Romance Fiction posted April 9, 2012 Chapters: 2 3 -4- 


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It's 3:15, and at least 2 people are still awake.

A chapter in the book The Sixth Season

Long Night's Journey...(2)

by Sissy

Previous chapters: Anna, her popular sister, Leigh, and their mother, Clara, descend on Madison Park for a house party hosted by the Earl of Leeds's mother. The Earl's mother wants him to marry. Clara wants Leigh to be his wife, while bluestocking Anna finds the library and sneaks in late at night, borrowing a book on Greece. She makes it back to her room without being seen.

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Chris leaned back in the leather chair and closed his eyes. Finally, peace and quiet. It seemed his mother had invited most of the popular girls of the last few Seasons this weekend, and he'd made small talk with nearly all of them. He let out a long breath. What in the bloody hell am I going to do? The house party would break up on Monday, but until then, he was stuck. Stuck with something like fifteen potential brides under the scrutiny of their ever-hopeful mothers, and his own.

He rubbed his forehead. No matter how many ways he said it, his mother refused to accept his lack of desire to marry. She would counter with 'the heir' argument. The heir. At thirty, plenty of time remained in order to father the heir and the spare, and even a daughter or two. He wanted to travel. His trip to America after the end of the Season couldn't come fast enough. Maybe when he returned, he'd start to consider looking for a wife, but now....

Chris straightened, opening his eyes. Are those footsteps? Who would be up at this hour? He'd moved to the library at half past two, wanting to relax and unwind before going to bed. He glanced at the clock across the room. The soft moonlight passed through the window and touched the clock's face. A quarter past three. Who's coming in here now?

Candlelight flickered through the doorway, and a figure stepped in. Chris pressed back against the chair, even though he was certain he wouldn't be noticed. He sat behind his desk in one of the corners that lay in shadow. From his angle, he could make out her side profile -- for she was definitely female. Her long dark hair, half out of its braid, reached the center of her back, while a few thick strands brushed her jawline. He could see the curve of her cheek, but very little else. Her pale skin and white wrapper gave her a ghost-like appearance as she seemed to glide across the carpet, moving to another bookcase. Within a minute, the apparition removed a book from the shelf and tucked it away. She turned in his direction before heading to the door, and he caught the fullness of her lips and nothing more as the weak light highlighted the bottom half of her face. Then she was gone.

Who is she? He stretched his legs out, shaking the fanciful image of a girl-ghost from his mind. He stood and walked to the bookcase. Without candlelight, Chris couldn't tell which one she'd selected. However, it came from the shelf where he'd put his collection of books written about places he wanted to travel to or places he'd been. Chris let his fingers trail across the titles; he'd have to return in the morning to see if he could figure it out. What female here would borrow a travel book, anyway?

He walked to the doorway and checked the hall. Certain no one was about, he headed to his rooms on the third floor. He needed to try to get some sleep. Tomorrow promised to be a long day.

*************************

Anna stifled a yawn, covering her mouth with the back of one hand. She glanced around the shop. Girls grouped together, discussing fabrics, colors, trim, ribbons. Her eyes strayed to a comfortable-looking chair in the corner of the room. It seemed so far away, and the whirl of colors all about the room blurred as she stepped toward it. If I could just sit down --

"Anna?" Lucy touched her arm.

She straightened and turned. "Oh! Yes?"

Lucy smiled. "You look tired."

"I am." She nodded, noting her mother stood with Maria Stratton on the other side of the shop, and said, "I couldn't fall asleep last night."

"Really? I am so sorry to hear that. Is there anything we can do? Is your room alright?"

"The room is lovely. It's not that. I think I was just all wound up from the party." She dropped her voice. "I went to the library and borrowed a book. I started reading, and before I knew it, the sun was rising and I was more than halfway done - and exhausted. I finally fell asleep, but I swear it seemed Leigh woke me up five minutes later."

"What were you reading?" Lucy's gaze strayed to Anna's mother.

"It's a travel memoir on Greece and Cyprus. It is so beautifully written. It's like you're actually there." Anna sighed. "Honestly, I cannot wait to get back to it."

Her friend laughed. "Oh, Anna. Why don't you ask my cousin about his trip to Greece? I'm sure he'd love to talk about it."

"But then I'd have to admit I borrowed the book. If my mother found out...it's not even a novel -- for that I might be forgiven." Anna shook her head. "I couldn't."

Lucy pressed her lips together in a thin line. "I cannot like the difference in the way she treats you and Leigh, Anna. I am sorry to say it, especially here." She gestured with an elegant flick of her wrist.

"I'm nothing like either one of them, Lucy." Anna couldn't prevent the weariness from coloring her quiet tone. "I never have been. Right down to the fact I am so tall, and have dark hair. She and Leigh could shop all day." Anna fingered a maroon silk ribbon on the table in front of her. "While all I can think about is reading a book on Greece, or perhaps catching a nap on that chair over there." She managed a small smile. "She has never understood a thing about me. On top of that, I am twenty-four and unmarried. That puts a bit of a stain on the family name."

"Why is she so determined to marry Leigh off to the biggest title she can, Anna? Do you know?"

Anna shook her head. "I don't understand it, either. But I have noticed that, as well. I just assumed she's overexcited that Leigh has been so popular, while I am...while I haven't been."

"Perhaps." Lucy picked up the ribbon Anna kept touching. "This is a good color for you."

She shrugged. "It's a ribbon."

Lucy laughed again. "You are right. I suppose there are much greater topics to discuss, but we're in a shop, after all." She laid the ribbon across Anna's shoulder. "I'm going to get this for you as a gift."

"Lucy, that's not necessary."

"But I want to. And you must leave here with something." She paused. "How did Mary convince your mother to change your wardrobe from those awful pastels?"

"Actually, Mary never spoke to my mother. She asked me if she could accompany me the next time I went shopping, and when I told her I never went, she talked me into it. It was obvious from the first day Mary started, how much she disliked my wardrobe. And I always thought your sister looked so elegant." Anna smoothed down the front of her dress. "So I have to confess, I was easily persuaded."

"Well, I just want you to know, I am glad for it." Lucy picked up a dark blue ribbon and lay it next to the maroon one. Her head tilted to the side, her eyes still on the ribbons. "I have a feeling you will enjoy this Season. It may be your sixth, but it will feel like it's your first."



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For anyone who doesn't know:
Chris - Earl of Leeds
Maria Stratton - his mother
Lucy - The Earl's cousin
Mary - Anna's lady's maid
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