the beat, the duke took her hand and almost from the first steps, Melissa
forgot everything except the music. They skipped and gestured, pirouetted and
passed each other with graceful ease, their steps perfectly aligned. It was
exhilarating, to be so at one with a partner and Melissa wondered how it could
be that strangers should move so well together. As the courante drew towards
its conclusion she found herself wanting to prolong the moment. The last notes
died away, they saluted one another and as she rose from her curtsy the duke
reached for her hand.
you stay for the minuet?'
knew she should refuse. She should go back to Lady Fryer, but for the life of
her she could not summon up the will to do so. Almost without realizing it she
took his proffered hand and remained on the dance floor.
music swelled and rolled against her senses. Melissa lifted her eyes to the duke's
face and could not look away. He circled around her, his intense blue gaze holding
her in thrall so that she was only dimly aware of the other couples dancing
around them. Her body was no longer her own, it moved and swayed to the same
rhythm as her partner's. When he stepped up to her, the white lace on her
corsage brushed against his black velvet coat. He led her round, first one way
then the other, his eyes never leaving her face. She was lost, time stood
still, when the dance ended he held her a prisoner with the intensity of his
gaze and she did not even notice that the music had ended and made no move to
musicians struck up again, another minuet, and still they danced. Melissa did
not hear the murmurs of disapproval from some of the matrons sitting on the
benches, nor did she notice Lady Fryer fidgeting uneasily on the edge of the
dancefloor. She was caught in a world outside time, aware only of her partner,
the sinuous elegance of his movements as they followed the steps of the minuet
and the way her own body swayed and circled around him while the lilting music
flowed about her. They were like two birds performing some ritual courtship,
their bodies expressing a primeval language she barely understood.
duke took her hand and led her back to their original positions, bowing as the
music ended. Melissa curtsied mechanically to her partner. She felt dazed,
shaken by what had occurred and she looked up, searching his face. There was a
smile lurking in his hard eyes, a warmth that was oddly reassuring. It told her
he knew exactly what had occurred during the dances and she was about to speak,
to ask him to explain what had happened when another voice broke in.
well, very nice, my dear, but time is pressing. Your aunt mistook the day,
there is another engagement. Come along Melissa, I am sure the duke won't ...
your servant, your Grace!'
a flurry of half-finished sentences, Sir Joseph caught Melissa's arm and almost
dragged her away. The spell was broken, Melissa looked back to see the duke had
not moved from the dancefloor. He was still smiling, but it was not the warm,
intimate look they had shared a moment earlier. It was a smile that made a
chill shiver run the length of her spine.
what is it?' She struggled to find her voice. 'What has happened, is my aunt
to collect her scattered wits, Melissa questioned her uncle, but he merely
shook his head and hurried her out of the ballroom. Lady Fryer was waiting at
the door and turned to follow them. Outside, the cool of the summer night
quickly washed away the remains of Melissa's stupor and as Sir Joseph hurried
them through the warm streets she pulled her arm free from his grasp, demanding
to know what was wrong.
tell you what is wrong, miss,' declared Sir Joseph furiously, 'you have given
every tattlemonger in Bath enough fodder for a month!'
dance with only one man all night, and that man the Duke of Aldringham! You are
ruined, child, ruined! And you, madam. What were you about to allow Melissa to
meet such a man?'
I did not know his reputation!' cried Lady Fryer, breathless with the effort of
keeping up with her husband. 'Pray you sir, slow your pace, for we are
attracting even more unwanted attention by this unseemly haste.'
God I decided to look in upon you before going on to supper. Heaven knows where
it was leading, with the man blatantly seducing the girl in the middle of the
that what he was doing?' she asked, remembering. It had not felt like seduction. More like heaven.
(c) Melinda Hammond
The Duke & the Debutante will be published on Kindle very shortly, so do look out for it.
Melinda Hammond /Sarah Mallory
By Sarah Mallory:
The Outcast's Redemption - pub. Harlequin July 2016