Leicester’s ball was, as usual, packed to the brim with debutantes, gentlemen, and title-seeking mothers bent on finding husbands for their daughters. Posy tried to push back the fear creeping through her as people were nearly standing shoulder to shoulder, it was such a crush.
“Do you see him?” she asked her aunt as they reached the ballroom.
“I’m sure Dorchester will find us shortly,” she murmured, patting her hand. “Remember, as much as you’d like to dance with the viscount all night, you must save room on your card for other gentlemen.”
“I’m not interested in other gentlemen,” she hissed.
Her aunt chuckled. “Your Uncle will surely want to claim a few himself,” she reminded her.
“He’s family. That’s different.”
“Dancing with other men isn’t as frightening as you seem to think,” she told her gently.
“I know,” she muttered as they pushed through the line of people to the open dance floor. Posy looked around the room for a sign of Jonathan, but it was hopeless in the throngs of people milling about. Someone cleared their throat from behind them and she smiled as she turned.
The Viscount Dorchester bowed deeply to the duchess. “Your g-grace. Miss Turner.” He took Posy’s gloved hand, bringing it gently to his lips. “You look b-breathtaking,” he murmured. And it was true. Her silver gown was embroidered with emerald green stitching… the same deep shade as her eyes.
“Thank you, my lord,” she breathed the words out as she stared at him. She couldn’t help it. Lord Dorchester was an Adonis brought to life. He really should have women fawning over him for his looks alone, and the title he stood to inherit should have guaranteed it. But his stammer kept most of the women at bay, and his lack of interest in any of them finished the job. Posy didn’t mind a bit at that, for she was pleased to have him all to herself.
“Have you filled your c-card yet?” he asked softly.
“We only just arrived,” she replied, grinning. “No one has had the chance.”
“Then allow me to b-be the first to c-claim you,” he whispered.
She felt a shiver run down her spine. Her aunt cleared her throat rather loudly and he turned to her.
“Of c-course, I ca-can-cannot c-claim them all, even if I’d like. There are others who would wish to d-dance with you, and I must d-dance with her g-grace as well.”
“You’ll have to be patient with me then, my lord,” she replied with a smile. “It’s my first ball since having Andrew.”
“I’ll b-bear that in mind, your g-grace,” he replied with a grin and signed his name on her dance card before turning back to Posy. “I wonder how many d-dances the ton would d-deem too many?”
“I’d prefer if you did claim all of them,” she whispered as he gently lifted her wrist and opened the small booklet that hung from it.
“I think three in each half wouldn’t seem to d-domineering,” he chuckled. “A waltz in each, to b-be sure.”
“Perhaps we could take refreshments together as well,” she suggested. “Or a stroll on the terrace.”
“Within sight of your family,” he reminded her, grinning. “I’d hate for the d-duke to think me a rake. He hasn’t p-p-paid for his ship in full yet.” She laughed and the sound was like the tinkling of sea shells as the waves crashed to the beach.
“I’ve missed you, my lord,” she murmured, softly enough that her words wouldn’t carry to anyone else. “Belfast seems so far away and you’re gone for so long.”
“I’ve missed you too,” he whispered.
The duchess’ voice interrupted their conversation. “The opening quadrille is about to begin. Your uncle is coming now, I swear he would have talked to Leicester for days. The four of us shall dance together.”
“Of course, your g-grace,” Jonathan replied.
“Ah, Dorchester,” the duke’s voice was full of cheer. “I’m glad you were able to make the ball.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he replied with a smile. “We’re to d-dance the qua-quadrille.”
“A more boring dance, I couldn’t imagine,” he commented with a grin. “Let’s get it over with,” he grumbled. “For a waltz follows, and I look forward to dancing that with my wife.”
Jonathan smiled as they moved to the dance floor. The love between the duke and duchess was obvious to anyone. It gave him hope that not all marriages would end in disaster as his parents had.
“I’m meeting with Lord Kil-Killiney in a few d-days,” Jonathan commented as the quadrille began. “Ap-ap-apparently he was c-convinced I was the man to d-design his new ship-shipping fleet.”
“I wonder who convinced him,” the duchess snickered, looking up at her husband with a grin.
“Your uncle was already planning to ask Dorchester,” he replied with a smile. “I just sped up his decision.”
“I much ap-ap-appreciate it, your g-grace,” he managed after the group came together again.
“You’re a talented designer,” he told him. “Your work speaks for itself.”
“Thank you,” he replied, grinning. It didn’t matter how many times he heard it from a peer, he’d always be pleased to hear he was good at something.
“I can’t wait to see the ship you built for Uncle Harrison,” Posy told him when they partnered together. “He says it should be ready soon.”
“We finished it yesterday, actually,” he replied with a grin. “I was going to tell your uncle tonight.”
