Despite the elegant ambiance in the large ballroom, an unsettled feeling remained rooted inside the pit of Elizabeth Seymour’s stomach. She didn’t care what people thought of her, or her brother’s—the Duke of Somerset—heroic and somewhat violent attempt to ensure that her reputation was left intact. But Lizzie still heard the whispers and felt the reluctance of the people around her as they glanced at her. They were cautious to engage in conversation with her, which made no sense. Were they perhaps under the impression that promiscuity was contagious? Or perhaps the shame of being in the company of such a light-skirted woman threatened their reputations. Whatever the reason, Lizzie lifted her chin and pointedly ignored their ambiguous stares and forced smiles. Instead, she proceeded along the length of the decadent ballroom belonging to the Marquess and Marchioness of Wealing. She was no longer interested in trivial and mindless chatter from people who didn’t make time to know her. She didn’t appreciate anyone who was not sincere at this moment in time, when she needed it the most. And thanks to what she had gone through, she would, indeed, value that strength of spirit for the rest of her days. Today she had received a letter from her older brother, Will. He and Emma had married suddenly on a ship heading towards the port of Elsinore in Denmark. It had been an unbelievable romance between Will and Emma. When they had first met, they could not tolerate even being in the same room together. Somehow, the stars aligned and love prevailed when Will made a grand gesture by boarding the train Emma was on at the very last minute and joining her on her journey to Edinburgh.
Admittedly, Woodlock Manor had been quiet since her boisterous brother had departed, and while her brother James and his wife Kitty prepared for the birth of their child, Lizzie had little to do but quietly wander about the estate. She had assisted Kitty with trips to town and selecting furniture for the nursery, and as much as Lizzie appreciated that the duchess had included her in these tasks, she could not help but feel as though she was intruding. Of course, Kitty had assured her many times that this was not the case, but she still was not convinced. James’s wife was simply being her polite and sweet self. Lizzie would most certainly not admit it to anyone, but she was lonely, and as she was the last of her siblings still unmarried, she felt as though she would have been a disappoint to her parents if they were still alive. Despite being the youngest Seymour sibling, she had always been convinced she would be the first to matrimonial bliss. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined her tight-lipped eldest brother the duke, and her rake of an older brother would marry before she would. And love matches, at that! “My lady!” a familiar male voice beside her suddenly called out, removing her from the sombre cloud of self-contempt she had fluttered her way inside. Lizzie turned to her right and a smile formed on her lips as she glanced at Mr. Carson Wallace, who stood there, appearing very dashing in his formal wear.
She’d known Carson for a very long while, as his family resided in the estate neighbouring Woodlock Manor. They had spent many summer days in the estate gardens playing as children. Despite his father not bearing a title, the Wallace family was noble in their own right. A very influential and important family, whose wealth spanned as far as their influence. D Carson’s mother had separated from his father under rather scandalous circumstances and forsaken Somerset, which left the young Master Wallace feeling rather abandoned. Luckily, he’d found solace in Lizzie’s company, and would often sneak through a hole in the wall separating the two estates, concealed by thick vines of ivy and foliage. His father didn’t care much that he spent time with Lizzie and would often visit to have tea with her parents while their children played in the garden. Carson had been a good friend to Lizzie, but as soon as he had reached the age of thirteen, he’d befriended her brother Will, preferring his male company. Lizzie hadn’t seen him as much after that and if she tried to join them, Will would shoo her away. “Carson,” Lizzie greeted cheerfully, delighted so have someone to speak with who didn’t force his smiles.
“How lovely it is to see you.” “And you, my lady,” Carson reciprocated and softly kissed her hand. “You’re dressed very formally this evening.” “We are in the presence of nobility.” Lizzie grinned. Carson chuckled and his light green gaze met with hers. “Would you care to dance?” “You are well aware that once we start, I will not be able to stop. Your dancing is enchanting, and difficult to cut short,” Lizzie admitted. “And one can only dance so much.” “Who told you such a ridiculous thing?” Carson scoffed with amusement.
“Apparently everything has a limit before it becomes unnecessary and trivial,” Lizzie answered bitterly, then forced a smile to her lips. She didn’t want to place a damper on her conversation with Carson. He was not the cause of her frustration, nor did she wish to involve him in her woes. Carson gazed even more intently at her and cocked his head. “Is everything all right, Lizzie?” “Everything is fine, Carson. How are you? Have you been doing anything interesting?” she inquired, desperate to shift the topic of conversation. “If listening to carpenters hammering in the manor house is considered interesting, then indeed,” Carson answered with a chuckle. “That is right. You are having the library redone after the rains of the winter. I had forgotten about that,” Lizzie answered with a smile.
