The buzz of excitement filled the elegant assembly room in Bath as couples mingled and flirted the night away. Dancers swirled around the floor, lively matches of Whist occupied the side room and a delicious buffet along with an excellent selection of wines ensured everyone remained jolly.
But for him there was no joy, only the unrelenting ache of disappointment. He had found out earlier in the evening that she had taken ill and would not be able to attend.
It had begun several months earlier when tall, elegant and handsome William D'Aubigny, eminent gentleman in the town of Eastfield first noticed the young lady. She was Rebecca Smitherton, eldest daughter of the new blacksmith in town and employed in the inn that he owned, one of his many business interests.
The path leading to this moment in time in Regency England had started innocently enough. There had been a wedding in the town, a time for all to join together in celebration. D'Aubigny had attended out of courtesy but found himself watching Rebecca as the evening wore on. Usually with an eligible lady on his arm, this night he had come alone so was without distraction.
That is until he saw her in an elegant yellow cotton gown cut in the empire style accentuating her sweet form. A rosy hue to her cheeks set off a pair of deep, green eyes that a man could get lost in. Enhancing the woman's appeal thick, chestnut hair cascaded brazenly down her back.
As maid of honor the right was Rebecca's as the celebration drew to a close to choose who she would dance with for the last set of the evening. Farmer's sons, tradesmen and even several eligible merchants puffed up their chests as the handsome woman walked down the line to pick her partner.
"I claim you for the next dance."
Yet the look in the young woman's fine eyes and husky voice assured any skeptic there was no mistake. Whispers began circulating immediately like wildfire around the assembly hall. How could she? Who did she think she was?
Then the impossible became possible. D'Aubigny willingly accepted. Arm in arm the pair moved to the dance floor as the musicians struck up the tune.
The unlikely couple lost themselves in each others company. Could it be? He, the richest, most powerful and most eligible man in the shire, and she…well she was who she was.
They ignored the stark contrast, their chemistry evident to any who could look beyond rank and circumstance. Something that had been stirring during the longing looks across the hall over the course of the evening burst into flame. Enraptured in each other, holding each other tightly, William and Rebecca said not a word, fearing the magic of the moment would be broken, wishing, willing the music never to stop and the moment end.
But it did.
Cheeks flushed, the pair separated. He bowed elegantly and thanked her for the pleasure of the dance. She curtsied, blushing a shade of crimson and returned the compliment. Each opened their mouths to speak but neither could and each was swept back into their appropriate positions in society. Life went back to the norm of station and circumstance in the shire. The dance became an odd incident forgotten by all but two.
Then, a grand celebration in the storied town of Bath brought many from the surrounding districts. Of course the name D'Aubigny was prominent on the guest list, no gathering of consequence could leave his off, but William's heart soared when he saw the name Smitherton on it as well.
On the appointed day he'd seen her from a distance in the Pump Room and for a moment their looks at each other suddenly emptied the busy pavilion of all save them. Anticipation for the evening's grand ball grew with each tick of his elegant gold pocket watch. That is until she did not show.
His discrete inquiries revealed the crushing news that she had taken ill and would not attend. Light filled with darkness, a storm pushed out the sunshine.
The evening for William then became filled with idle conversations with those of his acquaintance, obligatory dances, political machinations of those looking to advance themselves. In short, the normal routine of a life the man had begun to loath.
Then, as if heaven had opened and an angel descended Rebecca entered the hall, magnificent in a white silk gown. Though in the company of her family William could not wait and so flew to her side. After the formality of protocol was dealt with he had the opportunity to sidle up to Rebecca after her family moved towards the supper room, leaving her in his company. The din in the room was to be expected for an assembly of this size which only added to their advantage.
"I could not stay away," she whispered for only him to hear, exquisite words that sent him into blissful joy.
For what seemed like an eternity the pair talked and laughed as if they'd known each other for years. No others could distract or capture their attention. The steady advance of the end of the evening, like Wellington reclaiming the Pennisula, was lost on them as they drank deep of each other's company. The size and breadth of the crowd played to their advantage, this was not Eastfield and few noticed the pair. As if building anticipation, the pair did not dance, instead fanning to flame the coming moment of ecstasy.
