how Olivia’s lips parted the moment he took her hand into his own and planted a reverent kiss on it as demanded of him by societal rules.

She stared at his broad shoulders, neatly packaged into a perfectly fitting suit. Her eyes darted down to his long legs, drinking in his tall, almost provocative elegance. His arm moved with ease as he released her hand from his. A slightly pained affectation appeared on her face as if she immediately regretted the lack of their physical contact.

“Ladies,” he greeted them both, gracing them with one of his most charming smiles, “it is such a pleasure to see you again. You both look ravishing, I must say.”

Olivia’s cheeks immediately blushed the most crimson of reds. Joseph smiled with thoughtless grace, always aware of the effect he had on young ladies, especially the ones as inexperienced as young Olivia. She seemed thrilled to be there, unlike him. And also, unlike him, she was more than eager to do her mother’s bidding which appeared to be charming him with her beauty but not so much her conversational skills.

He had yet to endure the torture of being here and actually talking to the women his mother would bring before him. Saying it was torture was an understatement, but he promised. Next time, he would be careful what promises he gave.

“Always the charmer,” Lady Allencourt giggled in an annoying note, and Joseph chose to ignore the sound. Somewhere behind her, he noticed the refreshments table. He would give Lady Allencourt the chance to speak for exactly three minutes after which he would excuse himself and get a much-needed drink. He had not been here half an hour, and already, he’d had enough.

The conversation steered in the direction of marriage as it always did. That was what made these events even more loathsome. These balls were not organized for the purposes a ball should be organized: to enjoy oneself and have fun. No. They were organized so that young ladies could blush and giggle while the gentlemen took their pick of the ones that blushed the sweetest or the ones that had the most fertile looking hips. Speaking of which, Olivia was not in the lead, but, fortunately for her, he was not on the market for a wife, nor would he ever be. His mother just hadn’t accepted it yet.

“… plays the piano wonderfully… speaks French like a true Frenchwoman… embroidery… knitting… horseback riding…”

Joseph tried not to listen to Lady Allencourt list all the splendid traits her wonderful daughter seemed to be in possession of. What none of the three women seemed to realize was that those words fell on barren soil, one where they would give no fruit.  

“… don’t you think so, My Lord?”

Joseph looked at Lady Allencourt then at his mother. Usually, she did not have all those lines on her forehead. She would hide them well with soft powder. But now, not even the powder helped. She was frustrated, and he knew that he was the cause of it.

“I apologize, Lady Allencourt,” he offered her his most dashing smile, which no woman ever fell immune to. “I seem to be rather rude this evening by not being a very good audience, and I beg you to forgive me.”

When he glanced at Olivia, he was certain that all was already forgiven. With her mother commencing to speak again, Joseph was on the verge of asking Olivia to dance, just so he wouldn’t need to listen to her mother’s overly long monologues, but he eventually opted against it. If he did that, he was certain that Olivia would follow him like a loyal puppy all evening, and he would not be able to get rid of her. The last thing he wanted was to show interest in anyone here. He had come merely as a favor to his mother. Fortunately, the first hour would expire soon. Only two more would be left before he was allowed to leave this place.

“Do you hunt?” he suddenly heard Lady Allencourt inquire.

“I’m afraid, I do not,” he admitted. “I see nothing of excitement in running after a creature that has no manner of defending itself against a double-barreled shotgun or a pistol, don’t you think?”

Obviously, he was not expected to say that. His mother shot him a helpless glance. “Lady Allencourt was just telling us about her husband’s passion for hunting, and that he was the reason Olivia here is so good at horseback riding.”

“Oh,” Joseph stuttered. That was rather awkward. At least he did not refer to it as a coward’s sport.

But what did his mother expect when she dragged him here against his own will? She should not have expected him to actually take part in any of these ridiculous social customs and talks. He had already explained it to her numerous times. He was simply not the marrying kind. The sooner she accepted that, the better.

After this hunting fiasco, Joseph hoped that his mother would allow him a moment of peace until he got some more good cheer in liquid form.

