One young lady following her passion for music. Two strong men locked in a bitter rivalry for her heart. A journey of self-discover, and a trap of her own making.
Georgiana Darcy is going to have to carve out her own destiny, however ill-equipped she may feel...
Praise for In the Arms of Mr. Darcy:
"Engaging, fast-paced, and searingly romantic." — Austenprose
"Eloquent . . . Lathan continues to bring the Regency period to life . . . I was swept up by the romance." — Rundpinne
"Ms. Lathan's writing is lyrical and perfect for this genre ... Jane Austen would be proud." — The Good, the Bad and the Unread
"One of the best [Austen sequels] yet written. . .we get an in-depth look into the deep and everlasting love Darcy and Elizabeth share." — Everything Victorian and More
Bestselling author Sharon Lathan has created a world of sensual Jane Austen continuations, including Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One and Loving Mr. Darcy Journeys Beyond Pemberley. Her work is widely praised for bringing the Regency period to life and for the depth of her stories of true love.
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About the Author
Sharon Lathan is the author of the national bestsellers Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, Loving Mr. Darcy, and In the Arms of Mr. Darcy. In addition to her writing, she works as a Registered Nurse in a Neonatal ICU. She resides with her family in Hanford, California.
Sharon Lathan is the author of the bestselling Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, and Loving Mr. Darcy: Journeys Beyond Pemberley. In addition to her writing, she works as a Registered Nurse in a Neonatal ICU. She resides with her family in Hanford, California.
Read an Excerpt
Overture in Lyon
Miss Georgiana Darcy was written on the outside flap of the folded parchment envelope in fine calligraphy. The addressee fingered the dried ink before turning the envelope and noting the wax seal. A bold M circled by what appeared to be holly.
Interesting, Georgiana thought.
Not too long ago, the concept of receiving what was undoubtedly an invitation addressed directly to her by people unknown would have flabbergasted her. Half a year of traveling through Europe had altered her expectations and such invitations were so common an occurrence that she barely noted the absurdity of it. Furthermore, she was actually rather surprised that this was the first as yet conveyed since she had arrived in Lyon three days ago.
Her smile deepened, a low chuckle escaping as she shook her head. How Fitzwilliam would laugh at me, she mused, the thought rising unbidden and causing a sharp pang that pierced her heart. The smile faded, but she rapidly smothered her homesickness, walking to the wide, cushioned seat recessed into the window alcove where the stunning view would lift her spirits. She sat, taking a moment to gaze over the perfectly symmetrical rows of grapevines that stretched in an unbroken sweep to the distant river. All were barren of growth and she fleetingly wished it were spring or summer rather than deep winter, but then she squelched that ridiculous notion, thankful that her excursion abroad would encompass all four seasons ere her return to England in April.
Yes, I am a little homesick. Her smile returned as her attention was given to the missive held in her hand.
The Marquis and Douairière-Marquise de Marcov request the presence of Miss Georgiana Darcy for dîner de gala at the Château la Rochebelin on 21 January of 1820 at hour seven.
As she suspected, the de Marcovs were unknown to her. She shrugged, certain that her aunt and uncle would be familiar with the family. She was under their jurisdiction for this leg of the journey and trusted them explicitly. Thus far, there had been no cause for doubt or dismay, every partaken entertainment delightful. She rested her head against the cold wall, her thick plaited coil of golden hair acting as a cushion. Her reflection shimmered on the polished surface of the glass, her densely lashed large eyes so vividly blue that they mocked the dull sky of winter. Not the tiniest wrinkle of unhappiness marred the smooth perfection of her high forehead, honeyed brows arching delicately over round eyes that surveyed the landscape stretching before her. The chilled air infused rosiness in her cheeks, the only hint of color on her creamy skin, and she drew the wrap closer about her arms.
The Château Plessis-Rhône, home of the Vicomte de Valday, sat on a gentle rise surrounded by fertile fields. Even in the winter the countryside was verdant with enormous evergreen trees and bushes randomly distributed amongst the dormant vines, leafless trees, and dulled lawns. The waters of the Saône glittered turquoise in the muted daylight of what was a typically sullen day, the residuals of misty fog lingering in places. The intermittent rain from the day before continued to threaten, lurking darkly in the patchy clouds that obscured the sun. Georgiana much preferred the warmth and brightness of a summer day, but the play of grays and shadows amid the nimbostratus clouds mixing with the colors on the ground was beautiful in its own way.
Sunshine or gloom, the joy of being stationary and surrounded by stout walls was priceless.
