Annie was late.
She had spent far too much time with Cameron this afternoon learning the various types of dances she was expected to know for the ball tonight. Now, with Major Andre already waiting for her downstairs, she was rushing to pull on the numerous petticoats and gown that he had gifted to her upon his return three days ago. It was a lovely gown of violet silk with ruffled lace at the end of its sleeves. The dress was extremely low cut and the stays she wore squeezed and pushed her assets until little was left to the imagination. But, seeing as it was the fashion for the time, Annie put up with it. Finally, Mary, pulled the last of the laces and tied the dress. She helped Annie into her slippers then they both left the room together.
“You look lovely,” Mary said as they walked down the stairs. “All eyes are going to be on you tonight.”
I sure hope not, Annie thought to herself. If they are then they’ll notice my deplorable dancing skills. “Thank you Mary,” she finally replied. “Hopefully I will not disappoint.”
“Oh I’m sure you won’t.”
“I admire your confidence. I wish you were coming with me,” Annie admitted. She knew that Madison would be there, which was a great comfort. But that also meant that Catherine would be joining her. She only hoped that her sister could control herself during the ball. Annie figured as long as she stayed with the crowd she would be okay. But she was still apprehensive.
Annie walked into the sitting room where Major Andre was waiting. Cameron had left a half-hour ago. Annie was grateful that he would be there. He knew of the threat Catherine posed and had promised her that he would keep an eye out for her. Between Cameron and Major Andre, Annie doubted she would be alone at all.
“Annie, you are a vision in violet,” John said, bowing to kiss her hand.
“Thank you John,” Annie replied, lowering her eyelashes. “It seems that I am once again in debt to you and your impeccable taste.”
“It is my pleasure. I do love to spoil you,” he smiled. “Now, shall we go?”
“Of course.” Annie wrapped her hand underneath his offered arm and they left the house. The carriage ride was long. The ball they were attending was at a grand estate outside of the city limits. She had received her invitation the day that John had returned. The names of the couple throwing the party sounded familiar to Annie, but she could not place exactly where she had heard them. In all probability they were guests of one of Madison’s frequent dinner parties.
“Are you nervous my dear,” John asked as he leaned forward from the seat across from her.
“A little. This is by far the largest party I have attended since I arrived in New York.” Annie had been to large parties before, every college student had. But minuets and long dresses were a far cry from the beer pong and jello shots she was used to. For the first time in her life she felt herself actually longing for cheap keg beer and lame pickup lines from frat boys.
“Don’t worry my dear. You will shine brightly. Soon everyone will be as enchanted with you as I am.”
“You’ll stay with me of course?”
“Thank you.” They spent the rest of the coach ride in silence. When they reached the house Annie’s jaw dropped. A long line of carriages were making their way up to the front door where uniformed footmen assisted elegantly dressed men and women from their carriages. It took them awhile to reach the entrance. Once they did, John alit from the carriage then assisted Annie. They walked through the entrance and made their way to the ballroom.
“Smile Annie. The world is going to love you.” John gave her hand a reassuring pat then led her into the room. They were less than ten feet into the room when Madison accosted her.
“Annie,” Madison exclaimed as she ran across the room, “you look positively lovely tonight! I swear, you have to be the most beautiful woman in this room.”
“Don’t say that Madison. You look lovely too.” Madison was wearing a pale blue gown with lace trim. The color of the dress complimented her skin and eyes. “I love the color of your dress.”
“Well thank you. I love the color of yours,” she declared then faced John. “Major Andre, it is so good to have you back. This last week was absolutely dreadful without you.”
“It is a pleasure to be back Mrs. Carter. I can assure you that I missed your company greatly.”
“Well thank you Major. But I am sure that I’m not the only one you missed,” she replied then cast a knowing look at Annie.
John merely smiled at her. “Ah, a minuet. Annie, would you do me the honor of dancing with me?”
“I would love to John.” John took her hand and pulled her to the dance floor. They danced together for nearly an hour. Somehow she managed to remember all the steps with ease. By the time they left the dance floor Annie was flushed and thirsty.
“Are you thirsty dear?”
“Stay here, I’ll go get us some punch.” John hurried off towards the refreshment table. He was stopped several times along the way by various men and a few women.
“You danced beautifully,” a deep baritone voice whispered in her ear.
Annie turned and smiled. “Thank you Cameron. I had a wonderful teacher.”
“It was my pleasure,” he replied. “You look lovely tonight.”
“Are you having a good time?”
“Yes. I’d be having a better time if it were you escorting me though,” she whispered.
“I know. Me too. Just remember though, you may be dancing with him, but you’ll be sleeping with me tonight,” he whispered. “Speaking of, it seems your escort is about to head back this way. I’ll see you later.”
“Okay. I look forward to it.” Cameron disappeared as swiftly as he had appeared. Annie turned and saw John making his way back towards her, two glasses of punch in his hand.
“I apologize for taking so long my dear Annie,” John said, handing her a glass.
“There is no need for an apology. You’re an important man. It is only natural for people to seek you out. As long as you return to me I’ll be happy.” Annie took a sip of punch.
“I will always return to you,” his tone was seductive. “Would you care to take a stroll with me?”
“Of course.” Annie swallowed the rest of her punch then placed the empty glass on the tray of a passing footman. John guided her from the ballroom and down the hall to an empty anteroom. He closed the door and locked it behind him.
“I have been hoping to get you alone all night Annie,” he stated. He pulled her across the room to a settee.
