My American Civil War historical romance novella Brave in Heart will only be on sale at Amazon for only a few more days (until the end of February). If you need any enticement to buy it, the prologue and opening chapter are below.
November 19, 1859
“I wish to release you from our engagement.”
A gasp followed Margaret Hampton’s declaration. At first, she wasn’t sure if it came from her or Theo. But the night air, cold, damp, and unforgiving, burned her throat. Her. She couldn’t believe what she had done.
Another rasping breath trailed the first—her lungs simply would not stay full. Perhaps the intensity of Theo’s glare expelled it from her body. The steely shine in his eyes could halt a rushing spring thaw. But that was the problem, wasn’t it? The passion that lined his face now was a mirage. It would not power his life.
Theo’s hands clenched. “Will you at least tell me why?” His voice was hard like flint, but quiet.
Silently, Margaret thanked the slivered moon in whose dim light she could scarcely make out his features. Aloud, she repeated the words she had practiced in the mirror earlier that evening, projecting a confidence she did not feel. “I think it’s for the best.”
“For who? For you?” His tone rose, but a sparkling piano chord and a shadow of someone’s laugh from within reminded them they were not entirely alone.
Inside the Smith’s house, a merry little party was playing Squeak Piggy Squeak. By the sound of it, the game had grown heated. Mark’s cry of objection and Susanna’s laughter floated distinctively to her ears, distracting Margaret from the far more momentous scene she was playing in the garden.
“For us both, Mr. Ward. This is over.”
The words were bald. Heavy, without euphemism. And followed by an expectant pause.
Theo turned and leaned against the balustrade, seeming to examine her for weakness.
She shifted her weight and looked down away from him. Her poise was crumbling, and thus she filled the silence. “We don’t suit.” The lie tasted of ash and dried her tongue. “I’ll go in now so as not to fuel any rumors. We can break the news to our friends tomorrow.”
“And that’s it? There’s nothing I can say to change your mind?” She looked up at this and a flicker of light caught his eyes. They flashed like twin sapphires, potent and intoxicating.
“Don’t you love me?” His voice shook, thin and a little desperate.
The breeze in the trees stopped. The happy rattle inside stilled. Margaret’s heart snagged on its next beat. For an instant, all motion and noise paused. The past two months—joyful, wild, intemperate months—spread before her, poured out from a jug between them. Both had thought themselves past all chance at love. Until…until.
In this immobile moment, Margaret could look at Theo and see the contradictions within him. He’d taken The Liberator for years, but wouldn’t write for the local paper on the slavery question. He railed about education reform, but would not run for office. He hated Middletown, but would not leave.
Even the narrowly leashed emotion radiating from him now would be buried before this conversation had ceased. The denial and repression he had spent three and a half decades perfecting was an inability to act on the ardor in his heart. This she knew beyond all else, and thus there was no place for her. She wasn’t sure she could deceive him, but no more could she marry him.
She looked down and shook her head. “No, I don’t…love you. It’s done.
She was certain he wouldn’t believe her. Some part of her wished he wouldn’t. In jilting him, she was ensuring a hard, lonely future for herself. Teaching the same books until the covers fell off. Emphasizing the same rules for young women until her voice was strained. Scrimping for new gowns and darning stockings past serviceability. Dying at the Middletown Female Seminary. Was a hypocritical husband really so distasteful as to warrant all this?
Yes, if it were Theo. He had long ago dedicated himself to a half-life. She wouldn’t join him there.
His voice interrupted her reverie. “I know you’re an impatient woman…” Ah, here it was: his criticism of her, that she nagged and behaved impulsively. This conversation was almost amusingly familiar. Except for how it would end.
He continued, “…but I thought that once we married, I might—”
“No.” The word shot out with more force than she had intended. She repeated more gently, “No. It’s no good. I will not marry you.”
Theo snapped to his full height. Margaret stumbled back several steps, unaware she had drifted toward him during their exchange. He ran his fingers through his hair and then took her gloved hand.
“I wish you well, Miss Hampton. May God bless…” His voice did break then. He pressed her palm to his mouth before releasing it and brushing past her wide skirts as he strode toward the garden.
Margaret watched Theo’s broad shoulders retreat until he was cloaked in darkness. Air rushed into her body now, but it wasn’t enough to compress the sudden, overwhelming loneliness that had taken residency in the vicinity of her stomach.
