One Magical Night
by Nancy Pirri
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Marcus Calhoun arrives home after divorcing his unfaithful wife. He renews his friendship with spinster, Anne Prentice. Marcus soon discovers his friendship with Anne has changed to love. Anne can't believe Marcus loves her due to her imperfection, a limp, until Marcus manages to prove his feelings.
A Summit Hill Mansion
St. Paul, Minnesota
The sound of breaking glass tore Anne Preston out of her boredom from where she sat upon a velvet divan beside her Aunt Mildred at the Calhoun family residence.
“What in the world…” her aunt began, staring toward the banquet table where several servants had been working.
Shards of glass glistened where they lay scattered across the ballroom floor, the servants working quickly to sweep them up. In the midst of the pandemonium a man stood, head and shoulders above the other guests.
Anne’s eyes widened and her heart raced when she saw the reason for the accident; it appeared the Calhoun’s eldest and only son, Marcus Hall Calhoun III, had come home, after three-year’s abstinence.
The servants finished cleaning up the mess and now stood stock-still and silent, as did the musicians and the guests.
Marcus was still darkly handsome, still unorthodox in appearance with his hair falling to his shoulders. Yet, he was dressed appropriately for the occasion, his massive shoulders clad in austere black. Sparkling white accents in his shirt and cravat made a stark contrast against his attire and coloring.
Anne smiled when she saw the low-heeled shoes on his feet instead of fashionably tall-heeled boots most men of the day wore to increase their height. His head, covered in dark hair, was just a fraction below the archway. Contrarily, Marcus had tried unsuccessfully since adolescence to conceal his impressive height due to most people’s reactions upon meeting him; awe, mixed with fear.
She had never feared her gentle giant. He’d always been her savior; had always protected her, until three years ago, when he married Priscilla Ames, of the prestigious banking family of New York City and moved away. It had been considered a perfect match; the banking family marrying into the Calhoun railroad dynasty.
Up until this moment, Anne had been tense and miserable, her gloved hands clutched into fists. Oh, how she hated these soirees! For the third season since her coming out at eighteen years, she had been forced to sit beside her maiden aunt at social events, a false but brilliant smile pasted on her lips, waiting for gentlemen to sign her dance card.
She couldn’t dance as the other girls did for she had been born with a limp that hindered such enjoyment, though her aunt had insisted she at least try— if she were asked. But no man ever approached her. Truth be told, she’d been left on the shelf. Anne was inclined to believe she would forever remain a spinster. Her aunt had other ideas, though, and had insisted she have one final season before going into ‘seclusion’. Lord, one would think she was on death’s door rather than just a wallflower.
Though the ‘coming out’ season had been interrupted because of the impending holiday season, Anne had still been obliged to attend this ball with her aunt. She was utterly thankful for the six-week reprieve but cringed at the thought of the season resuming after Christmas. She’d been trying to find a way to avoid similar social events but had yet to arrive at an excuse.
Beneath her sapphire taffeta skirt, her slight deformity wasn’t noticeable, one limb being shorter than the other. She had felt utterly wretched and self-conscious moments ago as she watched other young ladies, accompanied by handsome young men, dancing across the shiny wood floor. Fortunately, her melancholy had fled upon seeing Marcus.
“Pray, don’t look at him.” Her aunt fluttered her fan across her bosom. “For heaven’s sake girl, at least pretend you are enjoying yourself.”
Aiming a false smile toward the dance floor, Anne said, “I’m not, but I’ve no doubt I shall be soon, now that Marcus has arrived.” A chill swept up Anne’s spine and she added, “Auntie, please, pause your fanning. I’m freezing.”
“Poppycock,” her aunt said huffily. “Lord but it’s hot. The Calhoun’s should open a window or two.”
Anne kept the smile on her face even as she rose from the divan. She took one small step but stopped when she felt a tugging on her skirts. She looked back and found Aunt Mildred’s hand clutching it.
“Where do you think you’re off to?” her aunt inquired.
“To find out about those windows, of course.”
“Why, you can’t do that. It would be impolite!” her aunt protested.
“But you said—”
“Never mind what I said and sit down.”
“I’m going to greet Marcus.”
Her aunt tugged fiercely at Anne’s skirts, forcing her to sit.
“I won’t allow you to chase after that rakehell. Our family name will be besmirched if you do.”
Anne arched one eyebrow. “Why? Because he divorced Priscilla?”
“That is only one reason.”
“Or, perhaps because he made a fuss when he learned the babe Priscilla birthed was not his child?”
“Good grief, girl, stop it!”
“Or, perhaps it was the duel with Priscilla’s lover,” Anne said.
When her aunt’s face turned a mottled red Anne decided she had better not say another word—or face the consequences, if she did. Her aunt had always been quick to anger and never spared the rod on her niece.
Her aunt snapped, “Heavens, he injured the man, and a duke from England no less! Marcus is very lucky the man hadn’t died.”
“All you have heard are rumors, Aunt Mildred. Let us give the poor man the benefit of the doubt before we judge him,” Anne said, rising to her feet once more. “Marcus and I have been friends since childhood. He’s always treated me kindly when others have not.”
Her aunt stumbled to her feet. “I won’t allow you to speak to him, I said.”
Anne narrowed her eyes. “Oh, but the choice is mine, not yours. Besides, I’ve yet to dance this evening. And I plan on enjoying myself for the remainder of it—immensely.”
Anne looked away from her aunt, noting the expressions on the faces of the guests; some filled with curiosity, others with disdain, all still staring at Marcus.