The entrance hall:
At that moment Caleb was standing just inside the entrance downstairs. He was glancing impatiently up at the staircase. His eyes traveled to the clock in the hall once more as he bit the inside of his lip. With each passing minute he was growing quieter and the guards at his side appeared to sense it. They stood a bit farther behind him, but Caleb paid them no heed.
Where was she! His guests were already beginning to arrive and he had seen neither hide nor hair of the girl. Didn't she realize she was expected to make an appearance as his charge?
She no longer had an excuse to avoid the party, he thought proudly. He remembered the dress pattern he had selected for her last night and smiled. Upon seeing the color of the fabric he kept for his private stock, his mind had flashed a vivid picture of her standing there in it. It was the softest shade of blue he owned and he had easily been able to picture her in the dress. The color would look striking against her amber hair. Having it fitted had been the easy part. The dress he'd removed from her wardrobe made a perfect model for the tailors to work with.
He sighed deeply as he tried to put the thought of her out of his mind. It would be impossible until he actually saw her in the dress though. He'd been able to think of little else since picking it out last night. Where was she?
Of course, he assured himself, his impatience to see her now was purely practical. She was expected to appear by his side to greet his friends. Her tardiness was the only reason for his momentary irritation, he assured himself.
"Caleb," Jacob called as he raced down the stairs. "I'm sorry I was delayed. You can stop pacing now."
Staring sharply at his brother, Caleb remarked, "I never pace!"
Jacob grinned at him and said, "Then you can quit frowning. I was only getting changed."
It surprised Caleb that he had not given Jacob's absence a thought. Here he was wondering about Kyra, and he had not noticed Jacob was also missing. The realization that Kyra was distracting him so thoroughly was not a pleasing thought.
"I expected you down here fifteen minutes ago," he covered. He did not want Jacob knowing he had been so remiss in his thinking. With a look of genuine curiosity, he asked, "Why are you late?"
"You haven't heard," Jacob returned. "The stables were unattended. I ran some of the servants over to clean them up. I daresay our guests might have thought better of housing their horses in them this afternoon. They were a mess."
Jacob did not miss Caleb's look of surprise this time. He knew Caleb had forgotten about having the stalls cleaned. It pleased him to know that he'd been the savior in some aspect.
Caleb could not believe it. He had never let anything so important pass his notice. It had been a while since he'd made a tour of the grounds, but the hired help rarely needed inspection. He imagined the soldiers' spring vacation must have loosened everyone's belts. He knew he should have paid closer attention to such detail. It just seemed there was never enough time in the day.
Nodding to Jacob, he said, "After our guests have found their rooms, I want you to get me the men who were supposed to be responsible for that stable this week. They should have been able to look after themselves."
Jacob stared at Caleb for a few seconds before realizing there were no words of praise or thanks coming his way. He simply shrugged and said, "I suppose the soldiers are not the only ones on vacation this week." With that he walked past his brother.
Let Caleb take the comment anyway he wanted. Whether he realized it was a slight against the stable workers or their overlord, Jacob could care less. He plastered a smile on his face, groaning inwardly when he saw Cassandra standing at the end of the walkway. Of course she would be greeting the guests as well.
Aside from running into Serena again, Cassandra was the last person he'd wanted to see right now. Still, he greeted her cordially, forcing himself to hide his growing annoyance. He would heed Serena's advice and curb his sarcastic tongue. It seemed she would never know the reason for his bad humor anyway.
Cassandra couldn't possibly know how greatly he'd adored her at one time. There was no way she could know that her presence reminded him daily of her father. It was the constant reminder of her father that made him so angry at times.
She smiled at him shyly, though her eyes quietly retreated to watch the carriages that were now parked before them. Jacob stood with her awkwardly, wondering what was keeping Caleb. The carriages stood in a long, endless row down the length of the driveway. He imagined the passengers would begin to grow annoyed if they were kept waiting much longer.
He crossed his hands behind his back, forcing himself to remain patient. He wished for the power to say something to Cassandra that would break the tension between them. In the end, he could think of nothing. They stood side-by-side, waiting for Caleb.
Inside the door of the manor, Caleb silently cursed a thousand times. He knew his guests were sitting in wait of introductions. He nearly decided to send a messenger up to find Kyra when the room turned oddly silent and he turned to see the cause.
Descending the staircase to the front hall was Kyra in her newly acquired dress. It seemed as though his entire staff held its breath as she slowly climbed down the long flight of stairs. She seemed unaware of the awed glances sent her way as she cast her eyes to the ground.
Watching along with the others, Caleb was awestruck at how that gown suddenly transformed her appearance. She looked stunning. He could see why it had been so important to get her a new dress for the occasion. He also remembered the reason he'd impulsively thrown in the matching combs for her hair.
