I know...its been awhile:) -wr

Chapter Eighteen

It's about time someone threw a party

- From the New-York News of the World Gazette, February, 24th 1902

"The guests are arriving, Miss Hayes," came a voice from the doorway. Penelope looked over her shoulder to see Buck standing a few steps inside her room; his handsome face half covered with a black mask. Realizing it was him, she rolled her eyes, thinking it was someone who was actually important. Sense it wasn't, she turned her head forward to stare back into the mirror so she could finish getting ready for her party downstairs.

"Walking into a lady's room without knocking will get yourself into trouble one day my friend," she said with her deep red stained lips.

"That is not a problem for me my sweet Penny," he replied walking towards her. He stopped a foot behind her, just close enough so that she could see both of them in her mirror. She noticed how well he looked in his dark clothing, the mask on his face added a little more of a mystery to his style. With him standing next to her, it made herself look even lighter. She was wearing a light sky blue gown that was decorated with many small shimmery diamonds along the strapless top and next to her right hip. A flower in the identical color was placed in her hair that had been pulled up into a tight bun. She looked gorgeous and she knew it. If a stranger were to look at her that would probably mistake her for an angel but once they got to know her, they would come to find out that she was far one.

"You look rather ravishing," Buck said as he reached out and placed his hand on her shoulder. She offered him a sly smile while she began to powder her cheeks. She wasn't in the mood for talking all that much but as soon as she went into the ballroom, that's all she would be doing. Along with that, she would also be dancing with low life bachelors who think they actually have a chance with her. Her thought was it's better to build up their confidence instead of just giving them a flat out no. And besides, she liked to dance and since this was a masquerade she had set up, she wouldn't know who would be taking her out onto the dance floor. There was something about a mysterious man that excited her and maybe she would find someone worth keeping around for awhile. Maybe not all of the men were low life's, just most of them.

"Is there a problem?" Buck asked moving his hand to her bare back.

"No but you're about to create one if your hand gets any lower," she replied coldly. He quickly retracted his hand and moved it to his tie, pretending to fix it.

"I don't know what has gotten into you today, you're usually so excited for these kinds of occasions," he said. She glared at his reflection and set down her powder.

"I am fine," Penelope insisted and it was true. Everyone around her just seemed to easily get on her nerves lately.

"Of course," Buck said. Penelope gave herself one last look in the mirror before standing. She was finally ready to go. She turned to face her friend who instantly flashed her a smile.

"Beautiful," he said extending his hand. She took it politely and curtsied as if saying thank you.

"May I escort you downstairs?"

"I thought you would never ask," she replied. It was then with his other hand, he brought her white eye mask covered with sequins from behind his back. She laughed.

"Wouldn't have that been a sight. The woman hosting a masquerade forgets to bring a mask," she said. He helped her put it on before stepping back to look over her complete look.

"Not a sole in the room will recognize who you are," he said making her smile.

"Is that not the point," she asked playfully. He extended his arm for her to take and the two of them walked out of her room together. It was time for her to have a little fun with her guests. As they walked down the hallway, the music and laughter from the ballroom began to fill the air. With each step, it grew louder and Penelope's excitement grew each passing second.

"I almost forgot to tell you," Buck whispered in her ear as they turned the corner to another hallway, "you will never guess who I saw arriving here tonight." A maid brushed passed the two friends with an empty tray that once held an assortment of finger foods. They were getting closer.

"Please, do tell," she whispered back. Before he could, they came to the end of the hall. Separating them from her party was only an old oak door, on the other side was the ballroom filled with her guests. Penelope stood there as Buck dropped her arm to both swiftly towards the handle. As he opened it for her, he leaned in close to her ear and said, "Diana Holland." She pulled back quickly to look into his eyes and once she did, they told nothing but the truth. She smiled.

"This night just got a little better didn't it? But how can we be sure it was her," she asked.

"I think I know the Holland girls when I see them. Besides, who else would walk in with Teddy and Elizabeth?"

"I have never doubted you. I believe tonight is the night Manhattan finds its long lost princess." Buck laughed then bowed at his dear friend. Once standing up straight again, he motioned her to enter the ballroom. After only two steps, she was inside the room with a large amount of people. Women were dressed in glorious gowns of all colors while the men were head to toe in something better than their Sunday's best. Tonight, everyone's identities were hidden behind a mask and for once, they could be someone completely different from themselves. This would only work if they wouldn't let their body language give them away. Already Penelope could tell the single desperate women apart from the classily married ones. It was never hard to tell, every party was the same. Groups of solo women always stood closely together off to the side, shyly pointing out who they think would be the best catch here. Those with husbands were never far away from their man, either standing next to them or a few feet away. Those women were always the easiest to pick out. The men were a different story. Usually those single would always come up to her so she wouldn't have to wait long to see who she had to choose from. With so many people here tonight, she wouldn't be having any problems.