Georgiana had discovered during the Channel crossing from England the previous spring that sea voyages did not disturb her as they did her unfortunate brother. Therefore, as difficult as it was to say arrivederci to Italy, she had relished the complication-free voyage across the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, the inclement weather that had not plagued them during the voyage had beset them once on terra firma. Crossing the Alps of Switzerland last June was as easy as a country stroll compared to the rigors of the overland journey from Genoa to Lyon. Incessant rains and wind-blown debris required frequent halts and accommodations in less than luxurious coaching inns. The cold was unrelenting, their sturdy carriage and piles of blankets and furs seemingly worthless against the chill. The bedraggled travelers arrived at the massive estate owned by the de Valdays, never before experiencing such joy to see a house!
Simply being warm and clean had lifted Georgiana's sagging spirits immeasurably. Now if she could only ease the ache in her heart.
Georgiana sighed, gazing at the cloud formations suspiciously. A sudden flurry of activity to the right captured her attention and brought a laugh to her lips. A dozen birds had burst forth from a copse of low bushes with dead leaves flying crazily, the agitating predator unseen but the squawks indicative of some sort of fright. It was a simple thing, of course, and nothing she may not have witnessed at Pemberley, but the landscape was so unique and served to remind her of how fortunate she was—and how amazing the journey was, in spite of the pangs of homesickness and grief.
A clamor in French from the hallway broke her reverie, seconds later the door bursting open and three figures tumbling into the parlor.
"Dearest Georgiana, finally! Hiding away already, are you? Frédéric insisted that we hunt you down and rescue from your solitary daydreams!"
The speaker was a young woman of nineteen. She was short, barely reaching Georgiana's shoulders, with a voluptuous figure finely accentuated by an exquisitely tailored gown of purple velvet. Her lavender-tinted eyes blazed vibrantly amid a round face. Mischief and impertinence were etched upon her entire countenance from the tiny tapping foot to the mass of tightly coiled ebony curls audaciously escaping jeweled pins. She was in all ways a vision of supreme, sensual loveliness that could wrest the breath away from everyone who beheld her, male or female. Her name was Zoë, and her lush beauty was so ineffable that it was impossible to imagine that another could match it.
Yet the woman standing near her was indeed a match.
Her twin, Yvette, was nearly a duplicate. It was only the small mole located just to the right of her upper lip that easily revealed her unique identity. The combined essence of these two extraordinary creatures was a captivating assault upon one's senses. The blessing from the Maker in allowing the creation of two entrancing offspring would presumably then exhaust any hope of further divine favor upon their parents, but this was not the case.
Frédéric, nearly eighteen, was as stunning and forceful a presence as his elder sisters. With his curls styled foppishly about his face, his enormous deep-blue eyes, and his plump mouth, he had a slight feminine air to his look that was aided by his shorter stature and stout fleshiness. But this was only at first glance. As soon as he moved or spoke a word, the effeminate vision was swept away by a personality, voice, and bearing that exuded confident masculinity. The three de Valdays were bewitching and somewhat exhausting, but Georgiana adored them already.
Frédéric bowed gallantly, spearing Georgiana with an unconsciously sensuous gaze. "Rescuing damsels is a gentleman's sworn duty, is it not, beautiful lady? Especially she who is fated to be one's love for all eternity?"
Georgiana laughed, shaking her head as he kissed her hand.
"Foolish child!" Yvette declared, shoving her brother aside. "How many women have you declared undying, passionate love to this week?" Frédéric merely shrugged, his grin brilliant and unrepentant. Yvette sniffed, turning to Georgiana and opening her mouth to speak, but Zoë beat her to it.
"I see you have your own invitation to the de Marcov's gala. Magnifique!" She fluttered the parchment paper addressed to her in the air while performing a sequence of graceful pirouettes about the room, gleefully singing, "Dancing, dancing, dancing! Until dawn! With endless parades of handsome men!"
"Shall you save one dance for me, sweet sister?"
"I said ‘handsome men,' dear brother, not ‘homely child.'" She continued to dance about the room, Frédéric laughing and fluidly twirling toward her, engaging in an elegant pas de deux.
Yvette sat onto the window seat beside Georgiana. She held her invitation in her hand, face alit with the same sparkling joy as her sister's. "Is it not marvelous? You shall meet dozens upon dozens of men, the finest noble gentilshommes of the Rhône-Alpes. Perhaps you shall fall madly in love and never wish to return home!"
"That is doubtful, my dear Yvette."
"I shall not give up hope, my friend! Why return to dreary England?"
Georgiana laughed. "You have never been there, and should be hesitant to call any other place dreary considering the weather here."
Yvette shrugged and then suddenly gasped, eyes wide as she grasped Georgiana's hand. "They say the grand ball is in honor of Lord de Marcov's betrothed, an Englishwoman! Perhaps you know her!"
