(Summary: Adrian meets Mr. LaSalle in Washington D.C. while visiting her sister. Wearing hastily altered hand-me-downs, she gives the appearance of being a true society girl and becomes quite popular. Mr. LaSalle begins to pursue her, and before he can get permission to formally court her, Adrian returns home to South Carolina to take care of her sick grandmother.
Mr. LaSalle soon follows, along with another potential suitor, Mr. Moore. Mr. LaSalle soon finds out that Adrian is far from Southern Belle material, and in fact can usually be found wearing trousers and running the farm. Undeterred, he continues to try to court her, while her mother tries to push her toward the more suitable Mr. Moore.
Adrian and Mr. LaSalle admit they have feelings for one another, but he tells her he cannot move to the States from England, and she tells him she can't leave her mother and grandmother alone in South Carolina. He heads back to England, and she ends up meeting Mr. Moore's family in Charleston. Some time later, Mary receives a letter from Mr. LaSalle's sister, saying he is engaged, but miserable. So Mary and Adrian pack up and head to England, where Adrian comes face to face with Mr. LaSalle at the theater...)
"Oh, Lord, sister," I said as Mary entered my room. "Aunt Bella knows."
Mary threw herself down on the bed next to me. "I've had quite the night, Adrian." She rubbed her face. "But maybe you'd better tell me what happened first."
I explained how Mr. LaSalle had seen me in the theater, and what had happened with Bella. Mary eyes grew bigger and bigger, and when I quoted verbatim what Jack's aunt asked in the carriage, Mary grabbed a pillow and turned on her stomach to face me more fully.
"What did you say?"
"Mary, I tell you, I was such a mess. I couldn't even answer her. I just sort of nodded and shook my head at the same time. I tried to answer, but - goodness, I'm so embarrassed to say this -- but I started to cry. It was awful. Poor Aunt Bella. She patted my leg and said we would talk in the morning." I sat up, tossing the covers back. "He looked so angry."
"He is. See, he thinks you are engaged to Mr. Moore." Mary kicked off her silk slippers and pulled her feet up on the bed. "He came with his sister and Miss Dumont to the same party Jack and I went to and--"
"Engaged! To Mr. Moore! Wherever did he get that crazy idea?" I slapped a hand to my forehead.
"I don't know. I guess he assumed it would happen."
"That stupid - Brit!" The words exploded from my mouth. "He knew I didn't care one whit for Mr. Moore. He thinks I'm so fickle I'd marry -- ooh! He's the fickle one!"
"I don't think he did know that, Adrian. So, he came into the party and made a beeline for me within ten minutes. I was on my way back from the powder room when he reached my side. He did look angry; he asked why we came here to buy a trousseau. I was so confused, I didn't reply. And then he turned and left."
"A trousseau!" My voice came out in a squeak. "Why would I come here to buy wedding clothes?"
Mary shook her head. "And Jack -- you know how much he loves you, Adrian. And when he saw LaSalle talking to me, he asked what it was about, and when I told him . . . Lord, he got really mad. He went over, pulled him aside and basically told him to stay the heck away from you." She paused. "Jack's going to be a problem, honey. He's furious that LaSalle wanted to court you, then came up engaged."
"Did anyone hear what he said?"
"I don't think so, but it was obvious they weren't pleased with what the other was saying. Poor LaSalle's sister. I introduced myself to her - she's so sweet, Adrian - and we couldn't talk long. She seemed shocked we'd come. I don't think she thought we'd ever get the letter."
I laid back down and pulled the covers to my chin. I didn't know what to say. Mary's steady, even breaths calmed me a little. She was so capable, so sure of what she wanted to do.
My sister broke my train of thought. "We've got to see what Aunt Bella thinks. And I'd like to see what else Lucy LaSalle has to say."
"Is this hopeless, Mary?" I whispered the question.
"Oh, Adrian, it's not good, but we are here. I don't want to give up. Not yet. What about you? This is your life, sister. Tell me what you are thinking."
"I don't know. I don't want to give up either."
She nodded. "All right, then. We'll talk to Bella tomorrow."
When I entered the breakfast room, Aunt Bella and Mary were already eating. I greeted both, sitting opposite Mary on Aunt Bella's left, and a maid poured my tea before I could even lay a napkin across my lap. Aunt Bella smiled and patted my hand.
"We are discussing your situation, my dear. Mary has filled me in on all the details." She paused. "This is a bit of a conundrum, is it not? I cannot believe Miss Lucy LaSalle actually wrote your sister a letter. I quite admire her for it -- wanting to see her brother happy. Castleton was quite flustered at seeing you here, that is for certain. However, with his wedding not long off, I am not quite sure what we can do."
I ignored the heavy feeling that dropped to the pit of my stomach. "I understand this was a bit of a long shot, Aunt Bella, but something made me want to try. I just plain miss him. And I've been unhappy because of it. And I was never unhappy before."
"Mary tells me the biggest problem is he lives here, and you are pretty determined to stay in the United States to care for your mother and grandmother. That is still an issue?"
I nodded again. "I haven't even thought that far ahead -- all I've thought about is getting here."
