Here is my other Entry to The Age of Edward Contest! This won 3rd place Judges Choice Diane Tant Daniel. I am now making it a multi-chapter fict! Beta'd by the Wonderful Sunflower Fran. Any mistakes left are all mine!
Bouncing through the rough streets of London, my coach is taking me to the Debutante Ball given by the Eighth Earl of Forkshire, Charles Swan, in honor of his daughter and his niece.
I rarely make an appearance at these events in fear the Ton would think I'm in search of a wife. However, I am willing to make an exception this one time; Charles and I are in Parliament together and we've become close this session as we rallied for the same tax laws. Spending most of our evenings together as Parliament begins late in the day and continues well into the night. He often spoke of his wife, daughter, and niece, with such great affection that when he invited me to the ball, I, of course, accepted.
The rapping on the carriage door alerts me to my arrival at The Earl's London estate. The front entrance bustles with all of England's Gentry and they turn to spy on the latest guest. Once they spot my family's crest, the whispering ensues. I take a deep breath, readying myself for the rumors that will surround my attendance.
My coachman, Michael, opens the door and I embark with my usual air of importance. I walk through the mass and they automatically part for me.
I bow my head in acknowledgment as the term 'Your Grace' is whispered throughout. Reaching the entranceway to the ballroom, I see The Earl and his wife stand greeting guests. His wife notices me and politely, but firmly, ushers whom she is speaking with along. It is a very well done maneuver and the way she skillfully handled the situation was spectacular. Charles has done well in his choice of a bride.
"Ah, Your Grace, I am delighted you were able to join us," Charles says bowing to me.
"Come now Charles, none of this 'Your Grace' nonsense." I turn and bow to his wife and she offers me her hand delicately. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, My Lady. I cannot dare believe you have a daughter grown. You look as if you've just had your own 'coming out debut.'"
She giggles gracefully "Your Grace, you are too kind, but I assure you, once you set eyes upon my Isabella you will know the true definition of youth and beauty."
She says this with great pride and without any intention of pawning her daughter on me. I possess a sharp eye, and can immediately tell when a mother is working deceitfully.
"With you as her mother, I am sure she is a vision. Charles is truly blessed." I give them both a final bow.
"You old rake. I'm starting to believe the rumors." He gives me a playful wink.
I leave him and his wife chuckling. Although Charles is my elder, I greatly enjoy his company and have found myself sharing a brandy or two at White's with him. I walk by several people who try to engage me in conversation, but I move on in search of my cousins, McCarty, and Whit.
McCarty, The Ninth Marquis of Winchester and his wife, The Marchioness of Winchester, Jessica, live for the London season. They have been wed these last two years and their marriage is not at all a love match. Whit, The Marquis of Hertford, is a bachelor, but unlike me, he is actively seeking a bride.
McCarty is my cousin on my father's side. His mother died in childbirth so we were frequently together. More often as not when my parents held one of their famous parties all the children would be sent to the North Wing of Chatsworth Castle, where McCarty, Whit and I would stay together avoiding the other noble children.
Whit's father was famous for his gambling. Fortunately, his Grandfather stepped in before he could gamble away their fortune. Leaving my friend quite wealthy.
Spotting my cousin's wife surrounded by hungry looking gentleman is nothing new to my eyes – they have a strange arrangement. He is allowed his mistresses and she may take on a lover as long as neither results in an illegitimate child.
Searching the vast home for my closest companions, I glance around enjoying the general splendor of the house. A crystal chandelier hangs in the center of the main ballroom; the ceiling is painted with scenes of heavenly angels in the middle of a battle. It is a beautiful place, a great deal smaller than what I, myself, am accustomed to, but The Earl has provided well for his family.
"Good heavens, Whit, have my eyes failed me? I do believe Edward Masen, The Duke of Devonshire, has made an appearance." McCarty's boisterous voice causes the gentry to gaze in my direction.
Whit tips back his glass, downing the port like a brute. "I'll say it is Masen. Edward, old boy, what brings you to a ball? Dare I ask are you hoping to find the next Duchess of Devonshire?"
I raise a brow at him while I procure my own glass of port from a server. "For heaven's sake, Whit, don't be cork-brained. You wouldn't want to give Mothers false hope now, would we?"
"Come now, Masen, there's nothing wrong in raising the expectations of mothers throughout England. I dare say that Jessica's mum will be solely disappointed." McCarty tilts his head toward his wife.
Lady Stanley always hoped to marry her daughter off to a titled gentleman, her sights were set on one with a Dukedom, specifically, me. The Lady made it her personal mission to make sure her daughter was always in the same circle as I.
