Thirty- Six: The Last Dance

 


Previously on Mistaken Identity: Jes shared a perfectly lovely morning with Lord Ian pouring over maps and relating stories. Conrad finds Courtenay and Lord Nathaniel playing billiards. His identity is discovered.


Conrad stepped into the parlor, searching the room until his gaze landed on Miss Standish. She sat near the fire with Miss Townshend, Miss Anne, and Miss Fairchild smiling and laughing. Her whole face radiated joy, causing a flip in his stomach. Conrad stood to the side, observing her. He had come to realize last night that he cared for her. If he let himself consider it, he might even say he— he stopped short of admitting that much. Although, watching her now, he surrendered to the idea that he could watch her for the rest of his life.

She was elegant in an unrehearsed and natural way. He knew of many ladies who practiced such moves, with less effective results.

He was relieved to see Ian stayed true to his word to keep to his room for the evening. The last thing Conrad needed was Ian coming down and making a muddle of everything, just because he was too impatient and short sighted to wait for his turn to socialize. They agreed on a few rules and activities for each of them to attend over the next few days.

Conrad noticed Miss Townshend stand and move in the direction of Lord Anthony. Conrad raised a brow, not sure what a lady could find appealing about the man, but he could not be unhappy about it as it freed up a seat near Miss Standish. He walked the length of the room, stopping at the chair across from her.

“Is this seat taken, ladies?” He glanced at Miss Fairchild, trying to include her, but his eyes quickly returned to Miss Standish.

His heart hammered when she smiled up at him. Only yesterday he had been convinced she would never look at him that way again.

“It is not taken, my lord. At least not yet.”

Was that hope in her eyes?

Miss Fairchild nodded her consent, then turned her attention to her sketchbook.

Conrad sat down, stretching out his legs and crossing them at his ankles. He looked around the room, his gaze coming back to rest on Miss Standish. Motioning with his head in the direction of the card tables, he asked. “It seems cards are the entertainment for tonight. Would you care for a game of whist?” He secretly hoped she would decline, for Conrad found cards a tedious waste of time. But if it meant he could sit across from Miss Standish and observe her unabashedly, then perhaps he could take up a hand.

Miss Standish shrugged. “I am content to watch, unless you would like to play?”

He waved her question aside.

They picked up their conversation from the library, continuing almost as if there had been no interruption.

“If you could visit one country, besides England, which would it be?” He sat up, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees.

Without hesitation, she blurted. “Egypt.”

A brow quirked upward. “Really, Miss Standish? Pray, tell.”

She clasped her hands in her lap. “Oh, apart from the pyramids and remnants of the great pharaohs, there was also a magnificent library.” She tilted her head to the side. “I realize it is no longer there, but just being in the same spot it once was… it would be incredible. The knowledge that was housed— .”

A ruckus at one of the card tables interrupted their conversation. Miss Fairchild let out a small cry.

Miss Standish patted the girl on the arm. “Do not worry. It is all in fun.”

Conrad raised his brows, standing to get a better look. When Miss Standish glanced from the card table to him, he held out his hand to help her out of her seat.

They moved toward the table, watching with the rest of the room as Courtenay and Miss Graystock challenged Miss Easton and Sir James. A wager had been placed on the outcome of the current hand. From Conrad’s vantage point, it did not appear Miss Easton was trying very hard to win.

When the last card was played and victory declared to Courtenay and Miss Graystock, Conrad patted him on the back.

“Pray, what was the wager?”

Courtenay laughed raising a brow at Miss Easton. “A dance. More precisely, a waltz.”

As if on cue, the servants began to move the furniture and roll up the rugs.

Conrad thumped Courtenay on the back again, knowing his own excitement and eagerness was surely apparent. But he did not care. And from the looks of Courtenay, he only had eyes for Miss Easton. “Good show, my friend. Good Show.”

Conrad turned to Miss Standish and bowed. “May I claim the waltz, Miss Standish.” If the glow in her eyes was any indication, she was just as excited as he.

She dipped a curtsy. “It would be a pleasure, my lord.”

