Chapter Three

Robert found Miss Levinson to be a marvelous dancer-even if she was American. To his surprise and delight, she was extremely graceful, more so than many English ladies he knew. It was almost as if she were royal herself, although there was no American equivalent to the aristocracy, he felt that surely she was a distant relation to it. After all, Americans were British citizens a little more than a century ago.

"You're a marvelous dancer," Robert told her. By this time, they were on their second dance, much to the disdain of other men in the room and a selection of ladies who had hoped to catch the Viscount's eye that night. But he only had eyes for the beautiful American, as did most of the men there.

"Thank you, Viscount," Cora said, a small smile on her face. "Especially for an American, I suppose?"

"For anyone," Robert correct her, pleased with the blush his compliment created. Cora looked away, noticing some of the disgusted looks she was getting from a few ladies. She looked back at Robert unashamed of his attentions, feeling proud to dance with him. She held herself higher as she looked into his eyes.

"What does your family do?" Cora asked, without realizing her question was rather silly.

Robert chuckled genially. "Do? Why, I suppose you could call us investors," he told her. "My father and I run our family's estate at Downton."

"My, how very difficult your life must be," she joked.

"I don't suppose yours is much different, is it Miss Levinson?" he asked. "Parties, society living?"

"Pardon me, Viscount, but what do you know of my life in America?" Cora asked, slightly incredulous. Where did all these English acquire their information?

"Please forgive me, Miss Levinson. I did not intend to sound as though I am more knowledgeable than I am. But, as you are here at this particular gathering, I assumed you were a lady of elegant society, as your manners and loveliness exude," said Robert quickly. He hoped Miss Levinson would believe this half-truth as a whole.

None the wiser of his smooth statement, Cora smiled at him. "How kind of you to say so, Viscount," she said sweetly. Relieve, Robert smiled back at her. He'd relied for so long on his ability to smooth things over that he was pleased it seemed to work on Americans as well.

"Do you realize you've danced two dances with me, Miss Levinson? My, my, what will people be saying about us?" Robert asked. Cora's heart skipped a few beats and she felt silly once again.

"Oh, heavens, I didn't even think of that," she said quickly. "I'm sure I will be scolded by my brother as soon as he finds me."

Robert laughed, looking around for said brother. "I believe he does look rather cross," he told her, smiling genially at her.

"What's he doing?"

"He's talking to a young lady, but he can't seem to stop watching us," Robert told her, still smiling.

"Oh, God," Cora sighed. "I'm in for it."

"I'm sure my mother will have a few things to say to me as well," Robert admitted, his eyes searching the room before settling on Cora again. "Although I am having a lovely time, Miss Levinson."

Cora blushed and looked away, her heart beating madly. "That's kind of you to say. So am I," she said truthfully, looking at the Viscount again. His smile made Cora feel as though she were floating. She had no idea why a dance, even two dances, with a man could make her feel this way. She felt incredibly ridiculous, but she didn't seem to mind.

To her disappointment, the dance ended and the Viscount led her to the side of the floor.

"Thank you for the dances, Miss Levinson," Robert said, taking hold of her gloved hand and kissed it softly. Cora's heart gave a start as he looked up at her. She stared at him blankly, unable to respond with words. She could not remember a time when a suitor had rendered her speechless, although she couldn't remember much of anything at the moment. Her response was a please smile, nothing more.

"Good night, Miss Levinson," he said, gently releasing her hand.

"G-good night, Viscount Downton," Cora said shakily. Holding the her gaze for a moment more, Robert smiled once more before turning and walking across the room, where he found his mother and father standing. The Earl and Countess of Grantham looked suspicious as their son approached, his mind still on Cora's lovely face.

"Robert, with whom were you dancing?" the Countess asked sternly, her eyes flitting about the room. By her question, Robert knew Rosamund had already spoken to their parents.

"You know very well, Mama," Robert told her. "Rosamund told you, didn't she?"

