July 29, 2010.
A/N: I'm going to do my best to keep the Author Notes to a minimum in this story, guys, so after this chapter, they'll probably at the END of chapters only. Trying something new; I want this one to read smoothly :)
So, yes. Here's a new TMM romance. If you're looking for a story packed with scandalous affairs of the heart, you're most likely in an appropriate place. Yes, this story is relevant to the poll on my profile, which, yes, I only put up today. I got too excited and wrote this chapter anyway. I'll leave the poll up for a bit though.
A few things to keep in mind whilst reading:
1. This fic is set in 1826, in New York. Yes, they are all American.
2. Yes, I kept their Japanese names. It will seem strange, but you just have to let it slide, because my other option was to use their Dub names, and who the hell wants to do that?
3. Yes, Shirogane is English. It was necessary for the story. Just pretend he's not if you don't like it.
4. My history skills aren't that flash, so if things seem a little odd/out of place for the period - which, I shall declare right now is the ROMANTIC ERA - they probably are, and my bad for making the error.
5. They might be OOC sometimes. I apologise. Bear in mind I am trying to write them almost 200 years ago.
6. I know very little about American geography. I picked Virginia because I met some Americans from Virginia once, and they were cool. Sorry if Virginia didn't actually exist back in the 19th century. It does in this story. XD
7. This is AU. They have no super-powers. There is no sense of 'Mew Mew' anywhere in this story.
That said, I'll wrap this up so you can read.
Dedicated to: Fireflies Glow, who somehow managed to get me shipping K/I at least a little bit. Thanks, Bunny x
Disclaimer: It is a sad truth that I do not own Tokyo Mew Mew. :) I should mention here, too, that this story was inspired by Henry James' 'Washington Square', and Anna Godbersen's 'The Luxe' (which, interestingly, was also inspired by James' work, if you're curious). Appropriate disclaimers for them, too.
Chiffon Kisses and Porcelain Smiles
~ Un ~
The house on Washington Square was alive with noise.
It was an impressive sort of place; three stories high and filled with an unnecessarily vast number of rooms, each furnished more lavishly than the last. Its owner, a particularly well-off solicitor by the name of Aizawa, had spared nothing ensuring the maintenance of its handsome decor, and consensus of its splendour had spread quickly through New York, bestowing upon its occupants a fame of sorts.
The occupants in question were, in fact, two young socialites and their servant-girl, who were – at present – in the topmost bedroom. It was decidedly too large, decorated exquisitely with French carpentry and Egyptian silk linen, and belonged to Aizawa's generously spoiled daughter, Mint. The awfully snobbish girl had barely reached the tender age of fifteen, yet already sported a tendency to voice her often opinionated thoughts, and an insatiable desire for all the finest luxuries life could offer her.
Her friend, Ichigo, lightly pulled the lace curtain aside and peered to the cobbled street below with soft, chocolate eyes. She was staying for the summer while her parents celebrated their wedding anniversary with a trip to Europe that had cost them all but a few pennies of their life savings. Unlike snooty Mint, who had never known less than the crème-de-la-crème, Ichigo had grown up in a modest town in Virginia, and cared little for material wealth in spite of being impressed by the Aizawa estate. She brushed a few stray tendrils of fierce red from her face and turned from the window.
"Please hurry," she begged. "Everybody's out already!"
"Oh, hush," Mint replied lightly, her cool black-brown gaze unmoving from the oval-shaped mirror. She reached for a string of pearls and held them up. "Don't forget these."
Her personal servant-girl, a terribly shy girl named Lettuce, obediently took the pearls and wove them carefully into Mint's beautiful blue braid. It hung down her back, thick and luscious, the tips brushing her pinched waistline. She toyed with a loose strand in her petticoats with nimble, delicate fingers while she waited.
"This must be mended," Mint said with a small frown. "Fetch another."
"Of course," Lettuce said, removing herself quietly from the room. Ichigo, who was paying no attention to the goings on behind her, had returned to gazing at the scenery outside, one brown-booted foot tapping impatiently against the carpet.
"Do stop that," Mint said snappily, glancing from the vanity for a moment. "You'll wear a hole in my Persian rug."
"Sorry." Ichigo now bestowed upon her friend a cheerful, excited smile. "I can barely contain my excitement. How are you so collected?"
