Romance Fiction posted March 25, 2012 Chapters: 1 -2- 3... 

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The Severing at Madison Park/2nd part of CH 1.

A chapter in the book The Sixth Season

The Early Bird ... (2)

by Sissy

Previous Chapter: Anna Sevarin, her mother and sister, Leigh, arrive at the Earl of Leeds' home, Madison Park, very early for the weekend house party. The Earl's mother has decided he should marry and has invited a bunch of girls to tempt him. Anna, on the shelf and a bluestocking, is not one of the most popular girls, but has come along with her mother and Leigh to see if Leigh can catch him. Leigh and Anna's mother's plan has worked. The Earl greets them personally on their arrival. See, the early bird DOES catch the worm!

Anna sat on the edge of the bed in the room she and her sister would share for the duration of their stay at Madison Park. Blue-and-white striped wallpaper stretched from the ceiling to the shining hardwood floor. She stroked the heavy bright-white coverlet while studying the seascapes and drawings of boats hung about the room. Her gaze turned to the two large windows on her left. Gauzy curtains framed a view of the lake.

Anna lay back. 'This is such a beautiful room.' She sighed, still wishing she'd gotten a better look at the library.

Earlier, Mrs. Graves had shown them to her mother's room at the opposite end of the long hall. While Clara and the housekeeper talked, Anna had wandered away, studying the paintings hung along the hallway. When she reached the end, she stopped in front of an open door and peeked in. She caught a glimpse of tall bookcases stuffed with books, a maroon-and-tan oriental carpet and dark-red leather chairs, before her mother had grabbed her arm and steered her away.

"Anna, don't even think about it," the Viscountess hissed before stopping next to Leigh. "Mrs. Graves is going to take you to the room you are going to share with your sister."

Anna nodded, glancing at Mrs. Graves, who watched her mother, lips pressed in a stern line. Leigh linked her arm through her older sister's. "Come on, Anna."

Mrs. Graves had led them in. "I am sure this will be comfortable."

"Of course. It is lovely." Anna smiled. "Thank you, Mrs. Graves."

"The other guests will be arriving soon, so if you need anything, please ring the bell and someone will attend you." She gestured to the cord hanging by the bed. "And the Earl would like all of his guests to know that both the music room and the library are open for everyone's use."

Anna didn't dare say a word or look at the older woman as Leigh thanked her.

When the housekeeper left, Leigh had started laughing. "You had to go look in the library, didn't you?" She shook her head. "Anna, you should know better!"

"I didn't know it was there, I swear it! I was looking at the Marlboroughs."

Leigh's smile widened. "I know. But Mama looked ready to burst. Steer clear of that room, sister, even if you are allowed to borrow a book." She laughed again, sitting at the dressing table. As if summoned by magic, a light knock on the door heralded the appearance of Leigh's maid, Jenny. Short and slight, Jenny moved with a speed that always surprised Anna.

She'd gotten her sister done up and ready in no time, and Leigh had left to see if any other guests had arrived.

Anna remained in the room. Mary, her lady's maid, had made her fit for company, but Anna lacked the desire to go and mingle. Most of the guests would be a few years her junior, and they would have little in common. She sighed and sat up, glancing at the beveled mirror that rested above the dressing table across from the bed. Her appearance still surprised her. Her new lady's maid had a sense of fashion that her former one hadn't, and refused to let Anna wear the pastel dresses with frills her mother had ordered her first five Seasons. For the first time since she'd come out in Society, she looked fashionable. Six years too late, it seemed, but still, Anna no longer felt embarrassed when she entered a room.

Wearing a light tan dress edged in chocolate trim, with her dark brown hair done up in an intricate yet stylish 'do, she looked...pretty. The dress's color enhanced her fair skin and hazel eyes, and its cut revealed the slimness of her figure. Anna sighed as she stood and went to the window. A line of carriages paraded up the long driveway, one more elaborate than the next. Anna wondered how many mothers held the hope that their daughter would have a chance to be the next Countess of Leeds - and then she wondered how many of the daughters actually wanted to. 'Probably most,' she decided. 'Does the Earl's mother really like all these girls?'

Anna had been introduced to the Earl's mother, Maria Stratton, her first year out, and had liked the elegant little woman immediately. The Countess loved the theater, and spent a few minutes speaking to Anna about Shakespeare. They hadn't talked since. She knew she'd been included in the invitation out of sheer politeness - it would've been bad form to invite one sister of marriageable age and not the other. Anna hoped she'd have the chance to renew their acquaintance this weekend, anyway. She heard the Countess often visited the museums in London and Paris, and like her son, had traveled extensively.

The activity below drew her attention. Guests stepped out of their conveyances, and while she couldn't hear them, Anna could see them laughing and chatting. Some girls hugged one another, while others turned stiff shoulders.

The carriages, fronted by gleaming horses, the red- and blue-liveried coachmen and handlers, with gaily dressed young women and more serious mothers descending, against the backdrop of the rolling lawns and lake, set a beautiful scene for an early spring afternoon. The cool glass felt smooth under Anna's fingertips as she lightly pushed away from the window and turned to the door. It was time to go. Her mother would notice her absence soon enough. She left the comfort and safety of the bedroom, stole one last look at the forbidden library down the hall, then made her way to the polished stairs.

Is anything unclear, confusing? Too much description?

The editor won't let me italicize thought, hence the single quotes.
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