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The Shadow 8
Marissa stared at her image in the mirror. Her ball gown with its dainty lace sleeves and satin trimmed skirts accentuated her slender frame and pale skin. She liked the way her figure looked and was certain many of the dashing gentlemen of the evening would be smitten by her appearance.
She tucked the beautiful Chinese fan she had found among Lord Edgington’s things into her beaded evening bag and left the room. Eliza waited in the hall with the silk, fringed shawl which she draped becomingly around Marissa’s shoulders.
“You look beautiful, Ma’am,” Eliza fawned.
“Thank you, Liza. Where’s Sean?” Marissa asked.
“He’s getting the horses and carriage ready for you, Miss.”
“Oh, all right then.”
Marissa wanted to show off her new dress to the one person who’s opinion mattered the most in her life, but she wanted to do it with her usual flare. She waited at the top of the stairs until she heard him come in. With all the grandeur she was accustomed to portraying, she gracefully descended the stairs.
“Always ready for a show,” Sean said wryly when she reached his side.
She arched her eyebrows and he laughed.
“You look very lovely, Marissa, is that better?” he conceded with a bow.
“Yes,” she said pertly.
“I’m certain you will have the droves eating out of your gloved hand before the night is over.”
Marissa smiled coyly. “Isn’t that the idea, Sean? I thought you wanted me married off to the most eligible bachelor so you don’t have to worry about me anymore.”
She watched his eyebrows and cheeks twitch with annoyance and laughed. He sighed shaking his head and for a split second she wondered what he really wanted for her.
Before she could ask he opened the door and offered his arm. They walked to the waiting carriage and he tucked her inside and then climbed in next to her.
“An escort? To what do I owe this pleasure?” she asked excitedly.
“I just don’t want anything happening to you. You have a talent for getting into trouble, my dear,” he said simply.
Marissa pouted and then laughed. “Oh, Sean, you’re such a dear.”
She leaned back against the cushioned seat and watched the street lights flicker past as they drove through the city. It didn’t take long to reach Sir Barton’s massive house. Marissa geared herself up for the coming evening knowing it would be exhausting. Ball’s were not her favorite events to attend, but there was a certain amount of social credit she had to maintain.
“Don’t break too many hearts tonight, Marissa,” Sean chided.
“Only half a dozen,” Marissa replied with a smile.
She planned to do a lot of listening that night. There were too many strange occurrences to justify before she could venture back into her invisible world.
She walked up the steps of the mansion on Sean’s arm and he handed her off to the stately looking doorman who announced her presence in a penetrating voice. She cringed inside at the old-fashioned gesture, but made her grand entrance with pride in her father’s name.
Sir Barton stood at the front of the receiving line and eagerly requested the first dance when she greeted him. She acquiesced only a little unwillingly and moved into the room. As she moved among the different clusters of people she heard the latest gossip roving the English upper class, but nothing struck her as pertinent to her situation. No unexplained disappearances were mentioned and only the apparent murder of Minister Cherington seemed to be the major concern.
She saw Charlotte and greeted her briefly reveling in the look of annoyed jealousy on her face.
“Marissa, your maid must be quite exhausted from getting you ready so quickly,” Charlotte said condescendingly.
It always miffed the ladies that Marissa could stay so busy and still look like she had spent hours at her toilette.
“Not at all, darling. It was an easy thing after the aid meeting. Eliza was quite busy with other things,” Marissa said smugly.
She hated sitting for hours in front of a mirror. For the first nineteen years of her life she lived not really caring what she looked like. She loved cowing the spiteful cats with her simple yet elegant way. By the amount of attention she received it was apparent that the gentlemen didn’t care how long she spent getting ready.
Charlotte feigned seeing a friend and Marissa was glad to see her leave. She moved on until Sir Barton came to claim her for the first dance.
She spent most of the rest of the evening dancing with various gentlemen among the party, enjoying very few until a very handsome American gentleman named Simon Anderson claimed her for a waltz.
His dashing manner and witty conversation left Marissa breathless and wishing for more. She had never completely enjoyed herself at these social gatherings as she did with this man. When the music ended he led her to a table to rest and called for some wine.
“So Lady Edgington what would you say to giving me a tour of London tomorrow,” Mr. Anderson said in a shockingly forward manner.
She like him a great deal, but propriety had to be observed.
“Mr. Anderson we have just met,” Marissa replied with a coy smile and just a hint of disapproval.
“That’s true, but I believe I have fallen madly in love with you and I want to spend all my time in your distinguished presence,” he exclaimed loudly enough that a few of the people around them turned to stare.
Marissa blushed, but her guard was up. He may be a cavalier American, but she was a proper British lady and she wasn’t about to damage her hard-earned reputation on a man no matter how much she liked him.
“Perhaps we could have tea sometime,” Marissa replied carefully. “I have some wonderful gentlemen friends who would be more than happy to take you around the city.”
“You are right, sweet lady. But perhaps we could have dinner one evening instead,” he said chastised.
“Yes, I think that would be delightful,” Marissa agreed.
“May I call on you tomorrow?” Simon asked.
“Certainly,” Marissa replied. “How about tea at two o’clock?”
That would give her some time to learn more about this forward American.
“Perfect!” he exclaimed. “I’ll be there at two sharp.” He bowed and judiciously left.
As soon as he had gone Marissa was swarmed by several young ladies eager to hear about the American.
“I heard he’s very rich,” a girl named Clarissa said.
“I wouldn’t know. We didn’t discuss his income,” Marissa replied practically.
“Be careful, Marissa, he could be a fortune hunter,” a friend named Jeanette added.
“Or a handsome doctor,” Eileen Wilson said dreamily. “Will he call on you?”
“He dances very well for an American,” Clarissa said.
“He was a very good dancer and yes, he asked to call,” Marissa said with a smile. “Now my dear ladies the even is ending. I can see my escort waiting at the door for me.”
She had noticed Sean’s stiff figure near the door. She didn’t realize how late it must be if he had come inside looking for her. She started toward him, but stopped when she realized he was dressed in a tie and coat tails.
Shock must have registered on her face because he came toward her with a smile.
“To what do I owe this pleasure?” she asked with a curtsy.
“I know how much you enjoy these little parties and I thought I would dance with you once before taking you home,” Sean replied with a stiff bow.
He took her hand and led her expertly in the steps of the dance. Marissa had never danced with Sean before and she enjoyed every moment knowing it probably wouldn’t happen again. She also took pleasure in the fact that the old gossips were probably having an episode for the fact that Lady Edgington was dancing with a steward.
He wasn’t a servant in her eyes. He was the executor of the Edgington estate and a well-respected lawyer and friend. He had just as much right to be at this ball as anyone here and he would probably be more of a gentleman than these ladies had ever seen. The problem was his relatively constant close proximity to herself. He had managed the affairs of her late father’s estate for the past five years and he continued to do for her as well.
When the music stopped he led her out of the room where she gave her farewells to Sir Barton and his friends. After they climbed into the carriage she let out a sigh of relief.
“Well, that’s finally over,” she said relaxing. “Now tell me why you really came to fetch me.”
Sean let out his breath as if he had been holding it and looked gravely at her. “I had a visitor tonight, Marissa, one that completely unnerved me,” he said slowly.