After layers upon on layers of petticoats Annalise was finally tied up in her evening gown. The blonde admired her image in the tilting, full length mirror. The navy blue, off shoulder gown matched the colour of her eyes. Her blonde locks were parted in the middle and curls framed her face as per the latest fashion. Her maid looked vastly pleased with the outcome.

Annalise fiddled through the cosmetic bottles in her travel chest until she found what she was looking for. She plucked out a bottle of rouge but her maid easily thwarted her.

"Absolutely not!" The stocky maid shook her head firmly as her large hands concealed the small bottle deftly.

"But!"

"Your mother was absolutely certain you would paint yourself like a jester the first opportunity you got and I cannot allow it," The maid was unrepentant.

"Just a little rouge would make all the difference. Don't you want some gentleman to fall in love with me and ask for my hand?" Annalise implored, playing out the farce with doe eyes. She concealed a grin behind her hand at how absurd she sounded.

"Only use the powder, nothing else. I'm watching you, missy," The maid's baleful look softened. She still made Annalise feel like she was ten and caught breaking into her mother's vanity box.

Anna blinked her large eyes gratefully at her stern jailor and puffed her face with the chalky powder. The older woman coughed, the perfume of the pearl powder overwhelming her.

"I could also curl up my eyelashes with burnt hairpins, I would look just the thing," Annalise watched her maid place her solid hand on her head as if she were experiencing a headache from her charge's antics. The girl decided agitating her chaperone was the correct path to take if she wanted some respite from the scrutiny.

Once Annalise declared she was ready the maid ushered her out of the door since they were already late and not fashionably so. The two woman rushed through the empty corridors until they reached the entrance hall.

Annalise gave her friend's mother, her chaperone for the evening, a very regretful smile. She bowed out her apologies knowing that irritating the woman could mean having her visit cut short.

Elizabeth's mother gave her daughter's friend a strained smile but not for the reason the girls assumed. Annalise had taken great pains in her toiletry and it showed. Her own daughter's lack of interest did not allow her to present herself to her best advantage making rhe countess worry.

"You look divine," Elizabeth chriped. Her pleasant personality was what attracted Annalise to her friend.

"I do, don't I," Elizabeth twirled around, showcasing her expensive outfit, "And you look the jamiest bit of jams. Not a hair out of place. Well done!"

"Mother is rather put out by how low this gown is but the fashionable ton would disown me if I turned up looking a dowd," Elizabeth confided. She liked her gold yellow gown despite her mother's protests.

"I couldn't care less what the London ton has to say about me. I just like wearing anything that makes me look good," Annalise exuded confidence that her friend aspired to have.

"That's the spirit. I really wish you had a particular gentleman you wanted to impress. They would have been knocked off their feet," The sandy haired girl whispered without moving her lips. It was talent all girls with strict mothers had.

"Not really but I suppose, you do," Annalise queried. She sent a furtive glance towards her chaperone who was standing ahead of them with her husband. They were waiting their turn to be announced.

"Mother would prefer it if it were any one of Rose's suitors. After all what's best for her is good enough for me. I'll just end up with one of her discarded fellows," Elizabeth signed. Her bare shoulders quivered with despondency.

"Or you could snatch one from under her nose," Annalise's smile turned brash.

"Oh, you vixen! That would be dreadfully impertinent. My aunt would banish me from Mansfield court forever," Elizabeth declared.

"As if you'd care. Your father barely ventures into the country," The blonde scoffed. She daintily settled her frilly petticoat, knowing they were about to be called.

The doors punctuated with gold trimmings were opened by a pair of youthful doormen. The Beaucourts' wealth dripped from the cavernous room chosen for the small dance. Elizabeth hissed in her friend's ear that there was another room used for the larger parties.

"Where's your brother?" Annalise asked her friend as they walked in arm in arm.

"I haven't a clue," The girl replied. They bowed in front of the Beaucourts who looked as lavish as their decorations. Duke Beaucourt was a rotoud man contrasting vastly with his slender wife. Their daughter, Rose, was dressed in red with her namesake flower dotted into her bun. Her dark hair curled around her face making her light blue eyes look wide and unassuming.

Suddenly the hall was filled with colourful smoke. The occupants eagerly tried to catch sight of the new development. To their dismay the three masked robbers revealed themself at the entrance.

"Oh, bother," Annalise exclaimed. She thought the trio would reveal their farce without so much fanfare.

The three men puzzled the audience as they distributed sheets of paper to all the occupants. Annalise got hers from Elizabeth. On it were details of a puzzle and the announcement that all their robbed belongings were safely in their rooms.

"Splendid, splendid," Duke Beaucourt clapped his hands at the outrageous display while his always poised Duchess looked thunderous.

"Did you know!" Elizabeth exclaimed. Her friend did not look the least bit surprised and she wished to know what was going on. Annalise filled her friends ears with what she knew.

"Those three accosted me as well but I'm too slippery to be caught," Annalise laughed with gay abandon. A ruddy faced dowager gave her a tepid look. Annalise was immediately caught by Rupert who had given up his mask and had slipped in the ball.