Both mother and daughter went through great lengths to try to gain my personal affections. Once they found that their tricks had not willed an offer of courtship or had piqued my interest, their advances turned to McCarty.
At the time, an advantageous marriage was much needed as my uncle had indeed gambled away their fortune. At last, Lady Stanley was able to secure a titled gentleman for her daughter and McCarty was saved from ruin.
"Ahh, I'm sorry to disappoint your mother-in-law, but I am not in want for a Duchess. My friend simply requested my company at his daughter and niece's coming out and I saw no reason not to oblige him."
"Come tell me Whit, which one of these bonny lasses do you have your eye on?" I sip the Port in my glass.
"Truth be told, my eyes and heart are set upon the niece, Lady Alice Brandon. She is the loveliest creature I've ever had the pleasure to behold." He has a wispy sort of look on his face and I envy him for a second.
I am content to die a bachelor. My family history is not a happy one with infidelity on both sides, thanks to my infamous parents. It is no secret that my parents, The Duke, and Duchess of Devonshire had a liaison with Lady Esme Platt for two decades. Although, I would never treat a lady the way my father treated both my mother and Esme, without Esme in my life, I feel I would be a terrible rake like my father was before me.
My mother befriended Lady Esme at a very lonely time in her life. I was a small boy when my mother gave birth to a little girl, still born. The delivery nearly took her as well. The doctor suggested a vacation to Bath to improve her health, and it was there she met Esme. At the time, Esme was married to a horrible sort of fellow, and befriending my mother, the famous Duchess saved her life.
As a small child, I remember running to my mother's apartment coming in on her and Lady Esme embracing, or finding my father whispering to both Esme and my mother intimately. The Earl of Dartmouth having had enough of his wife's estrangement came to Chatsworth House insisting she come home only to be taken aside by my father. It is unknown exactly what was said, but The Earl and Lady Esme lived separately until he died from consumption a few years later.
Esme remained with my parents, even through my father's cruelty and my mother's grief. She held a special place in her heart for both of them, and also for me.
When my mother almost ruined the Devonshire name and my father became so filled with anger that he struck her, I lay balled in a corner afraid and crying. It was Esme, who took me into her arms. She carried me away from the scene and took me to the nursery where she sang with me and read. It became a daily past time of ours, I shall always remember them.
When my mother, Elizabeth, the famous Duchess of Devonshire passed away so young leaving me behind, Mother Es, as I affectionately call the woman who was a lover to both my parents, raised me as her own son. Soon after, my father, Edward Sr. passed and I was an orphan, left alone with a large estate and fortune. The only people I could trust were Mother Es, McCarty, and Whit. They alone were the only ones who did not require anything from me.
"Upon my word, Whit, you think yourself in love with this woman-child?" McCarty, never one to skirt around the issue, asks, interrupting my thoughts.
At that moment, a tinkling bell rings, ushering everyone into the upper rooms. Charles stands in the center, a wide smile on his face.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to society my niece, Lady Alice Claire Brandon." He holds out his right hand and a beautiful slip of a woman walks into the room.
Beside me, I hear Whit's breath catch and I glance over at him. He stares at this lovely creature as if she was the last woman in the world. I turn away feeling as if I have intruded on an intimate moment.
Once the crowd quiets, Charles' smile grows wider. "It is also my great pleasure to present my daughter, Lady Isabella Marie Swan."
She enters with the grace of someone twice her age. Her beautiful brown hair is up in an intricate style. Her skin is porcelain, and she has the look of a doll. Her lips are naturally pink and they have a slight pout. Her nose is a perfect button and the most hypnotic pair of brown eyes I've ever seen stares out into the gathered assembly.
Yes, Lady Renee was correct; her daughter is the definition of both youth and beauty. My heart stops, my mouth runs dry and there is a waltz playing in my stomach. Not to mention the hardening of a certain member of my anatomy.
My Lord! I've never felt anything like this in all my years.
"Careful now Masen. The way you are looking, one would think the new Duchess of Devonshire has just entered your heart." Whit shoves me playfully.
Bloody hell. I do believe he is right.
The ball is a great success. I have danced with a number of young gentlemen and although none of them have tickled my fancy, I would not turn any of them down as a suitor. I am fully aware of my duty; I know a love match amongst the gentry is very rare. One can only hope for an amiable companion, a mutual respect that will grow into love.
Sipping on my glass of sherry, I spot Alice dancing with The Marquis of Hertford, Jasper Whitlock. She has her heart set on him and I envy her because it seems that the feeling is mutual. These past few hours have seen my dance card full, but finally, I am able to take a breather.
Catching my father's eye as he speaks to the Bachelor Duke, he motions me over. I join them hesitantly. Rumor has it that The Duke is an unpleasant sort.