“He’ll be pleased,” she replied before she spun away from him and the group came together again. The rest of the quadrille had too many complicated moves for much conversation but it was soon over and the group turned to applaud the musicians.
“Your grace,” a young man bowed to the duke as they returned to the side of the ballroom. “Miss Turner, you look splendid tonight.”
“She does indeed,” the duke replied to the young man. “How are you Lord Tipton?”
Posy had instinctively moved closer to her aunt upon the young man’s arrival. Jonathan found it odd that she seemed so eager to dodge the man’s gaze.
“Quite well, your grace,” the man answered, his eyes sneaking back to Posy.
Jonathan saw her flinch at his gaze and moved closer to her. He meant to ask her if she was well but felt a strong desire to offer her protection.
“And your father?” the duke asked.
“Currently enjoying a tour of the continent with my mother,” he replied, looking back at the duke before casting a glance at Jonathan. “I don’t believe I’ve met your companion.” he said to the duke, though he still watched Posy.
The duke looked back at Jonathan and nodded for him to join them. He reluctantly left his spot near Posy to step closer to the men.
“Lord Dorchester, this is the Baron Tipton,” he began and Jonathan nodded his head as the man bowed stiffly. “His father is the Viscount Sewell and happens to purchase quite a few horses from our stable. Tipton, the Viscount Dorchester.”
Jonathan gave a quick nod, thankful that his higher rank didn’t require him to speak first.
“Lord Dorchester, the ship builder?” Tipton asked, his eyes widening. “I’ve heard of you, my lord.”
Jonathan squared his jaw and gave a curt nod again. Thankfully the young baron was not giving him a reason to speak.
“Lord Dorchester is designing a ship for my uncle,” Posy interrupted, though her voice sounded shaky.
“Is that so?” Tipton replied, turning his attention back to Posy. She cowered back towards her aunt again.
“Indeed,” Jonathan replied, stepping into the baron’s line of sight again. “In fact, I meant to inform the d-duke this evening that it was finished.”
Harrison chuckled and slapped Dorchester lightly on the back. “Capital. That’s wonderful news.”
“Indeed,” the baron murmured, his eyes narrowing. “Miss Turner, I was hoping you hadn’t filled your card yet.”
Posy seemed to hesitate before holding her wrist out to the baron. “There’s a few openings left, my lord,” she replied quietly.
“Wonderful,” he replied, opening the booklet and scratching his name on the pages within. “I look forward to a waltz in the second half.”
“My lord,” Posy curtsied and the baron inclined his head before taking his leave. The music was beginning and the duke wasted no time leading the duchess onto the dance floor. Jonathan cleared his throat nervously, surprised to have been left alone with Posy.
“Would you like some p-p-punch?” he asked.
“Wine I think,” she whispered, taking the arm he offered.
“Are you sure?” he asked as they made their way to the refreshment table. “It’s a long night.”
“I find I need a glass of courage,” she replied, taking a wineglass from the table.
“Are you well, Miss Turner?” he asked carefully.
“Baron Tipton makes me nervous,” she whispered after taking a sip.
“You should not have ac-accepted his offer to d-dance then,” Jonathan murmured, watching as some of the color returned to her cheeks.
“I couldn’t turn him down,” she explained. “He’s perfectly respectable and has done nothing to warrant a cut direct.”
“But he makes you uncom-uncomfortable?”
“I don’t know why,” she sighed the words and took another sip. “And Uncle Harrison does business with his father.”
“I d-don’t think your uncle is lacking b-business enough to worry what Viscount Sewell might think about his son being de-denied a d-dance.” Jonathan assured her.
“I know,” she sighed again. “At least it’s only one dance.”
“The g-galop is next,” he told her. “P-p-perhaps that will take your mind off Tip-Tipton.”
“I do hope so,” she whispered, setting her glass on the table. “But only because I’m dancing it with you.”
Jonathan blushed and offered his arm to her again to escort her to the dance floor.
* * * * *
Jonathan took the dinner break with the duke and duchess, sitting next to Posy as they ate. He wished Matthew could have been able to attend tonight’s festivities, but his friend was in Devonshire, enjoying his newborn twins with Felicity. Matthew radiated confidence and usually helped Jonathan to be sure of himself. He felt his control on his nerves fraying with each hour that passed.
He caught Baron Tipton glancing their way on occasion, openly ogling in Posy’s direction with a few of his friends. When he saw Jonathan’s disapproving gaze, he would laugh and turn back to conversation with his friends. He could see why Posy was uncomfortable around the man. Something was off about him.
He turned his attention back to Posy and her family as the second half began. He had a polka with her before she was set to dance with Baron Tipton. She felt light and warm in his arms, though he did notice that she would tense when his touch grazed her bared shoulders. She was quite timid, though it seemed otherwise when they were conversing.