“If you will excuse me, Ladies,” he said, lifting his index finger and pointing at the refreshments table right behind them. “I think I need a drink.”

He could see his mother’s lips part open, but he did not wait long enough to hear what words would flow out of them. He probably wouldn’t like hearing them anyway.

“I… I shall be right back,” he added for good measure, just to soothe a potentially guilty conscience.

He was already walking backwards as he parted with them, vowing that he would find the terrace and spend the rest of the night there. That might be the only place where he would not be disturbed by anyone, especially his mother. He knew that she meant well, but sometimes, that wellness was too overwhelming.

In his hurry to get away from them, he turned way too hastily and while still in motion. He was barely aware of his surroundings, his main purpose being to grab a drink and disappear from plain sight.

Someone right next to him shouted loudly, “Bridget, watch out!”

Seconds later, he bumped into a woman who seemed to be going straight at him as if she barely noticed him there. The moment their bodies touched, hers jerked away from him as suddenly as they stumbled onto each other. She blinked heavily, those blue eyes staring not at him but somewhere behind him, signaling that it was his fault this happened. Already annoyed, he frowned.  

“Miss. Bridget, if you would kindly watch where you are going…”

Bridget’s expression was the one of a flustered and irritated governess who was about to scold a child that had done something wrong. The stern lines on her face tightened, but that did not retract from her ethereal beauty. In fact, it only made it more striking.

But her cold, determined response took him off guard, leaving him stunned.

“It is Lady Bridget, if you do not mind,” she corrected him, once again in the manner of a governess, “and I am afraid that I cannot watch where I am going. You see, I am blind.” 

Chapter Three

“Blind?”

The man’s repeated word echoed, a painful reminder of the difference between her and every other person at this ball.

“I apologize, Miss… I mean, Lady Bridget,” he tried to excuse himself while Bridget faced him, her ears focusing on the distinctive notes in his voice which revealed that he was perplexed, surprised, and struggling to find the right words. Bridget had to admit that she had fun listening to him squirm like a mouse under the paw of a hungry cat. “I should have known that–”

“Should have known what?” she wondered, even more amused at this point. “That you shall bump into a blind lady at the ball? That, Sir, would make you psychic. Are you?”

“Psychic?” he repeated again, utterly dazed by her questioning. “Uhm, no. No, I’m not.”

“What a pity,” she told him, “because I am— psychic, you see. I knew this night would be a complete disaster, and I still came.”

“That is actually how I feel as well,” she heard him say, finally using words that flowed from his lips confidently. He had regained his senses. Too bad. She liked hearing him all flustered and awkward. For once, she was not the one under the strain of those emotions, but actually someone else was.

“Bridget!” She heard Sarah’s hurried voice, and her sister’s breathing slightly intensified. She must have been running to her. “Is everything all right?”

Bridget wondered if Sarah had noticed the man with a voice that made her think of a tall, dark and handsome stranger, the type she remembered from ages ago. Now, she could only judge looks by the color of a person’s voice which in this man’s case was the color of the forest at midnight, bathed in moonlight with the distant sound of owls hooting somewhere in the distance. There was something about him that made her want to speak to him more if for nothing else than to keep herself amused, but Sarah was here now, and the situation had changed.   

“Yes, everything is quite all right, dear Sarah,” Bridget smiled. “It would appear that absent-mindedness is an equal handicap as blindness, is it not, Mister…?” But she was not able to finish her question, and she hoped the mysterious man still standing opposite her would finish it for her. His name came from a most surprising source, instead.

“Joseph!” Oliver shouted the man’s name with such familiarity that it immediately made Bridget feel a little bad for poking him verbally so much.

“Oliver,” Joseph replied equally cordially.

Bridget tried to listen to the sounds around her, but that was impossible inside a grand ballroom where all she could hear was the orchestra music unless someone was speaking very close to her. As for the smells, they were overpowering, all heavy perfumes and spiced food. All these sensations were unknown and difficult to process, especially when she suddenly turned and couldn’t feel Sarah’s hand on her elbow. She panicked. She headed straight and ended up stumbling onto the man she now knew as Joseph.

