A line of young handsome men stood in waiting in the wings of the ballroom, waiting to ask her for the honor of having a dance with her, but the one man she wanted to see, mysteriously, was not in line.
Bella frowned as she scanned the crowd again from her place on top of the stairs, desperately hoping to see George Holland somewhere, but she had no such luck. He had to be here, she had specifically invited him when she had been told that this would be her first season.
To think, the little boy she used to play with once, the one she used to drag out to her mother's gardens to play princess in the castle, was now a young man, and she a woman of sixteen at her first season.
Bella bit her lip, nervously playing with a stray piece of her dark hair that had fallen out of her elaborate up-do. She smoothed out the skirt of her dress, her hands running down the soft blue fabric. She felt like a princess in this dress. She and Mother had picked it up in a shop of Oxford Road, and Bella had fallen in love with it. She hoped that she looked presentable enough for her first season.
Suddenly she felt a hand on her back. She turned, and was greeted by her father kissing her cheek.
"Feeling a little overwhelmed, Isabella?" he asked quietly as he looked out at the crowd of already dancing couples, and men waiting in line in the wings for her to dance with them.
"Just a little bit," she answered honestly. If she was being truthful, it was all a bit nerve-wracking.
Her father nodded, and then kissed her temple. "I know you'll do just fine. You have your mother's grace." He paused, "Speaking of which, I think your mother is already conversing with our guests."
Bella smiled as she found her mother in the sea of people down there in their ballroom. She most certainly was, already socializing. Her mother had always been good at that. She was the sweetest person, anyone could always have a pleasant conversation with her.
"Who's that she's talking to?" Bella asked.
"Lord and Lady Grantham, I think?" Her father frowned, and shook his head, "You know I've never been good at remembering all of these high society people."
"But Father, you are one of these high society people," she teased, "You are the Earl of Highhurst."
Her father smiled, and laughed a bit. "You're so right. I should be better at it, you and your mother will have to give me lessons."
Bella grinned softly.
"I'm going to head down there, it's high time I joined your mother. You come down when you're ready," he told her.
She nodded. He turned to leave when she grabbed his arm.
"Have you seen George Holland arrive yet?" she asked him, her voice a bit too over-eager.
"I believe he's here." Monty looked out at the crowd. "Mrs. Holland is here, that I am quite sure of."
Bella followed her father's gaze to Mrs. Holland, who was sipping on a champagne glass near the bar, dressed to the nines as always, in a beautiful, tight, crimson pink dress. Her golden hair shone in the light of the chandelier.
"He will come, won't he? He has to, his mother is here, why shouldn't he come?" Bella bit her lip again anxiously.
"I'm sure he'll be here. Sibella promised that she would bring him tonight, she knows how important this is to you."
"George and I haven't seen each other in years," Bella started, "I wonder what he shall think of me."
"Well, if he doesn't think you the most beautiful girl in the world, than he must be blind or stupid."
She blushed, and grinned softly.
"I think I'm ready to go down now." she said after a moment. "Do you mind if I go down first?"
"Not at all, be my guest," Monty kissed her cheek.
She took a deep breath before she descended down the stairs, one step at a time, careful not to trip over her dress. The room went quite quiet as she descended, as was custom for one who was presenting herself in society for her first season. Bella was so relieved when she reached the bottom of the staircase and the music started back up again, the party regaining its life once more.
Her mother caught her eye, and tears were blooming, and she looked so proud that Bella thought she was going to burst out of excitement for her daughter.
She barely had time to glance back to see her father's reaction when someone called out, "Isabella," and stepped in front of her.
She turned back to see familiar eyes staring back at her. Her heart skipped a few beats.
"Miss Navarro," George Holland said with a boyish smile, his dark eyes sparkling as he stood in front of her. He bowed gallantly.
Bella swallowed hard, a giddiness filling her body.
"Mr. Holland. Have you just arrived? I tried looking for you earlier, but I did not see you."
"I was delayed by a train accident. I am very sorry for causing you distress over my absence. Pray, tell me, you weren't waiting to come down just for me?"
Bella blushed, "Of course not," she lied. "I was simply not ready. You know that a woman's first season is a special thing, a once in a lifetime chance. I merely wanted to make sure that I was ready."
"You look beautiful," he complimented, bowing his head at her. She smiled as she saw that his golden hair had not darkened over the years, and that his athletic physique had not dissolved over the years. He was still the same golden haired, tall, boy she used to have come rescue her when they played in the gardens.
"And you look taller," she quipped teasingly.
"I confess that I have grown quite a bit. The years from eleven to seventeen tend to do that to a man of my age." He laughed.
"My, my, I'm sure you're quite popular with the other ladies. Did I hear correctly that you studied abroad in Paris?"
"Yes. A boy's boarding school though, so not many ladies around. Unless you counted the janitor, who I do confess at times I thought was a woman, but he didn't really count."
She laughed joyfully at that. At the sound, George also laughed.
"How are your parents?" she asked, trying to keep her hands still. She gripped them together tightly in front of her skirt, "They haven't been over in quite a long time."
"Father's quite ill. I've been taking over the business for him. And Mother is… well, Mother is Mother." George smiled.
Bella then glanced at Mrs. Holland in the crowd, she was with her own mother. The two were conversing like two girls in a school yard. Bella smiled at the sight.
"Your mother still looks like she's twenty, she's the only woman I know who looks like an eternal goddess," Bella complimented.
"Maybe that's her secret. She wouldn't tell me otherwise," George remarked.
A wide grin spread across Bella's face. "No, I gathered she wouldn't."
He straightened up then. "I fear I have taken up far too much of your time for your first season," he said then, "I should let the other men have a chance to converse with you."
"I daresay I think they'll all hound me like wolves," she said, looking at the crowd of men, trying not to look obvious about their intentions to ask her to dance.
"It's only because you're the prettiest woman here. You outshine all of the other debutantes," he whispered in her ear. Bella felt herself grow faint at the closeness of George to her.
"You're far too kind. I shall have to punish you for saying something so biased."
George arched an eyebrow.
"You have to dance with me on my third and last dance. And the sixth!" she stammered.
"Three dances?" George said quietly.
"Yes, the third for being late, the sixth dance for getting taller on me, and the last for your biased comment," she bit her lip nervously as she tried to play her emotions off as joking.
"Three dances it is, then."
He then signed his name on her dancing card for those dances. Bella took it back from him, and grinned.
He then took her hand, and kissed it softly.
Bella couldn't keep the grin off of her face. She was still smiling as he left, and the other men surrounded her to ask her for the honor of dancing with them. They were all sorely disappointed when they saw that George Holland had taken up not one, not two, but three dances with the heir to the D'ysquith and Navarro fortune.
But Bella didn't care. She was happy, and that's all that mattered.