A Skating Party
A few years ago I wrote a short story for Christmas called "A Season for Suitors." The hero, Sebastian Fleet has a dark past and a fear of commitment and although he cares for Miss Clara Davencourt he simply cannot bring himself to the point of proposing marriage to her. But then a skating accident intervenes... I have included an extract from the story and hope you enjoy it!
Sebastian paused. It was a pretty scene and in the centre of it skated a girl in crimson. He recognised Clara at once. She was surrounded by her family and friends. These were the very people with whom he would once have felt so comfortable. He found himself automatically moving to the marble steps that led down to the pool, then stopped. He had barely seen or spoken to Clara in the past fortnight and to force himself on her party now felt awkward and wrong. Besides, now he looked more closely he saw that Lords Tarver and Elton were both in attendance, like twin ugly sisters waiting for Cinderella to choose between them. It made Sebastian feel ridiculously angry. Yet he knew that Clara might well be married by the time he returned from the continent and that he should feel happy at the prospect. It was unfortunate that he was not even noble enough to want for her the thing that would achieve her greatest happiness. He acknowledged ruefully that he was the original dog in the manger. He did not want Clara enough to risk everything for her – the thought petrified him – and yet he did not wish her to find her happiness with anyone else. The tug of it was like an agonising seesaw inside him. Risk all to gain all... He was so very close to it. And yet he turned aside to leave instead.
He almost missed it; had almost turned back through the gates where the door man was still demanding his entry fee, when out of the corner of his eye he saw Clara fall. She had skated away from the others to the edge of the pool, where the ice ran beneath the branches of the bare trees. She was weaving her way under the trees, a snow queen all in red against the white of the trunks. Then there was a harsh, horrible cracking sound and Sebastian saw the dark water run between the cracks in the ice, saw Clara clutch and miss the branch overhead, and did not wait to see more. He ran. The park keeper was still shouting for his money, unaware of the accident. The other skaters were still spinning and drifting on the other side of the pond. Sebastian scrambled down the bank, careless of the snow and the branches that tore at his coat and his face, and came down onto the ice near where Clara lay.
Someone else had seen now and was shouting for help, but Sebastian reached her first. She was lying half on the ice and half in the water. She did not move. The ice cracked and shifted beneath his feet, but he ignored it. He caught a fold of her skirts and pulled fiercely.
She moved then and tried to pull herself up out of the ice but it broke beneath her hands. He grabbed one flailing wrist. There was a pain inside him so immense and a panic so smothering that he could not speak. Her wrist was wet and he could feel his grip slipping. She was sliding from his fingers and he was powerless to stop her. There was an immense crack as the ice gave beneath her and she tumbled from his grasp. Seb saw the water close over her head.
The dark images that he had thought had been buried forever flashed across his mind with such vividness that he gasped aloud. Oliver struggling against the ice, slipping away from him, disappearing from sight, his face white, his mouth open in a soundless scream… For a moment he was still with the horror of it and then he was lunging forward to seize hold of Clara before it was too late. His hand met nothing but ice and air. He reached for her again and this time, to his inexpressible relief, he touched the material of her gown. He grabbed it and pulled. There was resistance, a ripping sound, and then her skirts were free of the clutching water and he was pulling her to him fiercely. They both tumbled backwards onto the snowy bank, Clara held tight in his arms. He pressed his lips to her hair and tried to pull her closer still, until she made a muffled sound of protest.
The others were arriving now, full of questions and anxiety. Juliana and Kitty plucked Clara from his arms and fussed over her. Martin was shaking his hand and saying something, but Seb was not sure what it was. He felt sick and shaken and afraid. Martin carried Clara up the bank. Seb could hear her protesting that she was quite well and he felt breathless with relief. They were calling for a carriage to take her straight home. Clara turned to look at him and held out a hand in mute appeal, but he turned away. He was too dazed to speak to her; both by what had so nearly happened to Clara and by the hideous memories it had stirred for him. He did not want her thanks.
The fuss and bustle gave him the chance to escape. He went to a nearby coffee house and although he could see them looking for him out in the street, he stayed in his own dark corner until the last of their carriages had rolled away.
The coffee warmed him and gradually soothed his shaken emotions. He was able to force the fearsome images of the past back into the dark recesses of his mind where they belonged. Nevertheless, he knew that this was not the end. It could not be, now. For in those moments when he had held her he had told Clara that he loved her. Not in words, perhaps, but in the expression in his eyes and the touch of his hands as he held her so fiercely to him. He had known it and so had she. And he knew his stubborn love. She would seek a confrontation now. And he would have to be ready...