“Lady B! Oh, Lady B!” I call across the ballroom. It’s still relatively early and there aren’t many people here yet. The footmen are still moving about lighting candles, carrying in the punch bowl, and arranging chairs and potted plants for maximum usage.
“Miss Ashe, your cheeks are far too bright. What’s the matter with you?”
“Book release week! Er, well, that’s not what’s the matter with me. It’s what’s great with me! I love book release week.”
“Clearly.” She’s looking me up and down, but it doesn’t bother me a bit. I’m in my prettiest gown — light yellow muslin with tiny white flowers embroidered all over it — and I’m high on life.
“I invited a few friends to the ball today,” I say.
Dismissively she waves a peacock-gloved hand. “You gels are always inviting friends here. I depend upon it.”
“Oh, Lady B, you’re a peach!” I give her a big, smacking kiss on the cheek. She looks horrified but I know she’s pleased as punch. She loves us, after all. Or perhaps it’s merely tolerance cloaked in gracious condescension. I’m going with the former. “Today, though, I invited eight ladies.”
“I know, right?!” It’s got to be a record, especially for a book that’s only 100 pages long. “There they are now!” I dash over to the door and greet Miss Teresa Finch-Freeworth, the heroine of my new novella How to Marry a Highlander.
“Ah, Miss Finch-Freeworth,” Lady B says, “what a pleasure to see you here again. How is that silly aunt of yours?”*
“Still silly,” Teresa says with a sparkling smile. She’s looking mighty pleased with herself, and it’s obvious why. Behind her coming through the door are seven ladies –
“Miss Ashe, who are all these gels?”
“The seven half-sisters of Teresa’s Highlander crush,” I say. “That is… she’s never called him her “crush”. That was just me. Of course. But she does make a wager with the Earl of Eads that if she can find husbands for all of his half-sisters, he has to marry her.”
Lady B slants Teresa a Look. “Clever gel.”
Teresa beams. Then she’s making introductions, and I move off to the side and observe. First there’s Moira, the Beauty of the group, and quiet and sweet as a dove. Then come Effie and Lily. Effie’s totally incorrigible, and hugely fond of dancing, laughing and soldiers (who can blame her?). Lily, her younger twin by 4 minutes, is adorably fun and a total klutz except in the kitchen where she works magic.
Right after them enters Elspeth, looking down her long nose at the lavish appointments of Lady B’s ballroom with disapproval. Elspeth is on the holier-than-thou side of holy, and had to be convinced to dress appropriately for the ball tonight–the spoil sport.
Oh! There’s Abigail, sneaking around the back of the group to the other door. She totally didn’t want to come till Teresa told her about Lord B’s library. That must be where she’s headed. She’d rather read than dance any day, and she’s kind of shy. I wonder what book she’ll lose herself in while everybody else dances?
I crane my head to see around other guests entering. I count sisters again: one, two, three, four, escaped Abigail is five …
I tap Teresa on the shoulder. “Where’s Sorcha?”
“She refused to come. She’s not–”
“Interested in balls. Or dancing. Or gentlemen. I know.”
Teresa levels an accusing stare. “Why on earth did you make her so stubborn?”
And this is one of those moments when I wish the fourth wall still existed in this ballroom. “Er… Um… Hey! Look! Effie’s heading straight for the punch bowl.”
My diversionary tactic works. Teresa is distracted. Moira is already dancing with a deliciously handsome young man, and now I see Una, Duncan’s favorite sister (though he’d never say that to anyone) and Teresa’s new BFF. She’s lovely, especially her laughing smile.
“Teresa, you’ve done it! You’ve made this ragtag lot of Scotswomen into a bevy of London beauties,” I say proudly.
“We both did it,” she says, and I get all warm and fuzzy inside.
And then, grinning at her, I see him: Duncan, the Earl of Eads. It’s impossible to miss him. He’s about a foot taller than most of the other men in the room, as broad-shouldered as a dock worker and muscular as Wolverine, with the most brilliant blue eyes I’ve ever seen. And, as a good Highlander, he’s wearing a kilt beneath his dress coat. Two words: NICE LEGS.
“Miss Ashe, I approve,” Lady B murmurs beside me.
“Thought you’d like that,” I murmur back.
Teresa hasn’t noticed him yet, and I’m going to let him surprise her. Actually, I have to, because that’s how I wrote the scene and the book’s already out so I can’t go changing things anyway. In fact, I’m not even in this scene, so I’d better skeedaddle! I slip around the side of the room to witness the fiasco– um– that is, the events that are about to unfold. My attention goes from one Scottish lady to another. I know which one becomes Teresa’s BFF, but I wonder which would be my closest buddy if I lived near them.
Which sister would you like to hang out with the most? Is it the same or different from the sister that’s most like you? To celebrate the release of How to Marry a Highlander today I’m giving away a signed print copy of the novella to one randomly chosen commenter.
* Teresa makes her first appearance in my novel How a Lady Weds a Rogue, in this very ballroom!