When William arrived with Hannah at the center of the dance floor, he was pleased to discover the next dance was a waltz.
The waltz was a fairly new dance to the ton. It was widely criticized for the scandalously close hold that was so different from the lively, bouncy line dances where partners joined and separated multiple times throughout the dance. In fact, not long ago the dance was considered too decadent for most refined ladies, but recently the ton patronesses had sanctioned the waltz, with one certain limitation: No debutante could waltz unless one of the patronesses had given her permission.
It was said that consent was only granted to girls “whose deportment was considered impeccable,” but William had yet to meet a young lady—impeccable or not—who had been denied the permission to waltz, so he suspected even that limitation would soon lift. Like most gentlemen of his age, William was very pleased that the ban on the dance had been all but removed. It was a rare chance to embrace a lovely lady without the scandal usually associated with such an action.
When the musical strains began, William gracefully led Hannah into the gentle rhythm of the waltz. “Did you make it to the ladies room without mishap?” he asked congenially.
Hannah wrinkled her nose prettily and replied, “Yes I did, but only because there was some ruckus at the other end of the room.”
“Yes,” Hannah nodded, her brows knitted with consternation. “It had something to do with Rose. Hope, Sarah, and I were just speaking of it.”
“Hmmm, yes, I met your cousin Hope earlier this evening,” William remembered aloud.
“She’s quite a charming thing, isn’t she?” He smiled at the memory of Lichfield standing dumbstruck at the sight of Miss Stuckeley.
Hannah merely grunted in response.
Raising his eyebrows, William said, “Don’t you think so? I gathered from her you were good friends, as well as cousins.”
“Yes, we are actually…” Hannah agreed grudgingly.
“Well, then?” William prodded.
Hannah blurted out, “I think she is a wonderful girl, but I am not so sure I want you to notice that.” She colored a bit at her outburst, but she didn’t apologize for her feelings.
William laughed at her frank statement and he felt a strange warming sensation unfurling somewhere near his heart. Intent on ignoring it, he decided to tease Hannah out of her cross mood.
“Don’t you worry, darling,” he said with a wolfish grin. “She doesn’t compare to the charming thing I find you to be.”
Blushing even more, Hannah began laughing and she swatted at him good-naturedly. William was again struck by her beauty and honesty. She had such an amazing ability to laugh at herself, which was so uncommon with most of the people he met.
Sobering somewhat, William said, “I ran into Collicott tonight.” A flash of fear registered on Hannah’s face that cut William to the quick.
“Where did you see him?” Hannah asked in a low voice, eyes searching the room for the lord.
“On the terrace not long after you left.”
Hannah’s gaze flew back to William. “Did he see us?” she asked anxiously.
“No, I don’t believe so.”
“What happened when he saw you…I assume he saw you?”
“Oh, yes, Collicott definitely saw me. We had words,” William said lightly in response to her concerned look. “That is all, I promise. In fact, he asked me to congratulate him on his engagement.”
Hannah paled. “Oh William, I am so sorry I didn’t tell you earlier,” she said, her eyes full of remorse.
William brought his finger to her lips and said truthfully, “I didn’t give you much opportunity, if you’ll remember.” He smiled at her softly.
Hannah turned the barest shade of red and smiled back wryly before saying, “My father did not give his consent, I assure you…and he won’t turn him down, either. Not until we tell him to.”
“Then your father knows?” William asked.
“Not everything, but enough. He knows that you are helping me.”
Hell, this is a complication I don’t need, William swore to himself. He would have to tread softly around Hannah and her parents now. He didn’t want this damned feeling of responsibility to back him into an unwanted marriage. And any sign of impropriety in front of Lord Rochester was certain to do that.