His hand slid around her waist and he pulled her closer to him. She felt tentative at first, keeping a polite distance between them, but as the music sounded from the pianoforte and they began to move around the floor, he felt her begin to relax. He tightened his hold, drawing her into him. Her breath caught in her throat, but she allowed him to decrease the space between them. His heart raced. Neither of them seemed willing to break their gaze, and possibly the spell they were under.

Conrad could feel the warmth of the skin, working its way up his hand and into his arm. At some point in the dance, he pulled her so close, he need only drop his head and his lips could be on hers. She was looking up at him and he knew this was his chance. He lowered his head a fraction, waiting to see if she would meet him halfway, or flee altogether. While she didn’t close the gap entirely, she leaned further into him. Conrad took it as an invitation to finish what he had started. His heart felt like it would beat out of his chest when he dropped his head the last few inches. Just as their breath began to mingle, the music stopped and applause broke out around them.

Miss Standish jerked back, putting more than polite space between them.

His heart dropped to his toes as he saw her cheeks color. She stared at him, a look in her eyes he had never before seen, and he yearned to know her well enough to understand it.

“Would you care for another dance? It looks as though a quadrille will be next.” He barely recognized his choked voice.

Miss Standish put a hand to her cheeks. “I think I will sit the next one out. I would like to check on my mother.”

Conrad felt his face fall, disappointment washing over him. Had she not enjoyed the dance? Had he read too much into her look and taken liberties he should not have? But when she smiled, His worries evaporated like water on a hot stone walkway.

He led her over to the group of matrons sitting to the side watching the dancing.

“I will fetch some refreshments and return shortly.” He bowed to Lady Rachel and all of the matrons, but his smile was directed at Miss Standish.

As he walked to the table, he looked about him. All the guests were currently in this room. Now might be his only chance to read the note hidden away in the statuary hall.

Conrad looked into the empty hallway, then back one more time in Miss Standish’s direction. She was talking with her mother, so Conrad hurried down the corridor.

Entering the hall, Conrad counted over the number of statues Courtenay had told him. Looking up, Conrad noticed it was the statue of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Walking around the behind, he looked back and forth before withdrawing the parchment.

He read over it quickly, then read it again. Concern wrinkling his brow. The date of the gathering had been moved up by several weeks. There would be no way for him to get his people ready if he did not leave immediately.

Conrad replaced the parchment and slumped against the base. What would he tell Miss Standish? If he departed without telling her, she would be left to the unpredictable whims of Ian and he had proved unworthy of her to this point. But if he told her he was departing, he would have to reveal everything— his role with the reformers, as well as his deception. Conrad’s stomach twisted at the thought. He was not sure how she would react to his role with Red and the Liberty Seekers, but would she hate him when she found out he had been lying to her? Even if it were only about his name?

Conrad straightened his waistcoat, as he stood. He was going to have to tell her the truth eventually. He could not deny his feeling for her any longer.

With a new resolve, he rejoined the party. Grabbing two lemonades and a plate of pastries, he moved in the direction he had left her, but when he approached the matrons, he found Miss Standish and Lady Rachel were not among them.

“Excuse me, ladies.” He sketched a brief bow, trying not to spill the drinks nor the cakes on the rug. “Might you know where Lady Rachel and Miss Standish have gone?”

Mrs. Middleton nodded toward a set of French doors. “I believe they were in need of some air.”

Conrad bowed again, before making his way to the doors. They were opened wide, allowing a tepid breeze to blow in.

Miss Standish’s voice drifted in, stopping Conrad in his tracks. “Oh, Mama! From the first time I laid eyes on Lord Ian at the Medford’s ball, I believed myself in love.”

Conrad felt his stomach clench and pain radiated in his chest. She loved Ian. She had always loved Ian. Suddenly, Conrad understood he had never stood a chance of winning her affections.

There was nothing left for him here, but there were people in desperate need of him and his reform measures. Turning around, he discarded the plate and glasses on the nearest table. Reaching the door to the hallway, he looked back once. As he made his way to his chambers to pack up his belongings, he knew the ghost was not what would be haunting his dreams.

###

Jes and her mother sat just outside the French doors, on the terrace. Most of the couples had abandoned the area in favor of the dancing taking place inside. She looked about, ensuring they would not be overheard. “Oh, Mama! From the first time I saw Lord Ian at the Medford’s ball, I believed myself in love.”

