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Charlotte San Claire
The ball at Riverbend was an ornate one. The ballroom was decorated with silk drapes in a soft pink hue and illuminated by soft candlelight which came from the dozens of candles set up everywhere. Capeton was a military town and so there were many more men to ladies, a fact which delighted all the eligible girls and their mothers very much. The San Claire girls were in town as Charlotte, Catherine, and Lizzie were visiting their prominent widowed Aunt Beth. Due to recent carriage thefts and lack of an escort, Aunt Beth had been nervous about the young ladies leaving and wouldn’t allow them to depart until the night after the ball when their father could be spared from their plantation in Canterbury.
The night was a cold crisp one with a full moon casting its light along the road the carriage holding the San Claire ladies was upon. To Charlotte, Riverbend was a home away from home just as much as her Aunt Beth’s Ivy Cottage was. The young ladies of Riverbend, Eliza and Suzanna Mayton, were good friends of the San Claire’s and all were excited about the prospect of seeing one another.
If one was to observe the young ladies, they would find them all quite handsome-looking girls. Even Lizzie, who was the youngest, was already considered a beauty. All three had ivory-crème skin that was cherished by the ladies of the time, almond-shaped green eyes inherited form their deceased mother, and the red curls of their beloved father.
They were dressed simply but the clothing showed good taste and wealth. Each wore a purple cloak over their dresses to protect them from the cold and dust and their bright faces peered out of the carriage windows excitedly.
The arrival at Riverbend was simple but plenty of people were anxious to see the beautiful mysterious San Claire ladies for their beauty was well known. And the girls did not disappoint. Some of the other girls felt jealous and threatened, others were simply happy for them, but all were awestruck.
Upon their arrival the girls removed their cloaks, displaying their dresses. Lizzie wore a red and gold one, elegant and ornate. Catherine wore an ice-blue one with white lace adorning the neckline, hem, and sleeves. Lastly there was Charlotte. She was dressed in a simple green dress with gold buttons down the front and golden embroidery. One thing each of them wore were identical gold lockets with an ornate S on the front. It was the family crest and each San Claire bore it proudly.
When the girls appeared at the top of the stairs and the servant announced their names, the hall fell silent. Lizzie walked with a pleased look on her face but her older sisters walked with polite genuine smiles. Charlotte noticed a group of her friends watching her and her smile grew more pronounced. However, she did not notice the man nestled in the back of the room watching her as she descended the staircase and floated through the room.
He was a dark young man with a shock of black hair and brooding black eyes. He was dressed not to draw attention to himself but his clothes showed he was a man of wealth. His name was Robert Doyle and he was returning form London to his hometown.
As he watched Charlotte, he saw things others didn’t. He saw the vigor in her limbs that she fought to keep hidden behind the grace of her walk. He saw a reckless and passionate nature hidden deep in her mesmerizing green eyes, a nature so like his own. And he saw he workings of a clever and complex mind in her. To him, Charlotte was a character in a story, a heroine fighting against the odds, no matter what they were. She was clever and mysterious and very, very beautiful and he was intrigued by her.
He wanted to talk to her and to hear the sound of her voice. He noticed with anger how all the young men seemed to flock especially to her, even though he had observed that all of the San Claire ladies were surrounded by eager young men. He wanted her all to himself and felt very strongly about her. He turned to Lord Mayton and inquired about her. “Please, Lord Mayton, would you be so kind as to tell me who the young lady who just entered is, the one in the green dress?”
Lord Mayton smiled a knowing smile and said. “I thought you would inquire about one of them, Robert, and I should have known it would be Charlotte San Claire. It is so obvious that she would attract you. Her father and Aunt are very good friends of mine and all three of them are friends with my daughters. Of course all of them are exceedingly beautiful for if they weren’t they would not be considered the Roses of Canterbury. There used to be another but an unfortunate illness brought it down to three. It really was a shame.”
Robert was intrigued by all the girls, but especially Charlotte. He pressed Lord Mayton. “Was there an older sister?”
Lord Mayton shook his head. “It was Mrs. San Claire, the mother of the three young ladies. She was still considered a Rose long after she was married. The poor creature died after the last one was born. Her name was Suzanna San Claire. Mrs. Mayton and I named our Suzanna after her in hopes she would be another beauty but it turned out Eliza is the fairer of the two.”
Lord Mayton pondered this for a minute until Robert lost his patience and asked, “And the one in blue?”
“Miss Catherine. She is the oldest about nineteen, the same as Suzanna. She’s engaged to a friend of yours, a Mr. Thomas Richmond. They’re planning a spring wedding. Miss Charlotte is seventeen and Miss Lizzie is the youngest at fifteen.”
Robert repeated the names to himself. Catherine, Charlotte, and Lizzie. He tuned back to Lord Mayton. “Sir, would you be so kind as to introduce me to them?”
Lord Mayton smiled again. “It would be an honor, Robert. I’m just surprised you didn’t ask sooner.”
Robert smiled and followed Lord Mayton to where two of the three young ladies stood.
“Miss Catherine, Miss Lizzie, may I introduce to you Mr. Robert Doyle who has just returned form London and you have not met yet.”
The two girls looked at the young man and Catherine very composedly said, “It’s a pleasure to make you acquaintance, Mr. Doyle. I am Catherine San Claire and this is my youngest sister, Lizzie.”
Lizzie smiled at him, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
Robert returned the smile. “I believe the pleasure is all mine, Miss Lizzie. And may I bestow my happiness over your engagement to Mr. Richmond. He is a personal friend of mine and I’m sure you shall suit each other wonderfully.”
Just then Thomas Richmond walked up behind Robert. “Well I leave Catherine alone for two minutes and this rascal comes and tries to sweep her off her feet. You better be careful, Robert, or I’ll have to protect my honor.”
Robert turned to face tall-tan, blonde-haired Thomas Richmond and said, “Why Tom, you never told me you were engaged.”
“ I was afraid you’d try to come and talk her back to her senses.” Tom said and his eyes landed on a positively glowing Catherine. The look on his face changed from teasing to a soft loving expression and he said, “Catherine, you get lovelier every time I see you.”
Catherine beamed. “Thomas, you really are sweet.”
Thomas went to stand next to Catherine and continued to stare at her with the same level of adoration. Lizzie saw how her sister and her fiance glowed with happiness and sighed wistfully. Lord Mayton continued to keep a eye on the four as they chatted amiably.
Charlotte at the time was talking with Eliza Mayton, the second daughter of Lord and Lady Mayton and the true beauty of the family. There were sitting on a soft bench by a window, giggling and observing everybody. At their feet were two boys. One was brown all over, brown hair, brown eyes, and brown skin. He looked Charlotte with lust in his eyes and played with the hem of her skirt, causing a paroxysm of giggle to escape from Eliza. The other boy had blonde hair and blue eyes and tan skin from spending time outdoors. They were equally handsome, just as total opposites. He was awestruck by the two beauties, one as dark as the other was fair. It was obvious that Charlotte outshone Eliza in everything but it was a useless fact to him. He didn’t begrudge his friend her, however, and happily busied himself with his attentions to Eliza.