13 The Introduction and The Dance

    When Sir Blackwell dutifully introduced the Contessa to Miss Norwen, the Contessa turned to him and suggested pointedly that he invite Miss Amberley to dance. Sam, reluctant to leave Kateri to the flamboyant Contessa's mercy, was a little shocked when Lord Waverly caught her eye and stepped up beside Kateri. But she took his meaning and let Sir Blackwell lead her off to dance.

    The Contessa was a little surprised by Lord Waverly's obviously protective stance, but having no influence over him, did her best to ignore his presence. Kateri, a little disturbed by Sir Blackwell's willing obedience was prepared not to like the beautiful Contessa.

    The Contessa told Kateri quite honestly, "I demanded Sir Blackwell introduce me, and I hope you will not mind my curiosity too much."

    Kateri in turn confessed that she was surprised to be of interest, and complimented the Contessa on her striking outfit, mentioning, "I was also quite impressed with the vibrant red gown that you wore to the first dance I attended in London."

    The Contessa, who was used to being either looked down on or envied by other women was put off her guard by Kateri's honestly admiring tone when describing the red gown. She frankly admitted, "I dress to please myself now that I have no husband to dictate my appearance."

    Kateri said, "I'd heard that you were widowed, I'm glad that you have found things to enjoy about life since your loss."

    The Contessa had not mourned her husband at all, but rather, had been quite relieved by his passing. She said bluntly, "After my husband died, I decided that after the traditional period of mourning had passed, I would give myself the London seasons I never had before I was married to him."

    Kateri asked with interest, "Has it been as much fun as you thought it would be?" And then before getting an answer, shared with the Contessa her disappointment that she'd apparently come years too late for some of the things she'd heard about Almack's assembly rooms.

    The Contessa admitted, "In some ways it has not been as much fun as I hoped," but added, "in others it has been a great deal more fun than I'd imagined. Almack's is a very amusing place, if one learns about the people attending." And then asked with interest, "What things of bygone years do you wish you had seen?"

    Lord Waverly having realized that the conversation between the two women was a great deal friendlier than he'd imagined it might be, had subtly withdrawn and conversed quietly with Lady Norwen while they talked.

    By the time Sam and Sir Blackwell returned from the dance, Kateri and the Contessa DiPasquale were getting along very well. The Contessa was a witty and often direct conversationalist. And Kateri, who was also inclined to be direct was neither offended by some of the Contessa's balder statements, nor missed her subtler attempts at humor.

    Kateri thanked Sir Blackwell for introducing them, and he bemusedly replied that he was happy to have been of service. The Contessa demanded the next dance from him, and Kateri sighed a little as they sailed off.

    Sam then requested a summary of the whole conversation. Kateri gave it, adding wistfully, "The Contessa was surprisingly likable," then added, "I ought to have guessed as much."

    When Sam asked, "Why ought you to have guessed that you would find the Contessa an agreeable person?"

    Kateri replied, "Because Sir Blackwell seems quite fond of her. And I expect," she added in that wistful tone, "that he's probably courting her seriously. Since they are of a similar age, they must feel comfortable in each other's company."

    Sam didn't know what to say to this, but didn't have much time to worry over it.

    When Lord Waverly saw that the Lady from whom he intended to gain permission for Kateri to waltz was free for a moment, he stepped forward to take Kateri's arm and drew her away from Sam and Lady Norwen.

    As he had expected the permission was easily obtained, and when the next waltz started he and Kateri joined it. Lord Waverly was pleasantly surprised by how much Kateri had improved, and complimented her on it. She blushed and gave the credit to her teacher. He was amused that it was so easy to make her blush with a simple compliment, so when she had recovered her countenance, he also complimented her on her easy handling of the conversation with the Contessa.

    Kateri regarded him with puzzlement. "She was surprisingly nice," Kateri said. The Marques was amused that his assumption of intent had been so far off the mark. He laughed at himself and smiled at Kateri with unusual openness. Kateri was struck again by how pretty he was. She blushed again, which bemused him, for he didn't suspect her thoughts. Afterward he returned her to Lady Norwen.

    When he was about to leave them, Kateri pulled him a little aside and asked him quietly, "I know this may be presuming on your kindness, but won't you also dance with Sam?"

    He regarded her seriously, and replied, "I don't mind, but it may not have the effect that you wish? And she is sure to realize that you asked me to?"

    "That's alright," said Kateri cheerfully, "for she has already asked people to dance with me and I with her."

    The Marques obliged her, and asked Sam for a dance before he left.

    When he danced with Miss Amberley he was surprised to find himself quietly quizzed. "It was nice of you to sponsor Kateri," she began, "but I can't help but feel that you are just playing?"

    Lord Waverly replied gently, "Your instincts are very good Miss Amberley, though I assure you that I will be careful not to cause her any harm."

    Sam nodded.

    Lord Waverly added after a moment, "Thank you for watching out for her, please continue to do so."

    Sam looked at Lord Waverly in surprise, and said, "Of course." She wondered if perhaps Lord Waverly were more fond of Kateri than she had given him credit for, or possibly, even more than he realized.

    He bid them an enjoyable evening, and left the club. There were indeed rumors about the Marques and his dances with the two young ladies, but he might have been surprised by the content. He had attended and danced only with the young Miss Norwen and her friend, and the observers concluded that perhaps this time the Marques was marriage minded. The reasoning went that he was obviously interested in seeing Miss Norwen socially established, which he might do for a mistress, though it would be going rather far even for the Marques Waverly. But he had also had interested himself enough in her affairs as to not exclude her friend, which seemed far more pointed.

    Kateri and Sam for the most part enjoyed the rest of their evening, which lasted until morning. Sir Blackwell eventually danced with Kateri as well, and a great many other people also danced with both girls. They also sat a fair number of dances out, which was just as well, given the length of the visit to the assembly rooms. The musicians changed a few times, but were always excellent.

    Lady Norwen was nodding in her chair when the girls realized how very late, or rather early, it was, and persuaded her easily that though the dancing continued little abated, they were ready enough to go home.

    All of them slept very late the next day.
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