Theodora’s scarlet dress caused a stir; unmarried women didn’t wear such colours. She could feel the gaze of most guests rest upon her in shock. Tongues wagged and rumours would probably start. Not that she really cared anymore but well. Pastels and white were to be worn by those Society considered innocent. Except Teddy wasn’t the wide-eyed ingenue the ton would like her to be or thought she was. And she tired of navigating the maze of Society’s etiquette and rules. In fairness she never really complied with them: the first of three girls to the Earl of Chatham and born between four boys, she felt closer to her brothers than any of her sisters. And she’d driven her mother to despair numerous times before her come-out.
Her brothers had always included her in their plans. Well almost. She was never welcomed when they forayed into men’s clubs or gaming hells. That would have constituted a terrible breach of etiquette and it would have ruined her. Not that her personal inclinations wouldn’t be considered scandalous but nobody knew. She’d been careful that her personal visits to a certain club had gone unnoticed. Still she’d mostly behaved since she entered society. Only it didn’t meet her expectations, needs and wants.
The truth was that at the age of three and twenty, after five seasons, she wasn’t expecting any proposals. For all intent and purposes she was on the shelf. Her sisters would marry. Well too. They were beautiful, petite with golden hair, blue eyes and pale complexion. She was too tall, almost as much as her twin and her olive skin was too dark. She had also discovered her expectations to be… different. And though she would ensure her fetish never bring shame on her family, she wanted to live her life.
She doubted any gentleman would look at her beyond the shock of that dress. She didn’t mind; it gave her some freedom to pursue her own interest, which was irreplaceable. Her thoughts lingered on the tusk Lord Dashford brought to the museum the week before from his latest travel. It was gigantic, probably belonging to one of the prehistorical mammoths. She and Lord Dashford had spent hours studying the tusk and trying to determine its origins. She’d shown him some of the work she’d done in his absence and he’d kindly praised her on her precise analysis of the animal’s anatomy… She hoped to be allowed to do more in the future.
Her thoughts were interrupted when Brent tapped her on the shoulder. She turned and smiled. He was beaming.
“You’re positively stunning Teddy. Why ever did you wait to wear such colour?”
“To satisfy Mother, why else? After all isn’t it why you’re even here?”
He groaned at her teasing. At six and twenty, he was the heir to the earldom and their mother intended him to marry this season. Only Brent wasn’t ready to settle. And he found the expectation irksome to say the least.
“I commiserate. And I’m glad she’s more concerned with you and Julianna than me.”
“That’s how you got away with the colour of the dress.”
“She didn’t know until it was too late.”
Teddy laughed and Brent joined her. She stopped abruptly when she noticed a man watching her intently. Philip was standing beside him; as if he knew she was watching him – and he probably did – her twin’s gaze turned towards her. His eyes took in her dress and surprise shone on his face. She raised an eyebrow. He nodded. He knew what she meant.
“Who’s the gentleman beside Phil?”
Brent took a quick look. His shock was palpable. Her twin and the man approached: there was something of a predator in him. He seemed to be a hunter on the prowl. He exuded strength and power. The scar that ran down his temple and neck merely enhanced the sensation of danger. He could be a lion or a tiger. The mane of tawny hair just brushing his shoulder added to the overall impression of wildness.
“It’s Commander Jeremiah Thornhill.”
“How do you know the man’s name?”
She’d heard the name several from Lord Dashford who venerated the man – they were on a journey once together and the man saved his life. And in the newspapers; he was a hero of the war. But she didn’t get the chance to answer Brent for Phil and the Commander reached them. She took Phil in her arms.
“How’s the leg?” She whispered. She’d noticed he tried to hide the limp but she knew him. His smile was tense but genuine. The smile he kept for her, and maybe one day to the woman he would marry.
“Irksome. But it’ll be fine. You know Mother.”
She would have rolled her eyes if they were alone but they weren’t since she’d intimated to Phil that she wanted an introduction to the man who had so blatantly stared at her. Had he not been Lord Thornhill she might have found a way to call him on it, but she must admit she was impressed. And not only by his heroics. The man oozed raw power and animal confidence. Still she was what she was. And a dose of dominance in a man was always a good thing.
“Teddy, please meet Commander Jeremiah Thornhill. Lord Thornhill, my sister Lady Theodora Glendale.”
He took her hand and the strength of his hold caused her to raise an eyebrow. She curtsied, as he kissed her knuckles. A shiver ran down her spine.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you my Lord. I’m honoured to meet the man who saved the Prince and so many other lives during the assault in Grenada.”
Brent and Phil rolled their eyes behind the Commander’s back. Brent mouthed an ‘of course’ to her twin.
“The pleasure is all mine Lady Theodora. I don’t deserve your praise.” He let go of her hand before he asked, as if it were an afterthought. “Are you by chance Lord Dashford’s assistant?”
Phil snorted, Brent chuckled. She rolled her eyes. Count on Lord Dashford to speak out of turn. Why would he speak of her to a stranger?
“I am. He speaks highly of you.”
“And of you. He was particularly impressed about your reconstruction of was it tiger scapula?”
Her brothers’ shoulders shook slightly. They found it amusing to no end that Dashford thought to woo her with animal bones. They didn’t understand that there was no such relationship between her and the scientist. They both had a passion for the same subject.
“Boys, will you stop?”
They sobered instantly; neither of them enjoyed when she called them boys. But the mirth still inhabited their gaze. At least for a moment.
“Teddy, I see Mother waiving.”
Brent sighed. It was her turn to suppress a chuckle. Phil stopped her, as she took Brent’s arm.
“Don’t worry Teddy. I’ll go with Brent. The dance will begin and you know me…”
He smiled but she heard the undertone of bitterness. She lay a comforting hand on his arm. How could Mother demand Phil be present for a ball when he couldn’t dance?
“Would you allow me the pleasure of this dance Lady Theodora?” The Commander asked, as her brothers left.
She nodded and let him lead her on the floor. His hand grazed the lower part of her breast and her ribs causing a slight shiver before it settled at her waist. She raised an eyebrow.
His lips lifted in a feral grin. He knew it was inappropriate but didn’t appear to care.
“Will you be whipping me for my transgression Mistress Thea?”
Fear washed over her. How did he know?
In response to Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Wordle #128
1. Irreplaceable, 2. Tusk, 3. Scapula (shoulder blade), 4. Scarlet, 5. Ingenue (The part of an artless, innocent, unworldly girl or young woman, especially as represented on the stage.), 6. Constitute, 7. Fetish, 8. Mistress, 9. Dose, 10. Maze, 11. Vandal, 12. Necroscope (Someone who can communicate with the dead.)
In response to the Daily Post writing prompt irksome