"You know, I've been thinking about this for quite some time," Mary began. "And I know Jack and I can help there. I want to spend more time with Mama and Grandmama, and I think that our sisters can also contribute, if necessary. They have a better relationship with Mama than we do. See, we've all left it up to Adrian to take care of them, and I'm ashamed to say we've really not considered her feelings in the process." She paused, glancing at her half empty plate, cheeks pink.
I had no idea my sister felt this way. "Mary - I love The Pass --"
Mary raised her hand and met my gaze. "That's not the point, Adrian. You shouldn't have to sacrifice your happiness for someone else's. They are our family, too, and there's no reason we all can't share in taking care of Mama and Grandmama." She turned back to Aunt Bella, the set of her shoulders like a general's. "Now, what do you think we should do?"
Aunt Bella sipped her tea. "I think we need to bring LaSalle and Adrian together. If he's going to change his mind and cry off, he's going to need to see her. We must attend the Blankenship's soirée tomorrow night. Adrian." Her kind blue eyes met mine. "You are going to have to try to talk to LaSalle. Mary, my dear, you are going to have to keep Jack away from the both of them."
"I can do that, most definitely." My sister nodded.
I stayed silent while Mary and Bella discussed strategy, barely able to concentrate on what they said. What am I going to say when I come face to face with Mr. LaSalle? How can I tell him how I feel without sounding ridiculous?
It didn't help he thought I was in London to buy wedding clothes. Why would I come to England for that? Talk about ridiculous!
My hands rested like blocks of ice in my lap -- and were just as useless. Aunt Bella's carriage crept along through the congested streets of Mayfair before finally coming to a stop outside the Blankenships' mansion. I stepped out after Mary; the house practically glowed -- so many candles seemed to be lit everywhere, inside and out. I took a deep breath and made my way up the half circle of stone steps leading to the freshly painted black double doors. I breathed in again; the humid air tainted by smoke, perfumes, earth, and horse almost made me ill. I missed the clean, fresh smell of home. The crowd and confusion all around, punctuated by shouts, laughter, the clatter of wheels on cobblestone and the jingling of harnesses made me long for the quiet peace of The Pass.
We went inside. The Lord's truth, I was almost afraid to check out my surroundings. What if I spotted Mr. LaSalle right away? Would his fiancée be with with him? I followed Jack, Mary and Aunt Bella toward our hosts, my slippers feeling heavier with each step. Aunt Bella performed the introductions, and whew, Lord Blankenship was so tall, I had to lean way back to look at his face. His squat, rotund wife, standing a bit behind him, contrasted sharply with his bean-pole physique.
Aunt Bella, very popular, chit-chatted with most of the people we passed on our way to the ballroom. I met at least twenty Lords and Ladies, and four of the women she introduced us to wore the same shade of blue silk. I prayed I wouldn't have to remember who was who.
Mary linked her arm with mine. "Adrian, come on, smile. You must stop worrying so much. We are all here to help - except Jack - who, for some reason, hasn't caught on to what we are up to. He must be distracted by some business, because normally he figures out I'm up to something within fifteen minutes of me planning it."
"You know, Mary, I figured out why I'm such a mess. All of this time we spent coming here, it didn't occur to me that I'd be finally getting to the real bottom of this, either way. And I'm scared - in both cases. I don't know if I can live among these . . . people." I gestured in the air, my eyes running over two women with an array of plumage arcing above their hats, clearly whispering about a girl in a dress an unfortunate shade of puce; an older couple pushing through the crowd, not seeming to care who they bumped into and what problems they caused; a group of heavily made-up ladies with dangerously low décolletages and come-hither, garish smiles. I turned back to my sister, who also looked around.
"Good Lord," she remarked, "I can't imagine he does, either." She patted my arm. "The country isn't so bad . . . and there's always home. He seemed to like the States very much. Maybe he'll grow sick of this supremely superficial nonsense."
We made the rounds about the room. I knew I looked especially elegant tonight; Mary and Aunt Bella's maids had treated me like their childhood dress-up doll. First, I had been placed in a new cream and light blue silk dress, then they'd applied a light dusting of something to my cheeks and added a dash of lip color. I honestly had no idea how much time they'd spent on my hair, and Mary had lent me some proper jewels, as well. The members of the ton greeted me politely, but when I spoke, most couldn't hide their horror or, in some cases, amusement at my accent.
We moved by the French doors leading out to the patio that overlooked the gardens, trying to catch some of the cooler air from outside. I tried to appear interested and pleasant as I sipped my lemonade. Jack had wandered off with a few acquaintances earlier, and I half listened as Mary and Bella discussed some of the recent gossip they'd acquired since we arrived.
A pretty, young blonde in a light pink dress made her way over and dropped a graceful curtsy in front of Aunt Bella. "Countess, it is a pleasure to see you again." She turned her smile to my sister. "And you, as well, Mrs. Henry."
"Miss LaSalle." Mary smiled back. "It is lovely to see you. Please allow me to introduce you to my sister, Miss Adrianna Murphy. Adrian, this is Miss Lucy LaSalle."