As they were dancing, he reached to move a strand of hair from her face that had come loose and she flinched as if he was going to strike her. Her face flashed red with embarrassment and her steps faltered. He recognized her reaction as one who had been beaten at some point in their life. He himself used to flinch when anyone reached for him. Her embarrassment was obvious and he decided to distract her.
“Did I ever tell you about my childhood nurse?” he asked and she shook her head. “My elder brother was her favorite and I already had a horrible stammer, much worse than what I have now. She was quite a beast to me.” She looked up at him, concern replacing the embarrassment in her eyes. “When my father used to visit the nursery at the end of the day, she would pinch me just before he arrived so I’d be crying when he walked in. Of course, that aggravated my father to no end, and he’d dote on my brother while I cried in the corner.”
“That’s horrible,” she whispered, pity evident in her voice.
He shrugged while they continued to dance. “I’ve sworn ever since, that if I ever have children, I won’t push them away to a nursery to be raised by others. I’ll spend as much time with them as I can.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Posy sighed as the song ended. They turned to applaud the musicians but her smile dropped as they turned away. Baron Tipton was waiting, quite close, to claim his dance with her.
“Miss Turner.” He inclined his head as she curtsied. He held his hand out and she hesitated before taking it.
She glanced at Jonathan as Tipton led her onto the dance floor and he thought he could see fear in her eyes. He clenched his jaw and moved to the edge of the dance floor, where he squeezed between a few couples.
He could see the duke and duchess across the floor from him. The duchess was speaking with another couple but the duke kept glancing toward Posy as she danced. The duchess had asked him something and he turned back to their conversation. Jonathan sighed and looked back to the dance floor. Posy was no longer there.
His heart thumped in his chest and he scanned the couples dancing in search of her. A flurry of silver near the terrace doors caught his eye and he saw a flicker of green ribbon before it disappeared into the darkness outside. He moved toward the terrace doors but it proved difficult with the many couples crowding the ballroom. Careful not to shove his way through the crowds, he slowly edged towards the terrace.
* * * * *
“The waltz isn’t finished, my lord,” Posy argued as the baron led her onto the darkened terrace.
“It was rather a crush in the ballroom,” he explained, pulling her towards the steps leading into the garden. “I thought you needed some fresh air.”
“My uncle won’t like this,” she hissed, her voice shaking.
“He won’t mind,” the baron assured her as he pulled her down the steps.
“My lord, we should return to the ballroom.” She tried to pull her hand free from the baron’s grasp. Her hand slipped free from her glove but the baron grabbed her wrist, letting the glove fall to the ground.
“We will,” he assured her as they entered the garden. He pulled her into a corner of the hedgerow where the light didn’t reach. “What’s this on your wrist?” he asked, lifting her arm to look at the skin.
“It’s just a scar,” she whispered, her voice catching as he ran a finger over the ridges along her wrist. She shivered. She never removed her gloves when she wasn’t at home due to the unsightly blemishes.
“Indeed? On both wrists?” he asked and removed her other glove before she could reply.
“It was something from when I was a child,” she whispered through clenched teeth. “I don’t remember what happened.”
“Your uncle told me what happened,” he explained, keeping his hands around the scars on her wrists.
“His grace has never said…”
“Not that uncle,” Tipton replied impatiently. “Your other uncle.”
“I have no other uncle,” she whispered, fear snaking down her spine.
“He was recently released from prison,” he informed her, his hand snaking up her arm.
She tried to pull away but his other arm was locked around her wrist, pulling her close.
“Your mother’s brother, I do believe. Rollo, I think his name was.”
“You lie,” she whispered, her body trembling.
“He had quite an interesting tale for anyone with a few coins to pass his way,” he continued, his other hand creeping around her shoulders. “Apparently he sold his niece to a brothel after her mother’s death.” Posy gasped and the baron chuckled, using his grip on her wrist to spin her around while his other hand tore at the back of her dress.
“Let me go,” she cried, tears burning her vision as she fought to pull away from him. His hand left her wrist to wrap firmly around her chest, keeping her locked in place while he pulled at her gown.
“Ah,” he sighed as she heard the satin rip. “He was right. You’ve the brand of a prostitute on your back, my dear,” he whispered, his voice close to her ear.
She could feel his hot breath on her neck as his hand pushed down the back of her gown, touching the bare skin between her shoulder blades.
“You’ve likely been had by half the men in England,” he continued, heedless of her tears. “But I don’t mind,” he hissed as he ran his tongue across the side of her neck. “You’re prettier than the whore I spent last night with, so you’ll do just fine.”
The arm trapping her in his embrace loosened enough for her to wheel around in attempt to slap him but he caught her hand and grabbed her chin with his other hand.
“None of that now, pet,” he hissed, slapping her before crushing his lips down on hers.
