âNormally, I might agree, but Iâm afraid I need her.â
âYou need her?â Marcusâs eyebrows lifted. âWhat for?â
âSheâs on the Committee for the Improvement of Conditions for Mothers and Infants. I was particularly hoping to talk with her about the importance of education for the mothers as well as for their children.â
âAnd why should our dancing interfere with that?â
Heleneâs smile suggested she was charmed by his naivetÃ©. âIf I become a rival to her daughter, sheâs hardly likely to listen to what I have to say.â
âOne dance and either you or she will think thereâs rivalry?â
âI do not think it. I observe it,â replied Lady Helene. âThere is a natural order to the workings of a ballroom. I have taken care to familiarize myself with it.â She looked up into his face. âAnd you are about to remark on what a strange girl I am.â
âI was, but now I donât believe I will give you the satisfaction.â
She fixed her amber gaze on him. Heâd never seen eyes like hersâthey were gold and brown and silver, all mixed together into a color that was unique. They were lively, intense, and shining. She had so much life in her. So much energy. He could feel it now, as they turned and they stepped.
How had she been left alone for so long?
Perhaps it was because those eyes saw too much. Because while Marcus was losing himself in the unexpected beauty of her, she had, apparently, been studying him.
âSomethingâs gone wrong with you,â she murmured. âSomethingâs been wrong for a long time, hasnât it?â
Where had that come from, and what answer could there be? None, of course. So Marcus kept silent. It was, after all, hardly a polite remark, or a suitable one. Etiquette demanded he ignore it.
Helene sighed. âWhen we are finished, will you go dance with Miss Pollerton?â
âI danced with you to avoid Miss Pollerton,â he reminded her peevishly.
âIâm sorry your plan did not come to fruition. You will have to try a better one next time. I suggest the billiards room, or the card room.â
âHer motherâs a nuisance.â
He expected a stern admonishment, but Lady Helene just shrugged. âShe is doing her duty. If her daughter does not marry well, Mrs. Pollerton has failed her, and she does not intend to fail.â
âYou sound almost sympathetic.â
âWe are all prisoners of society,â she said, and for the first time her voice was soft, and a little sad. âI do not blame another inmate.â
He should change the subject and he knew it. There was some unexpressed hurt beneath those words, but at the same time it was such a curious thing to say, Marcus found he could not let it go. âBut you are here, working for a triumphant season while you are criticizing society itself. Some would call that hypocrisy.â
âNothing will change for these girls and their mamas if society itself does not change. I have come to learn that I cannot change anything by making enemies. Therefore, I must make friends.â
âYou sound like a politician, not a hostess.â
âWhat makes you think thereâs a difference?â
The music softened and then fell silent. Marcus shook his head, defeated. âYou are very strange.â
âWeâve already agreed upon that point. Go dance with Miss Pollerton, Your Grace. You will be doing the women and infants a great favor.â
âI feel like Iâm being patted on the head and sent out to play.â
In response, Helene reached up and patted him on the head.
Helene watched Lord Windford walk up to Miss Pollerton and bow. The brief satisfaction she felt to see him carrying out her request was wiped away as an unfamiliar chill wound through her stomach.
She was sorry to have to deploy the weapon of