“It’s over,” she whispered to no one. “It’s over.”
As the realization that their relationship was finished became real to her, a single cry escaped her lips, half-formed and plaintive. Like her love for Theo. But that was all in the past now. Safely gone. She hoped she would never see him again.
Margaret composed herself, waiting for the agitation to drain from her body. When she realized it would not, she turned, squared her shoulders, and returned to her life from the dream world she had been visiting.
June 15, 1861
Bugger you all, Theodore Ward thought as his gaze whipped across the room. Bugger you all.
He stood in the assembly hall in McDonough House, ostensibly talking with his legal partner, but Josiah Trinkett’s words had blurred until they had become a net of words. The old man’s right hand chopped at the air in ever-shorter strokes, each thwack punctuating a phrase. He was good and worked up now, opining about pigs. Never get Josiah started on the merits of Berkshires: a lesson Theo should have learned the first time.
If there was one thing Theo hated, it was how often farm animals turned out to be at the heart of the cases they handled. He scowled and scanned the room again. White bunting punctuated with absurd poofs of flowers and tissue paper decorated the walls. Exploded from them, really, in jovial exorbitance. The time and energy women could spend on such things never ceased to amaze him.
The decorations for the evening’s festivities seemed particularly excessive, or perhaps it was the contrast between the attention to detail in the ballroom and the general tone in the city. Two companies of local boys had just departed to join the Fourth Regiment Connecticut Infantry in Hartford.
Theo’s hands tensed at his sides, his body strung like a line at the thought. He wanted to be amongst them. The war that was starting was about the future of the nation, yes, but also its past. It sought to extend freedoms and liberties. It was a new and perfecting revolution and, blast, he was missing it!
At this, he tapped his foot, his frustration needing to be expressed in some way.
The absence of the Fourth was felt keenly by the mothers, wives, and sweethearts left behind. The women demonstrated their resolve by manning the refreshment tables. Those excessive paper flowers and drawn women’s faces stood as the only evidence of the shots at Fort Sumter only a few weeks prior. A few pursed lips and an added forced, frantic quality to the banter the only acknowledgement that two great armies were now approaching one another and clashing weekly. Every day some neighbor boy half his age enlisted. Theo was ready to go. But as his father’s untimely passing had left him his mother’s sole child, she opposed the idea. His foot tapping grew more frantic.
Since Josiah showed no signs of stopping his monologue, Theo began to invent distractions. He swallowed a sigh, the same one that always plagued his throat in his partner’s presence. He scratched at his right ear. And he began contemplating his escape not simply from this conversation but from Middletown entirely.
Get away. The words were almost mythical. And yet, it was possible. He could do it. Maybe the time had come at last. He felt inexplicably hopeful for the first time in months. This was the moment when everything was going to change. He knew it.
That was when he heard the laugh. A rich timbre that cut through all the other noise in the room, deafening even Josiah’s babble, and called to something deep within him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Margaret Hampton skipping across the room with three young women, likely her students, at her heels.
Margaret wore a dress of pink tulle and cream lace with a sweeping two-tiered skirt. Theo’s gaze, however, was riveted to her snowy white shoulders, which were well and truly exposed. The dress clung to her body through some dressmaker’s insane invention. It looked precarious. It looked damned enticing. A cameo he knew had belonged to her mother hung high around her neck on a slim, silver ribbon and she had a white shawl draped from her elbows, matching the roses in her hair.
A gasp leapt from his mouth and shattered at his feet. Dear Lord. Her countenance shone like the flame of a candle. Had she always been so luminous? Had she always been so tall? She was of average height, he knew, but she seemed statuesque. Perhaps it was her habit of walking just ever so slightly on her toes. Or maybe it was that she was more alive than any other woman he’d ever known.
Her lustrous brown hair threatened to spill from out of her coiffure, as always, making his fingers itch to aid its fall. Her gold-brown eyes flashed in annoyance at a woman she swept past. An object of dislike, that woman. He wondered what degree of frustration he might awaken in her, and a smile crossed his lips for the first time that evening.
She turned her back without noticing him, and Theo forced himself to look at his shoes. His cheeks burned and his chest tightened but he willed himself into normalcy. This was a silly romantic moment. Excessive, sentimental, and abetted by his dissatisfaction. Stop behaving like a fool.
He looked up into Josiah’s face. The old man’s brown eyes sparkled at the assumed hilarity of his own monologue. He had missed the goddess walking across the room entirely.