Mint sniffed pettily. "A woman of my stature must uphold herself with flawless poise at all times. A lesson you would do well to learn."
Ichigo rolled her eyes good-naturedly, in too good a mood to be offended. "But surely you're a little enthusiastic."
Mint examined her immaculate reflection with unmasked vanity. "I care little for boys. What are they but troublesome stones in a woman's shoe? I fail to see why you would work yourself into such a state. Why, if you could pant any more you'd turn into a dog!"
Ichigo scowled at her, blushing. "Not all of us have our futures written in a will, Mint."
"Better that than throwing myself at the feet of a man," Mint shot back glibly. "I refuse to be meat on his table."
"Watch your mouth!" Ichigo snapped hotly. "One day you'll find yourself in hot water, if you don't kerb that tongue of yours."
"I may say what I please," Mint replied snootily. "Those who don't appreciate it simply aren't worthy of my presence."
Deciding not to fuel their argument further, Ichigo reluctantly backed down, shooting a glower at the other girl's back before refocusing on the commotion outside to diffuse her temper. Her friend had always been posh, but it seemed the older she grew the worse she became. Sometimes she was downright insufferable. Ichigo sighed lightly and paid closer attention.
On the street below, people walked in twos and threes, chattering and laughing merrily. They were making their way to the harbour, as Ichigo and Mint would soon be doing. Today marked the arrival of the cruise liner St. Victoria, who would bring with her an abundance of foreigners, and the return of several local young men who had sought the wonders of the world. Many girls had been eagerly anticipating their return for months. Whispers about the men's eligibility had surged like wildfire, unstoppable and constantly fuelled. Gossip had centred on little else for the good part of the year, and it had swept Ichigo up in its tantalising clutches.
Her heart tingled with excitement. She let herself be carried off by her romantic imagination. Perhaps today she would meet the man of her dreams, who would sweep her off her feet and marry her tomorrow in the morn, and they would move to a faraway exotic place and have four beautiful children–
"There you are." Lettuce had returned. Mint quickly changed into the new petticoat, draping the damaged one over the taller girl's slender arm. "Attend to it land. Dress me first."
"You could really dress yourself," Ichigo pointed out, toying with one leg of the ribbon at her waist. Mint shot her a look of disbelief.
"Why on earth would I do something like that?" she demanded. "I pay her for exactly this. She would serve no purpose, and then you'd have even less than you have now, wouldn't you, Lettuce? You would have nothing."
Lettuce, who was retrieving Mint's blue satin gown from the handsome oak closet, flushed and nodded modestly. Ichigo watched her, uncertain why she felt unhappy doing so. Mint turned to Ichigo with a triumphant look. "See? Why should I rob her of her life?"
And Ichigo suddenly realised why there was a nasty taste in her mouth. "Well, if this is the poor girl's life I certainly pity her it!"
She stomped towards the door, catching her foot in the hem of her dress and stumbling ungracefully with a yelp of surprise. She held her head high, composing herself, hearing Mint's restrained laughter, and turned away, blushing hotly with embarrassment.
"Oh, look," Mint said, fighting her amusement. "I don't mean to set you off."
"I'll wait for you in the front parlour," Ichigo replied tersely.
"Oh, come now," Mint began again, then seemed to not have anything to follow it with. She settled for, "Surely you're not going to wear that ugly thing? Borrow one of mine."
Ichigo looked down at her cream dress, her pride wounded. She was rather fond of it, with its cotton bows, puffed sleeves and simple, sweeping skirt. She'd always thought it was sweet. She folded her arms across her chest defiantly.
"Thank you, but no. I am going to wear this dress, actually."
"Well, at least do your hair properly."
"I'll be waiting in the parlour."
Mint watched her leave, shaking her head to herself in bemusement. Sometimes she just didn't understand her friend at all.
"Impatience is an unattractive face," Mint said, putting her hand against the wall to steady herself as the carriage hit a particularly uneven patch in the road. "Sit back in your chair."
Ichigo ignored her, leaning forward to stare excitedly out the window, her hand drawing back the black curtain. She swayed as they clip-clopped down the stony street. The horse pulling their carriage snorted every now and then. People glanced at them as they passed, mothers hastily pulling young children aside as they played in the road.
