OOC: Just as a note - it's a loooong story. You might want a cup of tea when reading this one. April 14, 1811
The carriage ride home from the Emerson Ball had been a tedious one - navigating through Mayfair following an event as large as the Emerson affair required quite some time. The Tolson carriage was quiet. Thomas had been pulled from the card room and now slept soundly, while Katherine quietly chattered about the dresses that she had liked and disliked, though neither of her children paid her any mind. Unbeknownst to both siblings, their thoughts had wandered to the same event: the final dance of the evening that Charlotte had had with Lord Foxford. Edward's thoughts drifted more towards learning more of the man who had seemingly captured his sister's attention, while Charlotte replayed the dance over and over in her head. One point did stick, however - why had her brother ensured that the two had danced? It was strange, for Edward rarely pushed Charlotte towards any one particular gentleman. He usually stuck to his usual routine of being the intimidating big brother presence (something which he highly enjoyed). The memory of Edward's last turn as an intimidating big brother unwillingly popped into Charlotte's brain, and she found herself reliving an evening which she would have rather forgotten...
It was one of those dreadfully hot nights, one of the few evenings where rains did not threaten to pour down upon all of India. The air was humid and sticky, and Charlotte could practically smell the rain that would be arriving within hours. It was close to 10:30 that evening, and Charlotte found herself uncharacteristically alone in the Tolson home, while the rest of her family were at the Dryden's Ball. Earlier that evening she had claimed that she felt ill - which was not entirely a lie, as the heat of the day had certainly affected her - and stayed home that evening, making a bit of a show of acting tired, and finally stumbling up to bed while her family prepared for their departure.
The only problem was Edward. Even as Charlotte claimed that she felt ill, Edward had examined his little sister with narrowed eyes, not fully believing her story of heat exhaustion. While their parents may have been more susceptible to the heat and ailments that came with the Indian climate, Charlotte and Edward had been born and raised here - they did not suffer the same way that the elder generations of British colonists did. Nevertheless, Edward had left without voicing any of his suspicions or concerns regarding Charlotte's behaviour.
As the clock struck 10:45 in the foyer of the Tolson home, Charlotte quietly slipped from her bedroom on the second floor down to the main floor, having already changed into a light day dress, though her raven hair was still braided in a long plait down her back. The servants were still a presence in the home, but most had taken the opportunity to nap while Thomas, Katherine and Edward were out. Charlotte was not the only one who had been affected by the heat that day. Moving silently past the slumbering footman in the front hall, Charlotte took one of the candles that still burned in the front hall, and snuck into the large library on the first floor of the house. This library was the one used solely by Charlotte and Edward - their father preferred to keep all of his books in his study, which was on the other side of the sprawling house.
Finding the room unbearably hot, Charlotte opened the large French doors that faced out into the garden, letting the sounds of an Indian night spill into the room. The humid air did little to elevate the heat in the room, but it was nice to have a slight breeze. Carefully lighting other candles in the room, the library lit up, allowing Charlotte to seek out the book that Edward had recommended for her while she waited. Her fingers lightly ran over the leather spines of each of the books, until she found the one she was looking for.
Settling herself into a chair near the door, she flipped open the book to the first page, and tried to focus on the words in front of her, though all she could hear was the ticking of the clock. She let her mind slide away from the book in front of her, and to the real reason why she had feigned her illness that night. Leith
. Ever since their first meeting at Meyrick Ball a month earlier, Charlotte had become intrigued by the man, much to her family's annoyance. Leith already knew Edward and her father through the East India Company, and had introduced himself to her mother at the Meyrick Ball. The verdict on Leith from the other members of the Tolson family was a round of hearty disapproval - they found him to be too forward, too rude, too sly, too mysterious, too suspicious. They didn't trust him, Edward especially, something that Charlotte did not understand. All of the qualities that they hated about him intrigued her to no end. She was sick of being forced to flirt with the same boys she had grown up with, and she had no desire to marry any of them. Thomas was different, new and exciting. She didn't care what her family thought - she had found the one truly interesting gentleman in all of India, and he wanted her
A happy grin broke across Charlotte's face as she thought of Leith. Though they had very few moments together (his duties with the army often kept him away from society events), the time that they had shared together had been wonderfully invigorating. As the second son of a viscount, he could have openly courted Charlotte if he had wished to, but Leith knew how the Tolson family disapproved of him.
Hence all of the sneaking around tonight.
Charlotte glanced over to the clock again, which now read 11:15. Leith should have been here 15 minutes ago,
she thought nervously. She hated lying to her family, and she did not like the way that Edward had regarded her before leaving that evening. Telling herself to calm down, she turned back to her book, allowing herself to become immersed in the first few pages, until a rustling noise behind her startled her. Immediately, she cursed herself for being so stupid as to suggest that she leave the library doors open for Leith. There were all kinds of dangerous animals that could make their way into the Tolson home, ruining her moments with Leith. She could practically envision a set of golden eyes staring at her in the darkness, the dim light of the candle lighting up the orange and black stripes, right before it would...