"Pleased to meet you." Miss LaSalle curtsied again. I returned the gesture, trying to keep a neutral facade while curiosity ran rampant through me. Miss LaSalle had her brother's green eyes and hair color, but none of his height; I towered over her five-foot-two, petite frame.
"I wanted to come over and meet you, Miss Murphy. My brother returned from the theater the other night quite nonplussed." Lucy reached over and grasped my hand for a moment. "I cannot believe you and your sister came all this way."
Lucy LaSalle seemed sweet and kind, and I liked her immediately. When I spoke, I kept my voice soft. "I must ask - why did you send that letter? Mr. LaSalle is engaged and soon to be married."
"I know." Her smile disappeared. "I sent the letter because I did not want him to marry her. I still don't, Miss Murphy." She glanced around. "Please, may we step outside?"
"Certainly." Aunt Bella opened the door wider, and ushered us through. With the party at its beginning, we had the patio to ourselves.
Bella turned to Lucy. "My dear, may I ask why you do not want your brother to marry Miss Dumont?"
"He is marrying her because he thinks my younger sister needs a maternal figure, but she is only marrying him for his title. She doesn't care for my sister and me -- and he doesn't see that." She sighed, and looked at me. "When he returned from the States, he was so . . . different. Do you care for my brother, Miss Murphy? Would you like him even if he wasn't Viscount Castleton?"
How she'd managed to stay this open and unguarded in even one season amongst the British ton, I had no idea. "Miss LaSalle -- Lucy." I paused. "I didn't even know your brother was a viscount, at first. In fact, I'm not sure I'd even consider that a benefit."
She missed my small attempt at humor. "Oh, but he is rich - that surely is." Her earnest reply made Mary choke. I held back my smile as she continued, "I think he is determined to marry her, because he couldn't marry you." Her words tumbled out faster as she kept on. "See, that evening I wrote the letter -- he'd come home from whatever ball he'd attended and he was in his cups, and quite . . . sad. Upset. And he talked about you. I'd never seen -- Lawry had never been like that before."
"Lawry?" came out of my mouth before I could stop it.
Lucy nodded. "Yes." She hesitated, then said, "Miss Murphy, I think, no -- I know it was selfish to ask you to come. And it is not fair to you. But when I'd heard you'd come, I couldn't help but hope even if he just saw you again . . . ."
I took a few steps further out onto the patio. Is that what I was hoping, as well? That he'd see me, and somehow it'd all come right?
I actually shivered. The once-familiar goosebumps returned. I turned as he spoke again.
"Luce." He noticed Mary and Bella, and then his eyes met mine. "What is going on here?"
"Good evening, Viscount Castleton." Aunt Bella caught his attention. "Please allow me to thank you again for your assistance at the theater the other night."
"What? Oh -- of course." He bowed. "And you are feeling better?"
"Much, sir. As good as new."
"I am glad to hear it." He started to speak again, but she cut him off neatly.
"I am aware you know my guests, Mrs. Henry and Miss Murphy?"
"Yes." He nodded. "I was not aware my sister had the pleasure." His clipped tone made Lucy wince, but she stepped forward.
"Lawry, I met Mrs. Henry the other night at the Crandall's party. I just had the pleasure of meeting Miss Murphy a few minutes ago."
"I see." He turned to me; his face appeared as if carved out of granite. "I must confess, it is quite a shock to see you here in London, Miss Murphy. Quite a ways from South Carolina."
"It is, sir." I didn't know how else to respond, or how to continue.
"But worth it, I am sure?" He paused, and when I didn't say anything, continued with, "The parties and shops?"
His self-righteous sneer and aloof facade shot my ire up. "Sir, you know I don't care much for parties, or shopping, for that matter."
"I do not believe I know you very well at all, Adrian."
"Is that so?" I snapped. "Then I know you even less, Mr. LaSalle. I was not the one courting one girl, while another waited here in England."
"How long was it after I left the States that you became engaged to Moore?" he replied smoothly.
"Lawry!" Lucy spoke before I could. "I cannot believe--" His glare made her cut off and I stepped closer to her to redirect his anger back at its cause.
"Excuse me, Mr. LaSalle, or shall I call you Viscount Castleton?" I paused to keep a lid on the anger that boiled and roiled in my stomach. "For your information, you insufferable, British -- redcoat -- I am not engaged to Mr. Moore, or anyone else, for that matter." I jammed my hands on my hips and the ridiculous little fan Mary made me carry around clattered onto the stone floor. "I told you I didn't like him, if you remember." I reached down, snatched up my fan and poked him in the chest. "I'm not one of these hoity-toity society--"
"What the hell is going on here?" Jack's low tone did nothing to disguise his aggravation. I drew back, falling silent. My sister's husband stepped closer. "LaSalle, I told you to stay away from her." He ended up in between me and the Englishman, his body blocking my view.
"I came out here looking for my sister, who apparently sought an introduction to your sister-in-law."
"I'm going to have to ask you to leave," Jack said. "Nicely. Go back inside to your fiancée, before gossip starts."
"Fine. Lucy, please come along." Mr. LaSalle sounded unaffected, cool. His sister took his arm, and with a quick glance in our direction, walked with her brother back inside.