“I mean, if they’d been Ossabaws, anyone might understand. Fine pork, that…” He became the full-on pig raconteur now. Jabs became sweeps through the air. His voice added baritone expressiveness. From the corner of his eye, Theo could see others turning toward the old man impressed, entertained, and bemused. But after fifteen years working with Josiah, Theo was none of these things.
Good. This was good. For once, the buffoon served some purpose, focusing Theo on something other than Margaret’s skin. The bitter frustration of her rejection settled in his mouth. She’d listened to his dreams and taken them seriously—which was nice in a flattering, soon-to-be-wifely way.
But then she’d suggested he should shirk his practice, leave and do something different. As if he were a youth and not a man in his thirties with responsibilities. She refused to understand what he owed Mother and Josiah. It had been damned maddening. That was what he should remember, not her pearly skin.
Yes, since he was no longer startled by seeing her unprepared, he could settle himself and examine again, seeing what was actually there: a woman of average looks and surpassing aggravating potential. One more glance would clear his mind.
Craning his head, his eyes found those shoulders again and followed the sweet curves down into her gown. It would be heated by her skin and would smell like her, floral and citrus at the same time. He could feel her voice now as much as hear it, a feathered exhalation that stole into his waistcoat and heated his skin. She had always threatened to exceed that volume deemed acceptable for ladies. She might have spent her life polishing merchants’ daughters into bland parlor ornaments, but Margaret was so vital, she made a mockery of the whole thing.
His stomach ached as if she’d struck him. Hang how tumultuous they’d been together. Forget her demands and his agitation. Years later, she still struck him dumb. How had he let this woman slip away?
Rather than sobering, he was tempted to approach her, to entice her to their favorite spot, underneath the willow in the park. He wanted to rest his head in her lap and spill out the entire story about his desire to enlist and Mother’s reticence. She would stroke his temples like she used to and laugh at him and tell him exactly what to do. And, as before, he would ignore her good advice and compromise and check himself and she would grow frustrated and leave him. Again.
No! Madness lay this way. He would not think such things. Josiah’s ranting about pigs continued—he had now reached guinea hogs—but was more soporific than infuriating, so Theo searched instead for his mother to provide an antidote to Margaret. At some chairs lining the wall he found her, discussing a shipment of donated good the Ladies’ Aid Society would be sending to the recently departed troops.
“We need socks, sheets, sponges, bandages, arrowroot, brandy, and other medicines,” Mrs. Dix, a buxom older woman whose eldest son had already enlisted, was saying, counting the items out in the air and rapidly running low on fingers. “Anything at all of the sort that might be useful to our boys, particularly those that might become sick or wounded.”
Mother nodded and responded, though he couldn’t hear her over Josiah.
Finally changing the topic, the old man said, “There seems to be troop movement all throughout the east.”
“I read that too. I don’t know what to make of it, but I track all the news in the papers.” Theo tried to feign interest, but so strong was the siren’s call behind him that even the war paled in comparison.
“I heard some of our boys were headed for a point thirty miles south of Georgetown.”
“Uh-huh,” Theo grunted without making a commitment either way. “Perhaps this is why the War Office is attempting to crack down on the reporting of the news.”
Josiah laughed, and Theo allowed himself one more regretful thought. If he and Margaret had married, he would have had her liveliness and smiles. Margaret on his arm, challenging him and urging him to be better. Margaret in his bed—that was a heated thought.
There was no productivity in this fantasy, however. She was no more right for him now than she had been then. All he had ever done was disappoint her, and all she had ever done was make him frenetic. But…
He looked up and could see laughter jostling her skirts. Feel it. Taste it, even. It was like a sweet from childhood experienced in a dream, more elemental than a memory. He needed, if only for a moment, to hold her again.
“I say, Josiah, will you excuse me?” He left without waiting for a response.
Margaret, who had still been laughing, stilled, her eyes wide, when he drew up. How long had it been since they had exchanged words?
She was older, yes, but not average looking. Not to him. Never to him.
Perceptive, mobile eyes surveyed him, leaving exposure in their wake. Confronted with her, he wasn’t sure if his tongue could produce speech. She rendered him vulnerable as a newborn chick. As if in court, he stood before a judge. Now he would plead for a few more moments in her presence, hoping it would produce a reminder of why precisely they couldn’t be together.
