By Rachel Heffington
“Are you dancing, Lottie?”
Charlotte Sinclair paused in her retreat to a shady corner on the lawn and turned. It was the Spanish Waltz, her favorite, but the other young people had paired off and she was left alone. Marion Hedgespeth waved at Charlotte from her position as lead dancer and repeated her question.
“I don’t have a partner,” Charlotte offered as a reply, and crossed the last few feet of lawn between herself and the grove of crepe-myrtle trees. It was awkward enough being the only girl left without a partner, but admitting it in front of a large group was embarrassing. She didn’t mind so much—she’d watch the dancing and have a lovely time by herself. Lottie put a hand up to her hair, then adjusted the pins keeping her rose-colored sash in place. Dancing was hot business, and she was in disarray, she knew.
No, she didn’t have a partner—that wasn’t the irking part of the matter. What vexed and piqued Lottie’s pride was the fact that a young man—one who had danced every dance so far without the least hesitation—stood in the corner calmly looking observing her without the least intention of relieving her position as wall-flower.
Gregory Enfield was perfectly aware of his error, she knew. Lottie stole a look at him and her temper rose as she caught his dark eye. He straightened his shoulders and his cheek reddened. Charlotte saw Marion glancing from him to her direction—after such an exchange she knew Mr. Enfield was pledged by honor to ask her to dance. It was not the most illustrious way to get a partner, but at least she would not have to sit out the Spanish Waltz.
Charlotte smoothed her silken skirt and folded her hands, watching the approach of Mr. Enfield. His long, sleek figure sauntered toward her—dark hair immaculately combed, black eyes full of pride and a touch of arrogant elegance. It did not help matters that every other young person at the party stood waiting. The music was cued, the dancers lined up. All eyes rested upon Charlotte waiting in the shade and Mr. Enfield approaching with a languid step.
He stopped in front of her and cocked his head, fully assured of the catch he was and the honor this rather plain girl received by his dancing with her. Oh yes, Charlotte could see through him like a glass window.
Mr. Enfield ‘s lip curled into a haughty smile. “Dancing this one?”
He thinks he can have any girl he wants, doesn’t he? I might be plain but I'm not dumb, and therefore not to be trod upon. Charlotte’s heart thundered in her breast and her eyes flashed. Two could play this game. “I don’t accept a partner until I’ve been asked,” she said. Her own quick reply startled her. Was that her voice ringing through the crisp autumn afternoon like a silver bell?
A murmuring ripple circled among the waiting dancers. Gregory Enfield’s jaw tightened and he bridled, like a stallion smelling a storm on the horizon. How to regain his footing as the elegant, charming, perfect young man? “Ah…playing hard to get are you?”
All was silent on the green lawn. A chill November breeze pushed between the couple and Charlotte’s mind spurred to action. What cheek this fellow had! Old grievances flashed to mind and Charlotte threw her head back.“I was merely trying to be a lady,” she answered with cool composure.
Ah. Her missile had hit its mark. Mr. Enfield’s dark eyes flashed with heated passion and he raised his head. Not an audible word passed between the gentleman and Charlotte, yet volumes were spoken. Charlotte knew Mr. Enfield understood her perfectly. He extended his thin, olive-skinned hand, and Charlotte placed her own in it, barely touching his palm with her icy fingertips.
She kept her chin in the air, her eyes fixed on the group ahead, ignoring her partner entirely. Marion, renowned in their circles for such witty remarks was having difficulty keeping her countenance. Charlotte’s lips twitched into a smile and she felt her eyes dancing. For a moment she had quelled this polished gentleman who seemed to think he was entitled to homage from any lady he wished.
Mr. Enfield led her to the front of the line and bowed coldly. The first strains of the waltz began and with them, a duel of wits. Charlotte knew she was a good dancer, and she made certain that each step, each turn, each curtsey was perfect. Mr. Enfield hardly looked at her—indeed, seemed relieved when the dance was complete and he could discard his conqueror on the edge of the battle-field.
“Thank you for the dance, Mr. Enfield.” Charlotte couldn’t help but release her green eyes to dance and her crooked smile to flash forth. She laughed inwardly at the sight of cowed gentleman beating a retreat among the knots of more appreciative young ladies. Wit had slain Beauty with rare success.
Triumph was sweet sustenance to one accustomed to obscurity.