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by Becky Lower
Tonight I will meet my husband. In a few short hours, I will descend the steps at Waverly Mansion for the start of my first season in London. All of England’s most notable bachelors will be in the large ballroom, which will be awash in the light of thousands of candles. They will be waiting to make my acquaintance, and to fill up my dance card before the evening’s activities really commence. I’ll make my entrance down the grand marble stairway as the music plays, I’ll scan the crowd, our eyes will meet, and I’ll know he’s the one…
Amanda woke with a start, as the last notes of a waltz drifted away. She turned on the light and sat up in bed, hand on her heart, willing herself to calm down. What a fanciful dream, she thought as she picked up her manuscript which she’d been editing prior to falling to sleep. It was the first book in her new trilogy about a couple raising three daughters in the Regency period of England. She shook her head. This book is obviously invading my thoughts, even my dreams. Maybe I should read something different before I go to sleep. Perhaps the newspaper. She sighed as she picked up the neglected paper from the morning, and fell back to sleep reading about corrupt politicians and the local basketball hero, who always seemed to be page one news.
The following morning, she brought the unfinished pages of her manuscript and her red pen to her comfortable recliner in the living room. She also carried a cup of Earl Grey tea and a cranberry scone. Might as well get into the mood, Amanda thought, as she settled in to complete her work.
My gown is gorgeous. It’s white satin, of course, with tiny pink bows at the waist and a pink ribbon threaded through the bodice. My fingers slide over the lustrous fabric as I adjust the skirt. My servant put matching ribbons in my hair as she fussed over me this evening. With my dark locks and peaches and cream skin, the image in the mirror is absolutely fetching, if I do say so myself. This is it, my moment. I will never forget this night. I stop at the top of the staircase, take a deep breath as I wait to be announced, and scan the crowd…
Amanda pulled herself out of the fugue she was in. God, she thought. What is wrong with me? Why do I keep dreaming about this same woman? Why do I keep falling asleep over this book? Is it that boring? In typical writer fashion, she began to question the merits of her work, nit picking herself and her book to death, in an effort to make it the best it could be. She picked up her red pen, which had fallen out of her hand to the floor, and continued to read.
Some hours later, she finished the first edit, made the changes on her computer, and printed out the new, fresh pages. She needed to give herself some time away from the work before she began looking it over one more time. A walk is what I need, she thought. What we both need, she amended as she stroked the head of her patient border collie, Darcy. She grabbed his leash and headed out for the park in the center of town, an ever-present book in tow.
She let herself and Darcy into the fenced-in dog park. He loved being in the company of other dogs, but only at playtime. She had tried various times to bring home other animals, but he wanted no part of sharing his home, or her, with anyone else. That includes other males, she smiled to herself. In typical border collie fashion, he circled around her legs on the rare occasions when she allowed him to meet her dates, to the point where she couldn’t move. My little protector, she thought, as she scratched his ears, and removed the leash. “Go for it, Darcy. I’m sure there’s a willing female out here for you to woo.” Amanda took a seat on the bench and pulled out her library book. She had been waiting for this book to come in for two weeks, and she settled in to read about Emily Bronte as a werewolf. She loved to read fan fiction, but she preferred to write straight-up Victorian romances.
Here I am at the top of the stairs. In just a moment, my name will be called and I’ll descend this staircase into the crowd, currently at my feet. I scan the ballroom quickly. A striking gentleman turns his gaze to me and our eyes meet—his dark and haunting, mine full of hope. As I watch, his eyes become full of life, and his smile makes its way to them. He steps towards me…
“Excuse me, miss. You dropped your book.”
“Wha-What?” Amanda stirred herself out of her light nap. God, not again, she thought, as she looked up, into the eyes of the same man who had just been in her dream. She blinked a couple of times in confusion.
“It’s you,” she whispered softly.” Quickly getting her bearings, she said in a stronger voice, “I’m sorry. I don’t usually fall asleep in public. Thank you for rescuing my book from the dirt.” She reached out to take the book from him, and their eyes locked again.
“Will you join me?” She motioned to the park bench.
He had been hoping for an invitation to join her. She made such a lovely picture dozing on the bench, her dark hair curling around her face. When she opened her eyes and looked at him, he could have sworn she echoed what he had been thinking—“It’s you.” He sat down next to her.
She smiled, and then asked, “Which is your dog?”
“I don’t have one. I can’t have any in my apartment. But I love coming in here and playing with them. Gives me my dog fix for the week.”
Amanda smiled at him and waved her hand at the field of playing dogs. “So which one of these is your favorite one this week?”
“If I could take any of these boys home, it would have to be the border collie over there. The black and white one.” He pointed to Darcy.
Amanda grinned. She held out her hand to the man. “Hi. I’m Amanda, and the border collie in question is the guy who shares my house. His name’s Darcy.”
“Darcy, eh? You must be a fan of the Victorian era. I noticed the title of the book you fell asleep over. Emily Bronte goes werewolf, does she? I’ll have to tell my mother. She’ll be devastated.” He grinned back at her. “My name’s Heath, by the way.”
Amanda’s breath caught in her throat. “H-Heath, as in Heathcliff?”
“What can I say? My mother’s a big fan of Emily. Lately, though, a contemporary author named Jane Bromwell has intrigued her. She thinks Jane writes in the same style as Emily, although not as morose.”
Amanda smiled. It always made her feel warm and fuzzy inside when someone told her she was their favorite author of the moment, especially when they didn’t realize that she and Jane Bromwell were one and the same.
She held out her hand to him again. “Hi there. I didn’t tell you that I’m a writer. My pen name is Jane Bromwell.”
He took her hand in his. “Then, I’d like to take you to meet my mother. But only after we have a first date. I don’t want her bugging me about missed opportunities.”
“I’d like that, I think. But first, I have to make sure you get the ‘Darcy’ seal of approval.” She called the collie to her side. He sniffed Heath, and went back to his playing.
“Is that a good thing?” Heath asked.
“Most definitely. He’s not circling around my feet, shielding me from you. That’s a very good thing.”
They made plans to meet at a local favorite restaurant for dinner the next evening, and Heath left the park. Amanda rounded up Darcy and they walked home. As she climbed into bed that night, she replayed their encounter with a smile on her face. She sighed deeply as she fell asleep.
As my name was called and I glided down the steps, I kept my eyes locked on him. He was making his way through the crowd to the bottom of the stairs. Just as I reached the last step, he did, too. He took my gloved hand, kissed it as he bowed to me, and spoke. “Good evening, Amanda. May I have the pleasure of your first dance? My name is Heathcliff.” He didn’t need to say any more. I knew he would be my dance partner for the rest of my life…
Amanda woke the next morning, feeling totally rested for the first time in days. She vaguely remembered a very pleasant dream, but couldn’t for the life of her remember exactly what it was about. She hummed a waltz as she glided around her bedroom, picking an outfit to wear that evening, for her first date with Heath. Maybe a white summer dress, with a jaunty hot pink ribbon in her hair. Possibly gloves? Pink heels? She chose her outfit carefully, because she felt this night was important. Maybe the most important of her life. And she was going to have a ball.