Ms. Arabella Elliot was not at all impressed by the conversation occurring between her elder sisters Clodette and Elizabeth, and Lady Astor. They were fussing over the latest dress patterns from Lady Astor's modiste-as if shades of pink were worthy of such a dissertation on Elizabeth's part.
Arabella tapped her left foot quietly against the quilted rug, struggling to maintain a serene face, not a hint of ennui present.
Everything about this stuffy drawing-room, with mauve curtains and sparkling silver sets, was suffocating. What she wouldn't give to be outside splashing in puddles, feeling the cool and refreshing raindrops dance upon her cheeks.
Instead, she waited. Holding the place as the third daughter had some advantages when it came to blending in. However, she had yet to hear anything related to the reason she agreed to the visit with the pretentious but powerful Lady Astor.
Lady Astor was related to the one man in all of London who made Arabella want to scream. The man who not only called her Little Bit and treated her like a child but, who had done the evilest thing possible-he had ruined her chance with the man she had dreamed of marrying, Mr. Harrold Trumbolt.
Yes, Lord Christopher Brannigan Ellory Astor was a major thorn in her side and would pay for his part in ruining her life. How dare he bring his pompous, no-good, opinion into her life.
Arabella seethed, just envisioning his face. What she wouldn't give to ruin his favorite cravat and run off with his favorite stallion. With a low growl, she twisted her hands in her lap.
"Arabella dear, whatever is the matter?" Elizabeth's soothing voice carried across the drawing-room, startling Arabella from her musings.
A fierce crimson stole over her face, as she met her sister's eyes. "I'm sorry Elizabeth, just a slight cramp in the leg."
"It is most unladylike to mention any stress," Lady Astor admonished, looking down her long nose at Arabella's hunched frame. "Men do not want a weepy child."
"Yes ma'am," Arabella whispered.
The other ladies resumed their conversation while she did her best to hold her tongue. Telling Lady Astor what she thought would only embarrass Clodette and Elizabeth, potentially marring their chances for a potential mass this Season.
Arabella considered what it would be like to run off to America. Maybe there was still a chance to convince Harrold to come with her. Smiling at her silly thoughts, Arabella almost missed the knock on the drawing-room door.
Stevens, the Astor's butler, appeared and addressed Lady Astor, "Lord Christopher is home."
Lady Astor clapped in glee. "Good. See that he comes joins us."
Stevens bowed and disappeared into the hallway. Elizabeth began to giggle like a schoolgirl as Clodette, the oldest and beauty of the family, straightened her skirts and affected a regal pose.
Arabella sat up straighter-this afternoon had suddenly become much more interesting. 'I must observe the pompous donkey so I can know how to best the Vilian,' she mused to herself.
A few moments later, Lord Christopher made a grand entrance, a brilliant bouquet of daisies and tulips presented to his sister before turning a charming smile toward Arabella's innocent sisters. Arabella was never more happy to be a wallflower than she was at the moment. He had yet to notice her but she could observe him, critique his flaws, and plan her revenge.
"How is it that such beauty has gathered in my home today?" Christopher's smooth baritone elicited simpers and smiles from Clodette and Elizabeth.
'Of good grief, have some respect' Arabella fumed silently. Her sisters acted as if he was the prize of the season and the sun and moon set at his command.
Maybe it was the heat of her glare or just chance, but the Villian turned his head ever so slightly, catching her mutinous gaze with his own assessing look.
A crooked half-smile appeared as he mock-bowed toward her before returning his attention to the ladies gazing adoringly at his sickenly perfect profile.
Seconds stretched into minutes until a quarter-hour passed. The rain shower outside dissipated and glorious rays of sunshine broke through, a welcoming sight.
Arabella decided to make her escape quickly, desperate to walk in the luxurious gardens of Halloway Hall. Excusing herself with the excuse to attend to personal matters, Arabella had to contain herself so as not to sprint out of the drawing room.
Instead of heading toward the washroom, she exited and entered the gardens; gardens which were fortuitously located far away from the stuffy drawing-room.
