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She had been bending over, brushing her hair forward, and suddenly she straightened up and sent a tumbled cloud of night-black curls flying backward as she frowned challengingly at her reflection in the mirror.
The image of a Gypsy frowned back. In that one instant she forgot every stricture her aunt Gertrude had pounded into her head about smoothing out the frown lines that might cause wrinkles. In that one telling moment she looked, she felt, every bit as exotic as Aunt Gertrude constantly told her she was.
And Aunt Gertrude had been particularly virulent this afternoon as she had made conversation with her friends over tea in the rose garden below her niece's window, totally oblivious of the fact she might be able to hear every word.
Oh, she had heard. She had heard every blistering word that had once more ridiculed her resemblance to her mother, Marianna, the beautiful and passionate Spanish Gypsy who had lost her head and her heart to an English adventurer.
"I'm sure that in the end-with the right influences, of course-the child will rum out well enough," Aunt Gertrude had said with excruciating piety. "But it is a pity that with her looks-well, I suppose she cannot help the fact she has such -- well -- singular features. That mane of black hair-and those copper colored eyes ... just like the eyes of that ugly black cat of ours who follows her everywhere. I can't help wishing she had taken more after Richard in looks rather than that foreigner mother of hers. Although one doesn't want to be uncharitable, does one?"
Dear, so-benevolent Aunt Gertrude, who never let anyone forget that she was abishop's wife and a lady in her own right. Aunt Gertrude with her tall angular body, pinched face, gimlet eyes, and suspiciously dark hair, who excelled in Good Works.
Aunt Gertrude, who had decided that Celia must call her "aunt" as a courtesy, though Celia could never understand why, given Aunt Gertrude's antagonism toward her family.
Sometimes Celia Marianna Penmaris felt as if she had two selves-the outside self that everyone else saw, and a secret self that only she knew about and hid so well that she was able to play the role that was demanded of her by society even though she fell this powerful division within herself.
She understood very well that by bringing her to England to her home at the Grange, her aunt had done what she had determined was in her best interests to assure her future. She had had the right schooling and had come of age in the correct and cloistered atmosphere that ensured she would eventually make a good marriage.
But all of that meant she had had to subdue her muchdeplored unusual looks-she couldn't help her olive complexion or the color of her eyes or the texture of her hair-nor her height, either, in a society where men doted on tiny doll-like women and she towered over them all at five foot eight.
And she wondered, so often, if her mother had felt like this when she had given up her glamorous life as a dancer and the toast of Europe to marry Celia's proper English father.
Had she been forced and betrayed just as her own daughter had been forced into leaving her beloved plantation home in the hills of Ceylon and brought here to cold confinement in England, where she had to learn to hide her real feelings under a kind of submissive civility?
When Marianna had looked in the mirror, had she seen the same flushed cheeks, the same glowing eyes, the same sensuous curve of the lips that were so abominably different from those of the stiff-necked, high-cheekboned girls Celia knew?
Did it really, really matter as much as Aunt Gertrude thought it did?
It didn't seem to matter to Ronald Winwood.
Celia smiled as her fingers lightly touched the framed photograph of him that stood close by on her dresser.
It seemed to her that she had always, for as long as she could remember, been in love with Ronald Winwood, whose father had owned the plantation adjoining her father's.
In the old days in Ceylon, he had treated her like a child, like a nuisance sometimes, because of her unabashed adoration of him.
But on that last occasion, when he had returned to England on leave, everything had changed.
He had come from Ceylon with a gift for a child, but he had found instead a self-possessed young woman with whom he'd instantly fallen in love.
They'd been walking in the rose garden at twilight. It had been as if the dream she had sustained all of her life had suddenly turned into blissful reality. Almost as if it were a page from the romantic novels she surreptitiously read.
"You're like a lovely little chrysalis, my Celia," he had whispered to her then. "And I want to be the lucky man who watches that delicate butterfly emerge from her cocoon."
How poetically he had put it. Ronald Winwood -- who could have had any woman he wanted-loved her and swore he would wait for her as long as he had to. And the locket he had secretly given her that evening still hung warmly on a golden chain between her young breasts as a symbol of their betrothal.
What had Ronald seen in her that night?
Celia narrowed her eyes and attempted a mysterious half smile.