She had to admit, she had taken great care in the outfit she had picked for the ball. The blue silk gown was not extravagant but was finer than anything she had ever gotten to wear before, at the very least. She had not ever really worn such fine clothing before; her father had not had a chance to give her a season, having become ill when she was young, and her first marriage had been arranged as soon as she was of marriageable age. Her husband had been a decent man but he had been a spendthrift, and he preferred to put the money that they had left over after bills were paid into the home they shared. That was wise of him, she knew, but then he had been sweetly talked by a man with a golden tongue into making an unwise investment and they had lost it all, and it had been too much to bear. A pistol in his mouth had been his solution to the problem.
She had had her father for a time afterward, and she had kept her wits about her to keep them solvent. Her husband had tried to talk him into investing as well but her father had not been swayed and so they had some solvency. As he got sicker, though, the money went more quickly. He was forced to ask for favours, ask for loans. He was lucky that he had friends who did not ask for monetary repayments of those loans, only repayments of favours at a later date, either by him or by her. They knew he had taught her his trade. Not the trade of cobbling he had used as a front; no, the trade of spycraft. It was a trade that had saved his life, and hers, on many occasions.
And, she was glad to say, her father’s debts were nearly paid off, though this debt to Lord Ashcroft she’d have done for free, to be honest. What he had done for her over the years…well, she loved him nearly as much as she loved her own father, God rest his soul. And she had the feeling he loved her just as much as he loved his own flesh and blood niece. He certainly treated the two of them the same, which made her happy. She was a bright young lady, and she was glad for her company. She was somewhere at the ball tonight, enjoying herself. Andrea was sure she would have plenty of gossip of her own tonight; when she had asked what the plan was, what Andrea and the “aristocratic Mr. Holmes,” as she so put it, were doing, she had offered to help with the young women of the ton, see if she could glean anything from them. She was thankful for that; anything to keep from having to converse with the brainless twits. The ladies maids and paid companions were bad enough.
But her irritation at the company she was keeping had been swept away when Mycroft stood in front of her, extending a hand towards her. “I do believe you owe me a dance,” he said, giving her a small smile that she could clearly see under the mask he wore tied around his eyes.
“Why yes, I believe I do,” she said with a wider smile, standing up from the chair she had been sitting in. He led her onto the floor and they got into position just as a waltz began, and then they were moving fluidly along with the other dancers. Mycroft was quite graceful in his steps, and oh, she loved the way his muscles felt under her hand. “You are an exquisite dancer, Mr. Holmes.”
“I do believe you have earned the right to refer to me as Mycroft when we have some privacy,” he said.
“But we’re in the middle of a waltz,” she said with a slight smirk. “Surrounded by people.”
“I sincerely doubt others are eavesdropping.”
“You never know,” she said. “That was a lesson I learned at a very young age. Always be careful of what you say when others are in earshot. And even when you only suspect others may be in earshot.”
“You must have had an interesting childhood,” he said.
She gave a soft laugh. “I suppose, with time, you will learn a great many things about me, Mr. Holmes.” They made their way near the garden doors and she inclined her head towards them. “If we can find some relative privacy outside, perhaps I might share a tidbit or two.”
His grin grew a bit brighter and he maneuvered them away from the dancers and towards the doors that opened into the garden. There were already many others taking advantage of the coolness of the air outside, and soon the two of them began to stroll. After a moment he reached up and removed the mask from his eyes. “I take it your youth was not normal,” he said when they had moved away from most of the crowd.
She tutted slightly. “Not yet…Mycroft,” she replied, rolling his name over on her tongue. “We have some privacy, but not enough for secrets.”
“But enough for other things, perhaps?” he asked.
She stopped and gave him a warm smile. “Are you referring to a tryst in the garden?” she asked.
He shook his head. “When I attempt to seduce you, I will do so properly. And I will ensure there is, at the very least, a bed.”
Her laugh was much heartier this time as she reached up to remove her own mask. “I noticed you did not say there needed to be a wait until marriage.”
“My brother might think I am a stuffed shirt man with old morals, but I could possibly have some forward thinking ideas. As it stands, it is almost the dawn of a new century.”
“I see,” she said, stepping forward to close the gap between them. “Well, then. A kiss, perhaps?”
He reached forward and put his hands on her waist. “I would enjoy a kiss.”
“I would as well,” she murmured, leaning forward as he did the same.
Their lips had almost met when there was a shout of “Mycroft!” and the two jumped apart. They turned and saw his brother storming towards them. She looked at Mycroft and realized if looks could kill William would be dead on the spot.
“What is it?” Mycroft asked through gritted teeth.
“I found her,” he said.
“Found who?” Mycroft asked, annoyance creeping into his voice.
“My soul mate,” Sherlock said. “I found her as I was trying to leave this abominable ball and spoke to her for a brief moment and then she slipped into the crowd and now I can’t find her and I’ve looked everywhere.”
The annoyance slipped off Mycroft’s face. “What?”
“Do I really need to repeat myself?” Sherlock said, rolling his eyes. “I can see yellow, Mycroft. There is a woman here in a mask with peacock feathers in a green dress and I need to find her. Now.”
“Very well. I will help you look,” he said. He turned back to Andrea and grasped her hand, bringing her knuckles to his lips and kissing them. “My apologies, Andrea.”
“No, I understand,” she said. “This is quite important. I’ll find alternate transportation home.” Mycroft nodded, letting go of her hand and then leaving with his brother. Andrea watched with a small smile. Well now, she thought to herself. This just got quite interesting…