When Georgiana had told Lizzie that Gray would be at the ball this evening she had been thrilled. Finally, after four years they could speak. She had planned the entire meeting out in her head. They would run into each other, perhaps by the refreshments. He would be polite but reserved, unsure after all this time and still guilty at never answering her letters. There would be a few moments of polite, inane conversation. What a lovely ballroom. Such dreadful weather. These are terrific appetizers.
Finally Lizzie would say something witty and Gray would laugh. The ice would be broken and the two would apologize. He would explain that he had responded to every one of her letters but had been afraid to post them. She would forgive him, and apologize for that night, that dreadful night four years ago.
Everything would be ok, everything would go back to the way it had been.
But that was not what had happened.
Instead, Lizzie had lost her nerve. She had spotted him across the ballroom, his head thrown back, laughing at something that dreadful Bevelstroke girl had said and Lizzie had turned and left; her eyes stinging.
Gray looked so different, but she would have recognized him anywhere. He still he still had the same dark hair, the brown glowing in the candlelit ballroom. It was a bit too long and a lock hung down across his forehead refusing to be tamed.
He was no longer the lanky boy of his youth. Instead he had the type of lean, muscular build that caused women to stare. Broad shoulders, strong arms, and his suit tailored to perfection. Gray still wore his spectacles adding a bit of boyish charm to his features.
He looked every inch the rake.
After hiding in the ladies retiring room for the better part of an hour she had decided to leave (not just the room, but the ball). Determined to find Georgiana and plead a headache Lizzie had left the room on a mission.
And that was when things got bad.
Gray was standing at the end of the hallway starting to turn; he was going to see her.
And then things got worse.
Lizzie panicked and tried to run but her dress was too long and her slipper caught on the hem. With a terrible ripping noise Lizzie hit the ground, her head bumping against the wall and stunning her.
While she tried to gain back her senses Gray hurried over and stopped next to her.
His voice was deeper, more sensual. “Are you alright, Miss?”
He hadn’t known it was her and Lizzie kept her face averted, her eyes squeezed tight. She shook her head still not looking at him.
“That was quite the nasty spill.” He reached out his hand to help her up. “I know we haven’t been introduced, but if you would –“ he stopped abruptly as he caught a glimpse of Lizzie’s face and recognized her. Gray’s expression became shuttered and all emotion wiped clean. His hand was still held out to help her.
“Lord Grayson” Gray corrected, causing a stab of pain to her heart. He gripped her hand and pulled her up none to gently. Lizzie rubbed the back of her head as they stood in the hallway.
Lizzie took a deep breath, her strained smile feeling like a grimace. She couldn’t speak and Gray, horrid Gray, wasn’t making it any easier. He just stood there, starring at her, making her feel like a fool.
I am a fool, she thought.
Gray cleared his throat. “Miss Danver, I am glad to see you are well. If you will excuse me.” Gray offered no excuse, he just bowed and turned to walk away.
Lord Grayson? Miss Danver? Since when did they address each other formally?
When you broke his heart, a voice whispered inside her head. God, what a mess!
He was two steps away before her nerve returned. Truly, enough was enough!
“Please don’t walk away from me.” Lizzie stopped Gray with her hand on his arm, the touch sending electric tingles across his body causing him to shiver. He hated her for making him weak.
Gray stopped walking but did not turn around. What could she possibly have to say to him? He had nothing left to say to her.
Lizzie didn’t speak right away, carefully planning her words before she spoke. It had been four years since they last spoke and she did not want to foul it up again. Courage, she reminded herself.
Seconds passed but they felt like hours in the awkward silence. She opened her mouth to speak but no words came out. Gray’s arms tensed and he started to pull away from her. Lizzie wrapped her fingers around him, stopping him a second time. Gray turned to her his eyes at once incredulous and disdainful.
“Gray, I … I’m sorry”. Lizzie stammered. Gray arched his eyebrow, mocking her. When had he grown so cruel? “Can we please talk?” Lizzie refused to give up. She could fix this, she knew it. They had been best friends. Surely, after four years, he couldn’t still hate her? This was not going at all like she had planned.
Even after all this time her voice still sent shivers up his spine. Gray struggled to remain composed. He could hear her swallow. Good, she was nervous. “I-I … I wrote to you”. Since when did Lizzie stammer? The Lizzie he knew had been confident. She would not have let him get to her. What had changed? He was curious despite his best intentions.
“Yes, I know.” Anger flashed in her eyes at his cool response. God help him, she still looked lovely. She was older, of course, but lovely all the same.
She stood there before him, her dress torn, her hair mussed and still, still she was beautiful.
Lizzie had aged well. Instead of the coltish grace he remember she was now all lush womanly curves and satin skin. Her hair was still stunning, the red strands peeking out at him, the thick weight of it perfect for running his hands through. Gray clenched his fist to keep from wrapping a curl around his finger. Her dress hugged her body, a sinful creation of ice blue silk that was captivating in its simplicity.
And the smell! Good lord, the scent of lemons surrounded him. It was intoxicating.
If there was an ounce of justice in this world she would have grown ugly.
With a deep breathe Lizzie seemed to get her nerve back. “You never wrote me. Not once did I receive a letter from you.” Lizzie crossed her arms, glaring at him.
“Lizzie” she ground out, cutting him off.
“Miss Danver” Gray said again, condescension dripping from his voice. After all, the best defense was a good offense and he was feeling quite defensive. “I apologize if I have offended you.” That was a bold faced lie.
“You are lying! I’m sure you take great satisfaction in offending me!” The only thing missing was steam pouring out of her ears.
“I see you are still as ladylike as always” Gray mocked. If he wasn’t so off balance this would almost be entertaining as they both fell into their old speech patterns, politeness be damned.
Lizzie snorted. She actually snorted. Ladylike indeed!
“You know what?” Lizzie huffed. “Never mind! Clearly we cannot have a proper conversation when you insist on being horrid. Good evening to you, Lord Grayson. I hope you enjoy the ball!” Gray watched as Lizzie turned and walked away, her back held straight, never turning back. Her torn dress swished around her feet.
Gray leaned back against the wall, running his hand through his hair. Well, that had gone well.