“I see you’ve met my sisters already,” Oliver continued proudly.

“Yes,” Joseph’s voice sounded as if he were smiling, “I have had the pleasure of meeting Lady Bridget,” he noted, “but not your other sister.”

“Lord Joseph Turner, the Duke of Sculthorpe, may I introduce my sisters Lady Bridget and Lady Sarah Beaumont.” Oliver, always the gentleman, did not leave Bridget out when introducing Sarah to a man who was obviously his friend. It only occurred to Bridget then that she had heard Oliver mention Lord Turner in passing, but she never paid any attention to that name. Now she wished she had.

“It is lovely to make your acquaintance, Ladies,” Joseph said as the music behind them died down for a moment. She could smell Joseph’s cologne get stronger which could only mean that he had gotten closer to her, then he became flustered again. “Oh, I’m dreadfully sorry, Lady Bridget… I keep forgetting…”

Bridget could tell exactly where Sarah was standing, which was to her right, so she turned in that direction. “What happened, Sarah?”

“The Duke kissed my hand while bowing and extended his hand to you, waiting to kiss yours. It took him a few moments to remember that you could not see him,” Sarah explained.

“I swear, I am usually not this inelegant, Ladies,” Joseph endeavored to explain. There it was, that awkwardness that made him sound so endearing and less of a pompous gentleman.

Bridget could not pass up the opportunity to tease him some more. “Not to worry, Your Grace. You must not think me so fragile to be offended by your disastrous manners,” she told him with a chuckle, and both Sarah and Oliver immediately joined in.

“I suppose I did have that coming,” Joseph replied, and from the way he pronounced certain letters, she could tell he was smiling.

“You did not see me coming, and you also did not see this coming,” she tsked. “What do you use your eyes for, I wonder, if not for seeing.”

“You never told me your sister had such a sharp wit, Oliver,” Joseph chuckled aloud this time. It was a sound Bridget repeated inside her mind over and over again without ever growing tired of it. “If you did, I would have come better prepared.”

“Believe me,” Oliver teased, “we’ve known her all our lives, and we still feel inadequate sometimes.”

“All right, that is enough fun at my expense now.” Bridget pretended to be annoyed, but in fact she was far from it.

Despite his initial comment during their first encounter, she found she liked Joseph’s company. This evening was turning out to be the exact opposite of a disaster. The ballroom was alive with music and chatter, and there she was, surrounded by loved ones who made this experience more comfortable. Finally, the mysterious stranger was also present and accounted for, and she blamed him for the flutter of butterflies running up and down her back.

“Our parents are here,” Oliver suddenly added, addressing Joseph. “They would be delighted to see you.”

“Lead the way,” Joseph replied.

As if on cue, Sarah’s fingers quickly curled around Bridget’s elbow, gently guiding her back towards the table where their family was seated. Bridget moved slowly but with proper poise and balance. She had practiced too long and too hard not to be able to move gracefully. Her feet pressed heavily against the ballroom floor when she suddenly looked down as if her eyes were once again bestowed with the gift of sight.

“How did they chalk the floor, Sarah?” she wondered.

She had never seen it done but had only heard of the wonderful chalk-figures that were alive for the evening, only to be danced away during the ball, never to be seen again. She knew that the real reason behind them was to hide an old, possibly worn-out floor which might stand in stark contrast to an elegantly decorated and illuminated ballroom. There was probably a grand chandelier hanging right above them all, maybe girandoles as well. On occasions such as this one, Bridget would give anything to be able to catch a glimpse of this marvelous splendor, but knowing that could never be so, she was content to imagine it through the words of her sister.

“There are a lot of floral designs,” Sarah started to describe what she was seeing, “and in the middle, there are mythological creatures as if they’re all frozen in time in the middle of some magical forest.”

