Authors: Kate Noble
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General
But it was worth it she told herself. Tonight would be perfect. It had to be.
The planning for the dinner party at the Comte de Le Bon’s home had taken place in a whirlwind of activity over the course of the last week—and oddly, only at the Forrester residence.
When word leaked of the party, everyone who was anyone clamored for an invitation, not only because the Comte and his Burmese guest managed to hold the public’s fascination, but also since the Duke of Parford’s London home had been closed for years, and its opening and the subsequent viewing of the paintings was highly anticipated.
Apparently, the attention and madness so overset their entirely Indian staff that Miss Georgina and the Comte had to plan the whole affair from Sarah’s drawing room.
While the Comte and his stepsister, hovered over by Mr. Ashin Pha, of course, conferred about how to place the tables, Sarah grew more anticipatory by the day. She kept her fractiousness under wraps, even as the Comte tried to charm her by mispronouncing certain words, or slurring them in his French/British Indian accent—which was so terribly odious! How did she ever find his accent the most interesting part of him?
And if she had found his accent to be the most interesting part of him—well, the rest simply did not qualify for so much as an afterthought. But as annoyed as she was by his voice (and by the fawning ever presence of her mother, who insisted on “helping”), she was more annoyed that even when planning a dinner party with them, she was still not admitted to the Comte’s house.
How was she to help the Blue Raven break in if she could not point out the best entrance? Or where he would need to search? Or places to avoid? How would she be able to help him?
And then, he told her.
Halfway through the week, a note came. There was no signature, beyond a small flourish, that looked like it might be a drawing of a feather. The wax that sealed the paper was a dark blue—dark enough to be black. And the content of the note was a list of names.
The people the Blue Raven wanted her to invite.
It was steadying to have that note in her hand—to know that he was aware of her actions on his behalf and anticipating the event, the same as she was. But the list—aside from Phillippa and Marcus Worth, who were of course, already invited—was of the silliest, most blindly glamorous people the ton had to offer. People of little to no substance, who only wanted to have fun and make merry. And Sarah would know—she was friends with most of them! They were a terribly distracting lot.
And then she realized. The Blue Raven needed as much distraction as he could muster.
The only hiccup was getting the hosts to accept them.
“I don’t know…” Georgina said tentatively, as she eyed the list. “I think we were hoping for more men of…”
“Influence?” Sarah provided.
“Eligibility,” Georgina replied with a blush. “At least that’s what Mrs. Hill would like.”
Sarah reached out and took Georgina’s hand. In all the goings-on, it was easy to forget that the Comte was in London to bring his sister out—or at the very least he was there under that pretense. “Of course if there is someone who has captured your attention, we will invite him. What does the Comte think?”
Georgina slid a glance to where the Comte was making small, clipped conversation with the ever-present Jack.
“I’m not certain. But Mr. Ashin Pha is not happy about the party.”
“Has he said so?”
Georgina nodded. “Or at least, that’s what he said to Jean. I don’t understand Burmese, unfortunately. It is such a terse, angry language. When he speaks to Jean, sometimes it looks like he’s yelling at my brother.”
A cool trickle of dread went down Sarah’s spine, as she eyed Mr. Ashin Pha’s cool, dignified but stern countenance. But she was in too deep now. She could only push ahead.
“I assure you, all of the people on the list are well-known to your brother and are such fun, they will make the party an utter delight, one even Mr. Ashin Pha could not disapprove of.” She smiled with enthusiasm, and was gratified to see Georgina smile relievedly back.
Thus, the guest list was altered accordingly, and the rest of the week moved at once too fast and too slow for Sarah’s liking, until that moment, where, in the act of getting ready, her sister had one more thing to add to the preparations.
“There has to be a piano, or something—how will people dance? I’ve been practicing a new waltz all week,” Bridget pouted.
“You were intending to play?” Sarah’s eyebrow went up. Not because she questioned her sister’s talent, but Bridget very rarely played in public. Her nerves got the better of her, she would say. Which was truly unfortunate, because Bridget had a rare ability.
