Mr. Ruskin! Leo shook his hand with apparent delight, surprising familiarity.
Sir. Ruskin bowed.
I must tell you, once again, how grateful I am for your assistance in that matter. Leos smile was wide and genuine; his eyes danced with the delight of a happy secret as he looked at me, then back at Mr. Ruskin.
It is my pleasure. I am only too happy to provide what little help I can. I only wish it is of value to you, after all.
I have great hopes that it will be. Great hopes.
What secrets are you two keeping from me? I tried to make my voice light, my face untroubled, but I could not ignore the heavy stone of dread settling in the pit of my stomach. I did not enjoy knowing that both Leo and I were engaged in some sort of secret dealings with John Ruskin, of all people.
Ah, but that is not for you to know just yet! Leo reached down and studied the dance card dangling, by a slim gold thread, from my wrist. Hmmm. I wonder, who is this Prince Leopold fellow? And before I could say anything more to Mr. Ruskin, Leo had swept me up and back out on the dance floor with so much speedhe was turning me about in such tight circles I was dizzyI could scarcely catch my breath.
Leo! What on earth? The orchestra has barely started!
I could wait to have you in my arms no longer, Im afraid! His face was red, his eyes blazing with suppressed emotion; all I could do was follow him, allow him to propel me across the dance floorbumping into other couples, stepping on trains, not even stopping to apologizeuntil somehow, we were all the way to the opposite side, and he was leading me through a small door.
He finally stopped then, and I could catch my breath for a moment and try to put myself back together; my dress was crumpled, and I knew the lace on my bustle must be in tatters. Finding ourselves suddenly alone, the music muffled on the other side of the door, Leo and I simply looked at each other and laughed. It was as if we shared a secret or had gotten away with some amazing deception, like two naughty children.
Alone at last, my darling!
Leo, you take my breath away!
Without warning, he swooped down and kissed me on the lips, grabbed my hand, and started pulling me down a passage. I had held Leos hand many times; I had felt his arm about me, looked into his eyes. But never before had I been so aware of his confidence, his sureness, his boldness. For I felt something different in the way he touched me, shepherding me down the hall past servants who flattened themselves against the walls as we hurried by; I felt the possession of a loverperhaps a husband?and my heart thrilled, every nerve strained and tensed, for I longed to submit, to be possessed.
Sir, I do not jestyou leave me, quite literally, breathless! I laughed, but I was serious, for he was walking so very fast I could hardly keep up, despite the firm grip he had on my hand. Im sorry, my dear! He slowed, turning to smile at me he was so eager, his smile seemed to take over his entire face. I quite forgot that ladies clothing is so devilishlywell, so devilishly constraining. Although I do think you look lovely tonighthave I told you?
Several times. But Ill never tire of hearing it.
Be careful what you wish for! With another smile another twinkle of his blue eyeshe turned down a different passage; it was unlit, narrow, the floor uneven, and I could not see my hand before me. All I could do was trust in Leo to guide me, and I was glad to do so.
Excerpted from Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin Copyright © 2010 by Melanie Benjamin. Excerpted by permission of Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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