A/N ~ I feel so bad about the lateness of this, but I'm back!!! You know I was gone so long I forgot Adrik's name? Lol.
Previously: The Girl
Elizabeth Mironova felt odd enjoying this heady rush as she prepared the for the winter ball at Hastings House. She'd been to countless balls before, of course, most of which she hadn't wanted to attend, but this felt different. This was different. It was her first real English ball, and it was twenty years in the making.
She chose a Russian sarafan as usual, with a blood red velvet outer layer over black silk. It had split sleeves but covered shoulders. She wore a black kokoshnik set with rubies and twin streams of golden pearls.
The last time I wore this, I was at the Imperial court of the Tsar, on Andrei's arm, she mused, posing before her mirror. She couldn't remember much else about that night, but something told it wouldn't be the same with this night.
|I've been gone a while, so some of you might have|
forgotten what a split-sleeve sarafan looks like.
Lady Whistledown would probably write about it, but Elizabeth didn't care anymore. Ever since she'd stopped reading the gossip sheet and instead busied herself reading, music, and reorganizing her wardrobe, she'd been so much happier.
She'd spent twenty years unwillingly in the public eye, but now she was a widow in her thirties. Yes, there'd be interested men, but their demands would be fewer and she had the option to turn them all away. She wasn't some eager debutante anymore, needing a man to rescue her from her dreary home. It was hard to remember, as she had little experience actually mingling with the ton, but after watching the cynical, stoic Iakov cheerfully pursue Mary Anne Hallewell, she felt inspired to find her own happiness.
She hoped Adrik might follow suit; the Count was quieter and even broodier than he usually was when they weren't speaking to each other. Elizabeth warmed and softened at the thought of him; she'd already forgotten the specifics of their last disagreement and felt forgiving towards him. She was willing to make up with him, figuring they could dance at the ball and maybe talk afterwards.
It was long past time that they made up, and she supposed they could reconcile over a dance at the ball.
Pretty in pink.
Youth and innocence were the inspiration behind Cordelia's dress for the ball; in addition to Russian fashion, and she felt pale pink was the best way to go. This time, Madame Delacroix had had more time; the sarafan was better fitting, and though she wanted to wear the more sensual split sleeve style, she had to remember her theme was youth and innocence.
Cordelia was a lady in the very flower of her youth, not some eccentric widow in her thirties, and she wanted to remind the Count of that every time she saw him. He needed to know she was a serious candidate for marriage, willing to learn his culture and move with him across seas. True...she didn't much care for Russian cuisine, and learning the language had been extremely difficult thus far. But despite her mother's insistence upon marrying an Englishman, Cordelia was committed to her course.
|Rege-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor as the Duke |
and Duchess of Hastings
I cannot be disappointed again, Cordelia told herself, as her lady's maid helped her into her dress. I cannot be disappointing again.
In fact, tonight, she would have to be no less than perfect.
Hastings House was nothing short of palatial; though the carriage ride was cold and awkward, Elizabeth immediately forgot everything at the sight of it. She had heard stories about the Hastings couples; dribs and drabs from servants, flowery commentary from Lady Whistledown (back when she was still reading). Much of what she knew was commonly established lore: he was a rake and she was the season's diamond; they pledged their love before the queen in order to obtain a special license to marry with haste.
It was all very romantic and all, and the handsome couple appeared to live up the legend. For the Duke was tall and dashing, while the young Duchess was maternally radiant. And they seemed to live a life high in the clouds, for they had decked their halls in moody yet romantic shades of blue, with the musicians playing haunting music from Romania, Bulgaria, and the Russian Empire.
When she finally returned to Earth, Elizabeth noticed people looking at her and whispering among themselves. There wasn't the usual awe and admiration of her clothes, though if she dared say, she'd outdone herself tonight. There was neither warmth nor appreciation in any of their gazes, but there was definitely a keen interest. She disregarded it at first, sipping a delightfully mulled wine and certain she was mistaken. But after a few unmistakable whispered mentions of "Countess," she knew everyone was talking about her.
