Miles Bradford, oldest son of the Duke of Chellingham, straightened his tie and put on his suit coat. Satisfied with his appearance, he stepped into the hallway and moved to the top of the stairs. He paused and pulled the slip of paper from his pocket once more. He read the intriguing message again, Avoid the woman in the strappy, green heels at all costs. There was no signature on the note and he didn’t recognize the handwriting.
His curiosity piqued, he determined to find the woman with the strappy, green heels. At the bottom of the stairs, he strode down the polished floor to the large double doors that now stood open. He stepped through the doorway into a large room filled with aristocrats dressed in their finest for tonight’s festivities – a coming out party for his sister and his cousin. There were to be some other very eligible young ladies present as well, and he would be looking for one he found pleasant company.
His mother had just quieted the room and all eyes were on her as she announced, “Welcome to our home for tonight’s ball. Please do enjoy yourselves. Let the first dance begin.”
The music began and gentlemen chose partners and moved to the center of the floor. Not knowing exactly what strappy, green heels were, Miles anticipated a challenge. However, with most of the ladies wearing long gowns, it could prove to be a bit complicated. He noted he’d caught the attention of several young ladies, and he moved to seek one as a dance partner.
As he danced with one woman after another, he looked down at their feet each time they took a step, in hopes of glimpsing their footwear.
“Is something wrong Miles?” Madeline Webster, daughter of a count, asked.
“No. Why do you ask?”
“You have yet to look upon my face. I had heard you were an accomplished dancer, yet you keep watching your feet.”
“I beg your forgiveness, Madeline. I’m just a bit distracted this evening.”
“Are you looking for someone in particular?”
“No. No. I am sorry. You shall have my full attention for the duration of this dance. By the way, did I tell you that you look lovely this evening?”
Madeline smiled. “I really didn’t think I was your type Miles.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Well, do you tell every lady you dance with that she looks lovely? My mother always says that’s a flirtatious line and I should expect to be called upon by a man who utters such a line.”
Heat crept into Miles’s face. “Well, I … I certainly didn’t mean to sound flirtatious. Again I must beg your forgiveness.” This dance seemed much longer than the previous ones.
Madeline chuckled. “I do believe I’ve unnerved you. Does that mean that I was right? I am not your type and you will not come to call?”
The music ended.
“I beg your pardon Madeline, but I’m afraid this conversation has me a bit befuddled. I was simply trying to make polite conversation. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
“Of course Miles. Think nothing of it. I won’t be offended when you don’t come to call. I simply enjoyed making you squirm a little.”
Miles strode toward the exterior doors to the ballroom, needing some fresh air. He stepped onto the veranda and inhaled deeply. He moved to the short wall of the porch and looked out on the garden.
He heard the sound of someone clearing their throat to his right. He turned his head and found a delicate-looking woman perched upon the veranda wall.
He looked toward her feet, and because of her position on the wall, he noticed a green shoe upon her delicate foot, held on by tiny straps, and the portion of the shoe beneath the heel of her foot was quite a bit longer than the rest of the sole of the shoe. Those must be strappy, green heels.
When Miles looked at the woman’s face, she was smiling at him.
“Hello Miles. Avoid the woman in the strappy, green heels at all costs.”
“But how did you…? Why did…?”
Clarice laughed out loud. “Why Miles, I’ve never seen you at a loss for words before.”
“My sister has something to do with this, doesn’t she?”
“When we talked about what we would wear tonight, it was her idea to write those words. I wrote the note, and Victoria made sure you’d find it.”
Clarice quirked an eyebrow at him. She rose and moved closer to him. “Isn’t obvious? I’ve been trying to get your attention for years, but all you ever saw me as was your little sister’s best friend. You never took me seriously, and Victoria and I both knew if you were told to avoid someone, that would be whom you would seek.”
“What exactly are you saying?” Miles tugged at the tie around his neck.
“I’m saying that I want you to come to call on me. You could do much worse than the daughter of an earl. Have you ever taken notice of me?” She was standing right in front of him now.
Miles looked at her, and for the first time saw a grown woman instead of his little sister’s playmate. Clarice had emerald green eyes, greener than her shoes. The green of her gown made her eyes sparkle, and a green silk ribbon was woven in her long, wavy blonde hair, holding it up off her shoulders. He’d never noticed how beautiful she was until this moment.
“No, I mean yes. Okay, no, I never noticed you as anything but my little sister’s playmate until this minute.”
“Your beauty is exquisite. I shall come to call. As you say, I could do much worse than the daughter of an earl.” He grinned and Clarice grinned back.