Lady Dulcie Brighton sat in the corner of the ballroom, her mother her only company. She tried to sigh but couldn't take a deep enough breath. The stays of her corset dug into her hips, chest, and under her arms. Her only thought was that of getting home and taking off the damn thing. Viscount Stanby passed, deigning her with a polite but distant nod.
"Mother, can we not leave? Please?"
Her mother, still lovely and vibrant at the age of three and fifty, tsked. "You haven't been on the dance floor once this evening."
"Well, I would, Mother, but it would be a bit strange, dancing by myself." Dulcie huffed in exasperation. She loved her mother dearly and on any other occasion would be happy to sit and be her company, but she could no longer do it tonight. "Mother, my dance card is empty. Let me walk out of here with a tiny shred of dignity."
As Dulcie saw it, if she left early, no one would know for certain her card didn't have even a single name on it. It would appear she was feeling sour and decided to leave before any possible suitors were able to make their way to her.
"Dulcie!" She cringed as her friend, Caressa, called out to her.
Lady Caressa Davenport, only daughter and youngest child to the Duke of Courtney, was flitting her way to Dulcie's corner. Dulcie's father, the Duke of Rothshire, had been friends with Caressa's father at University. If it hadn't been for lifelong exposure, Dulcie wondered, would the slim, effervescent Caressa be the friend of plump, dowdy Dulcie?
With her ethereal blond hair, Wedgwood blue eyes, and fairy-like body, Caressa was everything a woman should be. Dulcie's heavy copper strands, mud brown eyes, and body to rival that of the walrus housed at the menagerie, she was far from what the men of the ton were looking for in a wife. The idea of what one would think of the body she had to look upon in the mirror everyday made her sigh again.
Caressa claimed the seat to her right and grabbed Dulcie's hand. "Isn't this wonderful?"
"Hmm," Dulcie replied noncommittally. For the first time she noticed the two men Caressa had in tow. One was Malcolm Tripford, the Viscount of Trewston. Handsome, tall, with dark blond hair and piercing gray eyes, and a considerable fortune, he was considered one of the top catches of the Season. Next to him was the Honorable Kirkland Perry, the oldest son of the Baron of Xander. He had curly brown hair, green eyes, and stood to inherit a not so small estate himself. He had a kind smile, which was more than could be said for Malcolm, who only seemed to tolerate her presence because she was a friend of Caressa's and the daughter of a Duke. And, though he was not as handsome as Malcolm, Kirkland was still an attractive man.
A new song started and the Viscount cleared his throat. "I do believe this dance is mine, Lady Davenport."
Caressa giggled into Dulcie's hand and leaned over to tell her that the Viscount had claimed more than half of the evening's dances. Dulcie smiled and patted her friend's hand. "Then you had best not disappoint him."
She extricated her hand from Caressa's and made shooing motions. Caressa giggled again and spirited off with the man. Kirkland watched them drift off and Dulcie wondered if the man had claimed the other half of Caressa's card. As if remembering she was there, Kirkland turned and smiled down at her.
"Are you enjoying the party, Duchess? Lady Brighton?"
Her mother nodded serenely, as if relieved a man was finally speaking to Dulcie. Dulcie nodded as well. "Lord and Lady Wrenley certainly outdid the Earl of Stockton's soiree."
Kirkland laughed gently. "Indeed, and the Earl is simply steaming about it." He looked around until he located the man of whom they spoke, and pointed him out to Dulcie. "Never mind that his daughter is one of the most coveted girls of the season. The Baron had the gall to out perform a superior."
When he looked back at Dulcie, Kirkland was silent for a moment. She watched as a blush crept up his neck, over his jaw and into his cheeks. "I am, of course, speaking to the most coveted," he murmured.