"Charlotte?" a voice whispered from the darkness.
"Shhh, it's only me," the voice said again, and Leith appeared from the darkness, dressed as though he had been at the Dryden's Ball. Charlotte shut her mouth, holding a hand to her heart, which was beating rapidly. She hoped that her scream hadn't woken any of the servants, though judging by the snores coming from the front hall, she was safe.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "You startled me." Thomas chuckled. "I'd noticed that," he said quietly, entering the library and shutting the doors behind him, cutting off what little breeze Charlotte had been enjoying. The room instantly became hot again - though that could also be from the blush that had spread across her cheeks, she reasoned. "Seeing as you've probably woken the entire house, I suppose I only have a few moments," he grinned. Charlotte began to protest, but was cut off by his kiss, which had completely caught Charlotte off guard. It was the first time that he had kissed her, and she wasn't quite sure of what to make of it. There were no fireworks or any sort of indication that this kiss was special from other kisses. A few seconds later, he broke away from her, and Charlotte smiled sheepishly.
Leith grinned happily, brushing his thumb across Charlotte's cheek. She flushed again, and he pulled her from her chair. "You are so beautiful when you blush," Leith told her, still cupping his hand around her chin. "You look so...alive." This time Charlotte saw Leith's intention to kiss her, and was more prepared for it. This second kiss was nothing like the first one, however. It was harder, more passionate, and he held her very close against him. This time it was she that broke away from him, uncomfortable with how close he was to her. It all seemed a little fast, she thought. "Thomas, I -" she began, but once again, Leith cut her off. "I love you, Charlotte," he whispered to her, his stormy eyes filled with sincerity. Charlotte stood there, unaware of what to say to him in return. Leith took her stunned silence as an opportunity to kiss her again, in that same urgent, passionate fashion he had before. He held her head in one hand, and had snaked his other arm around her waist, when a voice suddenly interrupted them.
"Get away from her, Leith.".
Breaking their kiss, but not his hold on Charlotte's waist, Leith and Charlotte turned towards where the voice had come from, to find Edward standing in the doorway of the library. Charlotte immediately felt relieved that her brother had come to check on her, but that feeling quickly turned to fear. Her brother did not
look happy, and she truly couldn't blame him.
Leith reluctantly let go of Charlotte, stepping a few paces away from her. "Edward - what are you doing here?" Charlotte asked, her voice shaking slightly. "I noticed Leith sneaking out of the Dryden's," her brother responded, not taking his eyes off of Leith. Edward's jaw was tight, and he looked like he wanted to punch something. "It wasn't difficult to figure out where he was going after that - feeling any better Charlotte?" Edward asked sharply, turning his gaze to Charlotte for a moment. Fear clutched Charlotte's chest - she had only provoked Edward's anger a handful of times in her life, and it had never ended well.
For the time being, however, Edward's gaze had turned back to Leith, who was still standing away from Charlotte. "Do I dare ask what your intentions were with my sister, Leith?" Edward asked dryly, moving from his position in the doorway towards Charlotte. "Though from what I witnessed, I believe I have a rather good idea of your intentions." Edward's voice was low and threatening, and Charlotte found herself wishing to step away from her brother. "Tell me, Leith," Edward said, "Do you have any intention of marrying my sister, or were you just planning on ruining her reputation and leaving her?" he inquired harshly.
Charlotte's breath caught in her throat for a moment, her mind reeling as she processed what Edward had said. She did not want to be forced into marrying anyone
, though marriage to Leith probably wouldn't be too terrible. And while he may have confessed his love for her tonight, part of Charlotte's brain pointed out that a true gentleman would not be so forward as he had been that night. Then again, Charlotte had hardly behaved like a lady that evening either. She would be lying if she didn't confess that she had enjoyed Leith's kisses, but she was uncomfortable with the idea that Leith may have wanted more from her that evening.
It took Charlotte a few moments to realize that Leith hadn't answered Edward's question.
She turned to look at Leith. "Thomas?" she asked, prompting him to answer Edward. Leith was looking at the fireplace, away from the siblings, almost contemplating his next move. A few more moments passed, and he turned to look at Edward. "I love your sister, and would be happy to make her my wife," Leith said. The words made Charlotte's heart fill with joy, but the tightened way that Leith spoke those words sent her reeling. He spoke almost as if it was his duty
to marry her now, like he didn't actually want to do it.