She loved New York. Loved its busy streets and tall buildings. She'd never seen anything like it anywhere in Virginia. Mind you, she hadn't really travelled much of Virginia, either. Everything here was fresh and new and different. Even the air tasted different somehow, and English sounded different spoken by a New York mouth.
"What are you looking at?" Mint asked curiously.
"Everything." Ichigo threw an impossibly cheerful smile over her shoulder. She turned back and caught a glimpse of water. "Oh! We're here."
The carriage drew to a stop, and they were instantly bombarded by a surge of voices. The coachman jumped down and hastened to open the door, pulling the fold-down steps into place. Ichigo practically exploded out of the carriage, thanking him quickly as she flew past. The crowd was tight even where they sat on the fringe, and she caught her hem in the door, toppling straight into somebody.
"Hi!" he exclaimed, disgruntled. "Watch where you're going!"
"Sorry!" Ichigo exclaimed, finding her footing and tilting her head back to look straight into the face of a tall, blonde young man. His fierce blue eyes were extremely displeased. He gave her the once over and glanced away dismissively, straightening his grey waistcoat.
"Your clumsy feet stepped on my foot." It was a sneer, with an accent she couldn't pick. Blood rushed to her cheeks.
"Well, perhaps your big foot shouldn't have been in the way," she shot back, glowering at him. He returned his gaze to her in surprise, one blonde eyebrow kicking up in evident amusement. He surveyed her as though he'd never seen a girl before. Huffing at him, Ichigo fluffed her skirts to regain her composure.
"Excuse me," she snapped, and stormed away into the crowd without a backward glance. Silly, ungrateful, awful boy! He didn't even deserve her apology. And he was so degrading – with just one look! He didn't even need to voice his open disdain! His face had said enough.
"Have you no mind?" Mint caught up with her, grabbing her sleeve. Her eyes flashed with irritation. "What a friend you are, charging off without a second thought about me!"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Ichigo sighed guiltily, slowing up. She reached for her friend's small hand, gripping it tightly as they were jostled by the crowd, working their way closer to the huge steam liner. It had already docked, and the gangplank was busy with people disembarking. The welcoming crowd cheered and shouted, women waving lacy white handkerchiefs in greeting.
"Is it as wonderful as you'd hoped?" Mint asked dryly, scowling as someone smudged her sleeve with soot. She reached into her sleeve for her handkerchief, swatting at her arm angrily.
Ichigo didn't reply; she was too busy standing on her tip-toes to see what was happening. She could just spot the tops of tall men's heads as they merged with the crowd. In spite of her excitement, she was a little disappointed. Unless she somehow got up close, there was no hope of her meeting anybody. People were hugging joyously all around as long-awaited family members returned at last. Wives kissing husbands. Ichigo's heart panged. They were so fortunate.
"Well, it seems we travelled all this way for nothing," Mint said irritably, glancing pointedly at Ichigo from beneath thick black lashes.
"We'd have been here on time if you hadn't fawned so long over your face," Ichigo replied shortly.
"Resentment is almost as ugly as impatience," Mint warned lightly. "And I never step out without ensuring my perfection."
"Charming," Ichigo said sarcastically. "So you're a vision in blue, and I'm destined to be a widow with fifty cats for eternity."
"Oh, don't be so melodramatic," Mint scoffed, trotting along as Ichigo huffed her way back to the carriage. "It isn't as though you'll never have the chance to see a man again. And besides, there's still the welcome ball yet."
"The what?" Ichigo stopped dead in her tracks. Mint nearly walked into her.
"Don't do that!"
"Sorry. What did you say?" Ichigo had whipped around. Her eyes were wide and intense.
Mint smirked, folding her arms across her dainty chest. "What would you be willing to sacrifice for this information?"
Ichigo's mouth dropped open. "What could I possibly have in my possession that you would covet?"
"Nothing," Mint agreed. "But this kind of power is rather liberating."
"Please tell me!" Ichigo cried, losing patience. "Your temptation is cruel, Mint!"
The smirk widened with delight. Finally, when Ichigo looked set to storm home on foot, she said, "Oh, fine. I suppose I should divulge. It would be ungainly of me." Ichigo relaxed, eyes wary, as though she suspected trickery. But Mint was true to her word. "Tonight the mayor is hosting the welcome ball for the passengers aboard the St. Victoria and their families. And anybody else attending, should they be appropriate guests."
Ichigo's heart sank again. "Neither of us know anybody aboard."
