Chapter 2: A whirlwind from New York

There is no describing the disappointment that overtook Niles that afternoon: the guests would not be arriving all at the same time, and, most importantly, would not be greeted by the entire household.

Everyone in the house, had he admitted to this, would have looked at him strangely. It was not that Niles had the reputation of being a lazy man, but he liked his days rather slow paced, so he could hear juicy gossip. Having that amount of people arriving at the same time – frankly, them arriving on the same day was harrowing enough a prospect – generated so much more work than usual, that it disturbed his day enough. That they arrived at different times, would not usually be a problem for Niles. But the greeting of the household permitted him to get useful bits of information, a look here, a sound there, that would make gossip go for a while. And Niles was the "King of Gossip". He was indeed a master in valeting for his attention to detail, which had helped him rise through the ranks here, at Sheffield Manor, and it was such attention to details that helped him understand so much about what was going on where in the household.

In this case, Niles was very disappointed in not being able to meet the "elusive" Miss C. C. Babcock, as Lord Maxwell had called her, so eager was he to discover her weary from her journey, and free of most of the usual glamour.

This woman was nothing short of intriguing. A born socialite, she had gotten her first theatre at the tender age of 21, then gaining control of her own money, and building a small empire. It was unusual enough to heard of a woman captaining her own life at any age, but Miss C. C. Babcock had done it all even before her majority. Some say, she had tricked her own father, the steel tycoon Stuart Babcock, after which the business man had been so impressed with her financial and cunning skills that he allowed her to control her own money and goods. That, was entirely unheard of.

Now, Miss Babcock owned about five theatres in the USA and Canada, as well as a few small ones in Paris, Rome, and Edinburgh, as well as other buildings.

Not only was she a business shark, she was also very discerning theatre owner. All the plays staged in her properties were well liked by the public, and her fortune kept only on growing.

Men like Lord Maxwell, who needed a mild and caring wife, both admired and disapproved of her blatant rejection of the tasks and goals usually attributed to her sex.

Niles Brightmore, however, was already utterly fascinated – the usual women bored him, he loved the intellectual ones. Each time Lady Sara had invited the businesswoman, he had anxiously waited for her visit, only to have his expectations shattered every time business kept her from her friend.

Now that she was indeed coming – she had RSVPed by telegram from her boat – Niles had felt himself grow more nervous and eager.

All the way till dinner, he had had to focus especially hard on his various tasks. They did manage to calm him down slightly, but he was still jittery when he came down to the drawing room with Mr Carter, John, and Michael, to serve the pre-dinner drinks.

As soon as she entered the room, he gulped audibly. It would be mild to say that this woman was a vision. His breath taken away, he barely noticed the dress – designed for New York society, no doubt. It was her face that drew him in. Guarded up even as she entered the room, frozen in the cool socialite façade. Melting in a delighted smile as soon as she recognized Lady Sara.

The two women greeted each other warmly, under the somewhat disapproving gaze of Lady Sheffield.

All throughout dinner, Niles would keep his warm and admiring gaze on her. If she noticed – and as well-trained as he was, she probably did not – she did not say, and, to his embarrassment, he kept noticing things about her. The way her eyes crinkled and twinkled when she genuinely smiled. That predatory smile, when she had finally backed her opponent in a corner. The way her hair shone under the soft candlelight. How she delicately bit into each morsel. How she moved her hands around her plate, and when she talked, …

Later that night, when he was finally done with his duties, and had gone up to his quarters in the male servants' corridor, he could not keep the ecstatic look upon his face, once the door had been locked, and he allowed himself to wax lyrical in hushed tones, recalling the evening. He let himself be caught up in it, refusing to consider this crush realistically, wanting to keep his good mood for as long as possible. For once, he did not dream of his mediocre life.

A/N: Sooo, what do you think about it so far? I know I'm setting a slow pace for the beginning, but things should catch up soon :)