Then, suddenly, the dance master announced the last set of dances. A look of panic marred Rebecca's tranquil visage as she saw her parents beckon her to leave. William, always so confident and in charge, suddenly didn't know what to do. His moment slipped away and panic set in. The music began to play and the crescendo of their time together disappeared with each note.
But, as if providence intervened, Rebecca's parents stopped to speak to another couple and she was free. A brilliant smile lit up her beautiful face and she held out her hand for his. He took the offering and instantly their fingers intermeshed.
A moment later they were on the dance floor, gliding through the intricate patterns of the step as if they'd done this a hundred times before. But their's was not born out of dance skill but of a oneness of heart, an undeclared love that each felt burning for the other.
It couldn't be, their love was not possible.
Yet a still, small voice within him said that it was and he felt a warmth in his soul he'd never experienced.
What was she thinking? How could she have the pretense to love this man? Yet she did, passionately.
As their bodies pressed together in the dance the beating of her heart betrayed the reality of her feelings. The shallowness of her breath and enhanced color in her complexion declared to William his feelings were returned. The way he held her tight, as if trying to envelope her, cried out to Rebecca that he longed for her.
But now what? What to do? Plans began to flood independently into their minds, a jumble of thoughts and emotions. On the outside he was still cool and collected yet inside he was in turmoil, agony and ecstasy all in one. The music was wrapping up, the set would be finished, then what? She searched her mind for the right words, the right expressions to declare to him how she felt, how she longed for him. What would she say when the song finished?
Then it was done.
The music finished, couples were leaving the floor, the dance was completed. Yet there they stood, each realizing they were holding the other in a tight embrace. Each thought to let the other go due to the embarrassment of discovery and ridicule yet neither wanted the magical moment to end. Painfully, as if ripping in two an exquisite piece of fabric, they finally unlocked.
Hand in hand they walked into the throng but then that contact too was broken. There was still a time of conversation, of looking deeply into each others eyes, but there was not the intimacy that had been experienced on the dance floor.
As if a spell had been broken, with a bow William D'Aubigny took his leave moving out of doors to his waiting coach. The stars shone with a brilliance he had never known, the cool night air invigorated him. The feeling of her hand in his, of her breasts pressed into his chest, brought tingling to him and a smile to his face.
What was this he was experiencing? Then it struck him. Love. He acknowledged in his mind what he'd felt earlier in his heart. He'd loved before but not like this. There was an ache within his very soul. This love held a purity the man who often acted the rogue had never felt. It was a light, casting brilliance onto the darkness within his soul.
Before William even closed the door to his fine, lacquered coach a longing to see her again was building. All the way back to his lodgings he plotted how to turn this thought into reality and then what would happen next. Yet a cold reality was setting in even during this time. How could he? It was not possible. Their love could never be fulfilled, as perfect as it was. Their spheres were different, their situations impossible. But how could this be? How could this perfect love go unfulfilled? Even as he lay down to sleep in his luxurious suite the turmoil continued.
In the end the debate was moot. Miss Smitherton had been called away. When D'Aubigny returned to town he waited patiently to see her again, knowing the time would come. He even had a plan to make it work.
What he didn't know was that she was gone.
Rebecca had been sent to America to work as a governess by a turn of cruel fate. There had been no correspondence from her. She had begun to write a letter to him a dozen times and a dozen times the note ended up in her fireplace. How could she express a feeling she herself could not explain? Love him? There was no doubt and in a way she instinctively knew she would never love again. But in truth theirs was a love that would not have been allowed.
He would never see her again. That bitter truth was still some time away for D'Aubigny. For Rebecca, she never knew what might have been.
In the end, it was to be, for each, their one, true, perfect love, unspoiled or sullied by the reality of the world, a love that burned in their hearts for the rest of their lives.
© 2010 Copyright held by the author.