In the past few days, he'd seen her in such lifeless dresses with few gathers to define her curves, and she always wore her hair down in a particularly girlish style. Now, you could easily appreciate the woman she was. He found himself responding to her as such. She was certainly a flawless beauty when she was so dressed up. One might actually mistake her for a woman of higher class. As his ward, it occurred to him that she was in fact a very well entitled woman. She certainly should dress accordingly. He was pleased by the change it made in her appearance.
He realized that she might suspect he'd been waiting for her, and the thought did not sit well with him at the moment. A man in his position should wait for no one. Before she reached the bottom step, he turned to walk towards the door. He nodded his readiness to Jacob and Cassandra. They both seemed to sigh with relief when they spotted him.
Taking a deep breath, Kyra nearly hesitated before reaching Caleb. While descending the stairs just now, she thought she might faint from the stress of it all. She'd kept both eyes glued to the stairs at her feet. She was so sure she might trip at any moment, creating a great spectacle as she bounced headfirst down the stairs. The thought did not give her any added confidence.
Realizing Caleb hadn't noticed her presence yet, she approached him rather cautiously. Thankfully, she saw that the passengers of the first carriage had not yet departed from their vehicle. She wasn't late. Fortunately it seemed Caleb was only just now exiting the manor.
She felt slightly disappointed that he hadn't taken the opportunity to view her from a distance. In the back of her mind, she had hoped he might compliment her for being dressed so formally. As she stepped behind him she wondered if she should touch his shirtsleeve to let him know of her presence. Serena's warning held her back. He may not be expecting her to join him.
At last he turned to her and gave her outfit a perfunctory glance before nodding politely. His eyes soon returned to the stream of carriages.
He hadn't said anything! Not even one admission of silent praise could be seen in his eyes. Outraged that he thought her wonderful dress so trivial, she sent him a look that shot daggers. Of course he missed that. She almost wished for a voice so she could tell him just what she thought of his own attire. Unfortunately, he would probably find that opinion just as unimportant.
Then again, she admitted to herself, of course he thought nothing special of her dress. With all of his wealth, her dress probably was nothing special to him. He had most likely witnessed far richer fabrics in his day. She couldn't really fault him for finding her dress so insignificant.
Without a word to her, Caleb began descending the walkway. When he realized she wasn't following, he stopped and turned to look at her pointedly. Coming abruptly to life, she understood that he did expect her to accompany him. She quickly followed him down the steps. It made her giddy to think she would be allowed to socialize with nobility when just weeks before she had been eating with the kitchen help. It almost allowed her to believe that she was of their kind. For now, she would let herself pretend that she was.
She saw Jacob and Cassandra standing in wait at the end of the walkway and she nodded to each in turn as she approached. Caleb stepped in front of his brother and pulled Kyra to stand beside him. For a foolish moment, she wondered if he was placing her importance above Jacob's. It was not long before she saw the folly of that thought.
Having her close by made it easier for Caleb to introduce her to his guests. He spoke briefly with each guest as they exited their vehicle, greeting everyone by name as they were introduced to him. He then took a moment to formally acknowledge Kyra as part of his extended family. Each person politely bowed or curtsied to her in respect.
The first time a woman curtsied to her, Kyra nearly dropped to the ground out of return respect. She could not believe anyone would bestow her with such an honor. The woman again curtsied to her and Kyra was overwhelmed. Just as she bent to curtsy again, she felt Caleb's hand touching her upper arm gently. She turned to look up at him and saw his disapproving face. Frowning, she saw his eyes gesture towards Cassandra.
When Cassandra was greeted, Kyra noticed that she only gave a small curtsy back to the guest. A little flushed, knowing she should have been more reserved, Kyra forced herself to look away. She pulled her arm away from Caleb, knowing she had just been silently chastised. Taking a deep breath, she turned with a forced smile to greet the new guest. She could learn to act like them, she mentally encouraged herself.
This time when Caleb introduced her, she copied Cassandra's movements as best she could. Nodding her head, she dipped slightly and smiled up into the eyes of the guest. Her smile grew fractionally when they moved on to Jacob. She knew she had passed the test that time.
For nearly two hours, Kyra stood back as carriage after carriage rolled up and Caleb greeted the people. He never failed to introduce her and she continued to curtsy politely. Her initial excitement had soon worn away, but she tried to keep a sincere smile on her face as she met group after group of people.
Most of them seemed kind enough, but sometimes there were those of the stuffier rich breed who only smiled when shown gold and silver, not brass or copper. Essentially that was how those few viewed her, as brass or copper.