"She mentioned you were dancing with an American girl, a lovely one, might I add?" the Earl said. "But, of course, you know how your mother feels about Americans." Robert forced back a laugh as he heard the jest in his father's voice. The Countess gave her husband a scathing look and he nearly rolled his eyes.

"Is it not enough that Lady Asher served salmon puffs tonight, but Robert must dance with an American?"

"Dearest Mama, do not be too hasty," her son said, attempting to soothe her. "It was only dancing."

"Rosamund tells us she's very rich," the Countess said stiffly. "I suppose you'll want to marry her now that the estate is to go."

"Don't talk about it here, Violet," Lord Grantham muttered to his wife. "We must appear as we always have been."

Violet sighed, waving her hand at her husband in an annoyed manner before walking away.

Once Violet was out of earshot, Lord Grantham spoke in an undertone.

"I've discovered Miss Levinson's fortune is even greater than Rosamund's sources supposed. Her father owns a coal company that is expanding to the mining of tin," he said. "If you could...persuade her...our problems would be solved."

"You mean marry her for her money?" Robert asked, slightly surprised by his father's suggestion. Not that it hadn't crossed his own mind numerous times during the evening. It just sounded worse hearing it from someone other than Rosamund.

"We've been made very desperate, Robert," his father said quickly. "I know it's not ideal, but if you don't marry well, we will have to sell. You haven't settled on any others, have you?"

"Well, none as lucrative as Miss Levinson," Robert told him.

"None as beautiful, either, I'm sure," Lord Grantham said.

"Yes, she is quite stunning, isn't she?" Robert said, his eyes drifting to where Miss Levinson was obviously being scolded by her brother.

"You know there's nothing else to be done, Robert. We are at the mercy of whomever you marry. Do you really want to see my life's work, your inheritance, lost forever and your mother not able to live in the comfort of which she is accustomed for the rest of her days?"

Robert swallowed. He could not let Downton go. Not like this. His family had worked far too long to keep the beloved property and house. He would not be the reason his family's dynasty had turned to dust.

Both men continued to watch Miss Levinson from across the room. She was smiling again, talking and laughing with her brother and the other girl. As he watched, Robert furrowed his brow in concentration. He knew she could save Downton. If only he could convince her.

The evening ended much too soon for Cora's liking. Many other men had asked her to dance, and she'd said yes to nearly all ofthem, but she couldn't stop thinking about the Viscount Downton. His light blue eyes, his smile.

Stop it, Cora, she'd scolded herself numerous times. He's just a man. Like all the others who've given you attention. He's no different.

But still, she could not stop thinking of him. It was strange for her to be so taken with anyone, especially someone she'd only just met. Usually she simply ignored men or only let them have her attention if she was especially bored. Only her father and Harold had her affections. Why should this Englishman be worthy of it?

Harold and Lissy had both noticed Cora's odd behavior in the days following the ball. She was listless and uninterested in most things, although, at first, neither was sure of the reason. Or Harold hoped it wasn't what he thought it might be.

One afternoon, Harold and Mr. Watson had left the ladies at the house. Mrs. Watson was feeling tired, so the girls were forced to stay as well. The younger girls ran about the drawing room while Lissy sat with her mother, the daughter doing needlework while the mother rested her eyes. Cora sat at the piano in the corner, playing a soft melody that had only just come into her head.

"That's lovely, Cora," Lissy commented. "Who's it by?" she asked.

"I made it up," Cora answered, gently pressing down the keys. Lissy smiled her approval as one of the servants entered the room.

"A visitor, ma'am," the butler said.

"Who is it?" Mrs. Watson asked, sitting up slightly.

"The Viscount Downton," he said. Cora's breath caught in her throat.

"The Viscount Downton?" Mrs. Watson asked, sitting upright. "What in earth is he doing here?"

"He's come to call on you and the young ladies, ma'am," he said, a little taken aback by the question. "Shall I show him in?"