"Highly unlikely. Dreary England is a vast continent. Do you know all in France?"
Yvette laughed gaily, deep dimples flashing, rising to commence her own sweeping ballet across the room. "Not as yet, but someday I shall. Famous I will be! An actress or prima ballerina or wife to the greatest duke in the Empire!"
"Come, Georgiana! Practice the dance with us!" Zoë dragged her from the window seat, Georgiana blushing and shaking her head, but swiftly getting caught up in the frivolity of the moment. One could never maintain a dour attitude for long when surrounded by the de Valday siblings.
"I deduce the invitations have been delivered."
The gay voice, accented English in a melodious tone, interrupted Georgiana's silliness. Her cheeks flushed in embarrassment but the three de Valdays continued to twirl.
"Yes, mother dearest! Dancing and flirting and dancing!"
"Will there be handsome Englishmen, Mama? Men with exotic accents and clear blue eyes like Georgiana?"
"Not every man in England has blue eyes," Georgiana explained with a laugh, but the girls ignored her.
"With luck the mysterious Englishwoman will have a dozen sisters for Frédéric to flirt and fall in love with."
Frédéric grinned at Yvette, but declared emphatically, "My heart has been lost to the glorious Miss Darcy and I shall never gaze upon another!"
The Vicomtesse de Valday waved her hand airily, winking at Lady Matlock as the two of them entered the room and crossed to the sofa. "Of course, Frédéric," his mother said with exaggerated conviction, sitting onto the cushion before answering her daughters. "I do not know if there shall be dozens of English men or women for you three to charm. Nevertheless, I am sure there shall be dozens and dozens of eligible French dance partners, since the de Marcovs never celebrate by halves."
"Pish!" Yvette pouted, lower lip protruding becomingly. "We have charmed all the available men in Lyon. None are remotely interesting, are they, Zoë?" Her twin nodded, curls bobbing and pout as adorable. "We must travel to Paris or Vienna or London for fresh conquests."
Zoë fell in a graceful heap at her mother's feet. "Oh yes, Mama. Lyon is so dreadfully dull! Surely you saw hundreds of gorgeous Englishmen when you lived in England?"
"Perhaps," Lady de Valday responded with a secretive smile, "but if you remember, silly girl, I met your father while dwelling in England, at Lady Matlock's home, in fact, so other handsome men vanished from my memories."
"Oh yes!" Yvette joined her sister in a pool of skirts at their mother's feet. "Tell us the story of how you and Papa met and fell so desperately in love!"
"Oh so romantic!" Zoë added with a dramatic clutch to her heart and a feigned swoon.
The vicomtesse laughed and shook her head. "You have heard the tale a million times and yet still add your own flourishes to a mundane meeting. Silly girls!"
The chorus of pleases rose to the gilded ceiling, but it was Georgiana's softly spoken reminder that she had not heard the story that prompted the two older women to jointly recount how they first met.
"It was in the years prior to the Revolution," Lady de Valday began, her voice serious and sad. "My father was a loyal royalist and refused to leave as the Terror grew. It would prove to be an unwise choice, as there was no halting the blood thirst of the masses and his efforts to spread rationality only earned him an appointment with the guillotine."
She paused, wiping a tear from her eye before able to put aside the endless grief. "He was not, however, completely foolish or trusting. He secured our wealth, secreting the bulk of our family heirlooms, and then he sent us away to England. My mother cried and refused to leave him, but he insisted. It saved us all."
Her voice broke, the memories still raw. Lady Matlock squeezed her friend's hand and took up the tale. "I was a young wife then, living at Rivallain with my husband, and we opened our home to French refugees. Inès and her family came to us, her mother and mine related distantly. They dwelt with us for nearly four years, and Inès and I grew close."
She smiled affectionately at Lady de Valday, who smiled back as long ago memories washed over them. "It was a wonderful experience," Lady Matlock resumed, gazing at her friend. "I perfected my French, learned many new musical techniques and compositions as well as artistic talents, since Inès is brilliantly accomplished. We became dearest friends."
"What Madeline does not say is that she is an incredible painter who could never teach me to hold a brush the correct way, let alone actually create an image of worth, and that she soundly beat me at every sport we engaged in! Her archery skills are incomparable."
"I shall concede the truth of that, although we were equal equestrians and a generous portion of our days were spent exploring on horseback. But of course the most memorable time was when Césaire, your father, came with his family."
Inès blushed, much like an adolescent with her first crush, and took up the narrative. "He was so handsome. He still is, of course, but then? Ah, magnifique! His grandfather knew the previous Lord Matlock; I cannot quite recollect how the connection originated, but it did not matter. My heart was instantly captivated."