"Perhaps." The smirk lifted once more. "However, I most certainly qualify as an appropriate guest, and you may attend in my company."
Ichigo was so elated that she squealed with delight and scooped her friend into a tight hug. "Oh, thank you! This will be such fun! I can barely keep from grinning; I feel giddy. Oh, Mint, you're such a wonderful friend!"
Mint gave a small, self-satisfied smirk and straightened her skirt. "Well, I do try."
Ichigo quickly released her, her brown eyes glowing with unabashed joy. "Come, let's hurry! There's so much to prepare!"
"Hold your horses!" Mint called laughingly as Ichigo flitted off to the awaiting carriage. "We certainly won't be going anywhere until I've had afternoon tea!"
But even she couldn't help smiling at her friend's infectious enthusiasm, and she gathered her skirts to keep them from dragging and hurried after her.
"For heaven's sake," Mint sighed exasperatedly, "Have you seen a clock of late?"
Ichigo tutted and dashed around the guest room, looking for the missing shoe to her favourite pair. They were rich red satin, with neat little heels and ribbons tied in sweet little bows for decoration. They went rather well with the gown she was wearing; her best one saved especially for rare occasions like tonight. It was soft rose pink, with a tight bodice that snugly fit her small waist, and skirts that bloomed around her feet. The ribbon at her waist was the same red as her shoes, and several roses fashioned from silk lay on her dresser, to be tucked into her hair.
Mint perched idly on the loveseat in Ichigo's temporary quarters, glancing around at her friend's added decorations; the ridiculously frilly, heart-shaped lace cushion on the bed, the alpaca throw in a hideous shade of pink that didn't match the décor at all, and several tacky trinkets that seemed to be cat-themed. She wrinkled her nose; it was all tragically tasteless.
"I should be ready soon," Ichigo replied, eyeing her reflection as she looped several disobedient red ringlets atop her head, pinning them in place with a determined frown.
"As long as you're aware that it's already half seven," Mint replied, smoothing the creases from her black silk gloves. Her dress this evening – for she had changed, protesting loudly to the notion of anybody at the ball seeing her in the same garment – was rich sapphire silk, as blue as the ocean, and decorated at the throat and sleeves with black lace. The bodice, too, was trimmed with black, and the skirt overlay was patterned with black lace roses. Her hair was up, the braid twisted in an elegant spiral behind her head, and the diamonds at her ears twinkled in the fading sunlight.
"Half seven!" Ichigo gasped, shocked. "Oh, we'll be late at this rate!"
"Have you not been listening for the last half hour?" Mint snorted. But Ichigo was clearly inattentive, buzzing around the room like a frantic moth as she hastened to locate the missing shoe.
"Oh, bother! Have you seen it?"
"Seen what?" Mint was examining her reflection in Ichigo's mirror.
"Why should I have seen it? It belongs to you."
Ichigo threw her hands up in exasperation and flew from the room, startling poor Lettuce half to death as she brushed down the landing carpet.
"Is all well with Miss Ichigo?" she asked timidly when Mint appeared in the doorway.
"Quite," Mint replied, not looking at her. "Perhaps if she'd simply assented to your dressing her, we wouldn't be in this pickle. She does make life rather a chore sometimes." She raised her voice in response to the loud noises echoing from downstairs. "Darling, do try not to destroy daddy's house, please."
An unintelligible, muffled shout drifted up to them. Shaking her head, Mint returned to the guest room. Moments later, she was back, a look of utter disbelief painting her features.
"For goodness' sake, child!" she called down the narrow staircase. "I've found it. Let it alone down there! Daddy will be ever so displeased!"
Ichigo thundered up the stairs in a most unladylike fashion, her footfalls heavy and ungraceful. Mint winced, swinging the red shoe in her fingers.
"Where did you find it?" Ichigo demanded, awed.
"Beneath your bed, of course," Mint replied. "Now put it on and let's be on our way, or I fear we'll never get there at all!"
The night was warm and alive with an atmosphere of excitement that almost crackled with electricity. All the way there, Ichigo fidgeted with her gloves, curling her fingers together in a mixture of nerves and anticipation. Her eyes, rimmed delicately with black and dusted rose pink on the lids, flicked to the window and away constantly.
"For heaven's sake," Mint snapped, finally irritated with her. "Calm yourself. One would think you'd never been to a ball before!"
