Chapter 6:

"'Go somewhere more private?'" He had said.

Catherine quietly scoffed to herself as swiftly snatched up her cloak from the back of her chair.

The brute.

Making such suggestions at her like that like she was some kind of harlot. Fuming with anger, Catherine's corset suddenly seemed a bit too tight and she desperately needed to get out.

Spinning sharply on her heel with her cloak draped over an arm, the young woman crossed the ballroom in a fury of swishing skirts; not caring in the least when people's heads turned to follow her much hurried movement.

"Catherine?" came the voice of Andrew Jones

Glancing out of the corners of her eyes, she saw her father standing by a group of older men holding a glass of wine, watching her with fatherly concern. She inclined her head slightly in acknowledgement but continued on her way, leaving the massive room.

Retracing her steps back through the grand Manor, passing through the foyer before stepping outside the large, front double doors into the cool night air, Catherine reached down and grasped her skirts tightly in her hands. Then, defying all means of an appropriate exit, she flew down the front steps and instantly began searching for the solitude of her father's carriage.

She spotted it, parked on the far left side of the stone driveway.

Sighing, she started towards it at a swift pace, taking the time to also swing her cloak about her shoulders to tie it securely about her neck.

As she approached her family's coach, their footman immediately left his perch on the back to come around and get the door for her.

"Miss Jones..." he greeted politely offering his hand to assist her up into the coach.

"Thank you, Peter..." she answered with a soft nod while she began reaching her hand out in response.

"Catherine!"

The young woman cringed softly at her name before she slowly lowered her hand back down to her side and turned about to see her father approaching.

"Father..." she answered coolly while slightly raising her chin up into the air.

"Gracious, dear child...what is this all about?" he returned as he signaled to the open carriage and her cloaked form. "Why did you leave so suddenly like that?"

"I had to." she quickly answered, "I couldn't stand another second more in there."

"You've only been here for a little more than an hour, though." Andrew Jones pointed out as his arms came up and crossed themselves over his chest.

"It doesn't matter..."

"You need to come back inside."

"No."

"Catherine..."

"Father!"

Stepping towards him, the young woman reached out and took hold of one of his hands; her teal eyes staring up at his taller form beseechingly.

"I beg of you...do not make me go back. I hate it!"

At once, her father softened; his eyes warming with care. "Oh sweetheart..." he sighed. Unable to force his only child into returning to the night's grand event, he slowly draped his arm around Catherine's shoulders and guided her up in the carriage.

"Coachman, drive us home." He declared as he followed his only daughter inside the coach, taking his seat across from her. "And here I thought things were going so well..." he finished quietly as he observed Catherine who was now leaning her head against the cool window.

The young woman's eyes swept down to stare at her lap.

"Well, things had been going rather smoothly..." she agreed inwardly. "...until he came."

Thank goodness for the darkness inside the carriage, otherwise her father might've seen her gloved hands curl into two, small fists down at her sides in silence.
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Once she was back at home and in the privacy of her personal bedchamber, Catherine undressed out of her formal wear, exchanging her fineries for a silk night gown before she climbed into bed and spent the rest of the night reading her books till sleep at last came and took her away into a deep nothingness.

The grand room was completely empty; its polished wooden dance floor perfectly bare. And Catherine found herself standing directly in its center.

Clothed in a breathtaking gown of ivory silk, trimmed with white lace and embroidered with gold roses on the skirt, the young woman stood as still as stone; the room was dimly lit by candles hanging on the rounded walls.

Though there was no music playing, she started swaying; her movements slow, fluid.

But the silence was broken by the sound of footsteps crossing the wood floor; someone was coming towards her from behind.

At once, the steps stopped directly behind her; and then Catherine felt warm hands place themselves on her shoulders, to turn her around before she was gracefully swept up into a moving waltz.

As she brought her eyes up to the face of the man leading her in the dance, Catherine felt her blood run cold when two familiar, dark pools of ink burned into her face.

Lord Rathbone looked just as devilishly handsome as he had when she had first laid eyes upon him. Opening up his smug, grinning mouth, he uttered some unforgettable words.

"Be mine...Catherine...My...Catherine..."

"M'Lady Catherine!" a shrill, merry voice sounded.

Catherine's eyes snapped open, and the dream's images vanished.

There was some fast, fumbling movement on the far side of her room before her bedroom curtains were thrown open, letting in the bright morning sun.

The young woman cringed, bringing a hand up to cover her eyes as they adjusted to the sudden light.

"Morning to you to, Eliza..." she mumbled as she slowly dropped her hand away from her face and opened her eyes.

Already, her maid was over at her wardrobe, throwing its doors wide open while she practically jumped in and began pulling all sorts of clothing out.

Catherine sighed before she leisurely sat up in bed; raising her arms up over her head to stretch. "Eliza..." she called calmly, "...why so frantic?"

The maid turned away from the closet, her arms piled high with all sorts of materials before she hustled on over to the bed. Dropping the stuff down on the mattress, Eliza hurried around and pulled the sheets off Catherine's body.

"It's just so exciting, M'lady..." she replied as she reached out and grasped Catherine by the hand, tugging her out of bed.

The young woman gasped in surprise at being jerked free from the warm, security of her bed but before she could protest, Eliza was already on her; quickly unsnapping the buttons on her nightgown before she swiftly pulled the silky material off and tossed it aside.

"Eliza!" Catherine exclaimed, "Ooh!" she cried in alarm as she was quickly directed over to the nearest bedpost where a fresh corset was bestowed upon her.

"Hold tight, Miss..." Eliza politely requested as she took hold of the laces and instantly began jerking and tugging them together.

