“’Wherefore art thou, Juliette?’ You mean like that?”
Miss Juliette Aston smiled tightly and heroically forbore from rolling her eyes at Lord Elphinstone, to whom she had just been introduced. She forbore also from pointing out that the correct line was “Wherefore art thou Romeo,” as he was guffawing at his weak joke. Really, who could admire a man who guffawed, she thought as she executed a brief curtsy. As she straightened, she cast a sideways glance at her best friend, Lady Eleanor Chalcroft, who was smiling warmly at Lord Elphinstone.
“Just so, Lord Elphinstone,” Lady Eleanor said, nodding. “You are so clever! Isn’t he, Juliette?” this last said with a completely straight face.
Juliette pressed her lips together until her urge to laugh lessened. “Oh indeed! And to think, I have never heard a reference to Shakespeare in relation to my name.”
“Shakespeare?” Eleanor asked, clearly confused. Juliette felt her eyes water with the strain of keeping her laughter in.
“From the Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliette, Lady Eleanor,” Lord Elphinstone said pompously.
“Is that who wrote it?” Eleanor asked sincerely.
“Indeed,” Juliette said. A small snort of laughter escaped her. Lord Elphinstone glanced askance at her and promptly invited Lady Eleanor to dance.
Once the couple had made their way to the crowded parquet floor, Juliette took a restorative sip of her lemonade. “Drat,” she cursed under her breath as she felt a stray droplet splash onto the expanse of skin above her bodice. Glancing surreptitiously around, she made sure no one was watching and then dabbed at the offending drop with her gloved finger. Taking a more careful sip she watched her friend glide gracefully about the dance floor in Lord Elphinstone’s embrace. Eleanor and she had befriended one another when they first came out in society more than two years previously. Despite the fact that Eleanor had quickly been deemed a diamond of the first water, while Juliette was relegated to the ranks of just another young miss in a white muslin gown, the two had remained steadfast friends. Eleanor was everything London society deemed a lady should be: she was petite and small-framed, blessed with a pearlescent complexion that flushed delicately pink when overset by emotion, and endowed with a wealth of flaxen curls that never seemed to frizz or fall flat.
Juliette caught a glimpse of herself in a gilt mirror across the room. She, on the other, was of average height. Though her love of long walks in the country ensured she did not run to fat, she was certainly no will o’ the wisp with long elegant neck and slender limbs. Sadly, she was also not of the round, deliciously curvaceous figure that while not en vogue for the high-waisted fashions of the time, nevertheless attracted much admiration. She was, however, quite fond of her hair; though it was dark brown and not fashionably blond, it was thick and lustrous and if it refused to take a curl, well, at least it was long and thick enough that she never needed to resort to the false falls and curls so many other ladies employed. Shifting her weight, she concluded her assessment with the acknowledgement that her legs were quite shapely and trim, for all the good that did her, hidden as they ever were beneath skirts and petticoats. Still, she knew for a fact that her friend Eleanor bemoaned her rather thick ankles and dimpled knees.
Glancing down to make sure no other random drops of lemonade had escaped her cup, she waited patiently for Lord Elphinstone to return Eleanor to her side. She was unengaged for this dance and the next, though Eleanor of course had been claimed for them all. A brief glance at the chaperone’s corner showed her that her father’s elderly aunt was dozing, her chin quite comfortably ensconced on her rather impressive bosom. Aunt Constance had been widowed some thirty years previously, but still spoke of her departed husband as if she were still in her first year of mourning. She also was less concerned with watching Juliette’s every move than she was with ensuring that she had a comfortable seat in which to take a nap as she chaperoned her great-niece. Juliette thought it unfortunate she wasn’t one of the fast young ladies who were forever trying to sneak away from the watchful eyes of their chaperones to meet gentlemen in the garden or the library, or wherever it was such assignations took place. As it was, she would have appreciated having a chaperone she could at least sit with during the times she was not dancing.
She drained the last drops of punch and set her empty cup down. Glancing around for a distraction (and remaining resolutely oblivious to her current wallflower status), Juliette saw a small excited crowd form around a newcomer. She rose up on tiptoes to try and see who could elicit such interest from the chronically bored ton, but there were too many heads in the way. Finally the crowds parted enough that she could see the dark-haired man in its midst.
He was tall, though not the tallest of his friends who she recognized as being members of that rarefied strata of wealthy, young, titled, and exceedingly sought after bachelors. Even from a distance, she could tell that his eyes were dark, deep set beneath two thick slashes of brows. His jaw was not square, but his chin certainly was. It was firm and, she decided after casting about for just the right word, yes, sculpted. He smiled at something one of the other men said and against her will, Juliette’s heart skipped a beat. It had never skipped a beat before. Never. Ridiculous organ, she thought before quickly observing that the man’s teeth were incredibly straight, framed as they were in a generous mouth that seemed permanently quirked in a humorous line.
Pulling her gaze from him, she chastised herself. He was clearly not the kind of man who would look twice at her. It was ridiculous to moon after him simply because he was incredibly handsome. Her traitorous gaze sought him out. Really, she told herself sternly, taken independently, there was nothing remarkable about any of his features. His own gaze swept about the room, taking note of who was present. It briefly slid over her face and just as quickly returned to the people standing near him. Her heart did another little nervous jump and she pointedly turned her back on the spectacle of the ton’s elite bachelors holding court. Men such as they only ever danced with girls such as Eleanor. Girls who had been deemed “stunning,” “exquisite,” or “original.” She glanced over her shoulder and saw the dark-haired man and his fellows surrounded by half a dozen girls who fit all three categories. All six of them were tittering at something one of the young blades said. Really, Juliette wondered, who decided that tittering was original?
She sighed and returned her attention to the dancers who were now leaving the floor. She wasn’t bitter, she told herself, not really. Frustrated was a more apt description. This was her third and in all likelihood, last, Season and she seemed no closer to finding a decent match than she had at her first ball. Her father was older than most and did not enjoy the London season. He indulged her as she was his only child and wanted to see her settled before he died, but he was unconvinced that the London crush was the place to meet a fitting husband for his daughter.