Mysterious Attractions: Ballroom Meetings

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.

“Gray-“

“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.

“Miss Danver-“

“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.

 

Dance with Me?: The Prologue

This is the prologue to my contemporary romance novel. Please note the novel (including this piece) is still in the “beginning stages” (meaning it still needs pretty heavy editing!).

The story is about Jeremy Bryant, a man who seems to have everything together, and his sister’s best friend, Emily Pond, the girl who just can’t seem to catch a break. They have known each other since childhood and though they once were close an incident more than ten years ago has made things awkward between them. Still, after determinedly avoiding each other for a decade, the death of Emily’s fiancé brings them back into each other’s company.

The first chapter will take place a year after the prologue.

Prologue

Who had ever heard of needing a date to a funeral? Jeremy Bryant thought as he stood awkwardly beside his younger sister, Amy. He was uncomfortable on the hot day, sweat trickling down his back in the too hot church. His suit, while stylishly somber, was certainly not breathable. It was agony and the situation was made all the more uncomfortable by the fact that he didn’t even know the man.

Michael Adams, aged thirty two, taken far too soon by cancer.

It was sad. Of course it was sad. But Jeremy and Michael had never met and he had no idea what to say to any of the people in their grief. His default was to tell a joke but judging by the number of times Amy’s elbow had hit his ribs he guessed that wasn’t the most appropriate response in this situation.

His first funeral and it was already more awkward than he ever could have imagined.

Still, Amy had practically begged him to attend and he didn’t have a good reason not to. Amy had always found it difficult to be around grief and the prospect of a room full of sad people terrified her. She claimed she needed him there for moral support so moral support he would be.

After all, it wasn’t as if she could skip it.

Jeremy might not have known Michael but his sister certainly had. Michael had been engaged to Amy’s best friend, Emily Pond. Widowed before she’d even got to walk down the aisle. (Was it still widowed if you’d only been engaged?)

Jeremy shook his head slightly, trying to curb his train of thought and focus on the priest. It had been years since he had been inside a church.

He let his eyes stray to Emily, standing at the front of the church holding the hand of a sobbing woman, likely Michael’s mother. Even from where he stood he could see the slight tremor in Emily’s shoulders as she cried.

Jeremy had gotten to know Emily well over the years. As Amy’s best friend they’d played together as children and got into mischief as they grew. But when high school came they’d spent less time together. Jeremy was three years older and suddenly it became less cool to hang out with his younger sister. It didn’t help matters that Amy and Emily had been very academic, involved in all the clubs and even going on to attend the same university together.

Jeremy was still close to his sister and he couldn’t imagine a better friend but he had lost touch with Emily over the years. This made being here at her dead fiancé’s funeral all the more uncomfortable.

Their first meeting in close to eight years and he had no idea how to even greet her.

Emily had always been such a kind person, quiet and lovely, and Jeremy truly felt sorry for her loss. Here was a girl who deserved the good things in life and at twenty eight she’d already lost both her mother and her fiancé.

The procession started down the church, the priest leading followed by the family with the pews emptying behind. Jeremy watched Emily as she walked down the aisle, now practically holding up her almost mother in law as sobs wracked the older woman’s body. She walked with perfect posture, holding herself as rigidly as possible as if to take control of the emotions.

Emily’s face shone with tears and her green eyes which stared straight ahead at the ground in front of her were bright with them, their mossy colour so vivid in her sadness. She was thinner than he remembered and Jeremy thought back to the updates Amy had given him as Michael went through treatment. He knew things had been hard on her, every moment filled with Michael and his needs as they struggled together.

Jeremy let Amy take his arm as they followed slowly behind the crowd towards the hall for the funeral reception. His sister sighed behind him, tears in her eyes and her discomfort visible only to those who knew her well. Jeremy reached up with his other hand to slightly loosen his tie, his discomfort far more noticeable than his sister’s.

Beyond her discomfort, Amy too was sad, having been quite close with Michael over the last few years. But she was keeping things together, ready to be strong for Emily.

Once in the hall Jeremy took a seat at a table off in the corner as his sister went to comfort Emily.

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Mysterious Attractions: First Meetings

It wasn’t love at first sight when Grayson Preston met Elizabeth Danver. In fact he rather despised her. Lizzie was the only child of a baron on the bordering estate and since she was just one month younger than Gray’s sister, Georgiana, the two became attached at the hip. Lizzie, having already secured Georgiana’s everlasting devotion, had made it her mission that first summer to befriend him (he had the misfortune of being the only other child home that summer). It was a vicious circle; the more he despised her the harder she tried and the harder she tried the more he despised her.

By Lizzie’s third visit Gray had grudgingly admitted she could be quite entertaining. When the family played charades she was the most animated, always laughing loudly and throwing herself into the game with unladylike abandon. She developed a wicked wit as she grew, reciting Shakespeare for his benefit and playing all the parts with various accents.

Lizzie was pretty enough, he supposed, with dark brown curls that were always pulled back with a green ribbon. Her eyes were a blue so dark they looked black and were too large for her face and her eyebrows were just a bit too thick. Her lips were nothing remarkable aside from always being turned up in a cheeky grin. Being young she still had the figure of a boy and was too skinny to be pleasing. Though, if Gray had ever thought to look, he would’ve realized it showed promise.

She had a pretty voice but talked far too loudly and too often. But the one thing Gray had always loved about Lizzie was her laugh. It was positively musical.

~~

Lizzie may have been in love with Michael Preston, the rakish middle son of the duke of Devonshire, but she worshiped Grayson. Gray was her knight in shining armor, her hero. He was the one who taught her to fish and to ride. He even encouraged her literary aspirations by mailing her essays and poems and recommending authors.

Grayson had even punched Niles, the vicar’s son, when the nasty boy had pulled Lizzie’s hair and pushed her in the mud. Niles nose was still crooked five years later. Deep down she knew she should feel bad about this, but it still gave her a sense of smug satisfaction.

It never occurred to Lizzie that she should be in love with Grayson rather than Michael, he was just too perfect. Gray was, aside from Georgiana, Lizzie’s best friend. He was a constant companion and a tremendous confidante, someone she took for granted in the way that all young children take their friends for granted.