"Ah, here she is. The Duke of Devonshire, may I present my daughter Isabella." My father reaches for my hand proudly.
The Duke bows gracefully. He is indeed the most handsome man I've ever seen. The deep frown in his brow makes it seem as if he is trying to solve a great puzzle. His dark green eyes bore into my very soul and I am instantly uncomfortable. I've never felt this in all my years.
"Lady Isabella, it is an honor to make your acquaintance." His smile is tight as he bows his head in my direction.
"Thank you, Your Grace. I am delighted that you were able to join us." I give him a smile.
The current set comes to a close with a round of applause and my father turns to The Duke.
"Your Grace. Would you please do me the great honor and accompany Isabella in the next set?" Father asks with mischief in his eyes.
The Duke seems to ponder the idea for a mere second and then smiles at me.
"If the lady agrees, it would be a great honor," He says, smoothly.
"It would be my pleasure, Your Grace." I curtsey to him.
Taking me by the hand, he leads me onto the floor with the other partners. Suddenly, the room seems much smaller as all eyes fall upon us. Heads gently lean towards each other and the sound of whispers fill the room. I'm momentarily frozen until The Duke gently pushes me forward.
"Ignore them. They have nothing better to do than to whisper about the Bachelor Duke," he whispers.
I giggle gently, not believing that he had the audacity to use his very popular nickname.
"You are very popular, Your Grace." I tilt my head in his direction.
"You are mistaken, I believe they are taken by your beauty, My Lady," He says as we take our places on the floor.
Facing each other, our eyes meet across the small space separating us. His gaze seems to bear into my very soul and I take a deep breath trying to calm my nerves.
The ladies curtsey to their partners, then the gentlemen bows. Once my hand makes contact with The Duke's, butterflies dance in my stomach and my fingertips buzz. He gives nothing away as he stands and holds my gaze. Normally, I am aware when a gentleman may find me pleasing, but The Duke gives me no hint of what he is thinking.
The Duke of Devonshire is a somber sort of fellow. He never breaks eye contact with me during our dance, nor does he try to engage me in polite conversation. The entire waltz my heart seems to want to beat out of my chest.
I am very aware of him being so close to my person. His sturdy build and tall stature only add to the puzzle that is The Duke of Devonshire. I quite enjoy being in his arms, the feel of him towering over me as his eyes penetrate my very being.
My body is abuzz as I feel The Duke's thumb rub circles in the center of my palm. The act itself seems very personal and dare I say erotic. My eyes never move from his. My lips part, taking a much-needed breath; the one I've been holding since I began to dance with this perfect specimen of a man.
Once the dance ends, I place my hand in his. His thumb continues the sensual circular movement from earlier as he escorts me off the dance floor. I can't explain the creeping dread I am feeling with the idea of parting from him.
"Your Grace, you are an excellent partner," I say as we make our way back to where my father is standing.
"You pay me a great honor, but I am only fueled by your beauty." He says this so smoothly that I am caught unaware.
Once we reach my father, The Duke turns to me, a severe smile on his handsome face. "Thank you, My Lady. It was most enjoyable."
My reply is lodged in my throat, and before I can answer gracefully, Baron Cromwell, James Hunter, interrupts us. The Baron bows to me and acknowledges The Duke.
"I see you've kept my partner warm for me Masen; good man." He pats The Duke on the back and I have the distinct impression that if I were not standing amongst the gentlemen, he would've actually done The Baron harm.
The Duke bows to us all. "If you will excuse me."
I watch as The Bachelor Duke walk away leaving me with my father and Baron Cromwell. Baron Cromwell is an advantageous sort of fellow. I have no doubt that my fifty thousand pounds is the reason for his special attention, but there is something in his manner that puts me on alert. Add to the disdain that The Duke of Devonshire shows him, and I feel there is more to The Baron than I care to know.
I watch The Duke as he leaves my presence, his shoulders set firmly. My soul feels as if it has died and I rapidly blink back tears. The thought of never seeing him again or knowing that I hold no interest to him at all wounds me greatly.
I haven't the slightest idea why I care; it is no secret that he will never marry.
A/N: Here is the first chapter! I'm extending on the original contest piece. If you want to read what the story was you can go to the Age of Edward contest page. This little story has a bit of history woven into my own fiction. The Duchess of Devonshire was indeed a real person and had a ménage a trois with The Duke and another lady 'Bess'. Her son was indeed the Bachelor Duke, but he never married. Their family home is Chattsworth House. I have taken their little story and made it my own, I do love history, and different periods. I know this story could be strange not being in third person, but it is how the voices came to me! So let's start this journey! Weekly updates until I run out! Most of it is written from the contest and I'm just expanding on that!