“Miss Hampton.” He bowed slightly. Stiffly. Awkwardly. He was such a fool.
“Mr. Ward, this…is a surprise.” The huskiness of her voice—did he imagine it?—stoked the desire that he had plagued him for several minutes.
“One that’s long overdue, I fear.” His generic compliment was met with a long, awkward silence. This was why he avoided dances. And women. He offered another wan, chivalric statement, hoping to aid things along. “Will you introduce me to your charming companions?”
Her lips quirked, stifling a scowl perhaps, as she did so. Her students were pretty girls, no doubt, but he was only interested in Margaret. He hardly took his eyes from hers as he offered the expected niceties to the girls.
Turning to Margaret, he asked, “Miss Hampton, are you engaged for the opening waltz?” An abrupt transition, he feared, but what was the use in pretending this wasn’t his aim?
She blinked once and then again. “I am not.”
“Will you do me the honor?”
Margaret paused for a long moment and regarded him levelly. He could almost see the gears in her mind grinding away as she attempted to figure out what he was all about. He was anxiously, but not overly so. They both knew she couldn’t refuse without seeming uncivil.
Finally, she inclined her head. “I will.”
“Until later this evening, then,” he said, bowing to the ladies more fluidly now and retreating.
The light-headedness lessened. His pulse returned to a normal rate. He had performed acceptably and secured her for a few moments at least. Across the room he found Mother standing with Josiah, jaw set and eyes slightly aghast.
“Whatever were you saying to Margaret Hampton?” Mother asked. She made no attempt to hide the sourness in her voice.
“Asking her to dance.”
“Oh, Theo, no. Please let’s not start that again. I thought she was in the past.”
“I find she’s not.”
Mother harrumphed but said no more. Perhaps her desire for grandchildren was stronger than he knew.
He’d obtained Margaret’s company for five minutes. For that space at least, she would be in his arms again. He’d done it, he knew, mostly to be able to inspect her décolletage at a shorter distance and to clear the vertigo she had engendered in him merely by walking across the room.
Careful. It’s a dance, nothing more. You still disappoint her.
Margaret watched broad shoulders recede across the room. Air had still not returned to her body and had perhaps exited the room altogether. After a few formal words with Theo, she felt trapped in a bell jar. He made her a frozen observer of a confusing world. Then he began speaking with his mother and Josiah Trinkett, and her flush shifted abruptly to a chill. Of course.
She turned back to the cadre of her favorite students who stood in a little cluster around her. No one said anything. Matilda, Rebecca, and especially Phoebe blinked expectantly, hoping she would fill the silence with an explanation of who precisely Mr. Ward was to her. As if she could find the words. As if in the sea of language available to her there was a way to express the hopefulness and longing and heartbreak—all the emotions she had left in the past—that were contained in one name: Theo Ward.
She faced her most ruthless examiner, Phoebe King, with a smile and forced something out. “Do continue about the decorations.”
Phoebe had the aspect of an angel from a parlor engraving, gold curls, upturned lashes, and depthless blue eyes. If Margaret was being frank, the New York princess was more than surpassing vain. She avoided being insufferable, however, by being utterly candid about her shortcomings. Tonight she looked stunningly beautiful in a light blue gauze gown trimmed with white lace and a green paisley shawl. But the effect was ruined by the mischievous way she arched her brows and shook her head.
“Only when you’ve told us everything about Mr. Ward!” the impish girl said. The other two nodded in agreement.
Margaret swallowed a sigh. There was no avoiding it. She had to provide some story. As straightforwardly as possible, she said, “He was a dear friend of mine some time ago. We haven’t spoken in years, and now he would apparently like to reminiscence about our misspent youths. Nothing more.”
Matilda Winters—dear, sweet, demure Matilda—nodded. Auburn hair gathered in a low knot and gown simple and practical, she embodied an unvarnished purity. She accepted Margaret’s story with only a tiny hint of skepticism skimming over her pretty features.
The third member of the party, Rebecca Livingston, said nothing but appeared unconvinced.
After a beat, Phoebe sniffed and said, “Well, I’m glad you listened to me about the pink tulle, nonetheless. He’ll be half in love with you by the end of the waltz.”
“I doubt that very much,” Margaret said. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get some air. This room is already oppressive.”
Once she had escaped into a quiet hallway, she collapsed onto a small bench and hid her face in her gloved hands. What was Theo doing, asking her to dance?
