"Had you not better be going, my lady? Her Ladyship requested your presence in the foyer several minutes ago."
Anastasia started when she heard the voice; she had been watching her maid manipulate her long locks of hair, pinning back the strands at the front and leaving the rest to tumble down her shoulders. Perhaps, had she not been so transfixed by her maid's handiwork, she would have noticed the angle of the hands on the clock in her room.
"Goodness, I did not realise the time!"
"Is this alright m'lady?" her maid asked, stepping back so Anastasia could look.
"Perfect, thank you, Catherine," Anastasia replied, hastening out the door without a second glance.
To Anastasia's great relief, only her mother and father were in the entrance hall. She skipped down the stairs just in time to overhear her mother speaking to the housekeeper.
"I apologise for the late notice, Mrs. Blackburn."
"We shall manage, Your Ladyship."
Anastasia waited until the rattle of keys that was always associated with the housekeeper had disappeared downstairs before rushing down the last few steps.
"What late notice?" she asked.
"We to have six guests, now, rather than five."
"There are to be six? But the Graysons and grandmamma... " Anastasia frowned, counting the people in her head. "Have you invited Sir Edward to join us?"
"No indeed, my dear, you know how your grandmother cannot stand him. And I might remind you that scurrying down the stairs in such a manner is quite unladylike."
Anastasia, unperturbed by her mother's reprimand, persisted. "But then who is the sixth guest?"
"Well, if you must know, he is a friend of Robert's from Eton, I believe. He is staying with him for the summer." Though Anastasia only raised her eyebrows, showing mild surprise, she was really quite astonished. Surely Robert would have mentioned that he had a friend staying? She pointed this out to her mother.
"Anna, you cannot possibly expect your mother to know to the answer to each of your endless questions. Now, enough of this nonsense, they will be arriving at any moment," Lord Adlington said sternly. Anastasia closed her mouth obediently, knowing it would not do to argue with her father. He was always irritable when they were having guests, even when it was his family. Especially when it is his family.
Motors were heard pulling up in the driveway and soon their guests were escorted into the drawing room and announced by the butler.
"Charlotte! I've missed you so." Anastasia couldn't keep the excitement out of her voice as she greeted her cousin. The younger girl replied in kind and and waited patiently for Anastasia to ask her undoubtedly numerous questions. Soon they came - "How was your journey? Not too tiring, I hope! And what have you been doing with this awful weather? It has been so dreadfully boring," she gushed, causing Charlotte to laugh lightly.
"Actually," Charlotte began slyly, leaning in so only Anastasia could hear, "I've had plenty to occupy myself with. Robert brought a friend back from school for the summer - he's really very handsome!" Both girls burst into a fit of the giggles, Anastasia more because her cousin was doing so, rather than from giddiness. "I must introduce you! Robert, where is Mr. Campbell?"
"Are you looking for me, Lady Charlotte?"
Anastasia turned to look at who had spoken, stopping in shock as she saw who it was. Had she been anything like Charlotte, it was likely she would have fainted on the spot. But she wasn't. Recovering from her surprise and embarrassment, she narrowed her eyes and set her chin determinedly. In front of her was the tall young gentleman with dark hair and eyes who she had encountered in Priston that morning.
So, this is Mr. Campbell.
"It is a pleasure to finally be formally introduced, Lady Anastasia."
He said it with such charm and smoothness that it only increased the resentment Anastasia felt at the sight of him. She wasn't entirely sure from where her annoyance with him stemmed. Possibly it came from his audacity to have treated her as one of those silly ladies who could not even walk after merely stumbling over a stone, or how he had laughed at her when she refused his offer to escort her home. Perhaps it was his manner, which she now found so overdone, all his airs and graces that appeared so ridiculous to her.
"Finally, Mr. Campbell? Did I make such an impression that you have been longing to be introduced after just one brief encounter?" she replied, determined to make him uneasy.
An expression of surprise, followed by amusement flitted across his visage so quickly only Anastasia spotted it. She bit down on the inside of her lip, eager to see if he accepted her challenge.
"Of course not, Lady Anastasia." Anastasia blushed and she could feel her blood boiling in anger and embarrassment. For some reason it enraged her that he had the cheek to say such a thing.
...even if he is just a pompous, arrogant fool.
He continued, "I was actually referring to the numerous occasions that you have been spoken of at Fawley. Your cousins have told me much about you." His lip curled slightly and Charlotte, who had been observing their introduction with some fascination, suddenly burst out in another fit of girlish giggles. Anastasia, about to rebuke, was interrupted by Robert, who had escaped the clutches of their grandmamma.
"Campbell! I see you've met our infamous Anastasia. I hope you're getting along well. I thought you might."
Anastasia scowled. Now she understood why Robert had neglected to inform her of Mr. Campbell's presence at Fawley. He knew they would clash on some matter or other. He must have thought they would be worthy opponents, a perfect match for each other. It was his idea of a joke. Well, she would not play along.
"I'm sure you did, Robert. Mr. Campbell has been most charming," she said through gritted teeth.
"Indeed, Lady Anastasia, that reminds me... I hope you have recovered after your little... incident this afternoon?" Mr. Campbell said with an air of having won their short verbal battle that infuriated Anastasia.
"What's this about, Anna?" Robert asked before she could retalliate.
"I tripped while walking through Priston and Mr. Campbell was so kind as to assist me." Anastasia ensured her tone left them all in no doubt of her sentiments about the event.
"Oh dear," Robert said under his breath, but loud enough for everyone to hear. "This will be interesting."
Anastasia and Mr. Campbell locked eyes. It certainly would be interesting.