He sat across from her, watching, pondering why in the devil he was still alive. He should be dead, having suffered a horrible death. Why had she spared him? It would have been so easy for her to have let him eat the meal. He could imagine that she would have been happy to be rid of him. But no. And Tavington could only wonder why.
The carriage came to an easy stop outside a large house. A few people were milling about near the entrance waiting to go in. The coach door opened. Tavington stepped out and turned to help Juliana out.
This was the last big party scheduled for the season, and Tavington couldn’t say he was disappointed. The whole process was getting old by this point, though having Juliana along for the ride this go around had made the whole ordeal … interesting.
He watched her now, standing at his side as usual, and he noticed, for the first time that night, her melancholy demeanor. She usually appeared at least mildly interested, but tonight was different. There was a definite sadness about her tonight, and he knew why. Not two weeks ago, she’d had to turn on a trusted friend, and now she was most likely still reeling from the effects of that decision.
Tavington deposited his glass on a table and turned to Juliana once again. “I don’t think I’ve ever danced with you before, Juliana.”
The statement obviously caught Juliana off-guard. She didn’t seem to know what he’d said at first, and once she’d realized what he’d said, she didn’t think she’d heard him correctly. “Sir?” she asked quizzically.
“I said we’ve never danced before, have we?” Tavington repeated.
“No, Colonel,” Juliana replied. “We haven’t.”
“Why don’t we change that?” Tavington suggested. To Juliana’s great shock, Tavington took her by the arm and began to lead her to an open area of the room, near the stringed quartet that was providing the music for the evening.
“Colonel, I’ve never done this kind of dancin’ before,” Juliana said, hesitantly. Tavington didn’t say anything, but Juliana looked up at him, and she saw a look in his eyes that she’d never seen before. It was a softer look, a kinder, gentler expression that she’d never seen on his face before. And it put her at ease. And it scared her because she’d never seen it before. She’d spent her weeks growing accustomed to his ways, his looks, his manners, his moods … and now with one look, he’d thrown her into turmoil because she didn’t know what was coming next.
They returned home late. Juliana still wasn’t used to the feeling of coming home to a completely empty house. Part of her still expected Eleanor to meet her at the door or at the base of the stairs. But of course Juliana knew that scenario would never be again.
She had begun walking up the stairs when Tavington called out to her.
“Juliana?” She turned to him, still intrigued by his unexpected actions earlier in the evening.
Tavington approached her. “Did you enjoy the evening?”
Juliana hesitated before answering. She didn’t want to say that she had because she had an inkling that Tavington would say something cruel in response. But she found herself unable to truthfully say that her night had been unpleasant. It hadn’t. In fact, this night had been the most enjoyable to her out of all the other nights she’d accompanied Tavington.
“Did you?” Tavington pressed gently.
Juliana studied him. He seemed like he was genuinely interested in her answer, so she descended the few steps between them. “I did,” she said, finally answering his query.
Tavington nodded. “Good,” he said. “Good.”
Juliana gave him a final, parting look before turning to ascend the stairs once again. She had cleared two or three steps when he called out to her again. She turned to him, and this time, he took the steps to diminish the gap between them.
“There’s been something that’s been on my mind for … a while now. A few weeks, really.” Tavington began. “It’s something that I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”
Juliana watched him expressly. This had been a strange night for her, and it was only getting stranger by the minute, it seemed.
Tavington began to speak again, but stopped to consider his words. “Why didn’t you let me eat the meal Eleanor prepared for me? Why did you stop me?”
Juliana had been asking herself the same thing since the night that it had all happened. That had been nearly two weeks ago, and she still didn’t have an answer. “Do you want the truth, sir?” she asked him.
“I want nothing else,” Tavington said.
“The truth is that I don’t know,” Juliana said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do, I s’pose. It didn’t seem right for her to do that to you. It isn’t right to do it to anybody.”
“Even if it’s absolutely necessary?”
“No, Colonel. Never.” Those being her final words of the night, Juliana turned and walked up the stairs, leaving Tavington behind to dwell on her words. This girl that he’d acquired, Juliana – there was something about her that he couldn’t figure out, something that he wanted to figure out, something that he would figure out.