Sebastian Morrow scanned the ballroom, letting his eyes roam over the members of the ton who were gathered for the ball. Such tedious things, these balls were. Full of men ogling the young ladies who were coming out and matchmaking mothers who all wanted their daughters to secure the richest, highest titled man there. As a viscount, he certainly had his share of women hoping for a match with him.
His gaze fell upon a group of young ladies gathered in a corner by a potted plant. Four of them, clustered together and giggling behind their fans at any man who happened to look their way. Well, three of them were. The fourth, a petite brunette in a pale green gown, was looking around the room with undisguised merriment at the goings on in the ballroom, all the while continuing to look as though she were engaged with the other ladies in her group.
As he continued to observe the small group, he caught the eye of the young lady and held her gaze, almost as if he were daring her to look away. As he continued to look at her, she turned to one of her companions and quickly said something to her, before leaving the group and beginning to walk towards him. The young lady that the woman in green had spoken to was watching her friend navigate her way around the edge of the ballroom towards Sebastian had a horrified look on her face.
“Care to dance, my lord?” Sebastian heard in a soft, lilting voice. He looked down to see the woman in green standing in front of him, one eyebrow quirked. He felt a pressure on his arm, and, taking a glance, saw her gloved hand on his arm.
“Excuse me?” Sebastian asked. He was not certain that he had heard correctly. Young ladies simply did not ask men to dance. It was unheard of! Not to mention, if anyone else had overheard, would ruin the young lady's reputation.
“I asked if you would care to dance, my lord. From what I've observed, you seem to be the most interesting person here, and I am trying to not be bored to death. Dancing would help in that endeavor,” the woman said. Sebastian considered her question for a moment. He was not interested in most of what these balls had to offer, which was parading young women around as though they were cattle, and gossiping about everyone else that had happened to be present. In a most fortuitous turn of events, the music that had been playing ended, and Sebastian made up his mind right then.
“I would,” Sebastian said as he extended his hand towards the young woman and led her out onto the dance floor. As they took their positions for the beginning of the waltz, Sebastian asked the woman a question.
“And might I know the name of the person with whom I am dancing with?”
“I am Elizabeth Keating,” she replied.
“And would your father be Lord Benjamin Keating?”
“He would. However, I am not interested in discussing my father. I am interested in dancing, and so I would appreciate it if we could do so,” Elizabeth replied with a toss of her head. Sebastian marveled at how brazen she was. Young ladies of breeding did not speak as she did, however clearly with her father as a lord, she had had a privileged upbringing and knew of the etiquette that was expected of her.
As they spun around the dance floor, the music drew Sebastian in. He found himself lost in the beat, holding this strange young woman in his arms, uncertain of her, and yet he seemed to never want to let her go. He repositioned his hand on her back, felt bare skin under his hand. The chit had worn a dress that apparently dipped obscenely low in the back! Her skin felt hot as coals under his hand, and he felt himself reacting as he thought of how the rest of her skin would feel under his touch.
He cleared his throat and asked her, “Are you enjoying yourself more now, Miss Keating?”
“Forgive me, however it does not appear to be that way. Your eyes keep looking around the room, as if you expect to find someone else that you would rather be with,” Sebastian said. He did not know it was so important to him that she keep her attention on him and him alone, but it was, and he was determined to draw her wandering eyes back to him.
“I assure, my lord, there is not,” Elizabeth responded. Her eyes drew back to his, and he saw the glint of amusement that he had seen when he first glimpsed her across the room with her friends return to them.
“Then I would encourage you to keep looking at me, instead of holding yourself so tightly wound up that it is appearing as though you are going to bolt out the door at any second.”
“I would say as I did before, my lord, that I am interested in dancing, and not talking. Conversation can easily wait until after the dance is done, and if you do an adequate enough job, my attention will not wander” Elizabeth said with an absolutely lovely smile.
Sebastian was captivated by that smile of hers. In just the little bit that he had known her that evening, she had piqued his curiosity to a level that he had never before experienced. He looked down at her and thought that he could get lost in her blue eyes forever. She intrigued him, as no woman had done before. He wanted to know everything about her. He thought that he would try conversing with her one more time.
“How come I have never seen you before at any of these balls? Lord knows I've attended enough of them that I cannot imagine that I've never encountered you before at one,” Sebastian questioned.
“I have attended them. However, you were always so intent on avoiding dancing with anyone that I had decided that if I saw you again, I would ask you to dance.”
“And why would you be interested in dancing with me?”
“Because you fascinated me, my lord. My friends had warned me away from you, saying that you never danced with anyone because your reputation would instantly ruin a young lady's and you would get called out by her father or brother in order to salvage what remained of her,” Elizabeth said.
Sebastian knew that his reputation for being anti-social preceded him, but he was not aware to the degree at which his name was bandied about by the ton. He saw Elizabeth's gaze dart down quickly, and felt that there was something that she was not telling him.
He gently touched under her chin with two fingers and lifted her head so that her eyes met his again. The woman was full of contradictions! She seemed almost shy at times, and yet utterly brazen at others.
“There's something that you're not telling me,” he said to her. “Your eyes keep darting away and you keep reacting as though you expect to leave you stranded here in the middle of the dance.”
“I have a horrible habit, at least according to my father, of speaking my mind when it would be ill-advised to do so, my lord,” she said, as though she were warning him.
“I would encourage it, Miss Keating.”
“Then I will simply say that I was hoping that your reputation meant that you would not be boring, and I would have an enjoyable time with you.”
“Regardless of the state that it would leave your reputation?” he asked. It seemed odd that a young woman who was barely out in society would want her reputation ruined so that she could never secure a good husband.
“Yes. I had hoped that we could simply dance, and that it would leave you so intrigued that you would wish to converse with me later. I would rather spend the time with someone interesting and full of layers, than with others who are here who are transparent as glass.”
“Miss Keating, I can assure you that everything you have done tonight has intrigued me,” Sebastian responded.
“Then perhaps we can continue to follow the plan that I had in mind, and simply dance for now, and continue this discussion later tonight,” she said with the previous look of amusement back in her eyes as she met his gaze once more.
“I believe we should do just that, Miss Keating,” Sebastian said as he resettled his hand on her bare back and the two continued their dance in a comfortable silence.