“How is everything progressing?” “Too slow for my liking,” “You have always been such a patient man.” Lizzie sighed and placed her hand on his. Carson lowered his gaze for a moment, then glanced back at Lizzie, his eyes suddenly changing. She wasn’t certain what happened in that moment, but her heart began to pound in her chest as Carson’s light green gaze consumed her. Her skin tingled under his touch and she removed her hand from his. “Thank you for the offer, Carson,” Lizzie managed to say as she caught her breath. “Perhaps in a while. I must first visit the powder room.” “Very well. But I will seek you out if a while becomes too long,” Carson answered with a charming smile and a hint of amusement in his tone.
Lizzie cocked her head to the side and glanced at him for a moment before she turned away. She made her way through the ballroom, passing the curious gazes of the other guests. She simply ignored the ominous feeling that clawed its way to the surface. Instead of allowing it to negatively affect her, she held her head high and proceeded to the powder room. There was no one inside, much to her relief. She stared at herself in the mirror that was perched on a low mantel. Tears threatened to make their appearance, and Lizzie pressed her lips firmly together to stop them. Her brow furrowed when she recalled the strange feeling she’d experienced when she touched Carson’s hand. She had been hiding her adoration for Carson for most of her life, and it had become such a habit to her, that the sudden surge of emotions felt rather strange. She couldn’t allow herself to love him any more than she already did, as he had never shown any sign that he reciprocated her feelings.
And the last thing Lizzie wanted was to lose the only person who truly believed she was still good inside, and not the monster everyone else in Somerset thought she was. Monster may be a strongly worded term, but their stares and whispers made her feel as such. An abomination to her gender. She drew in a slow breath, gathering her strength to push through the remainder of the evening. She couldn’t wait until she was safely ensconced in the confines of her bedchambers, where no judgment was passed, and she was able to breathe freely. Lizzie lightly touched her hair and brushed a loose tendril from her cheek. While she gathered her courage to face the guests in the ballroom once more, she smoothed the skirt of her dress and drew in one last breath before leaving the powder room. The guests in the ballroom had carried on as though she had never left, or perhaps as though she didn’t exist. She sauntered towards the refreshment table, and as she passed a group of women, she heard their words, which cut deeply, like swords through her flesh. “I saw her earlier with Carson, practically undressing the poor man with her eyes.
” “Such a promiscuous woman.” “The only reason Lord Dorset publicly admitted the tales were untrue was because His Grace paid him to do so.” “Perhaps we should ask her.” “Lizzie,” Lady Margaret’s pitchy voice called out to her, and despite every cell in her body begging her not to respond, she slowly turned around. Lady Margaret and her group of young women were glaring directly at her. “Yes, Lady Margaret?” Lizzie inquired, forcing a smile. “Do you have a moment to spare? There is something we must ask you,” Margaret answered, with no regard for correct forms of address. Margaret was the daughter of a duke, as Lizzie was, but Lady Margaret considered herself a much higher rank and class. She was a spoiled young woman who only used people as she saw fit in order to obtain what she wished, and threw her father’s fortune in everyone’s faces. “And what might that be?” Lizzie inquired.
“How much did your brother pay Lord Dorset to inform everyone that the tales he told of you were untrue?” Margaret asked, and her group of cronies giggled behind her. Lizzie’s eyes narrowed, but she would not allow these women to upset her. “Perhaps you should stop pretending that you are such a saint, Lady Margaret. We all know what activities you and Lord Niall partake in the stables.” Lizzie sighed. Lady Margaret raised a brow at her and crossed her arms. “And this comes from a woman who spends more time on her back than anyone in Somerset.” “As opposed to bent over a hay bale?” Lizzie countered. Lady Margaret expelled a gasp and shook her head. “Is Carson aware of your dalliances? Surely, he would not want you if he were to find out about you and Lord Quinton.
His mother—” “Do not dare speak of things of which you have no knowledge,” Lizzie exploded. “Every single tale Lord Dorset has spread of me is false. I am not a promiscuous woman, but I do not require anyone to believe me. I don’t give a fig what anyone thinks of me, least of all you. You know nothing of life, and I pity you more than anything.” As Margaret’s eyes widened in shock, Lizzie whirled around and moved to the refreshment table. She grabbed a bottle of wine, not caring in the least how unladylike she appeared, and stomped out of the ballroom towards the terrace. She rushed down the narrow steps and disappeared into the night, still clutching the wine.