Their engagement felt like it had occurred a lifetime ago rather than a mere two years. Instead of moving forward together, they had stood still apart. Likely, he was still in that law practice where he felt so ineffectual, living with his mother, and generally raving inside while doing nothing about it. She had buried her heartbreak at the seminary, realizing her dreams in the lives of a hundred students. She had known what her future held when she broke with him, but she had anticipated he might progress.
He had remained a very handsome man, she thought with a smile. His curly brown hair was still thick and dark. He wore a short beard now, along his jaw line. His eyes were much bluer, even, than Margaret had remembered. Combined with his strong features, he had something of the aspect of an eagle. Margaret always felt as if he looked into her very soul with those eyes. To be regarded by Theo Ward was to be without cover or provision. He knew the ridges on her soul.
Why hadn’t he married? Each week she opened The Constitution with an air of resignation, expecting to see at last the dreaded announcement. Margaret’s jaw clenched. Presumably his mother had scuttled any hope of that. The only thing he’d ever reached for Mrs. Ward didn’t approve of was Margaret. And that had ended very quickly. So why approach again? What was he doing to both of them?
Before she could hazard a guess, Rebecca rounded the corner amid a rustle of skirts and petticoats. A brunette with great intelligence and spirit, she had strong, regular features, a plum of a mouth, and delicately expressive green eyes. Her natural mirth had been tamped down when her own engagement had ended a few months earlier.
The purple silk of the girl’s gown murmured as she crossed the hall. The black lace trim floated in the air, a beautiful but funereal detail insofar as it announced to the room that she didn’t intend to dance.
You must save Rebecca from her grief. The thought cut through the roiling emotions and memories in the transom of Margaret’s mind. It was another problem without an easy or obvious solution.
The girl dropped to the bench beside her. For the space of a breath, Margaret hoped they could avoid the obvious topic, but then Rebecca said, “Mr. Ward isn’t merely an old friend, is he?”
Had it been so clear? Well, dishonesty was worse than exposure.
“No. He’s not.”
Rebecca settled her hands in her lap. “You understood everything with Emery so well. It takes heartache to know heartache.”
“Ah.” They sat in silence for a long beat. Rebecca wasn’t forcing a confidence. She was not pushing. She was acknowledging the situation. Opening a door.
Margaret sighed and walked through it. “Mr. Ward and I were engaged to be married.”
She really should stop at this. For a week more at least, Rebecca was her student. But the words continued to flow out, impossible to stop now they had begun. “He is a passionate man, but he submits, I think, too much to the desires of others. He…doesn’t achieve moderation. I grew weary of his inner intemperateness and his outward capitulation. It’s a contradiction too great for one man to bear.” Margaret realized she was close to shouting. She had also said too much.
She swallowed and added more quietly, “We fought about everything. John Brown in particular.”
She paused to laugh. Not with mirth but anxiety. The country had become an angry, distrustful, and immoderate place in the two years since her break with Theo. Following the radical abolitionist John Brown’s hanging and President Lincoln’s election, many of the southern states had departed the Union in a terrible drumbeat, one after another. Shots had been fired on Fort Sumter in April, and forces were now gathering in Washington City, for what she knew not. Tides of uncertainty and fear soaked the land. The violence she had abhorred at Harper’s Ferry seemed poised to drown them all.
Finally, she turned back to the girl and finished her tale. “He felt I nagged him. That together we would know no peace. And so we parted.”
The words, and everything they represented, hung in the air for a moment. Rebecca asked, “That’s why you’ve stayed so long at the seminary? Was there never anyone else?”
Margaret’s hands swept up to press against her forehead. “I never expected there to be anyone at all. I was a poor orphan educated by the kindness of distant relatives. I became a teacher because I had to. When I met Mr. Ward, I thought my chance at love had passed. I was more than a decade on the shelf. When that ended, I had no interest in finding anyone else. Once was rare and strange enough.”
“But you told me—”
Rising to her feet, Margaret said, “The situations are not the same: you are nineteen and I am thirty-seven. Romantic love is a young woman’s dream, Rebecca. I no longer find it appealing.”
The girl smiled. “I, however, saw the way he looked at you.” From inside the assembly room, the bright tones of the band tuning up floated to them. “Come now, let’s return.”
At the door, they encountered Theo. Rebecca curtseyed slightly and said, “Mr. Ward, I deliver your partner.”