“I was going to try,” Bridget grumbled. “I thought, perhaps I would be able to make an impression. But if there is to be no music—”
“There will be music—the Comte has persuaded Mr. Pha to play a sitar, a native instrument, for us. Besides, the Comte apparently does not have an instrument for you to play.” Sarah shrugged.
“Why would an aristocratic man from India—”
“Whatever you say, play his own instrument?” Before Sarah could answer that she didn’t know, but point out that Bridget was a member of the upper class and played her own instrument, her sister continued her whine. “And how does the Comte not have an instrument—or the Duke of Parford, for that matter?”
“I don’t know, Bridge, perhaps they don’t appreciate music the way you do. But I’m certain that if you are set on playing, we can have one brought in.”
“No. My nerves would likely me fail me again. Especially if a pianoforte is brought in special for me. Too much expectation.” Bridget slumped onto Sarah’s bed. “It was my only chance to shine. My only chance to get him to notice me.”
Sarah perked up in her seat. She sent Molly a look, which the maid interpreted correctly as “best to leave and I’ll fill you in later,” and she curtsied her exit.
“Get who to notice you?” Sarah asked, turning in her seat.
“No one,” Bridget said sullenly. “But it will never happen now.”
“Bridge—why don’t you try smiling, and being … pleasant? You’ll have plenty of men notice you if you do that.”
“Smiling and being insipid is your area of expertise. I have music,” Bridget snapped.
Oh dear, Sarah couldn’t help but think. She’s back to being angry at me.
And she was finally just too tired of it.
“All right, Bridget, what did I do now?” Sarah sighed. “I thought we had been getting along better, but for the past week you’ve grown more and more snippy with me.”
“You didn’t do anything,” Bridget grumbled, “and there’s the trouble. You didn’t do anything, and people flock to your side. The Golden Lady.”
“It’s better than my acting like I’m in mourning, isn’t it?” Sarah countered, standing angrily.
Bridget’s face went pale with shock and then bright red with shame. Oh yes, Sarah thought, she remembered saying those words to their parents all those months ago. But Bridget stood as well, and rallied her anger, and joined in the confrontation.
“You were walking around like someone had died, and suddenly all everyone can talk about is you. Then you stopped walking around like someone had died, and everything was
all about you! How is anyone supposed to see me with the Golden Lady as my sister?”
“Well,” Sarah exhaled. “You finally said it.” What she had long suspected, long known. “Brava.”
“And I can do nothing about it!” Bridget continued. “I can’t outshine you. I can’t get anyone to see me without seeing you, except those rare occasions that I play in public without my hands shaking.”
“Or when you do maths better than me,” Sarah replied quietly. “But why are you so angry now?”
“Because before Jack was just as unhappy with you as I was, and now he’s half in love with you again!” Bridget covered her mouth, shocked by her own honesty.
Sarah stilled. “This is about Jack?”
Bridget wouldn’t look at Sarah. But the mortification burned on her cheeks.
In reflection, Sarah could see that the date of her sister’s swing back into unhappiness with her could be dated to her and Jack’s apology picnic. But she had been so wrapped up in her own high dramas that she did not see Bridget, or anyone else.
And suddenly, it was as if lightning struck.
So wrapped up in her dramas … that she didn’t see anyone else.
Sarah had been wrapped up in herself for six months now. Well, it was high time she came out of it.
“Sit down,” Sarah told Bridget, kindly but firmly. Bridget sat on the edge of the bed, again. This time, Sarah joined her.
“I’m sorry,” she began. “I’m sorry for many things I have said to you in the past few months. And I’m sorry that you have felt short changed this Season. Truth be told, so have I.” Bridget’s eyes came up, disbelieving. “I didn’t want this Season, you know. But you wanted yours. And the fault for not
enjoying it lies on your shoulders, not mine.” Sarah went so far as to touch her sister’s shoulder. “The world would love you, Bridge, if only you would let them.”
“I don’t want to be feted, like you,” Bridget shook her head.