"And Papa? Was he as captivated?" Yvette asked breathlessly, as if she had never heard the story.
"Alas, no. He was intrigued, but far too capricious to willingly settle based on a summer acquaintance."
"But you were persistent, oui, Mama?"
"A huntress determined to capture the man of your dreams! Your will firmly set to acquire what your heart needed to survive!"
Lady de Valday laughed at her girls' exclamations, shaking her head as she replied, "To a point, I suppose. We females can be quite tenacious. But in truth, it was our parents who finagled matters. Unbeknownst to us, they agreed the match was to be. All your father and I knew was that once the war ended, with Napoleon restoring a semblance of order so we could return to France, our families were suddenly the best of friends!"
"It took nearly a year, Inès's letters to me filled with her romantic machinations."
"Poor Papa never had a chance," Frédéric declared. "How could he resist your charms, Mama?"
"How could he indeed!" Yvette agreed. "He merely needed time, as all men are pathetically obtuse in matters of amour."
Frédéric huffed derisively, Zoë speaking before he could counter that assertion. "It is a wonderful story. So full of love and longing, romance and drama." She sighed. "And because of your friendship with Madame Countess de Matlock, forged via the fires of war and heartbreak, we now have our own refugee to harbor..."
"I am not a ref—" Georgiana began, Yvette's breathless oui interrupting her protest.
"Oui! Thus it is our sworn duty to entertain our lost friend, and, as fate is destined to be repeated, lead her to finding her true love!"
"Oh, how delicious a tale it will be," Zoë squealed, her curls bouncing with her emphatic nodding. "Mademoiselle Darcy's heart succumbs to deep, passionate love while dancing in Lyon, or"—she suddenly gasped—"better yet, Paris!"
"Please!" Georgiana laughed. "I assure you my heart is perfectly safe and not intending to succumb to anyone, in Lyon or Paris."
Frédéric groaned, pantomiming a dagger to the heart, his death taking a dreadfully long time as he staggered about the room. Georgiana merely shook her head at the dramatic display.
"Surely you do not mean you will not dance or flirt?" Yvette asked, her eyes wide with astonishment at such a bizarre concept.
"I will dance, yes, but I do not flirt."
Yvette remained incredulous, but Zoë waved her hand dismissively. "Every girl flirts. It is natural. As is falling in love, especially in Paris where love is tangible in the very air you breathe."
"Well, I did not fall in love while in Paris last summer, nor have I become even remotely smitten while in Austria or Italy, so I fear I shall disappoint, my dear Zoë."
Zoë shrugged, clearly not convinced. In fact, she wore a rather devious expression that caused Georgiana no small amount of alarm!
Yvette recovered from her amazement, springing up from her knees. "I certainly shall flirt. Flirt and dance, dance, dance! We shall teach you how it is done, sweet Georgiana." She grabbed her "dead" brother, where he laid draped over a chair, and the heartbroken lover was instantly resurrected and began gaily waltzing with his sister.
Georgiana was yanked from her chair by Zoë, the latter apparently deciding that the woefully ignorant Georgiana needed lessons in coquettish behavior begun immediately. Within minutes, all three de Valdays encircled their protégé, the eyelash fluttering, simpering smiles, and seductive gazes only causing Georgiana to laugh.
Lady Matlock and Lady de Valday shared a glance, the unspoken communication inherent in most long-term relationships easily comprehended. With nods of silent agreement, it was decided not to share what they knew of Lord de Marcov's fiancée, his "English Rose" as he called the lovely Lady Vivienne.
Indeed, it would be much more fun to have the connections discovered at the ball.
The Château la Rochebelin, ancestral home of the de Marcovs, was simply stunning. Georgiana could think of no other word to describe it. Lit with hundreds of lamps dotting the drive, fence posts, tree branches, windows, terrace railings, pinnacles, and a dozen other surfaces, the mansion was a dazzling spectacle. A surpassing example of Renaissance architecture with Gothic influences, the massive building of nearly three hundred rooms was the largest in the county. The host of carriages and bejeweled guests lining the wide drive and spacious walkways were dwarfed by the magnificance of the surrounding structure.
Yet, as eye-catching as the château was, Georgiana was captured by the legion of glitteringly attired people who became visible as they exited their carriages and milled about the lawns and terraces.
Attending balls was no longer the frightening experience it once was. The two years since her debut in London had provided numerous occasions for the inherently shy young woman to learn ways to overcome her nervousness. It would never be as easy for her to mingle and vamp as it was for some, such as the three de Valday youths, but it was not the tortuous circumstance for her it was for her brother. In fact, as she alit from the carriage, heard the strains of music wafting amongst the chatter of conversation, and was buffeted by the energy created from so much gaiety, her enthusiasm fizzed.