"We are engaged for the first dance," The sandy haired man tutted as the blue clad girl ducked around his arm. This flirty exhibition gave Rupert's sensible mother spasms but the young people did not seem to care.

"I promised you no such thing," The blonde acted as if she had no idea what he was talking about but her burgeoning grin gave her away. The boy grabbed her hand and pulled her to the dance floor despite his mother's admonishing look.

"I hope that lark was worth it," Annalise asked as the strains of familiar music echoed in the room. The first dance on her parchment indicated it would be the Mazurka.

"Very much so. I found the most interesting items in their private belongings," Rupert was unrepentant.

The pair laughed as he sandy haired boy revealed all the contents of his stolen loot and the funny anecdotes of his great adventure. Annalise spied her friend on Adam's arms but found Montgomery nowhere. Once the dance was finished the foursome landed near the refreshments table which they partook.

Lady Beaucourt gave them a baleful look but she noticed another fellow trying to slink away from her. She caught Montgomery's eye which forced him to bow in front of her.

"My dear Viscount. You must take darling Anna around the dancefloor," Duchess Beaucourt uttered with a vacant smile. She must have been discounting Montgomery if she was already throwing him in someone else's lap. After the escapade he was part of he deserved it.

Annalise looked down at her dancing card which was in the shape of a fan. The programme was written on one side and her engagements on the other. The line for this particular dance was not penciled in and she had no excuse to refuse the dance. If she did she would have to sit out the rest of the dances which would make the night very dull.

Montgomery was wearing a black dress coat upon a black vest. Between his dark hair his slender face shone. His nose was marred by a small dent he must have acquired after a night out with the boys at a less savory establishment.

Annalise allowed him to take her gloved hand in arm and they ventured out to find a position on the floor before the music began. Elizabeth stood a few feet away at her brother's side. Her aunt hadn't been gracious enough to introduce her to a new partner.

"I don't remember you being a competent dancer," Montgomery looked at Annalise with veiled, dark eyes. They moved flawlessly, having practiced these moves with many other partners over the years.

"I don't remember when we last danced," Anneliese raised her brow at his words. She despised it when people assumed a great many things about her. She had been incompetent many moons ago but rigorous training had rid of her any such flaws.

"It must've been..." Montgomery scowled as his memory faltered. They truly had never shared a dance as adults despite knowing each other half their lives.

"How are you enjoying your stay?" Annalise asked politely, realising the silence had gone on for too long. She was mildly out of breath by the enthusiastic number.

"There is no need to observe social niceties," The dark haired Viscount looked petulant as his eyes remained on anything but his dance partner. She knew he had much better manners then what he was displaying now. Years of watching him have the last dance with Marion showed her what he was capable of.

"I cannot very well remain mute the entire dance," The blonde groused.

"You have never been one to be remain silent. Your voice is everywhere; going on and on and on..." The man's words were blunt and hurtful.

"Thank you," Annalise retorted with a pleasant smile as if she were not being insulted on her face. She wondered why she had ever found him attractive as a young girl.

Montgomery affected a sniff and showed the height of rudeness by ignoring his dance partner once again. Annalise wished she could stub his shoe but it would be too obvious.

"Marion is doing well although you should have asked by now. Polite society dictates it," The blonde brought forward the poisoned topic between them deliberately. She wanted to hurt him as much as he hurt her. Her partner's hands tightened on her white gloves. It was not a painful movement but the pressure still grated.

"Is this the time and place to salt my wounds?" The dark haired man hissed like an uncoiled snake.

"You should be happy for her," Annalise's blue eyes were judgemental. They had been friends for so long. He should've wished Marion well regardless of who she ended up with. It was the gentlemanly thing to do.

"She should've been mine. I loved her. If you hadn't poked your overbearing presence as you always do..." Montgomery's eyes blazed with hot fury.

"I have never been officious," It was now Annalise's turn to sniff in the air. Her preferred romance novels were always about noble sacrifice by star crossed lovers. Montgomery's possessive actions did not fit the mould and she looked down at him for it.

"You never let her be independent. Ever since she came in our life you've always had a hand on hers, treating her like a puppet-" The dark haired man barked viciously.

"I was protecting her! I always have and always will," Annalise hands were pinching into his white gloves.

The pair had a misstep and the man eased into the next movement as gentleman of his class were taught to do.

"You did not need to protect her from me," Montgomery hissed, low and vicious. Abruptly he let go of her hand and gave her a curt bow. Annalise looked around and found the dance floor was already vacant. They were one of the last couples departing. Montgomery took her arm as if he loathed it and dropped Annalise off with her friend.

Elizabeth bounced on the heels of her feet as if expecting Annalise to say something interesting.

"What did he say?" The girl asked when her friend did not share her misgivings immediately.

"Nothing of import. He never says anything worth my while," Annalise shrugged, pretending his words had not hurt.

"It didn't look unimportant. You must be careful. Heated conversations in the ball room is not the kind of attention you want to give Rose's suitors," The taller, sandy haired girl cautioned. She could already narrate her mother's lectures word by word if her friend didn't heed her warnings

"Your aunt won't have him. She's already pushing him away. But he is persistent. If you cousin smiles at him too much he might fall in love too ardently to let go," The blonde explained. She knew him well enough to know what would happen next.