“You think I wanted to be? But when the choice is feted or pitied…” She let the thought trail off. “But the worst of it is, I had to spend the past few months without my sister.”
Bridget seemed to soften at that, but the spiny shell that held her apart from Sarah was still in place. She shook off Sarah’s hand.
“But you have all of London instead,” she replied, not a little sadly. “The Comte, and now Jack…”
“Jackson Fletcher is not in love with me,” Sarah cut in, adamant. “He and I managed to mend fences, that is all.” As she let Bridget take that in, she continued. “And I have to say, you’re not in love with him, either.”
Bridget’s spine went rigid at that, and she began to stand. “Excuse me, you know nothing of my—”
Sarah grabbed the back of her skirt and pulled her back down to her seat. “Yes, I do know something of your feelings, Bridge. You just want his attention like you did when we were younger. Once you had it, you would become bored and be playing music and forget that you had it.”
“You’re just saying that because you want to keep his attention,” Bridget tried.
Sarah rolled her eyes, sighing. “Bridget, what’s your favorite piece of music? That allegro thing?”
,” Bridget corrected.
“How does it make you feel, when you play it?”
Bridget frowned for a moment, and then straightened, and closed her eyes. “It’s hard to play,” she mused. Her fingers began twitching, moving over invisible ivory keys. “My hands are not large enough, so I have to stretch. But it is worth it. It’s so worth it because those few times that I get it right … it’s like I’m flying. The notes … they play in time to my heart, against my ribs, and I’m … I’m completely at ease.”
Bridget’s eyes came open. She seemed slightly embarrassed by how she had just spoken, but held silent.
Sarah nodded, and then asked. “Does Jack make you feel the same way?”
“Well, of course not,” Bridget replied. “Why do you ask?”
“Because that’s what love feels like,” Sarah surmised, and watched as Bridget opened her mouth to argue, but then closed it, silent. “Love is hard. It’s difficult. You worry all the time over the other person. Whether they are safe and happy, and when you might see them again. But it’s worth it. Because when you are together it feels like flying. And being completely at ease.”
Bridget’s eyes softened. “You’re in love. Right now?”
Sarah felt herself blush as she nodded.
“With whom?” Bridget asked. “With Jack? After all, you are completely at ease with him now, like you said—”
“No, not with Jack,” Sarah rolled her eyes.
“Well, with whom then!” Bridget grabbed at Sarah’s arm. It was too wonderful having this moment, when her sister dropped all notions of being upset and turned … well, turned into her sister again, that Sarah could not help but want it to continue.
“I can tell you that he’s wonderful … And terribly handsome. And heroic. And just so wonderful…”
“You already said wonderful.”
“Well, he is!” Sarah said laughing.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake! Is that all you’re going to tell me?” Bridget joined in on the laughing. “You think he’s heroic and marvelous—you might as well be twelve years old again and talking about the Blue Raven!”
Sarah froze in her mirth. Just for a moment … just a spare second. But Bridget, whose eye had always been keener than Sarah liked, noticed. Her laughter died with a raise of a quizzical brow.
“Sarah…” Bridget began, but was cut off by a laugh—too forced, damn it all!—from her sister.
“That’s completely mad, of course,” Sarah trilled. “Ah … what are you going to wear this evening? What about the ivory silk with the Indian embroidery?”
But Bridget did not respond. At least not immediately. She instead had taken on a look of calculation—her brow furrowed, her gaze intense but unfocused, as if she were trying to follow the clues to a mathematics solution, or work out the next sequence in a minuet. And suddenly, her expression became one of awe. Of alarm.
“Sarah, when did you meet—I mean, you can’t describe what he looks like, can you?” Bridget asked. “He hid his face?”
“Bridget, don’t be ridiculous,” she tried to protest. “It’s not the Blue Raven. Now, about your gown…”
“No.” Bridget stood up abruptly. “I have to go. I’ll be…”
But she didn’t finish the sentence. Instead, she moved with twitching determination to the door and let herself out.
Leaving Sarah feeling wretched, certain she had just stumbled, and could only hope that her sister was discreet with any information she thought she knew.