Zoë and Yvette each grasped an arm, Frédéric imperiously leading the way with a grand flourish. Together the threesome escorted Georgiana into the vaulted foyer as if she was the Empress herself. Lord and Lady Matlock, accompanied by the Vicomte and Vicomtesse de Valday, fell into step in their wake while sharing amused smiles.
"Let the children play with their new toy," Inès murmured to Madeline, all of the adults laughing at the jest.
The guests mingled about, gradually advancing through the press of bodies to where the evening's hosts were greeting them, in the reception area in the grand salon. The formal receiving line was long, protocol calling for fastidious arranging of the honored guests in order of rank and association with the noblesse d'épée de Marcov family. Thus, the marquis and marquise stood at the head of the long line, their eldest son and his betrothed beside, with her parents, Lord and Lady Essenton, flanking. The lesser-ranked relatives trailed behind, the precision formation losing order as people conversed.
Zoë, Yvette, and Frédéric kept Georgiana entertained and distracted during the long wait with witty banter, gossip, and innumerable introductions. They apparently knew everyone, Georgiana never bored as they inched closer to their hosts.
A nudge and whisper from her Aunt Madeline brought Georgiana's attention to the next person in line, the young woman pivoting about and finding herself a mere foot from a tall, handsome young man with blonde curls.
"Oh, Mr. Butler!" She stepped back a pace, smoothly recovering with a graceful curtsy. "What an amazing surprise. How fare you, sir, and what brings you to Lyon?"
Mr. Sebastian Butler smiled, thick tawny brows rising in amusement, but bowing elegantly before answering with a question. "Do you frequent balls often, Miss Darcy, without knowing who your hosts are?"
Georgiana flushed, momentarily nonplussed as she searched his gray-colored eyes for mockery. But all she saw there was harmless teasing. She laughed. "You have justly perceived my faults, Mr. Butler. I am convicted. I confess I am caught up in the frivolity of the occasion and unpardonably ignorant of the particulars. All I know is a marriage approaches." Her blush deepened, but Mr. Butler chuckled, his merry countenance easing her embarrassment.
"No conviction is laid at your feet, Miss Darcy. I would much prefer to be freely attending to the joys of the festivities, but, alas, family duty beckons. And to answer your first query, I fare very well. I trust the same is true for you?"
"Indeed, yes. Very much so."
"As to the particulars, it is my sister who is affianced to Lord de Marcov. Since I am largely to blame for his fate, having introduced the two while de Marcov and I roomed together at Oxford, I have been conscripted to be the best man. That explains my partial hosting obligations, position in the receiving line, and presence in obscure Lyon. What of you, Miss Darcy? I had heard that the Darcys were touring the Continent, but I assuredly did not expect to encounter you here."
Georgiana tilted her head, unable to resist a return tease. "Am I to understand, sir, that as host you are unfamiliar with your invited guests?"
He threw back his head and laughed. "Tried and convicted, Miss Darcy! Well played. My only defense is that I am of minor importance. My sister, the future Lady de Marcov, is the true star. She prefers to have her pesky older brother remember his place, which is behind the piano preparing the wedding music."
"That is a vitally important duty. Her trust must be immense." She smiled. "Then you are still pursuing your music?"
"Most aggressively, yes. However, I do find time for the occasional occupation upon the ballroom floor. May I have the honor of a dance, Miss Darcy, if your card is not yet filled by dashing Frenchmen?"
"I have a slot or two, Mr. Butler."
"The first waltz, if it pleases you?"
She nodded, her mind suddenly blank as she scrambled to think of something else to say while his intriguing eyes boldly scanned her face.
"You must introduce us to your friend!" It was Zoë and Yvette, speaking in tandem, eyes brazenly assessing every attribute of the striking Englishman being monopolized by their friend. Frédéric was humorously watching Georgiana, his roguish smirk and quirked brow indicting her unabashed flirting. Georgiana flushed belatedly, the realization that she had indeed been flirting shamelessly, however unconsciously, bringing her diffidence to the fore.
Georgiana welcomed the interruption, slipping into French and performing the introductions dutifully as her face cooled and nervous flutters eased. "Monsieur Butler, allow me to introduce my friends, Mademoiselle Zoë and Mademoiselle Yvette de Valday, and Monsieur Frédéric de Valday. This is Monsieur Butler, a kinsman of mine."
"Ooh! A kinsman, you say? How utterly intriguing and coincidental!" Yvette held her hand out, bobbing a curtsy and flashing an alluring smile.
