Caroline had brought no jewels with her, but the feathers plucked from the hat Nathan had given her were tucked into her hair, which Tabby had drawn up into an elaborate arrangement of curls and waves. Amelia judged her ready and complimented Tabby on her handiwork. To Caroline’s relief, her companion managed to answer politely enough and the three descended the stairs.
Nathan was waiting, dressed in evening clothes that had been brushed and pressed. Although trousers had been popular for years, formal wear still included knee breeches and stockings. Caroline noted Nathan had splendid calves.
His eyes lit up as he saw her. “You are beautiful,” he said and then reached into his pocket and took out an oblong box. “Just one thing more.” He opened the box and removed a necklace. “I thought you might wear this, but I don’t think you need any more adornment.” He held up a chain of gold links holding deep blue sapphires and sparkling diamonds.
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly—” Caroline began, but she was overruled by Tabby and Amelia. Tabby seemed startled to find herself agreeing with her supposed enemy.
“Of course you can,” Nathan decreed. “Think of it as advertising my business. My cousin Evan designed it, if anyone asks. The sapphires are from North Carolina and the diamonds from our mine in Arkansas.”
Tabby took the necklace and fastened it around her mistress’ neck. “Lovely,” she declared, and no one disagreed.
Ready at last, Nathan and Caroline walked out to the carriage where a faithful Jim was waiting. As they approached the Rasmussen mansion, for the overly-ornate, three-story brick building could not be described without using superlatives, Caroline began to doubt her wisdom in insisting on coming. Every window shone with light and the carriages lined up along the drive reflected the glow from polished wood and metal trim. Alluring as the scene was, she couldn’t help feeling she was walking into a beautiful trap.
Nathan told Jim to be back at midnight. “We won’t stay a second longer,” he said as he took Caroline’s elbow and they followed the crowd of elegantly-garbed men and women to the steps leading to the double front door.
Caroline shivered as much from the chill night air as fear, for her shoulders were bare and the décolletage exposed more of her bosom than she was accustomed to.
Too soon they had climbed the stairway and were in the front hall, where Mr. and Mrs. Rasmussen stood greeting their guests.
“Mister Llewellen! I’m so glad you came, and your lovely cousin.” Her eyes expertly appraised Caroline’s gown and jewelry, and her smile became warmer. “Miss Llewellen. Mister Rasmussen, may I present—”
“I know who he is,” Rasmussen interrupted her. “Evening, Nate. Miss Llewellen.” His eyes swept over her body, lingered at her bosom, then looked beyond her, his eyes already on the next guest.
Caroline breathed a sigh. The first hurdle had been passed; he had not recognized her.
Coming soon from Astraea Press.