As we walked down the stairs to greet the guests that I one day would call friends, I had a horrible thought. My strand of angel hair was in full view for everyone to see. I would be dead before the end of the first dance.
“Dante.” I stopped, grasping his arm. “I can’t go do this.”
He frowned. “Why not?”
I touched my braid and closed my eyes, willing the acid in my throat to slide back to my stomach. “My hair. They’ll all know who I am.”
Dante gaped. He looked at me and then my hair and then Elise. No one had an answer and the footman was hurrying to the door. We had about five seconds before everything went really, really wrong.
Footsteps clicked on the stairs above us and we all turned. Once again Mrs. Young had come to the rescue. In her hand she held a hair piece covered in flowers and feathers. Without a word she tucked it into my hair and placed a kiss on my cheek.
“There, your angel hair is covered and no one will question anything.” She hurried back up the stairs and disappeared.
I shook my head and turned to Dante. “Let’s go.”
“That woman needs a raise,” Dante muttered. “My lady, are you ready?”
I smiled and took his arm. “As ready as I’ll ever be, my lord.”
And together we walked down into the hall and joined Savannah and Dominique at the front door. The first couple through the entrance were young and beautiful. The footman took their wraps and handed them to one of the maids standing behind him.
With smiles on their faces the couple walked towards us.
“Sir William Pelts and Lady Sierra Pelts,” the concierge said.
Dante nodded to the couple and kissed the lady’s hand. “William, Sierra, this is Miss Crystal Reynolds, my fiancée. Her sisters, Robyn and Macy.”
I bobbed a short curtsy to Sierra and allowed William to kiss my hand. “Welcome.”
Robyn curtsied beside me and Macy hid her face in Elise’s neck.
“Miss Crystal, it is such a pleasure to meet you,” Sierra said. “Savannah told me so much about you. I can’t believe that you are Dominique’s cousin. He never mentioned a cousin.”
“Sometimes we forget people we haven’t see in years,” I replied.
And so it went as couple after couple shed their wraps and where announced. Names and faces blended into one solid mass as the time passed.
I curtsied and nodded to the guests, taking my cue from Dante. If he addressed them as a lord or lady or some other title I curtsied. I nodded at those with no title since we were on the same level. I don’t know how many people kissed my hand but eventually I felt Elise behind me. A cool cloth was in her hand and while Dante had a quick conversation with the next guest she wiped off my hand. I smiled. Not daring to look behind me, I squeezed her hand.
“How much longer do we have to be here?” Robyn bounced on her feet trying to catch a glimpse of the ball room. “I want to dance.”
I laughed and settled a hand on her shoulder. “Soon, little sister, soon.”
“Crystal, the President, Lucas Tyson.” Dante bowed beside me and I dropped into a deep curtsy. “President, this is my fiancée, Miss Crystal Reynolds. Her sisters, Robyn and Macy.”
I stood up again and looked into the kind face of the president. His blue eyes twinkled and his grey hair was slicked back. “Welcome. Thank you for coming.”
“Miss Crystal Reynolds.” The president took my hand and kissed it. “What a pleasure to meet you. Dante mentioned you last time we spoke. Now I see why he was so enamoured. Please, do me the honour of saving a dance.”
I nodded not knowing what else to say. The president had just asked me, a nobody from the slums, to dance with him. Was that normal? Not by the look on Savannah’s face. I looked at Dante and he was just as shocked as Savannah.
“Thank you, President Tyson. It would be a delight,” I said.
The president smiled. “I think we shall get along very well, Miss Reynolds.”
Then taking his wife’s hand he led her into the ballroom and swept her into his arms.
I had no time to ask Dante anything because me guests were arriving. Each woman that came in the door seemed to be trying to out do the one before her. Precious gems dripped from throats, arms and ears. Dresses in every colour swirled through the ball room, the black and dark grey of the men’s suits kept the colours from becoming to overwhelming.
The last guests through the door had me shrinking back against Dante and Savannah gasping.
“Lord Gregory Brooke, Lady Kaitlyn Brook.”
“What are you doing here?” Dante growled. “I told you not to come back.”
“Please, Dante,” Lady Kaitlyn begged. “It would look bad if we weren’t here. Your father promised not to speak against your young lady.”
I took Dante’s hand and found it tight. Reaching up I whispered into his ear. “Let it go. They can’t hurt me.”
He took one look at me and I knew that the words I had said were the right ones. The anger and pain slowly receded from his eyes and he managed a smiled. Turning back to his parents he lifted my hand to their view.
“I just want you to know that I have asked Crystal to marry me and she had agreed.”
Lord Gregory opened his mouth but his wife beat him. “Congratulations, my dear boy.”
She reached up and kissed Dante’s cheek. With a smile she leaned in and did the same to me. I found myself surrounded by the sweet scent of her perfume.
She pulled away and taking her husband’s hand pulled him away to greet her daughter and her fiancé.
“Well, that wasn’t to bad, was it?” I smiled up at Dante and he smiled back.
“No, it wasn’t. Let’s just hope Mother can keep him under control the whole night. They’ve see your angel hair.” He bit his lip. “It will only take one word and everything will be undone.”
“Dante.” I grasped his lapels and pulled him down to my level. “Let’s not think like that. Besides, the president is here. Do you really think your father will try anything that will harm his position in the Elite government?”
Dante stared at me long and hard. “He wouldn’t have to risk anything. They all want you dead.”
“Not the president. He likes me. I don’t think anyone in that room would dare to harm me.”
Dante laughed. “You have a very uncanny way of making everything go right, Miss Crystal. And I love you for it.”
“I have been touched by an angel, maybe he left some of his miracles with me,” I quipped reaching up and kissing him. “Come on, our guests are waiting.”
I took his arm and we walked to the door into the ballroom. Savannah and Dominique followed us with Elise and the girls behind them.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, your gracious hosts, Lord Dante Brooke, Miss Crystal Reynolds, Lady Savannah Brooke and Lord Dominique St. Clair, Miss Robyn Reynolds and Miss Macy Reynolds. They welcome you to their home and wish you a blessed Christmas season.”
As the echoes of the words disappeared we stepped into the brightly lit room to a round of applause. As we stepped over the threshold I knew that it was more then a simple step. It was a turning in my life. After I entered that ballroom as the fiancée of a lord there was really no turning back. I was one of them.
Holding my head up, refusing to be ashamed of my roots, I stepped into my future, my destiny and the place I belonged, beside the man who held my heart even if he didn’t know it and I didn’t want to admit it.