Still, more often than not, the people who approached them were only interested in having a good time. They made it easy to keep the smile. Still, at this point, she would rather be inside mingling with some of the people she had already met. Perhaps it was the fear of socializing that kept her at this task. At least here she wasn't expected to do more than smile, nod, and curtsy. Inside she would have to be able to talk in order to make friends, unless she stayed near Serena all night. She knew Serena would not enjoy that.
On the verge of sighing aloud in disappointment at this turn of events, her spirits picked up admirably as she glimpsed a white haired gentleman jumping down from a large coach. When he neared them she was surprised to discover he was quite young. From the back, he almost appeared to be an elderly man, for his hair was so pure white blonde that it could easily be mistaken for gray. But, no... He was very young, perhaps no older than Caleb.
She felt a curiosity surge up in her as she took in his whole being. The man had almost no color at all. His face, though flushed in some areas, held no tan edges and his eyes were an odd shade of white blue. He was a most interesting man indeed.
"Caleb? How are you, old man," the gentleman shouted and rushed forth with an extended hand.
"Blake! Good to see you." Equally as enthusiastic, Caleb gripped the man's hand easily. "And what is this? Has the great Blake Ryder lost his touch," he asked, pointedly looking at the empty coach as he spoke. "I see no lovely young escorts standing at your beck and call."
Blake laughed in good nature, but groaned and said, "Please, do not even mention the word woman. I think I have had my fill of them for quite some time."
"Sorry to disappoint you, partner," he returned. "I am afraid that is a most impossible request. You see, I must yet introduce you to a young woman who will grace my home for a good long while."
"Ah," Blake stepped forward, raising an eyebrow as he approached. "Well, I suppose I could make one small exception in this case, since she is in your care."
"Watch it, Blake," Caleb warned only half amused. "I am responsible for this one. So, do be a good boy."
"Hey, I'm offended. Do you think I am so amorous that I' uh... Have no fear, Caleb. As I said, I truly have had my fill of women for quite a while."
"By way of introduction," Caleb finally offered, "Blake, this is the woman I have been asked to look after. Kyra, I would like to present to you one of my oldest and dearest'if not a bit arrogant'friends. This is Blake Ryder, son of the Earl of Westmoore."
Still in awe of his odd coloring, it was a moment before she realized they had begun speaking to her. Quickly, she brightened her smile and curtsied deeply. She knew a deep curtsy was expected of her this time.
As if amused by something, Blake chuckled, "Nice to make your acquaintance, Kyra," he greeted. She nodded, and he laughed once more. "What? No hello, Lord Ryder? It is nice to meet you?"
At once, Kyra's face fell in disappointment as. She looked wounded. She stiffened her spine and rose to her full height. She was blushing profusely at this added attention her greetings always got. She felt even more incensed for some nameless reason that this man had also fallen into that familiar pit. Wasn't there to be one day out of the year when she wouldn't be constantly reminded that she was mute?
It was all too much. All of this! She was playing a foolish role in a life she didn't fit into and she was tired of it. Her eyes filled with tears and she quickly curtsied an apology to Caleb'who probably didn't even understand. Casting her eyes to the ground, she fled into what she hoped was an inconspicuous run back to the manor.
She felt so forlorn at this moment. She probably should have stayed in bed the way she had wanted to. It would have saved so much humiliation.
When she reached the staircase a familiar voice called out her name. In such an emotional state, she had to turn to recognize the owner of it. Cassandra was running after her through the entranceway.
"Kyra, wait," she called in a hushed voice.
The plea forced her to stop climbing. Shoring up her courage, she sucked in her gut and turned around to face her. All she wanted to do right now was reach the safety of her room. She didn't want to add to her humiliation by making a spectacle of Cassandra's need to speak with her.
"Kyra, I saw what just happened. I just wanted to apologize for Lord Ryder." Finally having reached her side, Cassandra lowered her voice. "He can be a bit overbearing at times. I know this."
Kyra shook her head and shrugged as if saying, "It does not matter."
"No, it was quite rude for him to speak so plainly. I am certain you must be tired of hearing comments like the one that he made. I can assure you that he meant nothing by it. Please don't let it ruin your evening. It was only one little comment made by a man who probably doesn't even know which end of a baby to spank."
That analogy made Kyra smile. She turned her eyes down, unable to find the will to laugh at it.
"Come with me. Let us find something to eat. You will feel much less irritable towards men like Lord Ryder once your stomach is full."
Shoring her courage, Kyra followed Cassandra into the dining hall where a buffet had been set. Together they managed to pick their fair share off of the setting, and then they moved to sit at a quiet end of the table.
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