"Oh, yes, yes," Mrs. Watson said, straightening her dress as she got to her feet and the old butler slipped out of the room. The older girls got to their feet as well, Cora doing her best to avoid Lissy's questioning eyes.

She looked down at her green dress, surmising whether or not she should have chosen a different outfit today. Before she has time to decide, footsteps were echoing down the hallway and a moment later the butler entered again.

"The Viscount Downton, Robert Crawley."

The aforementioned Viscount entered, a smile on his face as the group bowed to one another.

"Please forgive my impertinence," Robert said congenially. "I hope I'm not disturbing you, ma'am," he said to Mrs. Watson.

"Not at all," she said kindly. "Please have a seat."

"Thank you," he said warmly, choosing the chair nearest Cora. She had moved from the piano and had seated herself beside Lissy as they all sat down.

"Would you like anything? Should I ring for tea?" Mrs. Watson asked, unsure of English customs.

"No thank you, Mrs. Watson," Robert said, his smile warm. He caught Cora's eye and she blushed furiously. Lissy watched the exchange between Robert and Cora with suspicion.

"What brings you here, Viscount?" Mrs. Watson asked.

"I thought I might inquire after you and your daughters, ma'am, not to mention your lovely guest, Miss Levinson. How are you all today?" he asked smoothly. Any suspicions Mrs. Watson had of the young Viscount vanished.

"We are very well, thank you, Viscount. And how is your mother? I was introduced to the Countess of Grantham the other evening," Mrs. Watson said.

"My mother is very well," Robert told her. "Actually, she is part of the reason I'm here. She hoped you and the young ladies would join her for tea tomorrow afternoon."

"How kind," Mrs. Watson said, looking at her daughter and Cora. "I'm sure we'd be delighted."

Robert smiled at Cora, who'd been watching the exchange in silence. Her heart skipped a few beats when his eyes met hers again. "You look very well, Miss Levinson," he said warmly She blushed, but ignored it as she responded. She could feel the stares of Lissy and Mrs. Watson, but ignored that, too.

"Thank you, Viscount," she said in a steady voice. She had picked up her needlepoint and begun to stitch where she'd left off, but she found her hands were too unsteady.

"Are you very fond of needlepoint, Miss Levinson?" Robert asked.

Cora laughed softly. "It helps pass the time," she told him. A half-smile crossed his face.

"So I'm told," he quipped. "My sister Rosamund abhors it, however. Although that is likely because she lacks the patience to develop the skill. I can see you do not."

"My, I hope impatience is not a family trait," Mrs. Watson interjected.

"Not at all ma'am," Robert told her. "I am much more patient than my sister." At this sentence, his eyes had flickered to Cora before returning to Mrs. Watson. "I'm afraid I must be going," he said, getting to his feet. The ladies did the same.

"Thank you for coming," Mrs. Watson said, extending her hand. Robert clasped it quickly.

"Thank you for allowing such an inconvenience. I do hope I'll have the pleasure again soon."

Robert's eyes met Cora's again. She smiled coyly before looking away. What are you doing? she scolded herself. He's just a man.

She turned her eyes toward him once more, determination in her eyes. Lissy watched them carefully.

"Good afternoon, Miss Levinson," Robert said gently.

"Good afternoon, Viscount," Cora replied, her pulse quicker than she'd ever felt it before. He took a step toward her. Then, as though realizing the others were watching, changed his mind, instead looking Mrs. Watson.

"Good afternoon, ma'am," he said quickly before hurrying out of the room.

When he was gone, Lissy looked at Cora while her mother spoke. "What was that about?" Mrs. Watson questioned, sitting down again.

"I think he's in love with Cora," Lissy said, almost as though accusing Cora of making him love her. Cora looked away from her friend, ignoring the questions of Mrs. Watson and returning to the piano.

He doesn't love me. She thought to herself. Why would he? I'm sure he doesn't. Still, his behavior, his visit at all was very strange. Why had he come? Cora found herself smiling for no reason as she began playing the same gentle melody again.