The night of the ball arrived too fast for me. I spent the day in the sewing room with Mrs. Young, the seamstress. She was determined to make me the bell of the ball.
Fifteen minutes before the guests were to arrive I stood in front of the mirror in my room. I didn’t recognize the girl that smiled nervously at me. The dress was a strange combination of blue and green. Mrs. Young called it teal. I ran a hand down the fitted bodice and over the wide skirt. The hoop skirt and petticoat made the skirt float around me. My tanned neck and shoulders were set off by the wide neckline and off the shoulder sleeves. A ribbon, the same colour as my dress, held a single gold teardrop around my neck.
I careful touched the curls Elise had coaxed my hair into. She had pulled it all to one side and pinned the curls with sparkling tipped pins. I couldn’t believe it was me. My strand of angel hair was braided and wove through my curls.
I turned to Dante and smiled. “What do you think?”
Dante returned the smile and walked across the room. “I think you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
I laughed. “You biased.”
“And with good reason.” He opened his hand and nestled on his white glove was a gold ring.
“Dante?” I slowly looked up at him. “How did you get it so fast?”
He carefully pinched the ring between his fingers and held it up in the fading light. The sapphire was in the middle, a diamond on either side. The yellow of the gold gleamed softly. I touched it with one hand. It was warm and beautiful.
“A jeweler owed me. I ordered it last night and he just delivered it.” He reached for my left hand and slid the ring to my ring finger knuckle. “Crystal, will you marry me?”
Unlike last night, I felt no reluctance to give my answer. “Yes.”
He pushed the ring on the rest of the way. I smiled and lifted my face to his. I kissed him and then looked at my ring again. It fit perfectly. I didn’t know how he knew, but I didn’t care. It was the most precious thing I had ever received. I had held beautiful pieces of jewellery before but I always knew I couldn’t keep it. This ring was mine and I would never give it away.
“It’s beautiful. Thank you.” I pressed my lips to his cheek and held him close. “Thank you.”
Dante just smiled and took my hand. “Come, the guests are arriving. Let’s go greet them.”
“Wait, I don’t have gloves.” I spun around and searched the vanity table for them.
“You don’t need gloves,” Dante said. “Unmarried women never wear gloves.”
“What? Why?” I frowned at my reflection.
Dante shrugged. “I don’t know. To show that you’re not married.”
“What about the men? You’re wearing them.”
“Yes, because it isn’t polite not to.”
I rolled my eyes. “You have some strange rules.” I turned my left wrist up, revealing the scars there. “How am I going to hide these?”
Dante gently took my arm in his hand and stroked the white lumps. “What is this from?”
“I had to get away from someone once.” I wasn’t going to tell him the whole story. That would unleash a whole box of problems.
“I’ve thought of that.” Mrs. Young hurried into the room, a piece of silk in her hand. “That’s why I made this.”
Taking my arm in her hand she wrapped the piece around my wrist and wound a gold ribbon around it. “There. That will hid the scars and make you even more unique.”
I kissed her cheek and smiled. “Thank you, Mrs. Young.”
“Yes, thank you,” Dante said. “Let’s go.”
I held my head high as we walked down the stairs together. I was on equal footing with these people now. I would not be ashamed of who I was.
At the top of the stairs we paused. The hall was empty. Somewhere we could hear Savannah giving last minute instructions and Dominique telling her to hurry up. As I scanned the grand entrance I realized that tonight would be the first of many. The ring on my finger sealed that. I had had my chance to turn away from all this, but something had stopped me. I don’t know if it was love or knowing that my destiny lay among the Elite.
“Do I have to wear this dress?” Robyn’s annoyed tones interrupted my thoughts.
I turned to her and smiled. Her dress of dark green and white trim suited her. And as much as she stated that it was a nuisance I had caught her spinning in front of a mirror like any little girl would.
“Yes, Robyn, you do,” I said. “Where are Macy and Elise?”
“They’re coming.” Robyn smoothed her skirt. “Dante, how many people are coming?”
“At the last count, one hundred.” Dante patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry. They’ll all love you. Just be the little lady I know is in there somewhere.”
Robyn smiled. “I’ll try. Will you dance with me?”
I laughed. “Robyn, you know how to dance.”
She hadn’t even stuck around for five minutes when Dante was teaching me.
“Yes, I do,” she said indignantly. “Elise showed.”
“That’s a miracle,” I muttered.
Dante sketched a bow. “Miss Robyn, I would be delighted to dance with you.”
Robyn curtsied back and I laughed. Maybe there was hope for Robyn. Elise joined us in the dark blue dress Dante had asked Mrs. Young to make for her.
“After all, we can’t have the nanny looking like one of the maids,” he had said smiling. “People need to recognize that you are in charge of the girls.”
Elise had done her hair up in a loose bun. Her dress had short, puffy sleeves and a scooped neck. The natural waist line dropped into a modest skirt.
Macy was wearing a white dress with a red sash. A red ribbon held back her curls and she grinned at me.
“Does she talk?” Dante asked.
“Yes, all the time.” I rubbed Macy’s cheek and gave her a kiss. “She talks my ear off.”
“I’ve never heard her say anything,” Dante frowned.
I wrinkled my brow and realized he was right. Macy never spoke in his presence. That was a blessing in disguise. At least she wouldn’t call me ‘Mama’ in front of him.
“Maybe she’s just not too sure of you yet,” I said, cheerfully. “I think your first guests are arriving.”
“Right.” Dante offered me his arm and we swept down the staircase.