“P-Posy!” A shout from down the path interrupted the baron and he lifted his head to roll his eyes at Jonathan.
“You can have the twit when I’m finished with her,” he called as Posy went limp in his arm. “I’m sure she won’t mind a bit.”
“Unhand her,” he growled as he stepped closer. Posy had fainted in the baron’s arms and was completely at his mercy. He had to be careful.
“I had her first, Lord Dorchester,” he growled. “First tonight at least.” He chuckled, turning his attention back to the insensible woman in his arms. He was about to slip his hand down the front of Posy’s gown when a firm grip caught his arm and yanked it away. He dropped Posy in a heap of satin and turned toward Jonathan.
“I’ll warn you not to ruin my fun, D-D-Dorchester,” he mocked.
Jonathan’s face paled but he clenched his hands into fists and lifted them.
“You’re jesting, surely,” Tipton chuckled. “Everyone knows you’re a st-st-stammering coward, Dorchester. Now push off before you get hurt.”
Jonathan’s fist streaked out before the baron had time to react. Tipton reeled back, blood spurting from his nose, as he tried to stay on his feet. Another fist caught him in the gut and he bent over, clutching his middle, but another blow to his face sent him flying backwards into the gravel path.
“You’ve made your point, Dorchester.”
The duke’s voice came from behind him and Jonathan swung around, seeing the Duke of Guildford striding towards them with a face full of fury. Jonathan turned away from him, back to Posy, still lying in the gravel near the hedge. He bent down, carefully lifting her in his arms as the duke reached them.
“Is she injured?” he asked carefully.
Jonathan could tell he was barely holding back his wrath. “I saw him slap her,” he hissed, his own rage barely contained. “B-but she d-didn’t faint from that.” Guildford nodded and they both turned to see Tipton struggling to his feet.
“I’ll deal with him,” the duke whispered. “Her grace was right behind me. Take her and Posy through the garden to the carriage.”
Jonathan nodded, his jaw clenched. He wanted to beat the Baron Tipton to a bloody pulp but his concern for Posy’s well-being was overriding his need for vengeance.
“Did you know your niece was a whore, your grace?” Tipton asked drunkenly.
“Posy is no whore,” the duke hissed with a ferocious growl. “And you are no gentleman.”
“Come now, your grace,” he continued with a grin, revealing a broken tooth through the blood that continued to gush from his nose. “She’s even been branded so.”
“You’ll not touch her again,” he growled, his eyes dark. “And should I hear word of this from anyone…” his hand shot out, grabbing the baron’s cravat and twisting it so the man couldn’t breathe. “I will kill you, Tipton,” he whispered carefully and the baron’s eyes went wide. “Count on it.” The duke’s other hand shot out, sending the baron crumpling to the gravel where he lay still.
Jonathan had seen enough and turned to see the duchess rushing down the path toward them.
“Posy!” she cried, her face going white.
“She’s fainted,” he explained as the duchess ran a hand over Posy’s head. “Tipton slapped her but I don’t think she’s badly hurt.”
The duchess’ face flooded with angry color. “I’ll kill the bastard,” she hissed.
Jonathan suppressed a smile at such ferocity coming from the petite duchess. “B-between myself and your husband, that was nearly ac-accomplished already,” he assured her. “Will you lead us to your ca-carriage?”
“Of course.” She set a hand on his arm. “Where is the duke?”
“He’s finishing up with Tipton and will be along shortly,” he replied and thought he saw a ghost of a smile cross her face.
“Come,” she murmured, turning and leading him down another path that led to the street. She found the duke’s carriage easily and held the door open as Jonathan carried her up the step.
He lay her gently on the cushioned bench, crossing her arms over her middle. His hands brushed across the ridges on her wrists and he frowned as he looked closer. Posy’s wrists were marred with scars as if she’d been tied by them at some point.
“What hap-hap-happened to her wrists?” he asked the duchess, still standing outside the carriage, but she just shook her head, unable to answer. The duke stood near her and Jonathan looked back at Posy once more before descending. “Why d-does she have scars on her wrists?” he asked the duke and saw him clench his jaw. “Who has hurt her?”
“That is none of your concern,” he replied stonily, offering his hand to help his wife into the carriage. “I appreciate your assistance tonight, Dorchester, but I must get Posy home.”
“Of c-course,” he replied, as the duke swept past him and sat next to his wife. Jonathan closed the door but held onto the window frame. “Might I c-call on Miss Turner tomorrow to inquire on her health?”
“That won’t be necessary,” he replied, knocking on the ceiling to signal the coachman.
The carriage pulled away, leaving Jonathan standing in the road alone.
When writing a story, it helps to have a visual of what your characters look like. Having an actual picture of someone to base your character on helps you keep track of even the most minor details.
Jesse Spencer was the inspiration for Jonathan Howard, the Viscount of Dorchester