Dinah shook her head firmly. “You know very well that I do not wish to behave in such a manner any longer,” she replied, with as much fervor as she could. “I do not criticize you, Whitehaven. I do not have a disparaging eye which I shall cast over you before turning away in judgement.” Wincing at the memory of how she had behaved in the past, Dinah sighed and shook her head. “I regret my past behavior, truly. I would be glad not to behave so again.”
Lord Whitehaven said nothing for some moments, making Dinah wonder if she had said something he disapproved of or if she had spoken out of turn. Her heart seemed to tremble within her as the tension she felt only grew, her lips pressing together as she waited for him to speak.
“You are quite extraordinary, Dinah,” Lord Whitehaven told her eventually, as they continued to meander slowly at the edge of the crowd. “You are willing to bare your soul, to show me your wrongdoing, and to state quite clearly that you were wrong to behave in such a manner, whereas I want to do nothing other than hide my shame from you.”
“But you have not done so,” Dinah reminded him, seeing the wretched expression on his face and wondering at it. “Do you not recall? You told me everything.”
Again, Lord Whitehaven said nothing for some time, his gaze fixed straight ahead but his jaw firm. Waiting for him to speak and glad for the distraction of the music that swirled about them, Dinah pressed her free hand lightly against her stomach as though it would stop the swirling nervousness that remained within her.
“I told you such a thing in order to push you away from me, Dinah.” Lord Whitehaven came to a sudden stop, leaving them standing at the very edge of the ballroom with shadows reaching to pull them into their darkness. “I told you everything in the hope that you would reject me entirely. I, who had been so unwelcoming and inconsiderate, had yet more sins to be laid upon my shoulders.” He shook his head, although his eyes remained steady. “And yet, you did not do as I had expected.”
Dinah’s breathing quickened at the look in his eyes. She did not know what to say, feeling as though, yet again, they had reached the very edge of a precipice and did not dare take another step.
“I do not deserve to–”
“Ah, Miss Shepherd! You are hiding here, I see!”
Lord Irving’s loud voice shattered the moment that was growing steadily between Dinah and Lord Whitehaven, making her want to grind her teeth with frustration. There was a good deal to be said, she was certain of it, and yet again, they had been pulled away from the cusp of what might be a new and extraordinary situation.
Always look to God. He will show you the path your life is to take.
Looking up at Lord Irving and all too aware of Lord Whitehaven beside her, Dinah’s heart began to pick up speed. Her mother’s words had come back to her right at the very moment Lord Irving had bowed in her direction, making her realize that she was standing at a crossroads and needed to decide what it was she had to do. God had, in His own way, made her path clear – and Lord Whitehaven had been the one to show it to her. Her choices would guide her future. The path was there waiting for her, but she herself was the one who had to decide which road she had to take. God would be with her no matter what she chose.
And the decision was already clear to her.
“Lord Irving,” she said, curtsying quickly. “As you can see, I am in conversation with Lord Whitehaven and–”
“You must let me see your dance card,” Lord Irving interrupted, reaching for her wrist and making Dinah take a small step back. “I must have at least two dances with you.”
She shook her head, putting a small but determined smile on her face. “Alas, I am not inclined to dancing this evening.”
Lord Irving’s smile grew fixed, his eyes narrowing just a little. “And yet did I not see you dancing with Lord Whitehaven only some minutes before?”
She nodded. “Indeed, but I have decided that one dance is quite enough for me this evening, Lord Irving,” she told him firmly. “I am sorry to disappoint you.”
Lord Irving said nothing for a moment or two, his eyes twisting towards Lord Whitehaven before returning to Dinah.
“I see,” he said slowly, his voice a little grave. “I confess that I have been led to understand by Lady Whitehaven that you would be glad of my attentions, Miss Shepherd.”
Again came a small stab of guilt that Dinah had battled only earlier that day. When Lord Irving had called, Dinah had been forced to sit and take tea with him—although Titania and—soon after—Lady Whitehaven had had also been present. Lady Whitehaven had appeared quite animated, clearly considering Lord Irving as a potential suitor for Dinah and apparently quite delighted with his eagerness to court Dinah. Dinah, however, had no particular interest. The gentleman did not reveal his true character to anyone, she suspected, for there was a falseness to his smile and a shutter to his eyes. She did not know why he appeared so eager to court her, for he had made such a desire quite obvious in seeking Lady Whitehaven’s attention to court her when they had barely even met! He did not seek out her considerations on the matter but had gone directly to Lady Whitehaven who, thankfully, had been a good deal more reserved.
“I am quite certain, Miss Shepherd, that your aunt would be greatly pleased with your willingness to accept me,” Lord Irving said, his voice dropping low and, much to Dinah’s surprise, a small warning in his voice. “Do consider carefully what your decision is to be, Miss Shepherd. You cannot go back on any choice you make at the present.”
“I think Miss Shepherd is more than capable of making her own choices, Irving.” Lord Whitehaven’s voice held just a touch of mockery, although Dinah was grateful for his support. “Do a
llow her that consideration, at the very least.”
Dinah lifted her chin a notch, buoyed by Lord Whitehaven’s support. “I do not think we would suit, Lord Irving,” she told the gentleman, seeing how his frown grew. “I am sorry that my aunt has permitted you to believe that I might be willing to consider you, for that is not the case. Therefore, I must bid you good evening.” So saying, she dipped a curtsy and, ignoring the dark, angry look on Lord Irving’s face, turned to Lord Whitehaven and accepted his arm before walking away.
Her heart was pounding furiously and yet a smile of delight crossed Dinah’s face as she walked away from Lord Irving. Her decision to turn away from his offer of companionship and perhaps matrimony had been the right thing to do. She felt nothing for Lord Irving and did not ever think they would have the intimacy and the friendship that she was currently enjoying with Lord Whitehaven.
An intimacy that you do not want to end.
The revelation of her heart washed through her at such speed that Dinah was forced to catch her breath. Yes, there it was, standing out starkly before her. She did not care for Lord Irving because her heart was entangled with Lord Whitehaven. The man who had been so unwelcoming to her, the man who had mocked and teased her for so long, but who, for whatever reason, had slowly changed before her until they now shared a deepening friendship that she did not want to end. Her hand tightened on his arm, causing him to look at her, but she did not return his gaze. The awareness of what it was she wanted, of what she needed from Lord Whitehaven was capturing every single part of her. She wanted to be in his arms. She wanted to have his kisses, to have his affection, to have his love. There was no question over such a desire, for it was there within her, plain for her to see.
Her whole body shook for a moment, making Lord Whitehaven look down at her sharply.
“Are you quite all right, Dinah?” he asked, his expression concerned as he studied her with sharp eyes. “You are not cold, are you?”