Despite the puddles and fresh mud splashed along the pathway, Arabella laughed in delight and sat herself down on a bench, not at all concerned about her skirts, now a bit damp.
Closing her eyes, she failed to notice the shadow of another who had followed her out to the gardens.
"Bella Bean, why are you always flaunting propriety?" Lord Christopher's voice held amusement and exasperation as he followed suit, settling on the other end of the bench.
"It's Arabella to you, Christoper." Her terse response and informality were par for the course in this war they played out. However, it was time she arose the victor.
"Darling, you may as well give in and accept fate. Your family is going to be tied to the Astors for a good, long time."
His smirk shouldn't cause butterflies to flutter in her belly, but it did. These traitorous emotions caused it hard for her to think straight and she had to be on her guard.
"If Clodette accepts your pitiful proposal, I shall do my best to never set foot near you after the vows have passed. In fact, I have special plans of my own."
Arabella smiled victoriously as his smile slipped. But it was a brief victory as he lobbied another poisoned barb.
"I can promise you Bella Bean, you will be seeing me every day, special plans or not."
"Never," she spat fiercely. "You nearly ruined my chances with Mr. Trumbolt but you won't win. I will marry and it will be to the love of my life."
Christopher edged closer on the bench, his large body closing in on her petite frame. Reaching out, he took hold of her left hand and tugged, sending her collapsing forward into his arms.
"That we can agree with," he whispered in her ear, arms steel bands holding her against his strong chest.
"Christopher, release me," Her demand was more breathy than forceful and his chuckle resonated from her head to his toes.
"Screw propriety, I love you Arabella, you stubborn woman. Scaring away a pompous creep like Harrold Turnbolt was easy when it was fueled by love."
Arabella ceased her struggles, her mind not at all comprehending the pretty words she was hearing. 'Christopher loves me?' Her thoughts ricocheted like those pool balls in that hall the lower staff like to visit on their leave day.
"No, no...we, we argue and we, we, you..." Arabella's babbled words bounced between them. "You think of me as a child!"
"No, mon petite coeur, we spar with wit and attraction. You've held my heart in your hands since the day you stomped on my cravat in the mud outside Herr Shroeder's music emporium."
"Oh Christopher, I don't know what to think."
"They stop thinking."
His lips descended upon hers with such tenderness, it was the second burst of sunshine bringing light into a cloudy existence. Arabella ceased to worry about what this all meant and let herself feel freely for the first time in ages.
After a few breathless moments, they broke apart. "But, my sisters, they are older than me and not yet married."
"I have no doubt they will take the Season by storm but I am happy to sponsor them, ensuring excellent matches." He brushed his lips gently across Arabella's forehead. "All that matters is that you love me too and you never, ever, think of that lowlife Harrold Trumbolt again."
Arabella tossed her head back with laughter, realizing that love had taken root over the last year when she wasn't looking.
"I can do that on one condition," she said in a sly tone, smirking at his stunned gaze.
"Anything, name it and I will make it happen." He was so sincere, eyes wide and hopeful.
Arabella leaned in close and whispered into his ear, "you better propose to me now or your sister might never recover from horror."
Christopher half turned and caught sight of Arabella's sisters standing with his sister Amelia, gasping in shock and potentially horror on Ameilia's part.
Christopher immediately turned back to Arabella and dropped onto one need in the middle of the mud and puddles. "I promise I will make some grand gesture but for now, this will have to do. Bella Bean, my heart has never beat so strongly as when I gazed into your beautiful, majestic eyes and heard your melodic voice say my name. Your intelligence, loyalty, beauty, and child-like wonder are just a few of the amazing aspects which make you who you are. Will you do me the honor of holding me in your heart as your best friend, husband, and father to our children?"
Tears graced Arabella's cheeks as she pulled him to stand. "Yes," she whispered shyly, "a thousand times yes."
Even years later, it was bandied about in the servants' quarters of how the Lord of the manor had proposed to his wife and the subsequent fainting of three gently bred ladies.