The horse-drawn carriage pulled up outside a rather extravagant establishment in the heart of New York's thriving metropolis. The streets were wide and busy with party-goers flocking to the event. Heels clicked against the sidewalks, which were illuminated by the glow of the impressive restaurants lining the road, and the tall streetlamps dotted at regular intervals.
The coachman assisted the girls to the pavement, then led the carriage away until later. Ichigo stared up at the beautiful architecture with wide, dazzled eyes.
"So help me," Mint huffed, taking hold of her arm and steering her up the concrete steps to the double-door entrance. "Try to be discreet about your not being local. I'd rather not be embarrassed by you."
"Come now, Mint," Ichigo replied in an excited whisper. "Parties are never as splendid as this back home. Let me be impressed."
"Do it with your mouth closed," Mint hissed as they were ushered into a grand foyer with a polished marble floor and a high, arched roof. Mirrors lined one wall, interspersed with marble pedestals topped with huge golden vases containing exotic flowers Ichigo had never seen before; bright explosions of colour that made her smile.
"This way," Mint's voice said impatiently in her ear, and she was being led away from the foyer and up a sweeping set of marble stairs lined with majestic maroon carpet. She let her gloved fingers trail along the lacquered banister, her gaze moving inevitably to the doors thrown open at the top. Behind them lay a sight so marvellous it took her breath away.
A huge ballroom sprawled before her eyes, wide and beautiful, with an intricate pattern swirling the floor. A brass chandelier, its thousands of crystals twinkling, was suspended in the centre of the roof. Tasteful paintings spread away from it, reaching towards the corners of the room. The windows were high and arched, framed by thick red curtains with heavy, gold-braid tassels. A long table along the back of the room was sheathed in a white cloth, offering frosted glasses of punch for the guests.
"Come now," Mint said primly. "You've been impressed. It's time for us to join them or they'll all start wondering if you're quite right in the mind."
Ichigo ignored this obvious insult and followed her friend onto the floor. The dancing was spectacular. At least a hundred handsomely-dressed men and elegantly-gowned women moved in unison, in a slow, lazy waltz that swept around the ballroom. Another hundred loitered in small clusters around the edges, watching, sipping punch and socialising.
"Shall we?" Mint suggested with a small smile as the song ended, and everybody clapped in appreciation of the well-dressed quartet atop a small stage by the punch table. The next song started up, and the blue-haired heiress slipped easily into the circle. She shot a teasing smile over her slender shoulder, and Ichigo blushed nervously. Dancing was not one of her strengths.
Moments later, she was steered by the arms of a stranger, and she found herself amid the dancing. Her partner was a fresh-faced young man, one she'd never seen, and he smiled down at her.
"A lady such as yourself should never stand and watch," he said jovially. Ichigo tried to relax so she wasn't so stiff in his arms, letting him lead, counting the steps carefully in her head and trying to mask her clumsiness. If she ever trod on his foot or stumbled a little, he said nothing, though she was certain she did multiple times.
As the waltz wore on and the girls moved from partner to partner, Ichigo grew clumsier and clumsier. It didn't help that only some of the men were good at dancing; it seemed many, like her, weren't gifted, and together they were nothing short of disastrous. Finally, Ichigo became so distressed that she was about to give up and leave the circle when she was passed into a pair of sturdy arms that felt instantly secure. The hand at her waist was reassuring and firm in its guidance, and she decided to stay.
It was a decision that was fortunate for her dancing, but otherwise rather unfortunate.
"I hope you're not as clumsy when you dance as you are when you walk."
The voice rang with familiarity in her ears, and Ichigo looked up into a pair of astonishingly recognizable blue eyes. He smirked openly at her, his blonde locks shining in the light of the chandelier.
Immediately, she puffed up angrily.
"I'm not obliged to speak with you."
"Is that your way of disguising that fact that you're focusing so much on counting?" he asked, the smirk deepening when she flushed and focused on something on the other side of the room, determined not to look at him. Irritation burned at her insides and she cursed her bad luck.
"Feel the music," he advised. "Your body will respond to it."
