IT HAD BEEN three years since she had last set sight on those charming brown eyes. Three years since having her heart broken, since tending to those long, dreadful nights of pain and loneliness, since being around him. For a brief moment, Annalise truly believed she was hallucinating, having just stepped out of memory lane. But it was impossible. She could still feel Evelyn's warm hands on her bare forearms and the heat that had spiked in her cheeks.
"Evelyn," she murmured, her tone barely audible and on the verge of quivering. She went to tap on the woman's elbow, but her friend had already caught sight of him. The two bluntly stared back, neither having the proper words to fill the silence and treat the tone of the atmosphere.
It was undoubtedly him. Marius Bellegarde. He wore a handsome smoky grey suit with a long tail and buttons that nearly reached the top of his chest. From where Annie stood, there wasn't a speck of dust on that outfit. He seemed just as surprised to see her as she was with him, given the wide-eyed look he held in his expression. His fingers were clutching his hat so tightly that Annalise noticed his knuckles were beginning to turn white. It had taken him an extra second to acknowledge the timid doorman who had just tapped him on the shoulder, undoubtedly to remove his hat from his grip. The second those intriguing eyes were off of her person, Annalise snapped out of it, and roughly tugged Evelyn's hand.
"Let's leave," she commanded, her tone sharp yet still very quiet. "Now. Come on, we have to go somewhere else."
Her heart was hammering in her chest to such a degree that for a fleeting second, Annie feared she wouldn't be able to hear Evelyn's response. But her feminine tone overpowered the thundering heartbeat, and the two quickly turned on their heels and scurried over to the opposite side of the room. Flustered, Annie cautiously ran the palm of her hand over her sleek up-do, her eyes round and panicked, like a deer caught in headlights. Across from her, Evelyn wore a shocked expression.
"Unbelievable," her friend murmured under her breath, shaking her head ever-so-slightly. "I thought your father despised that man."
"He did," Annalise squeaked, all sense of lady-like features gone. "Does. I don't know why he is here! Evelyn, I cannot face him." Her stomach felt tight once more, and the queasy feeling was slowly beginning to stir up within her once again. She fanned her face with her hand. "Oh, this is troubling. Where is Esther?" Her eyes began frantically skimming over the heads of their guests, but Evelyn's warm fingertips soon caught her chin and gently tilted her head back so their eyes could meet. She was in a protective mode now, Annalise could see it in the way she held herself.
"Forget about him." Her tone was unwavering, with so much confidence that it seemed as though she had scooped up what was left inside of Annie, too. "Annie, listen to me, I'm serious. Your father would not have paired you with him if he despised the man so much, do not worry. Focus on finding your partner and enjoy your dance with him. Chat with your guests, find your sisters. Do not worry about Mr. Bellegarde. Annalise Purcell—" she added more sharply upon realizing Annalise's gaze was once again elsewhere, "—did you hear what I just said?"
Annalise bit her lip and nodded her head once. Her hands were clammy, and she wiped them on the lower torso of her dress, then began fiddling once more. It had taken an extra second for Evelyn's words to properly process in her mind, but once they were, she nodded again, more firmly this time. Her heart rate had slowly begun to retreat back to its normal pace, and her throat no longer felt as dry. She still reached for a glass of water, though, and drained it in one gulp. Evelyn didn't comment on it, but gently removed the glass from Annie's hand once she was done and set it back on the table, near the other used glasses. "Good. Now let us go find that matching lilac gem of yours."
It didn't take long before they had attracted someone in, now that they were settle and quiet. It was a man about the same height as Evelyn, with brunette hair and nutmeg brown eyes. Annalise noticed he had been eyeing them for a few minutes, but now that their chatter had died down, he had seemingly taken that as his opportunity to butt in. He held himself well, although the look on his face proved that he lacked the confidence that at least someone like Evelyn had. Annalise remained quiet as he stopped before them, her mind lacking even a single thought as their eyes connected.
"Pardon my doing here," he began. He had an odd accent, a rather unattractive one, if Annie were to say so herself, which suggested he wasn't from the area. "I hope I was not interrupting, but..." He trailed off sheepishly, tilting his head to the side before shaking out his wrists. His cufflink's gem caught the light perfectly and shimmered gracefully as he held his arm out. A gasp escaped Annie's lips before she had fully processed what had happened, and her fingers slid up to her lips. Marius Bellegarde vanished from her mind, as if the fog in her brain had suddenly cleared to reveal absolute nothingness, and her focus was only on the jewels before her very eyes. His wrist was accompanied by none other than an amber gem, identical to what Evelyn was wearing. Her eyes flashed towards Evelyn's shoulder. Her shawl had slipped up enough for the gem to become visible, most likely due to the fast pace she had forced herself into when escaping from Marius's gaze. Her gaze flickered up to Evelyn's face. She wore a distasteful smile, the type that curved downwards at the corners of her lips.
"Oh," was all that left the tall woman's lips for a second. She raised a brow and continued to stare at the man's wrist, as if to ensure that it was no trick. Annie stood silently, awkwardly, unsure of what else to say or do. "Delightful."
Although Annalise had always found her friend's sarcasm to be quite humorous, she couldn't help but feel a bit bad for the man, who was evidently doing his best to keep a smile on his face. He most certainly wasn't of high class, or at least wasn't as wealthy as she or Evelyn was, given the way he carried himself, but he seemed nice if she were to go off of first impressions.
"I'm very happy for you two," Annie eventually cut in, chuckling rather awkwardly in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere.
"Evelyn Crowell," Evelyn introduced a second later, putting out her hand for a handshake. It most certainly threw the man off for a second, and Annie did not miss the wary look her friend received before he clasped her hand and shook it lightly. She understood his reaction to that, as well. Upon first meeting Evelyn, Annalise had asked if handshakes were the proper thing to do over in Vermont. Evelyn had informed her that that was not the case, but as a woman who would eventually run a business, she wanted to be taken seriously. She hadn't ever let that go. Annalise admired that.
"I am Eden Scarlett," the man responded with a slight dip of his head. Annalise hated coming to this conclusion, but she knew it was time for her to make her exit. Evelyn had just found her match, and it was time the two got to know each other. She pressed her lips into a tight-lipped smile and gave a somewhat awkward curtsy before slipping past the two, mouthing a sincere "sorry!" to her friend over the man's shoulder.
Then she was alone again. She swerved in and out of people's ways, doing what she could to avoid getting knocked over by waltzing couples. They had found one another so quickly, she realized, though supposed she couldn't really say much, for she hadn't been looking. She shuffled near a corner, keeping her gaze on high-alert for someone interesting to speak to. She wasn't yet ready to meet her match, for she wasn't yet ready to be pinned to his side for the rest of the night and the following weeks. She supposed it would only be a matter of time before she got caught, though. She was determined to stretch that out as long as possible.