Georgiana rolled her eyes, but Mr. Butler bowed, kissing the gloved fingers with due pomp and a serious, "Enchantè, mademoiselle."
Zoë's hand was quick to follow, her gaze blatantly seductive. "Please tell us, monsieur, how you and the lovely Mademoiselle Darcy are related?"
Mr. Butler's smile burst forth, his mischievous gaze touching Georgiana. "My grandmother, the Marchioness of Warrow"—he indicated an elderly but lushly beautiful woman further down the line—"is the youngest sister of Mademoiselle Darcy's grandfather, the late Mr. James Darcy. Alas, despite the familial connection, our paths never crossed until two summers ago in London at a ball to honor Mademoiselle Darcy's debut."
"And since then we seem to be treading close upon each other's steps." Georgiana laughed at his puzzled expression. "My family passed last May at the Swiss estate of my Aunt Mary, the Baroness of Oeggl, while apparently you and Lady Warrow dwelt at their manor in Vienna."
"Indeed we did. And, yes, we heard of your visit to the château when they returned to Vienna in the autumn. I would very much like to hear of your Alps crossing, Miss Darcy. I have not been brave enough, nor had the time, to attempt such a feat. I am highly impressed at your fortitude."
Georgiana blushed at his warm, respectful inspection, and tried to ignore the teasing expressions worn by the de Valdays. It was not that hard, actually, Georgiana discovering her attention was quite captured by Mr. Butler.
Sebastian Butler stood well over six feet, his body lean and masculine. His stylishly trimmed, thick, golden-blond hair was naturally erratic with soft curls. His handsome face was narrow, the jawline firm with a faintly pointed chin, almond-shaped eyes of slate gray, and a thin nose set above a full mouth; all was perfectly balanced within a complexion fair from too many hours inside though with ruddy cheeks from abrupt exposure to the sun. Later the twins would point out the flecks of blue in his eyes, the small scar on his left earlobe, the slightly crooked smile, and so on, but then, they enumerated such miscellany about most of the men at the assembly! It would be several weeks before Georgiana added their discovered minutia to her own list of incidentals.
Another gentle nudge from her aunt brought her back to reality. The gap in the reception line ahead of them was wide; Georgiana again flushed as she dropped a brief curtsy and herded the fawning twins away from the amused Englishman. There were a couple of backward glances, Mr. Butler meeting her smile each time, but very soon his form was lost in the surging crowd.
Dance partners were in abundance, for both sexes, so it did not take long for Georgiana to secure gentlemen for every dance in the first sets. When the waltz was called, she glanced about with some trepidation, having not laid eyes on Mr. Butler since the receiving line. But then he was beside her, his pale gray eyes sparkling with mirth as he offered his arm.
They took their places on the polished wooden floor, his touch light as they assumed a proper waltz form. His smile was friendly, putting her at ease.
"I recall seeing you dance the waltz with Colonel Fitzwilliam at the Darcys' ball two years ago."
"Therefore you feel secure that I shall not step on your feet?" He chuckled, nodding. Georgiana continued, "My brother taught me, but I fear he will only now waltz with his wife. I must rely upon the charity of others now that my lifelong dance instructor has moved on."
"I am certain none see it as charity, Miss Darcy." The music began, Mr. Butler leading into a flawless turn. He waited until the initial steps flowed into a smooth promenade before speaking. "How long have you been touring Europe, Miss Darcy?"
"Since March last. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, and my uncle, Dr. Darcy, traveled with us for nearly three months before returning home. We were quite the entourage!"
"I can imagine. But it is most delightful to travel with friends and family, is it not?"
"Why did the Darcys and Dr. Darcy return home? Did they not wish to see Italy? Surely Mr. Darcy did not fear the rigorous crossing?"
"No," Georgiana replied as she laughed at his tease, "although my uncle would have flatly refused to ascend into snowcapped trails if Fitzwilliam had suggested it, I assure you. No, they needed to return home prior to the birth of my second nephew."
"I see. Then congratulations are in order, Miss Darcy. I was unaware of the addition to your family, but then, news of such common nature rarely makes it this far to the east."
"Thank you, Mr. Butler. It is a joy, naturally, but I fear oddly nebulous to me, since I have not seen him as yet."
He heard the sadness in her voice, and his tone was comforting as he said, "When shall you return home?"
"April, tentatively. We are meeting my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and his wife in Paris next month. After that we will make our final plans, and I confess to being torn between anxiousness to be home and the delights Paris has to offer."
"At least you shall be again surrounded by loved ones. It eases the heart, I have found. Until arriving in Lyon for my sister's wedding, I too have been away from my parents and sisters. At times homesickness has assaulted me."