"One woman after another woman. How large is his heart to fall over and over again?" Elizabeth wondered.

"When did lust have anything to do with one's heart" The blonde scoffed and her friend's eyes rounded at her words.

"Hush! We'll be thrown out by my aunt if we're heard!"

"Very well. I don't want you to suffer for my shortcomings. Let's make sport of Rose's other suitors more discreetly. How many are there?" Annalise asked curiously. She had arrived later than everyone else and had missed a luncheon where introductions were made.

"Haven't the foggiest. I'll admit I was reading my book during introductions," Elizabeth confided, sheepishly.

"Who's that handsome chap over there? He looks dashing," Annalise waved her fan in the man's direction in a subtle motion. He donned a less fashion forward outfit but he wore it well enough that it did not matter.

"Very dashing indeed. He's a Mr. Merkle. James Merkle. Wonder why he was invited. I don't see a title against his name," The friend mused.

"Perhaps an elderly uncle's demise is being waited upon," The other girl guessed. The pair stood in a corner because walking across the room without a male attendant would be improper.

"And what about that gentleman? Baron Desmond Lutworth. What do you have to say about his looks?" The sandy haired girl asked.

"His smile is too wide but I'm being unkind," Annalise assessed, "I cannot find any fault in his bearing."

"And then there's my own brother, of course," Elizabeth sighed as if the thought pained her.

"He's in the running?" Annalise hissed. She hid her mouth behind her paper fan.

"Of course, not. But mother would be delighted even though she despises the Beaucourts," Elizabeth informed her.

"The money?" Annalise guessed.

"A lot of money. My brother could spend fifty pounds a day and he still wouldn't be poor if he married Rose. Although, she would never have him and neither would my aunt. He's already committed the faux pas of bringing Adam in, uninvited and now this new drama," The sandy haired girl showcased her talent of barely moving her lips once again.

"Our lovely Adam," Annalise giggled at his name with an accent. He was exotic enough to gain entry into many popular drawing rooms. Her own mother had been charmed by his perfect manners.

When the supper room was opened the Duchess paired up the young people to her satisfaction. Her own daughter was led to the supper room by her father for she did not wish to show any partiality to anyone as yet. It was an open secret this entire party was to find her a husband.

The supper table was decadently full. There was no lack of variety of food or desserts. There was cut up ham and fowl in the centre table while another table was laid out with desserts like jelly and triffles.

Annalise was partnered with Rupert who was doing his best to be attentive. He brought her drinks and held her plate while she visited the toiletry room to fix her hair. At the end of the evening, much past midnight he escorted her back to the rooms with his family trailing behind them.

Annalise closed the door and realised her maid was nowhere to be found. Perhaps waiting for her to return had either put her to sleep or she was too stupefied through to drink to attend to her. Whatever the case may be but Annalise was pleased she could escape her rooms with ease.

She hastily opened her doors and inspected the corridors and found them devoid of doormen or inhabitants. She quickly slinked out of her room and despite her aching feet raced to the terrace at the end of the gallery.

In her hand was the puzzle given to all the guests. She doubted she would be able to understand it but with her friend at her side they might be able to decipher some clues. She couldn't make head or tails to even start.

The blue clad girl leaned against the stone balcony as she admired the views of the miles of land under the Beaucourts' command. The puzzle lay forgotten in her hands.

"If I'm to capture a sunrise the west is the place to do it," Annalise muttered to herself. The moon shone silvery light on a ruin dramatically settled towards the west. A painting of this view could fetch a pretty penny if she selected it for her next watercolour.

"The east, Annalise, the east. The sun rises from the east," The dark figure chided from behind her.

"Are you following me?" Annalise wrinkled her nose at disheveled sight of Montgomery. His jacquard cravet was absent and so was his coat. He brought a flask of cognac to his lips and came to rest next to Annalise's spot.

"I am not you, Anna. I distinctly remember you following me around when we were younger. It was rather pitiful," Montgomery was yet again needling her. If he wanted to provoke a reaction then he would have to wait forever.

"My younger self didn't have good taste in friends. I know better now, Monty," Annalise replied archly. She crossed her arms for the slight breeze made the night time chilly. Even if Montgomery had a coat he wouldn't have offered it to her.

"Please do not refer to me as such. I despise pet names, Anna," The dark haired boy shuddered for effect.

"I know," The blonde retorted. She pushed herself away from the railing and decided to end her night. There was no point in squabbling with her former friend over events that had come to pass.

"Better leave, for if they catch us together..." Montgomery said redundantly with a grimace, "I should have a noose ready to end my suffering if such an event comes to pass."

"Might I suggest poison," Annalise replied, sweetly, "Although I'm certain no one shall believe us compromised even if we were caught. Everyone knows you dislike me."

The man's frown deepened as Annalise smile widened. She grabbed onto the man's flask, took a deep drink and handed it back in his vacant hands. She gave him a salute and sauntered away with her face held high.