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Learning to Waltz

Author(s): Kerryn Reid

One dance in the darkness, two hearts unfolding, a spark of unbidden desire.

Deborah Moore has learned her lessons well–feel nothing, reveal less, and trust no one. Now widowed with a child of her own, she leads a lonely, cloistered existence, counting her farthings and thinking she is safe. When five-year-old Julian is lost one bitter December day, she discovers how tenuous that safety is.

Evan Haverfield has lived thirty carefree years, hunting, laughing, and dancing among London’s high society. His biggest problem has been finding excuses not to marry. But his life changes when he finds Julian Moore half-frozen under a hedge and carries him home to his mother. The young widow hides behind a mask, hard and reserved, but Evan sees glimpses of another woman, wistful, intelligent, and passionate. She’s vulnerable, desirable—and completely unsuitable for the heir to Northridge.

Alone in the earliest hours of a new year, Evan teaches Deborah to waltz. Can he teach her joy and laughter? Will love sweep away the shadows of her past and reveal the luminous woman she could be?

Excerpt


The mirror looked back at Deborah, slightly warped and gothic in the flickering light from the candelabra. She was reasonably pleased with what she had achieved. Her old silk ball gown was a brighter color than she would choose now, closer to peach than amber. But it fit her quite well though it was a bit loose across the bosom; she had been swollen with milk still when it was made. And like all but her mourning clothes, which were more recent, it was hopelessly out of style. Why she had even kept it was a mystery, except that it was the only silk she owned.
Like some schoolroom chit playing dress-up with her older sister’s wardrobe, she had readied herself for a ball she had no intention of attending. After putting Julian to bed, she had bathed, perfuming the water with lemon and cloves. Then she had donned her shift and this frippery bit of silk, and sat down at the dressing table to do something with her hair.
The possibilities were limited with only her two hands to tweak and roll and fasten it all in place, but it had come out well enough, tied up high on the back of her head and gathered into a loose knot, with a couple of locks allowed to fall to her shoulders. Too youthful a style for her now, however—people would think she was on the catch for a husband.
She owned no silk stockings or formal gloves. She clipped on her ivory earrings and fastened her cameo around her neck—it felt unfamiliar against her bare skin above this low neckline. And she was ready.
For what? She was truly a fool. However presentable she might seem here by herself in the dim light of her bedchamber, she would hardly pass muster at a public ball. To think she might dance without shame alongside Lady Blythe or Evan’s sister, the countess, was pure presumption.
To think she might dance with Evan himself—he would certainly insist upon it… No, that was not a subject she wished to contemplate. Unlike that schoolroom chit trying on her sister’s clothes, Deborah’s future held no promise of a society presentation, no gleam of elegance or glamor or excitement. With some luck she might keep herself off the charity rolls, might even, with strict economy, manage some sort of tutoring for Julian. His intelligence was marvelous, and he would need much more instruction than she or the village school could provide.
The church bell tolled midnight and then pealed insistently in celebration of 1817. She must go downstairs, bank the fire in the parlor, and snuff out the candles. Then she must remove this ridiculous garb and go to bed. She would alter the gown for day-wear or, better yet, use the fabric for a new nightdress. Then no one need see her in this color.
It was difficult, for some reason, to get up from the dressing table and set these events in motion. The mirror frowned at her, as reluctant as she was to give up altogether on pretty gowns, and dancing, and—
The doorbell rang downstairs, startling the night. Everyone in town should be at the ball, celebrating the hopes and possibilities of the new year. More likely than not, it was some village youth ringing all the bells on the street. Another grimace at her reflection, and she went softly down the stairs in her old dance slippers.
Mr. Haverfield—Evan—waited on her doorstep in the cold. If not some prankster, who else could it have been. His narrowed eyes bored into hers, two creases cutting deep between his scowling brows. He brushed past her into the hall. She shivered in the cold air and shut the door.