“Oh, that sounds lovely,” Bridget gushed as she was led back to the table, feeling the slightly unpleasant nudge of several people as she passed by.

“Yes, I see a mermaid combing her long flowing hair. There are naked nymphs around her; their hair is hiding their nudity. There is a centaur hiding behind a tree, and something seems to be rising out of the lake by the mermaid’s side.”

Bridget wished that her own feet would have the privilege of erasing at least one of those characters, but she suspected that everyone present knew of her blindness, and she knew that no one would dare ask a blind lady to dance. She tried to remind herself why she was at the ball in the first place. It was not a selfish reason that brought her here. On the contrary, her sister needed her company, and Bridget would always be there for her little sister, no matter what.  

Suddenly, she felt someone’s weight on her left foot. She gasped loudly when Sarah pulled her closer to her.

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” an unknown voice spoke.

“It is quite all right,” Bridget nodded then gestured at Sarah to keep walking back. She didn’t like to be surrounded by so many unknowns. It made her feel apprehensive, and she clutched at her sister for courage and protection.

Finally, they seemed to arrive at their destination, and Bridget could hear that Joseph had already started what appeared to be a pleasant conversation with both of her parents.

“… I told him that it could not be done in such a manner, but he would not have it.” Joseph’s voice dominated the conversation, and from a few mhms and ahas, Bridget was certain that both her parents were listening intently. “He ended up publishing the story, but it was a fiasco.”

“I do remember that publication,” Bridget’s mother, Lady Catherine Beaumont, the Marchioness of Fernside, acknowledged in her youthful sounding tone.

In Bridget’s mind, her mother’s voice hadn’t changed in the last ten years. Often, she would approach her mother and lovingly press the tips of her fingers on her mother’s face. Every time she did this, she noticed a few more lines, but the soft plumpness of her mother’s lips was still there, the long eyelashes, the thick eyebrows and the luscious hair. A few lines imposed upon her mother by time could never blemish the beauty Catherine Beaumont once possessed and continued to possess.

“In retaliation, he named the villain after you, did he not?” It was time for Nicholas Beaumont, the Marquess of Fernside, to make a comment.

“Yes,” Joseph confirmed. “That is what I get for trying to help.”

A loud bout of laughter followed, and Bridget wondered what he looked like when he laughed. Were his lips full or thin? Were his teeth even, or was there an endearing, barely noticeable crookedness to them? Was he tall or short? What was the structure of his cheekbones like or his jawbones? She wondered all those things which she would have had the answer to so easily if only she could see.

“Are you having fun, my darling?” Bridget heard her father ask, but she wasn’t certain if he was asking her or Sarah, for they were both darlings to him.

“Bridget…” Sarah whispered, indicating that the question was indeed meant for her.

“Yes, Father,” she replied with the only words that came to mind, the only words that would not make her family feel bad. If she said anything else, they would feel guilty for not paying more attention to her, and they would endear to rectify that. This would steal even more precious moments away from them and make the time all about her. That was the last thing she wanted. “Although I have been stepped on far more often than I hoped I would be,” Bridget continued, and she chuckled a little nervously, hoping no one would notice her nerves.

“I fear that I am to blame for that,” Joseph intervened, “and to make up for my clumsiness, perhaps you would allow me to take you to the ballroom floor and show you that I can be much less inelegant when I move.”

Bridget’s mind did not seem to register the true meaning behind his words at first.  Only when Sarah’s fingers pinched her ever so gently by the elbow skin did she float down from the height of her thoughts.

“A dance?” she asked as if trying to convince herself that she truly heard him offer, and that she did not just imagine it.

“Yes,” Joseph confirmed. “Would you do me the honor?”

Before she could say anything else, she felt Sarah guide her hand towards Joseph’s. Touching him felt like touching soft spring grass at noon. It provided comfort, warmth, delight, and joy. Despite all this awkwardness, she knew she would not refuse him.

 

One dance. Just one dance. What harm could it do?

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