Philippa had abandoned her some time ago when Geraldine felt a presence behind her back. Before she could turn and step back to give herself space, a man’s hand had taken possession of her elbow.
“It is a surprise to meet you here Duchess.” She exhaled softly, as if the fact someone recognized her was insignificant. It wasn’t of course. “How long has it been? Four years since you graced Society’s ballrooms with your presence.”
The man didn’t wait for her answer. Instead he made her turn and brought her hand to his lips without ever touching them. She couldn’t have said who had accosted her this way, the domino mask hiding his identity more securely than hers had. His resembled one of these wild cats she once saw at the zoo: tigers. With stripes, gorgeous hues of orange and black. But when he looked up, she prevented a gasp: his eyes were the colour of irises. She’d seen eyes like this before but she couldn’t quite recall when. A long time ago? The recognition was followed by a sense of impending doom.
“Do I know you, my Lord?”
He laughed, a deep laugh unfettered, a man who knew no possible taboo on his desires and wants. She must have met him at one of the lavish parties she attended with her late husband. There were enough of them that she might have met all of the significant personae in Society.
“I think I shall enjoy the privacy this masquerade affords me for a while longer my dear.”
How dare he? She hadn’t allowed him to use such endearment. He must have understood she’d taken offence for he continued.
“I apologize my Lady. I know you but you do not recall me. We met when you were but a girl; and we crossed path some time ago.”
It still didn’t trigger any clearer memory of how she might have known this man, nor what his name could be. Still it appeared he’d assigned himself as her companion for when she made to move he moved beside her. For some moments, as they meandered through the full room, they exchanged no words. Lost in her own reflection as to who he could be, Geraldine didn’t realize he’d taken her hand and brought his other to her waist that they might dance the next set.
“I haven’t danced in years my Lord.”
“They say it’s one thing one can’t ever forget. I shall lead you well.”
He proceeded to do exactly that: he was indeed a very good partner and she soon felt quite secure following his lead.
“So. Is it true what they say?” She arched an eyebrow. What was she expected to answer? “I see. You have even been sheltered from gossip.”
“I can’t say I’ve been sheltered from it. I have merely avoided it the best I could.”
“Good thing too. After all our Society is mutable, fickle. What they say one day might change. Who knows? When they finally recognize you they might grovel at your feet.”
“I doubt it.”
“So as I was saying. People couldn’t help but notice only your cousin Philippa Bearing welcomed you. And well, knowing of her… temper, they believe you’ve been her maid servant.”
She laughed softly.
“It’s all Penny gush. But I wouldn’t imagine a gentleman indulging in such gossip.”
“But I’m no gentleman my Lady. I’m a rogue of the worst kind. You hadn’t yet reached the peak of your beauty when your husband caused your demise. I’m merely wondering if the woman hiding beneath the mask has grown into the beautiful widow I would imagine her to be. If the little girl I once knew gave up her writing dreams after…”
She gasped lost count of the steps and their dance, so far perfect and smooth was jarred. She knew who he was. And why his eyes were so familiar: she knew him once long ago. And she knew him recently. He was the man who revealed her husband for the traitor he was. Hesitating between a curtsy and a slap, she brought her hands to her chest.
“You called me James before Geraldine.”
“When I was a girl. You said so yourself.”
Confused and shocked, she wondered what she should do. She hovered between fleeing and staying where she stood. She couldn’t really walk away from the host of the party without creating another scandal: one of her own. Taking pity on her, or with some hidden expectations, the Duke helped her walk out of the dance floor. He bowed.
“Forgive me the confusion I created. I hope we can meet in another setting where you feel less like a mouse trap by the big bad cat.”
In response to Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Wordle #150
1. Count 2. Iris 3. Peak 4. Penny Gush ((n.) Exaggerated stories or tales) 5. Grovel 6. Reflection 7. Assign 8. Mutable ((adj.) subject to change, fickle) 9. Lavish 10. Insignificant 11. Occhiolism ((n.) the awareness of the smallness of your perspective, by which you couldn’t possibly draw any meaningful conclusions at all, about the world or the past or the complexities of culture, because although your life is an epic and unrepeatable anecdote, it still only has a sample size of one, and may end up being the control for a much wilder experiment happening in the next room.) 12. Girl
Use at least 10 of the words to create a story or poem
The words can appear in an alternate form