She nodded, holding his gaze as they performed the steps automatically. "Are you very close to your sisters?"
"Immensely. I am the eldest with five sisters after me. I know it is rather unattractive, but I do admit to relishing the devotion! They universally adore me as their personal knight in shining armor and I miss the idolization. My ego has taken a hit."
"Humility is good for us all, Mr. Butler," she piously intoned, her eyes twinkling. "But I do know what you mean. My brother has been my rock through all of my life and I am extremely close to Mrs. Darcy and my nephew Alexander. It is painful to be so far removed."
"It is only for a short time, Miss Darcy, even if it seems never ending. Forgive me for spouting off as if a wise older brother, but time away from those we depend upon is usually best for building character and independence. I have discovered this to be true."
"Yes, indeed, you are correct. You have traveled only with your grandmother, then?"
"From time to time various friends from university have joined me, but I have primarily been accompanied by my grandmother, Lady Warrow. Of course, she appears to be on intimate terms with half of Europe, so I have yet to experience overwhelming loneliness."
Georgiana chuckled. "I can imagine that is so. I had never met my famous relative until two years ago, at the ball you spoke of, but the tales are numerous."
"She was likely wisely barred from corrupting Pemberley Estate." His voice was light, clearly conveying the deep affection he held for his eccentric grandmother.
"Not at all," she denied with mock scolding. "My uncle has regaled us with stories of visits during his youth, when his father, Lady Warrow's brother, was yet alive. Unfortunately distances grow greater as time passes."
"And the Warrow estates are in Somerset. Makes for difficulty in frequent traveling. I am told that my grandmother's third husband was averse to travel and refused to board a ship. Clearly my grandmother is making up for lost time. Upon occasion she exhausts me with her stamina." He smiled fondly. "Then, she pretends to be weary, a claim I know to be untrue, and sends me off on a solitary quest for a spell."
"Is this for your benefit or hers?"
He laughed lightly and executed another beautifully led reverse turn with a fleckerl at the end. Georgiana followed flawlessly, rotating with a swirl of her skirts, catching his waiting arms, and resuming the traditional steps with fluid ease. Mr. Butler grinned, teeth flashing, and inclined his head in approval.
"The truth is," he resumed their prior discussion, "the point of my trip to Europe has been primarily educational. I confess to shamelessly exploiting my grandmother's connections in order to study music. She insisted, of course, much to my father's dismay, but one does not easily argue with Lady Warrow. I owe her more than I can possibly ever repay." He finished with a gentle tone, moving Georgiana with his clear devotion.
"So this was not the typical Grand Tour?"
Again he laughed, his resonant tones reminding her so much of Fitzwilliam. "Indeed not. I am sure the majority of gentlemen of our class would see me as a tremendous disappointment. Essentially, I am a sedentary individual with minimal wanderlust to cool, and I did not travel to Italy. I would love to, mind you, as I adore art, and opera has such strong roots there. But the call to study with master composers and pianists was far preferable to wasting time in extensive travel."
Georgiana's eyes lit up, her breath catching. "The masters? Such as who?"
Mr. Butler noted her intense expression with some surprise, opening his mouth to speak, but the music halted with the final twirl completed. With some reluctance, he let her go, bowing deeply before stepping back a pace. To his further astonishment she bobbed an abstracted curtsy, unconsciously bridging the narrow gap between their bodies.
"Where did you study? With whom? Was it marvelous?" Her eager face was lifted to his, gloved hands clenched by her breast as if in supplication.
He smiled, offering his arm. "Are you thirsty, Miss Darcy? Perhaps a drink and some air while I regale you with stories of Hummel and Moscheles?"
She gasped. "Did you meet... Beethoven?"
"Most impressive, Miss Darcy. Few outside of Germany know these men, let alone that they are friends with Beethoven."
"Were you serious? About Hummel and Moscheles that is?"
"Indeed, I was serious. However, I must be honest and confess that I was attempting humor and did not anticipate your interest. I rather expected a blank stare and beg your forgiveness for assuming your ignorance. Most young ladies gaze at me as if I have suddenly sprouted an additional head when I veer into ‘music-speak' as my sisters call it."
She took the offered glass of punch absently. "No, I am truly intrigued. I have played the pianoforte all my life and adore learning of new compositions, especially those of unique quality. Plus, I find that knowing the background and influence of a composer, what he has endured, or whom he has involved himself with lend an understanding to the piece that aids in performing it. Do you agree?"
"Sometimes, yes. Certainly an artist grows by association and concourse with other artists. I think the truly gifted are blessed with their own intrinsic character, their voice, if you will. Study, experiences, and relationships can inspire and affect, but one must not lose their sense of self, what makes them unique."