Catherine's tea eyes widened as the constricting device tightened immensely around her waist; and since Eliza had been moving so fast, she had forgotten to breathe properly before the darn contraption got laced together tightly.

"Eliza!" Catherine gasped as her hands came up to her rest upon her hips, "What is going on-Ooh!" she gasped again as another sharp and final tug was done; the corset was tighter than usual.

She brought a hand up to rest it across her full bosom which was now painfully straining against the stays. "Did I miss something here?" she exclaimed, breathlessly; her chest rising and falling with the sudden lack of air, "...or am I now being expected to not breathe anymore?" she asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Sorry, M'lady..." Eliza apologized with a slight bow of her head as she moved around the young woman to go rummaging through the rest of the things she had brought over to the bed with her. "Now...what to put you in..." she added in a softer tone.

Catherine blinked, "...for what?"

The young woman's answer was a whole lot of petticoats and a pale blue and cream colored taffeta gown that was immediately thrown over her head.

Her arms were gently forced into the snug fitting sleeves that reached her elbows while the skirt of the gown, gathered in the back to add fullness and design, flowed in quick whispers of silk down to floor; cream slippers followed on her feet seconds later.

Catherine blinked down on herself silently while Eliza, now squealing with newfound excitement moved around to her front where she quickly set to work on the laces that resided there instead of the back. At once, the square cut bodice grew nice and fitted to her bosom.

With the dress on, Eliza clapped her hands together once,
"Perfect!" she exclaimed before she reached down to the bed and fetched the hairbrush, "...Now let's fix your hair."

Catherine stood irritably as Eliza ran the brush repeatedly through her long, strawberry locks. Right when the maid had her hair flowing down to her lower back in soft, luscious waves, Catherine finally swatted the maid's hands away.

"Enough, Eliza!" she ordered while she took a few steps away. "Now what is all of this about?"

The maid sighed and clicked her tongue, disapprovingly. "Now, M'Lady I haven't finished with you yet." she explained as she started reaching for her hair with a handful of pins grasped in her hands.

"Oh yes you have!" the young woman answered, "Now...what is going on?"

Eliza sighed and shook her head, "...Well my lady, you have a visitor."

"A visitor?" she repeated.

"Yes." Eliza answered while taking this time to grab a bottom of sweet smelling perfume to lightly sprits on Catherine.

"So early in the morning?"

"It's actually almost 11:30, Miss. You slept in today."

Catherine blinked back her surprise. "Oh..." she paused, "...well than who's here visiting?"

Instantly, Eliza's eyes grew bright with excitement. "Ohh..." she exclaimed, "...it's a man." she answered, "...a suitor, I believe."

Catherine gasped.

A suitor? Someone's actually here, asking for her?

"Forget it." she declared. "I'm not seeing anyone." she finished stubbornly as she crossed her arms over her chest to show her defiance.

"Oh yes, you are!" Eliza protested as she instantly began hustling her across the room towards her open bedroom door. "It'd be rude not to." she informed.

Before Catherine could further protest, she found herself herded outside her personal chamber, with her maid gently directing her down the hallway towards the stairs from behind.

"You know...it's a good thing I left your hair down." Eliza stated softly with a smile, as she gently nudged Catherine to start down the stairs, "...with your hair let down like that, it gives you a much more angelic look."

Catherine rolled her eyes. "As if I really care about that..." she mumbled under her breath as she finally reached the bottom of the stairs.

"You should, M'lady!" Eliza insisted with a tiny frown, "It's not every day that a Lord comes knocking on your door to sit and wait for you in the Parlor Room."

At once, Catherine skidded to a stop, digging her heels into the smooth marble of the floor. "Say that again?" she asked quietly.

"Not now, Miss..." Eliza answered as she gave another encouraging push on her from behind, forcing Catherine to stumble in her step in the direction where the Parlor Room was. "He's waiting with your father."

When the open double doors were in sight, Eliza gave her a final nudge forward, "Remember your manners!" she warned before she bobbed a quick curtsey and fled the area.

Catherine stared after her with soft resentment in her eyes before she turned back around to face the Parlor Room's entrance.

Drawing in a deep breath of air, or at least as deep as her corset would allow, she slowly started forward; her shoulders back slightly, her chin lifted to give her the air of elegance when she appeared.

As she gracefully swept into the room, her eyes instantly landed on her father, sitting comfortably in one arm chair, sipping a cup of coffee. He instantly met her gaze and put his cup down before rising to his feet to greet her.

"Ah, there you are, my daughter."

Catherine took her cue and stepped further into the room to approach her father and plant a gently kiss upon his cheek.

"Father." she replied coolly.

Andrew Jones reached an aging hand out and rested it lightly against her back before he turned them to face a new direction, "I believe you two know each other, no?" he asked with a tiny smile.

Catherine let herself be turned to face a second armchair, the one in which her visitor sat in, watching.

Oh God...

As her eyes landed on her visitors face, her eyes locking onto his, Catherine felt her stomach form into a tight knot while she forced a sweet, smile upon her face before she offered a tiny, charming curtsey.

"Lord Rathbone..." she greeted, her head bowing so that she wouldn't need to look him in the eyes a second more, "...what an unexpected pleasure." Though she was smooth enough to mask the sarcasm in her voice, the was no masking the sarcastic gleam that sparkled behind her eyes.

He noticed it instantly.

His mouth quirked up into one of his smug looking smirks before he slowly rose up from his chair. Taking a few steps closer he reached out and took Catherine by the hand; forcing her to look up only to see him bring the top of her hand up to his mouth where he then brushed a kiss upon her knuckles,

"The pleasure..." he replied; his dark eyes sparkling intensely as they traced Catherine's face, "...will be entirely mine."