"Can you handle this," Buck's voice came from behind her. She turned to face him.

"I belive I can," she said smiling. When she turned back, the first person she noticed was a giggly Scarlet. She was wearing the pink gown that she had made only a few weeks back. The necklace she had picked out for her was draped around her neck along with a pair of matching set of earrings that dangled with every elegant movement she made. Her face, like everyone else's, was half hidden away by black feathery mask. Penelope couldn't help but laugh as she remembered the conversion she had with her on that day, the reason behind that gown. It was time to put this look to the test.

"You mentioned Teddy was here, correct?" she asked not looking back.

"Indeed he is and might I say, his wife is quiet a jewel," he said moving up to her left.

"Aren't you are full of opinions tonight. Remember, she is a taken woman, you need to feast your eyes on some other treasure this evening."

"You know I have always liked a challenge," he said back. She rolled her eyes only because she knew how harmless he really was.

"Well then I have just the thing for you," she said. She then reached down the front of her gown and pulled out a small piece of parchment. This raised Buck's brow.

"Is that how you store everything?"

"Only the important things and this," she shook what was in her hand, "is very important."

"I am guessing so," he said taking it from her grasp, "what is it exactly?"

"It is a note for our dear friend Teddy. I need you to deliver it to him sometime within the hour," she explained. A loud laughter came from behind them meaning someone must be having a good time.

"That seems easy enough," he said slipping it into his front left breast pocket.

"There is a catch though."

"Please continue."

"You need to isolate him from anyone he knows before giving this to him. That part is very important. If someone else finds out about this note, everything will be ruined," she explained. She looked back into the crowd and found Scarlet in the same place that she saw her a few minutes before.

"Consider it done," Buck answered before taking her hand. He quickly kissed it and backed off.

"I expect an explanation later," he said before walking off into the crowd. Penelope shook her head as he walked off. Why they were as close as they were was still a mystery to her. In order to complete her first task of the evening, she needed to talk to Scarlet. She set off to talk to her which required maneuvering her way through the crowd that had formed around one of the servers holding champagne. Once she pushed her way through, she came up next to her cousin who was talking to a tall, dark man that she had never seen before.

"Scarlet," she said interrupting the stranger who seemed to be telling a story.

"Penny," Scarlet said surprised, "there you are! I have been looking all over for you."

"I can tell," she replied eyeing the gentlemen next to her. There was something about him that made her think that she had seen him before. He had very handsome features; he was a very tall, broad shoulder gentleman with messy jet black hair. His eyes were a piercing emerald green, eyes that seemed all too familiar. On any other day, she would have stood and talked to him for awhile but right now, she had some business to take care of. She didn't need any distractions and who knows; maybe she would run into him a little later once all of her work was done.

"I am so sorry, Penelope this is-"

"We don't have time for this," Penelope said grabbing her arm, "excuse us for a minute or two. Enjoy the party." Waving goodbye, she pulled Scarlet deep into the crowd away from anyone who might take interest in the conversation that was about to take place.

"Excuse you! Was that all that necessary? I was having a nice conversation that man and he happens to be very interesting!" Scarlet hissed.

"It actually is necessary! Do you want my help or not? Because I can walk away from this right now if you would like that." Scarlet shut her mouth for she knew instantly what Penelope was talking about.

"He is here?" she asked in a low, slow tone.

"Your meeting has been arranged," Penelope said proudly. Scarlet then stood up straight and pushed back a few strands of her hair that had fallen in front of her blue eyes. Penelope then noticed something in her cousin that she hadn't ever seen before. She was determined, a trait she herself didn't lack.

"Are you ready?" she asked and Scarlet looked back at her.

"If there is one thing I know for a fact is that I can make men fall at me feet. He will be just like the rest," she said and with that, she turned around and disappeared into the crowd. Penelope's jaw dropped a little but she quickly caught herself and tapped her teeth together. She had taught her well. And now, she could let things run their course and she could enjoy herself. Before she could do anything else, she needed to find herself a glass of champagne. While she looked around for a server, the man that she had stolen Scarlet away from was still following her around with his eyes. He knew exactly who she was and he was slightly hurt that she didn't recognize him. But those feelings of his were soon forgotten because he too had a task surrounding Miss Diana and just like Penelope's plan, he was going to make sure she wished she had never left the safety of France.