They called her cold, the Ice Queen. It was an odd description for someone just shy of 19 years, but an apt one. The young girl only had to look at someone, and her brown eyes would give you a chill. As the Ice Queen made her way through the crowd of the ballroom, young maidens whispered behind their hands.
“Look, she’s here.”
“That’s her! The Ice Queen.”
“What is she wearing?”
“Do you think she knows she looks ridiculous?”
The Ice Queen did in fact, know that she looked ridiculous in the light pink confection her mother had made her wear. But you had to care to fight, and unfortunately she did not. The low neckline showed more cleavage than was the current fashion, the waistline high, just under the bust. Rosettes were placed all around the bottom of the long, full skirt. Her dark brown hair was high on her head, with little ringlets framing her face. She was short, this Ice Queen, only coming up to the shoulders of most of the males of her acquaintance. Even looking ridiculous, she was beautiful. While the women whispered behind their hands, the men stared. Some glared at her form, that she looked like God put her on earth for man to love, but she gave men no more than a curtsy or nod as encouragement. Other men tried to bet on who could unfreeze the Ice Queen.
Alexander Ashton, The Fourth Duke of Westbrook was different from the others that stared at Lady Catherine Brooks. He watched the lady walk through the crowd, with her shoulders back and her head high. Just looking into her eye, one would think there was nothing inside of her, no emotions what so ever. But he knew differently. Tonight, he thought to himself, tonight I will get her to marry me. His eyes followed the lovely form that breezed by the ton as if they were no better then the footman passing out drinks. While others saw a frigid woman, Alex saw only the woman locked behind ice. For the last month, he had danced with her, pulled her outside, went to garden parties lavishing attention on her. The ton was beginning to talk, but he could care less. He had chased his fair share of skirts, but since he had laid eyes on the Ice Queen, he knew he wanted to melt her icey exterior. He had conversations with Catherine, and had cracked the shell she kept around her, but tonight he would peel it all back.
Catherine was walking towards the garden, away from the music, away from the people staring at her. She could feel his eyes on her, but she did not want to acknowledge him. Once outside the doors, she sat down on a bench in the darkness. Breathe, she reminded herself. It seemed to be getting harder, going to these events. She was beginning to feel, and she hated it.
“What are you doing outside, milady?”
Catherine turned towards the deep timbre of the familiar voice. She looked at the tall man that followed her outside. He was taller than most men, standing above six feet. His blonde hair and green eyes made him look charming. The fact that he was always wearing a boyish grin did not help. He made the ladies swoon, and the gentlemen roll their eyes. Anyone he wanted was his. Except, of course, Lady Catherine. Tonight he was exceptionally good looking, with his dark green waistcoat, starch white linen shirt, velvet coat, and breeches. One could tell, simply from looking at him, that there was no padding to help broaden the shoulders, or corset to hide a growing stomach. No, not this duke.
“Is it a crime to come outside for some fresh air, Your Grace?”
“Not a’tall. Thought you were trying to run away, Cat. Couldn’t have that, could we?” Alexander said as he sat on the bench next to her.
“My name is not Cat, and you know that, Your Grace.”
“Course it’s not, Cat.” He just grinned wickedly. He almost chuckled when he heard a growl from the lady. He did enjoy getting on her nerves.
“Was there something you wanted, Your Grace?”
All of a sudden, Alexander’s demeanor changed. He turned fully towards her on the bench, his green eyes glowing with pent up desire.
“You know what I want, Catherine,” but he didn’t give her a chance to respond, to tell him she wouldn’t marry him. His hand cupped her cheek and he kissed her gently. Catherine tried to keep her emotions locked in tight. She could not let this affect her. But she felt herself warming. She leaned into the kiss, her body moving forward of its own volition. Putting her hands on Alexander’s chest, when she wanted to pull him closer, she pushed him away.
“Stop!” Catherine yelled. All the emotions she kept locked in tight, were starting to bubble over. No! her mind screamed, “NO!” she cried, jumping off the bench.
“Catherine?” Alexander asked, confusion showing in his eyes. Slowly, he stood up, never taking his eyes off her. “What is going on?”
“You don’t understand, I cannot marry you. I am unfit! Ruined! A disaster!” The Ice Queen was melting, panic showing in her eyes.
Alex, aware of the guests only ten feet away from them, pulled Catherine further into the garden. Catherine remained unaware of what was happening, her mind whirling.
“Catherine,” Alex said, pulling her into his arms. “Please, just tell me what is wrong.”
“Alex, you make the emotions so hard to keep locked up tight. I can’t handle it,” Catherine said, laying her head on his chest. God, how good it felt, to be held by him. For the last month, she could go nowhere without Alex being there. She stayed away only because she knew it was dangerous. She would begin to feel, and emotions would choke her until she couldn’t breathe. But here, in his arms, she felt safe.
“What happens, Catherine?”
“I start to panic when the emotions come. I have to keep them inside, or I can’t breathe. When I’m with you, I start to feel happy, but then fear comes to, and everything I felt when I started locking up everything,” she lifted her head to look at him, tears glittering in her eyes, “I would rather be the Ice Queen, then be seen crying and panicking every time someone makes me sad. It’s too much. It’s why I can’t marry you. You’re going to be a duke, and a duchess has to be a hostess. I could never be that.”
“How do you feel now?”
Catherine took a moment before she responded, to make sure she was completely honest when she said “Safe.”
“Well, how about I make you a deal. You marry me, and always tell me how you feel. If you are ever sad, or can’t breathe from too many emotions, then tell me. We can just leave for a little while, until you feel better,” he smiled down at her at her gasp.
“Alex, you couldn’t!”
“I am the Duke of Westbrook milady. I can do anything I damn well please. If that means never entertaining, and living a quiet life in the country, making my wife laugh and smile, so be it.”
Then, for the first time in nine years, Catherine began to smile.
“You mean it?” She asked tentatively.
“My dear, the day you said you would rather be in the country then London, I knew you I had waited long enough in marrying.”
“But you love London!”
“Only when you are here.”
“Oh, Alex, I want to marry you so much. Are you sure?”
Alex pulled Catherine closer and kissed her soundly. One hand on the back of her neck, one hand on her waist, he kept her close until she kissed him back. When he pulled away he saw the dazed look in her eye and grinned wolfishly.
“Oh yes, Cat. I am getting a special licence tonight. No way am I letting you change your mind,” he gave her a quick peck on the lips before continuing. “And love, whenever you feel overwhelmed, just come to me. In the middle of a ballroom, in the middle of a garden party, when your parent come over, hell, when my parents come over, just come into my arms. You never have to worry.”
Alexander Ashton, the Duke of Westbrook, pulled Lady Catherine Brooks into the ballroom, and announced to the crowd that the Ice Queen had melted, and was going to be the future Duchess.