Tuesday, 12 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 12 Word Count 1695

The first stirrings of respect that Phillip acknowledged would have blossomed still further had he heard the conversation Melissa and John were having. John wasn't recounting the information he'd had from their most recent conversation: instead he was discussing the initial chat he and Phillip had a few days previously.

Melissa had pointed out that as each member of their group was under supervision they needed to schedule their meetings very carefully. Phillip would know that John had been at her house, and would be suspicious of any conversation. The only thing that might make him drop his guard is a belief that John didn't buy into Melissa's story and was only operating with her in order to keep an eye on his cousin and friends. However, any time he spoke with Phillip, he could not then speak with Melissa until there was some sort of cover story in place. At this moment, Phillip would be thinking that John was recounting the failure of his recent conversation, when the truth was he was sharing the much more valuable information taken a few days earlier.

Melissa considered the implications – they knew that at least one of Phillip's agents would be in the area James was going. That made it likely it as either a stopping point on the way to the planned assassination point or a central focus of their reconnaissance. Given the location of the meeting point (James had not had the same restrictions on communication as John had and she'd had several hours to contemplate the various options and outcomes of the information received) she had extrapolated that it was only viable as a point of reconnaissance if they had a clear route of escape to England or a neighbouring allied nation. She'd mused over the map long enough to have the image clear in her mind. John had no knowledge of the location Phillip had sent James to, so he couldn't provide her with any help until the next day. For now, he left her to her cogitations and she continued flirting her way around the ballroom.

Phillip had been watching her for some time and now manoeuvred his way towards her to ask her for the dance. The two of them settled comfortably into the steps and she felt again the relaxing security of his certainty settle over her. Some part of her responded to the implied power he wielded with his confidence and she really wanted to see what would happen when he exerted his assumed authority more forcefully. She felt a ripple of sensation quiver through her as they moved around the floor and she quelled it with a light reproof at his with holding information that might keep her boys safe.

Phillip still stiffened when she mentioned her boys affectionately – despite his apology a few days earlier about his reaction to encountering a scantily clad male who was not a relative in her home, he had not truly forgiven her for being so very unconventional. Beyond his learned response that women had to be pure or be cast aside by respectable society, he had also encountered her own confidence as a sensual woman and although he was in no way intimidated, he was disturbed by the implication of experience. In his mind, he had separated the women of his world into those he could view in a sexual manner (courtesans, for instance, certain married women and widows) and those who were off limits (everyone else, but particularly the young and unmarried). Melissa had, by virtue of her attitude and language, crossed the line and he was finding himself entertaining indecent thoughts about her.

He felt guilty about it, he had lived his lines between clearly delineated lines and she was destroying his belief of what it was right and proper for him to do. Seeing James in her house in a dressing gown had been a relief, because it had convinced him she was free with her affections and he could also engage with her. When James had explained the situation, he had been mortified at the thoughts he had been indulging about a respectable, arguably even noble, woman. His apology had been sincere, but her response had once more confused him. In order to reduce his internal conflict he had rigidly adhered to his positioning of her in the list of “respectable” women thereby putting her firmly off limits and refusing to entertain any further fantasies.

Until he took her into his arms, he thought he had succeeded. Unbeknownst to her, Melissa did not dance like an innocent woman. Her life had made her accustomed to have people within a much closer personal space than the typical Regency-era young lady, and her experience of life had made her comfortable to share her body with relative (and occasionally complete) strangers. Dancing with a man, known or unknown, with several layers of clothing between them did not seem to her to be noticeably intimate and her movements reflected that. With Lord Penthvere especially, her interest caused her to seek out the moves which she responded to. He felt her urging him towards certain points of the dance, although she never crossed the line into leading him.

Now, poor Phillip was desperately trying to hold onto his composure and control the wayward thoughts which threatened to overcome his external appearance of placidity. In short, he was concerned that by the end of the dance he would be sporting an erection.

Melissa resolved the problem for him by her remark about his endangering her boys. It gave him the opportunity to channel his shame and frustration into anger. The two of them spent the next ten minutes snapping back and forth as they whirled around the floor. As the dance concluded, she let slip the name of the town she anticipated would be the center of his operations and when she observed his reaction – absolute deadpan – she thought she might be onto something. Any town with no relation to his activities would have earned her some response at least – possibly a snippy comment relating to her French adventures – and his lack of any response suggested he recognised the name and it meant something. As it was mid sentence, she was able to disguise her interest in his response and so move on without raising his suspicions too high.

After the dance she slipped out of his hold and glided to the side of the floor. There, she bumped into a very large man. For a moment she was shocked into stillness by her utterly spontaneous reaction – she briefly felt like she had been electrocuted. She gazed up at him. Blond hair swept into a more formal style than that which Lord Penthvere affected, piercing blue eyes and a beautifully groomed moustache presented themselves before her gaze. She was particularly interested because he had responded as rapidly as she – his pupils had dilated before their gazes met and for a brief moment they were trapped staring at each other. Suddenly she gathered herself and swept a curtsey. His response was the epitomy of polished grace and correct behaviour: he bowed, apologised for his clumsiness and invited her to dance. As he swept her onto the floor, she barely noticed the gaze of Lord Penthvere watching her rapid accord with her new partner.

Where Phillip had been hinting at control and assurance, the new gentleman was assuredly in control. His aura of power encompassed her and his frame allowed her no leeway. Each time he discovered a motion that drove a response out of her, he immediately took the initiative to chase that response. She felt utterly in his charge. His presence was oddly not intimidating to her, and neither did she feel hounded or forced. It took a while but when he did cross a line she stiffened and he immediately backed off. From that point he didn't experiment with teasing or intimacy, he simply restricted himself to the moves he knew she enjoyed.

By the end of the dance she was a quivering mass of anticipation. He delivered her to the edge of the floor and, instead of kissing her hand, pressed his lips against the rapid pulse on her wrist. His lips felt scalding on her cool skin and she gazed after him. Seconds later she shook herself and moved on. She didn't observe anyone she knew as they watched her response to the large blonde stranger: Phillip was tense and alert, John was concerned and – far across the room – Michael was surprised.

The next day it was Michael – the other newcomer to town life – that told her who her partner had been. Sir Francis Carlisle, notorious rake, adventurer and man of action. He rarely danced and when he did it was typically with a specific kind of woman. To dance with her suggested either that he assumed she was that kind of woman, or that he had been swept away by her. Both suggestions seemed unlikely, but of the two, the idea he had been swept away by her was less likely.

Her neighbours had paid her gossipy visits before 11:30 that morning, eager to quiz her about the gentleman and all she had been able to tell them was that she suspected he had been disconcerted by their collision and had attempted to reassure her by dancing. It was, she argued, the only civil thing to do in the circumstances. Her neighbours agreed, although sceptically, and she was concerned slightly by the attitude of one of the neighbour's daughter, who had clearly ferreted away the information that the only civil way for a gentleman to escape a collision was by an invitation to dance.

Raising her eyebrow slightly as she observed the girl, she encountered a look from her mother who subtly indicated to Melissa her intention of addressing such a behaviour. The byplay was not missed by the girl who flushed furiously but, aside from that and her nervously twitching thumbs, hid her discomposure behind an armour which would serve her well in years to come.

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