“Why are you at home? I’ve been waiting for you.”
“I—”
“You said when I saw you last that you would be there tonight.”
Teeth clenched, she dug her fingers like claws into the silk at her hips.
“No, sir.” She knew he hated it when she called him sir. “If you examine your memory, you will find I did not commit myself one way or the other.”
“You did. You said—” His mouth, twisted with anger, closed tight. He turned on his heel, took two steps across the hall, and slapped his gloves down on the table. His hat followed, more deliberately. Then he hung his greatcoat on a hook and turned to face her. The scowl was gone, replaced by something bleak and somber. She would rather have faced the anger.
“I stand corrected,” he said at last. “But surely you intended to go. Your gown and your hair … you look lovely. That color is very becoming.”
“No, I never did. I told Molly last week that she could help out at the inn this evening.” He looked alarmingly handsome himself in formal black and white, with a touch of burgundy and silver in his waistcoat. But she would not say so.
“Then why are you dressed this way?”
Deborah shrugged her shoulders and turned away into the parlor. Not only was she a fool, she’d been caught out in her foolishness. “I just…”
“Just what?”
“I don’t know. I was curious to see if the gown still fit me. Reliving the past, I suppose.”
She crossed the parlor to stir greater life into the fire. A window facing the street stood open a couple of inches, and the room was cold. Evan took the poker from her hands and did it for her.
“Shall I close the window?”
She shrugged again. “I opened it so I could hear the music.”
“It’s the supper break now, but they’ll be starting up again shortly.” Leaving the window open, he sat down on the sofa, obliging her to sit as well. She chose a chair as far away from him as possible.
He settled in, for all the world as though this was a morning call. “How is Julian? I trust he took no harm from his outing the other day?”
“He is well, thank you.” She looked at her hands, folded in her lap. They looked relaxed enough. To break the silence, she said, “I expect everyone is quite merry at the inn. Did you enjoy the dancing? Or do you prefer the card room?” All she really wanted to know was whether he had danced, and with whom, but she would not expose herself so patently.
“I wanted to waltz with you,” Evan said.
That startled a laugh from her. “You should be glad I wasn’t there, then. I would surely have embarrassed us both. I don’t even know the steps.”
He shifted to the edge of his seat, one hand on his knee, eyebrows raised in astonishment. “You’ve never waltzed?”
Anger pricked her again. Her voice sounded harsh. “Just when would I have learned it, sir?” And why?
“You were waiting for approval from the patronesses at Almack’s, no doubt.”
She examined his expression, saw the quirk of his lips and the gleam in his eyes that meant he was teasing, and smiled a little. “Frankly, I’ve no reason to know how to waltz, sir.”
“Nonsense. It’s fun. I’ll show you.”
He rose and cleared a space in the room. Good gracious, did he mean right now?
She sat frozen on the sofa. But when Evan came to her, and bowed over her hand and asked for this dance, she humored him. Just more play-acting.
It was colder away from the fire, but his hands were warm where they touched her. She laid one hand on his shoulder as directed. Suddenly shy, she looked up into his face. How scandalous! How wonderful.
He talked as he set her in motion, describing the movements and counting out the time, allowing her to watch his feet for a few minutes. She compared her present teacher with Mr. Aston, her gin-soaked dancing master in Plymouth, and giggled. The sound of it shocked her. When was the last time she giggled?
Evan laughed. He lifted her chin with their joined hands. “Now look at me.” He hummed a tune while she became a bit more comfortable with the steps and turns. Then the musicians returned to their labors up the street. Conveniently, they began with a waltz.
It was too soft to hear properly, and the sound drifted with the wind. But the rhythm was easy enough to catch, and she infinitely preferred dancing with him in private where no one could see her blush.
In the near-darkness, hopefully Evan couldn’t, either.

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ISBN (Print):
ISBN (Electronic): 978-1-62916-012-2
Genre: Historical
Date Published: 11/07/2013
Publisher: Taliesin Publishing

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