"I seem to be rather popular this eve," she murmured in Russian.
"Think nothing of it," Adrik replied, aloof and not looking at her. "I swear, these English look for any excuse to talk about us."
She knew it was more than that but didn't press the issue just then. Something had happened since the last ball...or was about to happen....
Out the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a vision in pink, dainty and floating, as though her feet barely touched the ground. Elizabeth turned fully to behold Cordelia Patridge in her Russian garb, her modest sarafan all proper and demure, the long pale pearls of her kokoshnik bouncing against her youthful face.
"Dobry vecher, moy gospodin (Good evening, my lord)," the girl greeted with all due humility, eyes downcast as she gave Adrik a grand, low curtsy. "Ya tak rad, ty by tol'ko znal (It is good to see you again)."
There was silence around them, before the ton fell to murmuring.
Both the Dowager and the Count were briefly rendered speechless, but with conflicting emotions. Elizabeth was confused, wondering why this girl was wearing her clothes and speaking her adopted language, and why she was so bold as to address to Adrik at all.
Adrik Mironov, on the other hand, was shocked out of his sullen mood, eyes look those of a startled deer. Elizabeth recognized the look; something had happened at the last ball, something both he and Iakov conveniently failed to mention to her.
And that I would've known had I simply read Lady Whistledown, Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. After decades of practice, she knew to remain composed when dealing with uncomfortable situations.
"Well?" she inquired laughingly. "Ask the girl to dance, Adrik. Don't make her wait!"
The mood around them seem to only slightly lighten as Adrik stiffly accompanied Cordelia to the floor. Elizabeth watched them with a broad grin, even allowing herself an amused chuckle.
After all, she told herself, we can always have words later.
"Later", of course, took much longer than she would've liked, and while she would have to loved to dance with another lord or watched the dances from the second floor, she was surrounded by widows, mamas, and even the smirking spinster or two, smug in the idea that someone beautiful and fashionable was possibly being humiliated.
Elizabeth maintained her smile, empowered by her mulled wine. But her patience was running thin and she wanted nothing more than to strangle the next person who spoke to her.
Of course that next person was none other than her old "friend" Eleanor, the Baroness Patridge.
"I must admit my initial cynicism," the traitor said, with an air of self-satisfaction, "but they do form a compelling match, do they not?"
You deceitful bitch. "Most compelling," Elizabeth nodded. "The Count has resisted marriage for years; perhaps all he needed was a change of scenery."
"Indeed," Eleanor nodded, eyes fixed on her daughter as Cordelia and Adrik launched into their second dance. Cordelia was lithe and delicate upon her feet. And Adrik did seem somewhat spellbound by her face. "It seems he just needed a proper girl of good English breeding to change his mind. And Cordelia is a very good girl--no scandals or impropriety to make him question her virtue."
Was that a jab at me, you fucking bitch? "Wonderful," Elizabeth replied.
"You should encourage him to call on her properly," Eleanor continued. "He seems unknowing in our ways of courtship. And I do not favor the idea of an overly long engagement. A summer wedding would be appropriate, it would it not?"
You're already planning their wedding??? It was so typical of an insufferable mama.
"You would have to discuss all of this with him," Elizabeth chuckled. "I have no say in the matter."
"No, but you do have influence," Eleanor countered, finally turning to meet her eyes. "I'm sure he'd listen to you in such matters."
Elizabeth was finally done. "Then you simply don't know Adrik very well," she stated plainly, with only a small, tight smile. "He's a man, Eleanor. He will do what he wants when he wants. Points for effort though; Cordelia's Russian is surprisingly excellent." She raised her cup as though in toast, drained it, and went to fetch another. For despite the warmth of the room and the wine, she suddenly felt quite cold inside.
Next: The Girl, Part III