A/N ~ There's nothing quite like being free of writer's block!
What a night!
Miss Cordelia Patridge, unsung debutante of last season, committed the ultimate coup by enjoying the only two dances of a certain Russian Count. A vision in Imperial Russian blue, her beauty rivaled that of the famed Widow Mironova herself.
Speechless and besotted, the Count's gaze never left her face as they glided across the dance floor, utterly wrapped up in themselves. The Count remained a proper gentleman, of course, limiting their dances to only two, but it was clear to anyone with eyes that he longed for more.
Could a new love match possibly be on the horizon? Or is this perhaps a mere shadow of a love already in existence?
Queen Charlotte slammed her copy of Lady Whistledown on her table before barking at her manservant, "Brimsley, fresh snuff!"
"What is nonsense, ma'am?" Lady Danbury calmly inquired, sipping a cup of unsweetened hot tea to wash out of the taste of sbiten.
"That rumormonger dares to imply Lord Mironov could ever be drawn to a mere debutante," the Queen snapped.
"Which debutante, ma'am?"
"Cordelia Patridge," Charlotte rolled her eyes. "That girl could barely hold the attentions of Viscount Bridgerton last season."
Lady Danbury's head slightly rolled side to side, as though mulling something over. "She does bear a passing resemblance to Lady Mironova...to the untrained eye," she added with a meaningful look.
"Exactly!" the Queen threw up her hands. "We saw their love with our own eyes, did we not, Lady Danbury? A charming...unusual little family to be sure, but we saw them. The way the Count and his heir sang to each how, how adoringly the Dowager looked on. There's history, and connection...love. What could he possibly see in that young girl?"
"A young girl," Lady Danbury shrugged, "untainted by his father's ghost."
"I want to court the Hallewell girl."
Adrik and Elizabeth both looked across the breakfast table at Iakov. Elizabeth had deliberately avoided all things Whistledown after the Trowbridge Ball, but now she was wondering if that was a mistake.
"Mary Anne Hallewell," the young man clarified, when his elders gave him blank stares. "I would like to court her."
"The girl has two left feet," Adrik raised an eyebrow, speaking in Russian. "What about the other one you danced with, the blond one? Katerina, Chrysanta--"
"Cressida," Iakov helpfully corrected him, sticking with English for a change. "That girl has a serpent's tongue." He casually buttered his toast and added jam. "Mary Anne, however, has a gentle spirit."
Adrik blinked, unsure of what to say, except for, "I thought you wanted to marry a Russian girl."
"I did," Iakov nodded. He bit his toast and chewed for a moment. "But Mary Anne reminds me of a Sakha girl I once knew." He turned to Elizabeth. "How do I proceed?"
"You, er, visit her home," Elizabeth shrugged haplessly, caught off guard. It was odd, speaking as one who'd been bought rather than courted. "You bring her gifts, you talk with her, her family...maybe treat her to custard or attend an opera together. If it were warmer outside, you could promenade."
Iakov nodded confidently. "Very well. It's settled. I'd like to make arrangements with a jeweler to fashion her a necklace of sapphires. She likes sapphires."
Elizabeth's eyes were wide. "It sounds like you had quite a night."
Iakov smiled brightly. "Surprisingly...I did." He turned to Adrik. "Thank you."
"And you?" Elizabeth turned to Adrik. "Was your night equally memorable?"
The Count moodily shrugged. "I danced twice, but nothing else."
Iakov stared at him, appalled at how he so casually lied by omission. He then returned his attentions to his breakfast, determined not to get sucked into whatever new madness this was.
"When's the next ball?" Elizabeth suddenly asked. "I shan't miss out again."
Allegra slowly lowered her copy of Lady Whistledown and gawked at her cousin from across the kitchen. "Cordelia...Patridge?"
"I know," Clementine rasped, her face both amused and dismayed. "The plot thickens," she added, eyes twinkling with mischief.
Allegra, however, was wholly unamused. "So if he can't have the Dowager, he sets his cap at her younger copy then? Do men really think we're that interchangeable?"
"You know they do," Clementine snorted, snacking on a day old biscuit and sipping lukewarm tea.
"Well, he's in for a nasty bit of a shock," Allegra grumbled, tossing her copy aside and resuming her work, scraping leftover food off the breakfast dishes. "One real conversation with a debutante and he'll realize his mistake."
"It's not her conversation he's after, I don't think," Clementine chuckled. "Cressida Cowper's maid told me they didn't speak the whole evening."
"Of course not," Allegra chortled. "He's blinded by youth and beauty. Whatever he loves about the Dowager, I can assure you that girl hasn't got it."
"So now you do believe he loves the Dowager?" Clementine mused.
"I can acknowledge that their situation is complicated," Allegra begrudgingly conceded. "But it's not entirely uncommon. And besides...it's not like they're blood. They're not like the royals who marry cousins and the like." After a pause, she asked, "Has he made plans to formally court her?"
"Of course not," Clementine shrugged. "While Iakov plans to court her friend, the Count has merely agreed to attend the next soiree."
"Who is hosting the next soiree?" Allegra asked, brow furrowed.
"Mm," Clementine nodded, swallowing the last of her tea. "That would be the Duke and Duchess of Hastings."
The Baroness Patridge was admittedly impressed. "This," she waved her copy of Lady Whistledown, "was a great success."
Cordelia however, was not in agreement. In the days since the Trowbridge Ball, her feeling triumph had dimmed.
"Then why has he not called on me?" she sulked, stirring sugar into her tea. "His new heir has already visited Mary Anne twice."
Eleanor shrugged it off. "Mary Anne and the Russian boy are of similar age; the courting process is different. Besides, you've had two earls, three barons, and a viscount call on you since the ball."
"But not the Count, Mama," Cordelia pressed through gritted teeth. "What is the point if the Count pays me no heed?"
"I don't recall you being this popular last season," Eleanor raised an eyebrow. "Let's face it, after Anthony Bridgerton, things went a bit downhill. Now you've been granted a second chance, once which doesn't involve marrying a foreigner and moving a world away."
Cordelia was petulant, bordering on distraught. "What's wrong with wanting to be a Russian Countess? Look how well things worked out for Lady Mironova!"
Eleanor paused, considering her next words carefully. "I know Beth's life story might seem...romantic, glamorous even, but that just means you haven't been paying attention. Her husband was barely cold in his grave when she hastened back to England. Those twenty years she spent abroad were clearly very lonely and--"
"She was married off to an old man she didn't love," Cordelia shrugged dismissively. "I would be marrying a handsome Count who is the talk of London."
"And who may have a mistress back home, illegitimate children, debts," Eleanor also shrugged. When Cordelia stared at her, looking almost pained, she continued, "All we know about the man is what we've seen so far, and that isn't much. And while I am delighted you captured his attention, let's not forget how this game is played. There are other handsome, wealthy men here in Mayfair, and right now, their eyes are on you."
But they are not the Count, Cordelia shook her head, but didn't say aloud.