"I recall vividly the compositions you played at my brother's house in London two years ago, Mr. Butler. Very romantic and cantabile but also strong and audacious. Your work moved me. Has your style been affected by your studies and time abroad?"
"To a degree, I imagine. I like to try my hand at new techniques." He shrugged, grinning roguishly. "Playing or composing, I am never bored."
"When I play I try to imagine what the composer was feeling, what he is attempting to convey in the music. This may be difficult in your case, if you scurry all over the place."
He chuckled. "Have no fear, madam. Music is birthed by the composer, true. And the orchestra will follow the notes and instructions with each conductor placing his mark upon the arrangement. Every listener will interpret and emote singularly. You must allow your personal sentiments to be fed by your life, Miss Darcy. Your playing will thrive exponentially if you seek inward rather than concentrate without."
"Thank you for the advice, Mr. Butler, but perhaps that is partially the problem. I am twenty and barely stepping beyond the borders of Pemberley. I have no life experiences to draw from."
"Yet." He raised his glass in a salute.
"Yet." She clicked his glass and took a sip of her punch. "In the meanwhile, as I scour the Continent for escapades to broaden myself, will you satisfy my curiosity as promised?"
"Gossip, Miss Darcy? Shall I tell you that Meyerbeer snores louder than any man I have ever encountered and that Giuliani smokes the most disgusting Cuban cigars?"
"Not unless it contributes to their musical thesis." She smiled, playfully wagging her finger his direction. "Careful, Mr. Butler. Such comments will brand you discriminatory toward the opposite sex. I wish to hear of intellectual theories, your keen observances, the gleaned wisdom of the masters, all of it! The gossip can be covered afterwards," she finished dryly.
"Again, I accept your conviction of the flaws to my character." He bowed humbly, face seriously set although the sparkle in his eyes and bubbling amusement in his voice negated the effort. "You frighten me, madam."
"Indeed. By now you should be running away screaming, or at least searching your numbed mind for a plausible excuse to get as far away as possible. Most people do when I dig too deeply into my craft. There are few of us in this vast world who comprehend the mechanics behind the joy of music." His tone conveyed amusement but also respect and fascination.
"Sorry to disappoint, sir."
"I am not disappointed. In fact, this is rather thrilling and to my great advantage." At her puzzled expression he inclined his head toward two girls who were approaching the isolated corner they had gravitated to. "Wait and bear with me." He winked at Georgiana and then smoothed his features as he turned to the girls.
"Brother, you promised me a dance!" the youngest proclaimed without preamble, bouncing on her toes.
"Indeed, I did and have not forgotten. But remember your manners, Adele. Allow me to introduce Miss Georgiana Darcy, a relation of ours. Miss Darcy, two of my sisters, Lady Adele and Lady Reine Butler."
They curtsied, Adele sprightly and Reine dignified.
It was Reine who spoke, her voice controlled and subdued, "We met in the receiving line, brother. Miss Darcy, we are the annoying younger sisters. Give him time and he shall tell you so himself." She glanced to a solemnly nodding Sebastian, the merest hint of a twitch to her lips. "We felt it our duty as kinsman to rescue you from the fate worse than death—that is being tortured mercilessly with talk of notes and scores. The poor boy has no life beyond a pianoforte."
"No life at all," Adele agreed, dimples flashing. "He is, however, an excellent dancer. Do you not agree, Miss Darcy?"
"No need to flatter, Adele. A promise is a promise, although why I should have to suffer having my feet mangled when it was my persuasion that convinced father to let you stay for the dancing is beyond my comprehension."
She tossed her head, curls bobbing adorably, laughing and reaching to kiss her brother on the cheek. "He is the best brother in the world! And not completely dull, Miss Darcy, truly."
"Actually, we were having a fascinating discussion about Moscheles and musical philosophy when you arrived. We are kindred spirits with a shared passion for music it appears."
Both girls stared at her uncomprehendingly.
"As typical, you woefully misjudge your brother," he said with a long-suffering sigh. "Some women do believe me charming and interesting."
"Well, one anyway," Reine offered with a smirk. "In that case, since Sebastian has miraculously unearthed a like soul, you must join us for tea tomorrow, Miss Darcy. We can entertain with tales of our dear brother while you two entertain with song."
"Oh yes! You must!" Adele declared with a clap.
Georgiana glanced from one smiling face to the other. "If you are sure it is not an imposition?"
"Not at all!" Sebastian assured. "Besides, I have yet to cover any gossip or musical philosophy." He grinned a crooked grin, bowing with a flourish before whisking Adele off to the dance floor, leaving a laughing duo in their wake.