Theo looked Margaret straight in the eye and replied, “I thank you,” offering her his hand. When she took it, she shuddered, despite the two layers of cloth between them. If he felt it, nothing in his expression betrayed anything but calmness and confidence.
He led her to the floor as if it hadn’t been two years since they had last danced. Those months, and what had caused them, were impossible to forget, however.
When his arm encircled her waist, she looked past his shoulder, training her eyes on the bunting that iced the room. His smell, like spice and linen, hadn’t changed. She felt weak and hot all over.
The band struck up a lilting waltz, and they joined the other couples in spinning through the space. Her body followed his cues in an intimate, disconcerting manner. He was a powerful and graceful dancer, as he had ever been. Margaret felt bereft by her body’s answer to his call even years later.
Finally, in the deep, rumbly baritone that she remembered so well, he spoke, “There’s a good assembly present this evening.”
“Are those some of your students?”
A pause followed her reply. This was going to be a long dance.
When Theo made no motion to fill the silence, Margaret asked at last, “How does your mother fare?”
“Well. She’s been in good health of late and has become involved with the Ladies’ Aid Society. It turns out that she too enjoys ’causes.’” That was a jab at his mother, who had always mocked and belittled his interests in reform.
“And how are things with your practice?”
“As they ever were.”
“I’m always surprised when the slates of candidates are announced to never see your name on a ticket, Mr. Ward.” She could feel his shoulder tense beneath his jacket. She shifted her gaze and looked into his dark blue eyes. They were harsh and probing.
“Perhaps someday,” he replied at last.
“I remember how strongly you felt about—well, every social and political question.”
“So how do you judge our current enterprise?”
Theo sighed. “Might I not enjoy a pleasant conversation without stating my opinion on the war?”
“By all means, Mr. Ward. I wouldn’t want to ruin your evening with anything so weighty as conversation.” For a moment they glared at one another. Then Margaret returned her attention to the wall. As they spun once more, Theo pulled her closer into his arms.
“Margaret,” he whispered with such fervency that she inclined her head to look at him in surprise.
“Mr. Ward, please don’t—”
“How have you been?”
“Good, fair, ill. In the last twenty months, I’ve been through all the moods in turn.” Margaret was annoyed and felt certain her words betrayed it, but the expression in Theo’s eyes left her dazzled and numb. She forgot to put a respectable distance between them again. He pulled her closer still.
“Mr. Ward, I really must object,” she hissed.
“Don’t object. See me again. This coming week.”
“I cannot. Commencement is on Thursday. I have so many obligations.”
“Are you traveling this summer?”
“Because you usually go to see your sister in Virginia, but can’t because of the uncertainty?” Margaret nodded. “Next Saturday then. Meet me at Ferree’s. After luncheon.”
She shook her head. “I shouldn’t.”
“But you will?”
Every thread of her being was at attention, flush with concern. They were entering a space dangerous to them both. But her heart’s curiosity won out. She said, “I will…if you answer one question.”
A warm smile settled over Theo’s features and he replied, “Most assuredly.”
That smile! She could feel it like a caress running down her body from crown to toe. But she would not let him distract her thus. She asked, “Why did you ask me to dance?”
“Because I saw you and couldn’t put you from my mind,” he said, as if it were the most natural and uncontroversial thing in the world.
“But why now?”
“That’s two questions.”
It was as if he had cast a spell over her. She could not look away. Margaret knew they were much too close. With the heat of the crowd and the intensity of Theo’s eyes, long-dead memories came thronging back to her. She remember when he first pulled her into his arms, in a dark hallway off the Smith’s parlor, and pressed his lips to hers. It was a brief kiss. Artless, compared to some they would later share. Oh, but she had thought she might expire from happiness. Theo Ward wanted her. Loved her.
She felt a blush creep into her cheeks at the thought, mirroring the flush on his face. Was he remembering the same moment? This was madness.
Somehow her feet produced the right steps. Somehow they avoided colliding with other couples. Somehow she restrained herself from committing any more serious breach of decorum. When the dance was finished, they clapped politely and Theo offered her his arm to lead her from the floor. When they reached the edge, he took her hand and stared down at it for a long moment. He raised it to his mouth and brushed his lips over her knuckles.
Theo murmured, “Why now? Because it’s time.” He pressed her hand to his mouth firmly a second time before releasing it and then whispering, “Until next Saturday, Miss Hampton.”
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