Annie’s heart beat rapidly against her chest. How was she supposed to get out of this situation? John pulled her into his arms then kissed her savagely. His hands reached around her and began unlacing her dress. Instinctively, Annie pushed away from him. “John, get your hands off me!” He did not listen. Desperate, Annie attempted to bring her knee up, but the mountain of petticoats prevented her from doing any damage. She pushed harder, using all of her strength, and finally rendered him off balance.
“Dammit Annie! I thought you wanted this.” His face was red with anger and frustration.
Annie scrambled for an explanation, a way to both placate his anger and to keep him away from her, for at least a little bit. “John,” she said, taking a step towards him. “I have never had feelings as intense as the ones I feel for you. Frankly my feelings for you scare me.” Annie wondered how long she could keep up this charade. It was killing her inside. “I’m just not ready yet.”
John’s rage diminished a bit. It had never taken him this long to conquer a woman. Deep down he wanted to just do her and be done with it all. He had tried every trick in the book. Gifts, compliments, even the promise of a future together. Nothing had worked. Still, he did not want to force her. It was always better for him when women came to his bed willingly. With every bit of strength he possessed, he brought his anger under control. “I’m sorry Annie, I didn’t mean to frighten you.” He pulled her into his arms and re-laced her dress. “I should have known better. Please forgive me.”
Annie sighed. Her explanation had worked...for now. “It’s all right. Besides, tonight is not the optimal time anyways.”
“You’re right. Now that I think about it, our first time together should be long and intimate, not rushed.”
“Thank you John. I would like that. But that’s not exactly what I’m talking about. Needless to say our romantic evening will have to wait a few days.” Annie hoped that he understood the implied meaning. If he thought she was on her period then maybe he’d allow her a week of reprieve.
“Oh, oh,” realization struck him. “I am sorry. I understand.”
“You’re welcome.” He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Well then, we should probably return to the party.”
“Yes, we should.” John guided her towards the door and out into the hall. They were halfway to the ballroom when a uniformed soldier rushed up to them.
“Major Andre, a message just came for you.”
“Thank you private.” John took the note from the soldier and opened it. Annie could not see the contents of the note because John was blocking it with his body. Once he was finished reading, he stuffed the note in his pocket. “If you’ll pardon me Annie, something has come up that needs my immediate attention. Would you mind waiting here for just a moment? I won’t be gone long.”
“Of course not. Take your time. I’ll just find Madison.” Annie walked in the direction of the ballroom as John turned in the direction of the stairs. Once he was out of sight she doubled back towards the stairs. Fortunately they were deserted. She tip-toed up the steps and turned down a long, empty hallway. She heard John before she saw him. He was speaking with someone, another man, in an empty room. The door was creaked open. Annie pressed herself against the wall and listened to the conversation.
“He wants to meet tonight at midnight.”
“The tavern by the harbor. Will you be there?”
“Yes. I’ll leave here immediately.”
Annie had heard enough. Some sort of secret meeting was to take place tonight. She knew the tavern they spoke of. Quickly she lifted her skirts and made her way down the stairs and into the ballroom. She found Madison on the far side of the room. “Oh thank goodness. I’ve been searching everywhere for you Madison,” Annie said as she joined her friend.
“Annie! I’ve been searching for you as well. Where have you been? And where is Major Andre.”
“John had to step away for a moment to deal with some business. He should be back soon.”
“Men and their business. Honestly, you would think he could stop being a soldier for one night and enjoy your company.”
“I know. But his work is important.”
“It always is darling,” Madison said then laughed. “They could be making a simple errand to the market and it would be important. Oh, men.”
“Yes, men,” Annie laughed.
“Well I’m certainly glad to see you two are enjoying yourselves.” John stepped next to Annie, lacing his fingers between hers. “May I ask in particular what you were laughing about?”
“Oh nothing that would interest you,” Madison chuckled.
“Annie,” he said, lifting a questioning eyebrow.
“I’m going to have to agree with Madison on this one,” she laughed.
“Well, it breaks my heart to say this Annie, but we really must be going. It appears that the business I alluded to earlier is far more serious than I believed it to be,” he said regretfully.
“Oh, that’s a shame to hear John. I’m having such a good time,” Annie feigned disappointment. In truth she was glad to be leaving. She was eager to attend that meeting.
“I know. And I promise I will make it up to you soon.”
“Oh, very well. Madison, if you’ll excuse us.”
“Well if I must, but only if you promise to have lunch with me and Catherine tomorrow.”
“I promise. Speaking of Catherine, I haven’t seen her tonight. Where is she?”
“She wasn’t feeling well tonight so she stayed home. I’m sure she’ll be feeling better tomorrow, especially if she knows she’s going to see you. She’s been talking about you ever since our dinner party.”
“Well I am as eager to see her as well,” Annie managed to keep the fear out of her voice. “Until tomorrow Madison.” With that Annie waved and followed John out of the ballroom. She managed to cast a glance at Cameron. “I’ll see you later,” she mouthed. Her only response was a nod.
The carriage ride home was silent and filled with repressed longing on John’s part and tension on her part. When they reached the boardinghouse John walked her to the door and gave her a quick kiss then left. Quickly Annie ran up to her room and changed clothes. She pulled her pre-written notes from their hiding spot and shoved them, along with her gun, into her pocket. Then, as quickly and quietly as she entered she left and made her way towards the tavern.
Catherine watched her sister leave the boardinghouse. She was concealed behind a line of bushes across from the house. She held a gun in her hand. She had also concealed a knife underneath her skirts, just in case the ancient gun failed her. A slow smile crossed her face. In just a few hours Annie would be dead and she would be back home. Silently, she left her hiding spot and followed Annie towards the harbor.