Lady Rachel frowned slightly.

Pressing a hand on top of her mother’s, Jes continued. “But since spending this last week with him, I know now those early feelings were the imaginings of a foolish young girl.” She closed her eyes, reveling in the memories. “My feelings run far deeper than before. When he looks at me, I feel as though I am the most beautiful creature he has ever seen. When we speak, he values my opinion and listens to what I say. I still feel those same feelings I did in the beginning, but it is so much more than that now.”

Her mother smiled as she placed a hand on her daughter’s cheek. “Oh my dear. It has happened for you at last. You are in love.”

Jes laughed. “Yes, Mama. I believe you are correct.”

A shadow passed over her mother’s face, her hand falling away. “But what of the other day. He treated you very poorly, indeed.”

The smile drooped on Jes’s face. “He explained that Mama. He had received some troubling news from home. He was preoccupied, that is all.” She had told herself over and over there was no more to it. But when she thought on it, a sick feeling entered her stomach. “It is something I cannot reconcile. But it is an isolated event.” She brightened, hoping to convince herself of the words.

Her mother did not look completely convinced, but she offered a small smile.

Jes looked around. Lord Ian had gone to fetch some refreshment and she was surprised he was not back yet.

“I believe I have had enough fresh air. Will you be joining me inside?” Her mother stood, placing a hand on Jes’s shoulder. “I am sure you are correct about Lord Ian, Jes, but take heed not to push aside the troubling aspect of his character because you think yourself…” She mother darted a glance around the area. “Well, you understand what I am about. I do not wish to see you hurt.”

Satisfied with the nod of Jes’s head, Lady Rachel moved back inside.

Jes waited on the terrace for Lord Ian to return. It was a beautiful night and she could not bring herself to return to the stuffy confines of the parlor. The matrons would explain to Lord Ian where she was. Guests came and went, each time sending her heart jumping, but there was no sign of him. Finally, when the lights began to dim in the parlor, Jes stood and moved towards the doors, only then realizing the evening had come to an end with no sign of Lord Ian.

The same sick feeling burned in her stomach. Why had he not returned? The afternoon at the castle came unbidden to her mind. Perhaps he had found the company of Miss Barton more to his liking tonight. But the images of him placing his hand over hers as they traced the maps, confused her. How could he be so attentive and kind in one moment and then in the next, abandon her? It was like he was two different people. Two very different people.

Jes shook her head and made her way to her bed chambers.

Fanny appeared from the shadows as soon at the door was shut. “Are you ready to prepare for bed, miss?”

Nodding, Jes sat in the dressing table chair, closing her eyes as Fanny removed the pins holding her hair in place. She let herself relive the waltz they had shared only a few hours ago. Her heart hammered against her ribs as she thought about him holding her. Throughout the dance, he had seemed to pull her closer and closer to him. His eyes searched hers, as if he were looking for the answer to some unasked question hovering between them. She had wanted to ask him what he saw, but he was so focused and intense, she had faltered at the last minute and kept her mouth shut. Now the moment was lost forever.

She had convinced herself he was about to kiss her when the music ended, but now, after hours of waiting for him to return, she felt less sure of that conclusion. She found she was unsure of everything where Lord Ian was concerned.

There had seemed to be a moment of disappointment when she declined another dance. Perhaps he had sought another partner and forgotten all about her. Or maybe he had been trying to tell her there was no interest on his part. Perhaps that was the intensity in his eyes.

When Fanny finally shut the door behind her, Jes slipped into bed, closing her eyes in the darkness. Tears threatened, but mostly she just wanted to live in the memory of the waltz for a moment longer.

Published by

mindyburbidgestrunkauthor

Mindy loves all things history and love, which makes reading and writing regency romance right up her alley. When she isn’t living in her alternate realities, she is married to her real life Mr. Darcy and trying to raise five proper boys. They live happily in the beautiful mountains of Utah. You can follow her on her blog at http://mindyburbidgestrunkauthor.blogspot.com/ and on Facebook at @mindyburbidgestrunk.

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