Title: Paving-Stone Midway
Fandom: The Stud Club Trilogy [Tessa Dare]
Characters: Claudia Dumarque & Peter Faraday
Summary: From here I can go anywhere I choose.
Attending a ball, Claudia discovered, was altogether different from peeking in from the outskirts. She smoothed her hand over her bodice, the embroidery snagging on the fabric of her gloves.
A pair of young misses swept past her, their eyes darting like little fish over Claudia's gown and hair. They snickered.
Claudia raised her chin. They didn't matter; they wouldn't. It was early in the evening, after all. Amelia had assured her--with a bit too much blithe confidence--that nobody would dare gossip about a duke's ward, or said ward's slightly scandalous past, or said ward's entirely adorable son, Philip. Amelia was wonderful, Claudia thought, but generally too optimistic to fit in with society.
A marchioness glared at Claudia over the edges of an elaborate fan.
Claudia sighed. Her stays were a bit too tight, and she wondered if it was too early to frighten the wallflowers with her presence. She shifted backwards, her eye on the balcony door.
"You can't flee yet," a familiar voice scolded. "You owe me the first dance."
"Mr. Faraday," Claudia exclaimed. Peter bowed slightly, his eyes twinkling. "I'd almost forgotten that promise."
"Lady Claudia," he said, leaning forward as if to impart a secret, "I take my vows very seriously."
She stifled the impulse to tug, needlessly, at his collar. "I despise society," she confessed.
"One would be surprised if you didn't," he remarked. He swept the room with a glance, and she was sure he recognized and cataloged each cluster of gossips and alliances and soon-to-be trysts. "I haven't missed any of this. Save present company," he added.
"How kind of you," Claudia said. His gaze flickered, and an odd expression crossed his face. She turned, almost craning her neck to see what might have provoked the reaction.
"I don't recognize the," he paused, "is he American?"
Claudia located the man in question, a tall gentleman wearing too-bright cloth and a friendly grin. "Yes. How could you know he's American?"
"Their shoulders," he said, almost absently. "Always leaning forward. Who is he?"
"Matthew Bronson. He's an industrialist of some sort." She tapped a finger against her lips. "Steamships? Shipping? He arrived in London just after the season started." She smiled. "He's been rather mysterious, actually."
"Mysterious?" Peter raised an eyebrow, turning his attention back to Claudia.
She lifted a shoulder, artfully. "He dances like a dream, apparently, but never asks the same partner twice." She snickered at Peter's studiously casual expression. "Lady Kensington--you know how bold she is--claims he was ever so rude to her, which means he probably--"
"Didn't properly appreciate the bounties she could offer?" Peter finished. "That is intriguing."
"I could introduce you," Claudia offered.
Peter raised both eyebrows.
"He called on Spencer last week," she explained. "They're business partners of some sort."
The corner of Peter's mouth twitched. "Business?" He glanced once again at Bronson, the tip of his tongue darting out to touch that corner. "Interesting."
"Perhaps interesting to those superiors you've never named?" Claudia ventured.
Across the room, Bronson turned his head, his eyes training upon Claudia and Peter, as they stood, rather staring at him. Claudia felt a blush heat her cheeks, but Peter's faint smirk bloomed into something else.
"Would you make introductions, Lady Claudia?" Peter asked. His gaze was locked with Bronson's, and she almost felt an intruder as she answered.
"Certainly, Mr. Faraday." She took his proffered arm, and almost didn't care that people watched them. "I wouldn't want to hamper your...investigation."
"Hush," Peter said, as they strolled across the room. "Hoyden," he added in a low voice.
And Claudia laughed, and she didn't care about the looks they received at all.
A/N: Title and summary adapted from Wendy Cope's New Season. Link courtesy of breathe_poetry.