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Love Is Blind
By Lynsay Sands
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2007 Lynsay Sands
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Refrain from squinting, please."
Despite the inclusion of the word 'please', it was not a request, but an order, and one Clarissa was heartily sick of hearing her stepmother give. If the woman would simply allow her to wear her spectacles, she would have no need to squint. She would also not be constantly bumping into things and people. But no, of course, she must not wear her spectacles. That would put off suitors.
As if her clumsiness did not, Clarissa thought wearily, and grimaced inwardly over some of the little 'accidents' she'd had since arriving in London. Aside from upending tea trays and missing tables with her plates, she'd taken a terrible tumble down the stairs. Fortunately, she hadn't hurt herself over much, suffering bruises and stiffness, but nothing broken. Then there was the little incident of falling out in front of a moving carriage, not to mention her having set Lord Prudhomme's wig on fire.
Another sigh slid from her lips as Clarissa recalled Lydia's lecture after the last accident. Her stepmother had decided that - as she was so blind and clumsy without her spectacles - there was only one way for her to go on. Clarissa was to sit quietly in future when in the presence of others. She was not to touch candles, cups,plates, or.... well.... basically anything. She was no longer to eat in company, but was to claim she was not hungry ... whether she was or not. Neither was she to drink. Walking was even out without her maid to lead her.
Clarissa had burst into this lecture several times with "But, if you would only allow me to wear my spectacles-" And, each time, Lydia had responded with a grim, "Never!" And then continued on with all the other things she was never to do.
By the time Lydia had finished, all Clarissa was supposed to do in the presence of others was sit at her stepmother's side, looking serene ... which meant, no squinting.
Sighing, Clarissa turned her gaze away from the blur of people swinging past on the dance floor and stared wearily at the pale pink blur of her own hands in the yellow haze of her lap. It was going to be another boring night.
"May I have this dance?"
Clarissa heard the request, but didn't bother to look up. Why should she? It wasn't as if she could see anything anyway. Instead, she waited unhappily for her stepmother to speak, wondering the whole while who the stranger was that he had not heard of her. Anyone who had heard the tales of her clumsiness, surely would not approach.
Realizing that Lydia hadn't yet politely demurred the request on her behalf by saying she was too tired, or whatever excuse she chose, Clarissa glanced to her side with a frown to find that the pink blur that was Lydia was no longer there. When a black blur suddenly moved into the seat, Clarissa sat back with a start.
A frown forming on her face, she turned blindly, searching the haze of color around her for her stepmother's bright pink blur.
"I believe the lady who was sitting here a moment ago went off in search of food," the deep voice was so close to her ear that Clarissa felt his breath on her delicate lobe.
Suppressing a shiver, she turned her attention quickly back to the man at her side. He had a lovely, deep gravelly voice that she found pleasing and his blurred form appeared quite large. For the millionth time Clarissa wished she had her spectacles and could see.
"Did she not tell you where she was going?" he asked now. "I thought I saw her speak to you before leaving."
Clarissa blushed slightly, and quickly returned her gaze to the blur of colorful movement that was the dance floor as she admitted, "She may have. I fear I was distracted by my own thoughts and not paying attention."
While she had a vague recollection of Lydia murmuring something to her, Clarissa had been sunk too deep in her own misery to pay her much heed. It was humiliating to sit here catching bits of conversation as people gossiped unkindly about her. Her clumsiness was apparently quite the joke of the season. She'd earned the moniker Clumsy Clarissa and everyone was wondering what she would do next to entertain them.
"They say you are as blind as a bat, and too vain to wear spectacles."
Clarissa blinked in surprise at this blurted announcement. If she was taken aback by his bluntness, she suspected it was no more so than the speaker. She'd heard a small gasp of breath as he finished, as if he'd just realized what he'd said. A quick glance to the side showed that he'd raised his hand as if to cover his mouth.
"I am sorry, I have obviously been too long out of society. I should never have-"
"Oh bother." Clarissa waved his apology away and sank back in her seat with a dejected sigh. "'Tis all right. I do know what people are saying. They seem to think that I am deaf as well as clumsy, for they do not worry about saying it in front of me - or at least behind their fans - loudly enough for me to hear." Making a face, she mimicked those she spoke of. "Oh look, there she is, poor thing, Clumsy Clarissa."