Her flush reddened; she refused to listen to him. It was difficult not to think about what he'd said, however, and she found herself trying to heed his advice in spite of herself. It was especially difficult to ignore him when he was particularly good at dancing. He was confident and sure as he led, and she found she didn't panic in his arms, but fell naturally into step with him. They said nothing more until the end of their turn, when he smirked again and said, "There. That wasn't so hard, was it? Mind you, you are a rather terrible dancer."
She stepped away from him faster than if she were dropping a hot coal, and shot daggers at him as her next – very confused – partner took her in his arms. The blonde man merely smirked with obvious amusement and watched her go. Ichigo did her very best to pretend he didn't exist, soothing her bruised pride and trying to cool her blazing anger. She simmered like a dangerous snake for the next few rounds, frightening her partners and barely even looking at the poor things.
Across the ballroom, Mint stood by a velvet curtain, delicately sipping a glass of punch she didn't particularly fancy, her eyes sweeping the room. Scanning the game. She sniffed dismissively to herself, decidedly disappointed. It would have been nice to play for a while. Mint was hardly a serious young lady when it came to matters of the heart. She believed in marriage, of course, but not in love. Love was for foolish children with their heads in the clouds. Like Ichigo, she thought vaguely. But she wasn't opposed at all to playing games with boys. She pursed her lips.
"And what has you creasing that pretty face of yours with such an unsightly frown?"
She knew that voice, and her lips turned up in a smile of pleasant surprise as she turned to greet her sudden company with appraising dark eyes. "Kish. How lovely it is to see your return. I trust you enjoyed the wonders the foreign world has to offer?"
"Rather," he agreed with a devilish smile. Tall and willowy, Kish was fair-skinned and dangerously charming, with eyes that glowed like rich honey, and messy locks of deep green that tumbled irresistibly into his face. When not pulled back as it was tonight, it swept his shoulders. Many a girl had felt the temptation to run her fingers through his hair, and one too many very likely had, if his reputation was anything to trust.
"I admit I'm rather jealous," Mint said, her gaze moving back to the dancing. "To experience the delicacies of other lands must have been wonderful."
"Oh, it was," Kish assured her. She could already hear the smirk in his voice. "There is nothing more delicious than the fruit of a foreign flower."
The innuendo had the corners of her lips twitching. "I'm sure you tasted many."
She risked a glance up at him, her old friend. His golden eyes danced with humour. "You are wicked."
"We can't all be saints, now, can we?"
"Heaven forbid," she replied, one delicate hand pressed to her chest in mock-horror. They grinned at each other. Mint linked her arm through the one he offered and they strolled in a leisurely circuit of the dancers.
"Fill me in," Kish said, "on the scandal I've missed in my absence."
"Darling," Mint replied lightly, "how could there possibly have been scandal when you were not here to create it?"
He smirked, eyes dancing, pleased with her answer. "I suppose, then, that you're yet to find a tolerable suitor? I see no engagement ring." His eyes grazed her left hand pointedly. "Unless you've hidden it away beneath that glove of yours, which would be rather clever of you."
"There is no man in New York who is worthy of this hand," Mint replied sniffily. "I hope your insult is intentional."
Kish shook his head good-naturedly. "Ah, fair Mint, you'll find your handsome benefactor yet."
"I don't hold my breath," she replied. "I dread the day. What use does a woman have for a man but to marry her, give her children and try her nerves?"
He laughed. "That, my dear, is how we came upon want for promiscuity."
"I couldn't agree more."
They strolled in a companionable silence for a moment, until Kish clucked his tongue and suddenly said, "And who might that delectable little firecracker be? I certainly haven't seen her before."
Mint followed his golden gaze and spotted Ichigo positively seething in the arms of a tall, blonde stranger. She was red-faced and glaring daggers at the curtains, and he seemed to behold her as though she were a form of amusing entertainment. Mint made a little noise of curious interest and shot a knowing look at Kish, who was watching her friend with an expression she knew only too well and recognised immediately. She'd seen it many times before, and it never boded well for the object of his contemplation.
"It is with your best interests at heart that I advise you not to give chase," Mint said lightly. "That would be my rather dear friend, Ichigo, from Virginia, and she'll no less look at you than take a garden snail in her hands."
"Watch her," Kish said, barely listening, evident delight in his voice. "Why, she's like an enraged kitten. Rather adorable, really. She wears irritation rather well; it's quite becoming on her." He tilted his head to catch a better glimpse as the couples turned.