Charlotte stared at him blankly. This was nothing like the Leith she knew - what had happened to the romance, the love that he had spoken of for her? Charlotte felt very much like she was trapped in a business deal. The confusion and pain she felt must have been reflected on her face, for Leith made to move towards her, but Edward was faster, pulling Charlotte away from him. "Charlotte, I do love you," Leith said in that same sincere voice he had spoken in earlier, but now he was almost pleading with her. Edward snorted.
"I think you will find that Charlotte has very little say in whom she is to marry," Edward pointed out. Charlotte's head snapped up, furious at her brother for saying such a thing - even though it was the truth. "You will have to speak to our father first." Edward met Charlotte's gaze for a moment, concern and anger reflecting in his eyes. "If you will excuse us for a moment, Leith, I wish to speak to my sister in private. Do not think of leaving this room if you are sincere in your proposal," he added in, before pulling Charlotte out of the library and into the hallway, shutting the door behind them.
"What in the name of God did you think you were doing?" Edward hissed, his eyes flashing with anger. "I...We...We wanted to see each other..." Charlotte replied quietly, avoiding eye contact with her brother. She felt like she was six years old again. Edward took a deep breath, trying to calm himself before speaking again.
"I have protected you your entire life, Charlotte. I have cared for you, made sure that you were safe, and kept your secrets. So why is it when I ask you to trust me on one
thing, you disregard it entirely. Is my opinion worth that little to you? I told you that Leith was bad - did it take him almost forcing himself on you to prove that to you?"
"He was doing no such thing," Charlotte retorted, anger swelling up in her chest.
"Really. Because it certainly looked like he was intending on doing much more than kissing you, Charlotte. You don't understand men - you don't understand Leith. You haven't seen his behaviour around the others at the Company - the man is a rake!"
"He said he loves me," Charlotte responded stubbornly. "And why shouldn't I believe him? He is of higher social rank than we are - he has nothing to gain from marrying me socially. So what other motivation could he have besides love?" she said wildly, trying to rationalize as she went.
"Because you are one of the most elusive - and beautiful - unmarried lady in all of Bengal. He views you as a challenge, a conquest even," Edward said, rubbing his forehead.
Charlotte simply stared. "No," she said. "No, he said that he loves me, Edward! I cannot be a...a...conquest
," she spat out. "He wants to marry me. And I will accept his proposal right now," she said. Head held high, she flung open the door to the library, only to find an empty room. The only sign that Leith had ever been in the room was the one french door that was ajar, providing evidence of his escape.
Charlotte felt as though she had been slapped.Edward is right....He doesn't love you...He lied to you...He doesn't want you...
a voice in Charlotte's head pointed out. A tense silence filled the room, until Edward quietly asked Charlotte if she believed him now.
Standing stock still in the room, Charlotte felt the tears well up in her eyes. He doesn't love me. Even though he said he did. He doesn't want to marry me.
The words kept repeating themselves over and over in her head.
"Charlotte," Edward said gingerly, reaching out for Charlotte's arm. "Leith is gone," he said simply.
"Yes, I am aware of that," Charlotte replied angrily, turning around to face her brother, tears starting to fall down her face.He doesn't love you, he lied to you, he doesn't want you...
Anger swelled up in her chest, and Charlotte felt like she was going to burst. She was angry at Leith, at Edward and herself. Her heart felt like it was going to break into a million pieces there in the library, and she cursed herself for being so stupid as to ever believe that Leith loved her.
"If you'll excuse me, brother, I'm going to go to bed now," she muttered, pushing past Edward. When she returned to her room, she could hardly see straight for the tears that blurred her vision, and she made herself a promise to never believe anything that Thomas Leith ever said to her ever again.
Two days later, however, she received a letter from Leith. While her pride was still smarting from their last encounter, she read it, and found herself once again convinced of his love for her. He asked her to marry him in secret, so that her family would not interfere. She of Edward, of what he had told her about Leith. Just a conquest,
she scoffed to herself. No. I shall prove him wrong.
Charlotte resolved, as she mentally began to pick out her wedding outfit.
The carriage unexpectedly hit a rut in the road, causing Charlotte to be - literally - shaken out of her memories. Looking around, she realized that they were not far from Curzon Street now. Shaking her head, she could hardly believe how young and stupid she had been two years earlier. Leith had made a fool out of her - though in the end, she had made a fool out of him in return by refusing to marry him. The memory of that night in the library still made her feel ashamed of herself, and her face flushed in embarrassment, so much so that Edward asked her what was wrong as he handed her down from the carriage. "Nothing," she muttered in reply. "Just...still excited from the ball," she said with a smile, before heading into the Tolson home.
Edward regarded his sister, not believing her story. Foxford had more of a hold on her than he had originally thought. The man seemed like the honest sort, but still...one could not be too careful, he supposed. Leith popped into his head, and Edward scowled. Perhaps it is time that Foxford and I go to the club together,
Edward thought, before following his family into their home for the evening.