"I am sorry," he said quietly.
Clarissa waved his words away again, only this time noting the way he dodged as if to avoid a sound blow to the head. Frowning, she clasped her hands together and settled them in her lap as she repeated, "There is no need to apologize. At least you said it to my face."
"Yes, well ..." The man seemed to relax in his seat now that her hands weren't waving wildly around. "Actually, it was more a question. I was wondering if you truly are?"
Clarissa smiled wryly. "Ah, well, I am not quite as blind as a bat. I can see with spectacles. But, my stepmother has taken them away." She threw a dry smile in the general direction of his blurry shape and then shrugged. "Lydia seems to think that I will have more luck setting a fire in some suitable man's heart without them. Though the only thing as yet that I have set fire to is Lord Prudhomme's wig."
"Excuse me?" he asked with amazement. "Prudhomme's wig?"
"Hmm." She leaned back in her chair and actually managed to chuckle at the memory. "Yes. Though if you ask me, 'twas not wholly my fault. The man knew that I could not see without my spectacles. Why the deuce he asked me to move the candle closer is beyond me." Clarissa paused to squint in her companion's general direction. "He is bald as a cue ball without his wig, is he not?"
She thought he nodded, though it was hard to say. The man was emitting small choked sounds. It took her a moment to identify them. He was fighting desperately not to laugh.
"Go ahead and laugh," Clarissa said with a small smile. "I did. Though, not right away."
He relaxed somewhat then. She could actually feel the muscles in the arm and leg pressed against her own, expand. But, he only expelled a small chuckle.
Clarissa squinted again, trying to bring his face into focus. She wanted very much to see his face. She liked the sound of his laugh, and his voice when he spoke was husky yet soft, it was really quite ... attractive, she decided. And, while Clarissa should have moved over rather than allow the intimate closeness of his hip rubbing against hers with every move, she quite liked that too, so, she pretended not to notice.
"How did Lord Prudhomme take this little accident?"
Clarissa gave up trying to see his face and smiled good-naturedly. "Not at all well. He thought it was all my fault. He called me quite a few nasty names too. I think he would have hit me, but the servants wrestled him from the house," she admitted with a small frown, then sighed and added, "Of course, my stepmother - Lydia - then lectured me ad nauseam afterward about all that I must and must not do from now on."
"Pretty much everything is off limits," Clarissa said cheerfully. "Let's see, no eating in public, no drinking in public ... In fact, I am not to touch anything in public; candles, flower vases, anything. I am not even supposed to walk without someone to guide me."
"But she did not say no dancing?"
"No. But then, she did not have to." Clarissa's smile faded. She hesitated and then tried to explain. "Everything is a blur you see, so, when I whirl about, all I see are blurs of color and light flashing around. I lose my balance, and ..." She paused and shrugged, but a blush was creeping over her face as she remembered the last brave soul who had asked her to dance. Clarissa had ended up tripping him up as well, so they had both ended on the floor. Very embarrassing.
"Then keep your eyes shut."
"What?" Clarissa glanced blankly at the dark blur beside her.
"Keep your eyes closed and you will not lose your balance," the man explained, then she saw his hand move closer to her. He was offering her a hand to rise.
Clarissa opened her mouth to refuse and then paused as his hand suddenly enclosed hers, sending a shock of sensation racing up her arm. It was such an odd feeling, like excitement, but alive, coursing across her flesh.
"I do not ..." she began faintly with bewilderment, pausing when his hand lifted her chin and he bent to stare into her eyes. Close enough to kiss, she thought vaguely. Good, God, Clarissa realized, close enough to see! For one brief second, she stared clearly into the most beautiful set of brown velvet eyes she'd ever seen, then, he pulled back slightly, and out of focus.
"Trust me." It was not so much a request, as an order. But, Clarissa remembered those eyes, so dark, so kind, and she nodded her head. Then he was tugging her out of her seat, and directing her through the crowd of dancers to the middle of the dance floor.
"Now ..." His voice was calm and soothing as he turned her to face him. "Close your eyes," he instructed, lifting her free hand to his shoulder. "Relax."
His voice was almost hypnotic, Clarissa thought vaguely.
"Follow me. I will not allow you to stumble."
Excerpted from Love Is Blind by Lynsay Sands Copyright © 2007 by Lynsay Sands. Excerpted by permission.
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