Mint raised one eyebrow and downed the remained of her glass in one quick sip. "Believe my word, Kish, she will despise you. She's yet to hear of you, and when she does, she'll not even speak with you."
"Better I make my move before that happens, then," Kish replied, shifting his gaze from Ichigo's bright red hair for only a second to wink playfully at Mint. Then he released her arm and, with the smirk of a predator with an exciting new target, moved into the circle of dancers, leaving Mint rather astonished in his wake.
Ichigo was, by this stage, completing her fifth round of dancing, and forcing herself to partner that arrogant blonde man was more insufferable each time than the last. She loathed the way his eyes laughed at her when she was with him, but loathed even more that, in spite of this, she still enjoyed dancing with him. She didn't think she could stand much more of his presence without deliberately stomping on his feet, though, no matter how pleasant it was.
And, oh lovely, here he was again. She resigned herself to moving into his awaiting arms once more, when there came the clearing of a throat, and a new person stepped in her path, one arm already at her waist. The owner smiled at her in a manner that was altogether too charming, his eyes like liquid gold and perhaps too appraising.
"May I cut in?"
Without so much as a curt nod at the appalled blonde man, the newcomer slipped easily into place, taking her hand and guiding her into the waltz. Ichigo was so surprised by this interference that she nearly didn't see the blonde boy leave the circle, but she caught it in her peripheral vision. She stared up at her new partner, taking in his smooth skin and messy, dark locks and the way he was looking at her, and feeling uncomfortably like she ought to know him from somewhere.
"Please pardon my ignorance," she said, striking up conversation. His smile was gracious. "Am I supposed to have made your acquaintance already? If this is so, I must apologise, for I have no recollection of you." She blushed appropriately, and he smiled again, thinking to himself how very lovely it was when her cheeks turned pink. Already his mind was straying to unscrupulous places, placing hungry kisses on her lips; touching the soft skin of her stomach. He smiled again.
"Fret not, for we haven't yet met," he assured her. "My name is Kish. I spotted you whilst conversing with your friend, Miss Aizawa. We're old acquaintances."
"Oh," Ichigo said, her eyes lighting up with recognition. "You too are a friend of Mint's? I'm her guest this summer, after which I'll be returning to Virginia."
"Yes, she told me it was so," Kish replied, eyes still on her face. Ichigo glanced away, blushing deeper. It was a little disconcerting being under such a constant, determined gaze.
"Pardon my impudence," Kish all but purred with a devilish smile, "but you are simply delightful when you blush, kitten."
Ichigo snapped her gaze up incredulously. "I beg your pardon?"
"You don't mind?" Kish asked lightly, clearly loving her instant flare up. "I think it rather suits you."
"Why, you impertinent–! You know nothing about me!" Ichigo snapped. Honestly, if this was the kind of man New York had to offer her, between this obvious charmer and the ruder blonde man Ichigo had lost faith. Perhaps she would find a husband when she returned to Virginia, after all.
Kish lowered his mouth to her ear while they turned in circles, his hold on her extremely self-assured. "Well, I most certainly could, if you wish it."
Ichigo pushed against him and broke away, stopping their dance and bothering the couple nearest them. She glared at Kish with open distaste.
"Excuse me," she said shortly, as was custom. "I'm afraid I must take my leave."
Kish merely smiled and bowed his head slightly. "Until next meeting."
Ichigo whipped around and stormed off, still burning. "I should pray there will be none," she muttered under her breath, feeling his eyes on her back and shuddering inwardly. What an evening! It had turned out to be a complete disappointment, and it upset her rather a lot. She'd set out with such hope, and it had been utterly shattered before her eyes. Oh, how naïve she had been! To think she'd actually believed she might have found her prince charming in a big, exciting city.
Mint was waiting by the doors, as though she had the ability to read minds. There was a rather strange expression on her face, which Ichigo could only place as a self-satisfied smirk. Her petite arms were folded smugly across her chest. Ichigo was too angry for words, and Mint seemed to need no explanation.
"Shall we?" she suggested, and the two girls walked out into the summer evening, climbing up into the awaiting coach, Ichigo still fuming. As the carriage lurched and trundled into the night, Mint took a deep, satisfied breath and leaned back against the lush cushions. Finally – finally – Kish had returned, and – as always – scandalous entertainment for the rest of New York would no doubt follow in his wake.
She smiled in the darkness.
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