Note: Thank you all very much for the positive feedback and encouragement. I’m significantly touched by your support. 😀 I know this chapter is short, but the next one is going to be long. Hence, I will publish this one first. Hope you like it too! 🙂
When Darren was getting himself ready for the grand opening party held by the Leagans today, the butler informed him that his father would like to see him in his study.
After some casual talks, Mr. McPherson turned serious and asked his son how he felt about Miss Eliza Leagan.
The father looked him hard in the eye and waited for his response. The young man in his mid-twenties shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. “Miss Eliza? She’s alright. Why, may I ask?”
Mr. McPherson pushed his high back leather chair back and stood up, pacing around the study without a word. He was convinced that his only son showed no special interest in Miss Leagan even though their families had frequented each other lately. In fact, although there wasn’t a lack of young ladies in their social circle, Darren hadn’t paid much attention to any of them ever since his fiancée had been hit by a car nearly two years ago.
When Darren was patiently waiting for his father to say something, his father broke the silence, “Darren, have you heard of Sir William A. Ardlay? The major shareholder of the Leagans’ business?”
The young man with auburn hair answered, “The family name sounds familiar. What about him?”
“Sir Ardlay is related to Mrs. Leagan, and he has accepted the invitation to the party this evening, bringing his young adopted daughter with him.”
“Father!” grumbled Darren aloud, pulling himself up from his seat, but before he could voice his protest, Mr. McPherson uttered in an authoritative tone, “Sit down, Darren! Listen to me first!”
With reluctance, the young man plopped himself down on the chair. Then his father explained, his tone much softened this time, “Your mother and I want you to meet her, Son. We’re not asking much of you. One dance is all we ask… for now.”
While his son considered that with a frowning expression, he continued, “I’ve never met this Sir Ardlay, but his wealth is beyond measure. Without his financial support, the Leagans wouldn’t have been able to sustain their business. Yet, for some reason, he remains unmarried but adopted a young girl years ago. Darren, our family business is only peanuts compared to his, but who knows?”
Darren grasped his father’s intention even though he didn’t say it explicitly. “So Father, just one dance?” he asked, raising one of his thick eyebrows.
“Yes, Darren. That’s a good start,” he answered, sounding pleased. “In case you do find her desirable, I might do some background check on that girl if necessary.”
That was reasonable enough, so Darren nodded in agreement. Then his father added, “Mr. Leagan has agreed to introduce us to Sir Ardlay upon his arrival, so be prepared.”
Later, when the McPhersons arrived at the party, Mr. and Mrs. Leagan welcomed them with eagerness. Darren could see that both Eliza and Neil were busy with other guests at the moment, and there were at least a hundred of them, milling about the grand ballroom for the time being.
With pride, Darren wandered around the ballroom that was decorated with various lightings and lamps. Its high ceiling was illuminated by a dozen gorgeous crystal chandeliers, all produced by the McPherson’s workers. His family owned a large business that manufactured lighting products for numerous local hotels and resorts, and Darren was in charge of exporting their products to other countries.
Now Darren reached the roof terrace, and he noticed some guests who had lingered in the courtyard to admire the setting sun and the crimson evening sky were now returning toward the ballroom, where the fine orchestra was playing beautiful music. As the round moon peeked its head behind the grey clouds and the stars started shining, Darren realized the lighting in the garden wasn’t well designed enough, especially the farthest corner behind the wishing fountain. If it wasn’t for the full moon, it would have been way too dim. No wonder the vast courtyard was now unoccupied. Nobody liked hanging out in the dark.
Perhaps he should inform the Leagans about that, and that was when he heard a familiar man’s voice from behind, “Darren, I think they are here. Let’s go and meet them.”
Mr. Leagan and Darren’s family then approached Sir William A. Ardlay and his daughter from behind. Uniformed waiters were serving them champagne and hors d’oeuvres.
Darren spotted the blond-haired man right away. He was considerably taller than the people around him, and comparatively, the lady was petite with a pleasant figure. Upon hearing her name, the young lady gracefully turned around, and so did the man beside her.
The instant Darren laid his eyes on the lady, he was mesmerized by her glistening eyes, from which he swore he could see a reflection of himself, a man whose jaw was dropped. She got such an enchanting smile that he almost couldn’t tear his gaze away from her face, so when he turned to look at the tall man next to her, Darren was genuinely perplexed because a pair of striking blue eyes were smiling down at him.
For a brief moment Darren thought this fellow was Miss Candice’s partner for the party and her adoptive father was somewhere else at present. Yet, Mr. Leagan addressed him as Sir William Ardlay.
Little did Darren expect to see a man in his prime, who was at most few years older than him. Darren had pictured a feeble old guy in his mind, but this fellow wasn’t even old enough to be Miss Candice’s father! Not to mention he was one of the most handsome men Darren had ever met.
Nonetheless, Darren composed himself, asking the millionaire for his permission to dance with Miss Candice. Then Darren saw Miss Candice exchange a fleeting glance with her adoptive father, and after that, Sir William granted his wish and also invited Darren’s sisters to dance. Even a fool could tell that the girls swooned over the young millionaire, and their father, Mr. McPherson, chortled his agreement.
The rest was like a dream to Darren. Since his fiancée’s death, he had somewhat avoided dancing with other young ladies. This time, he told himself he was simply obeying his parents by dancing with Miss Candice, but the moment he took her small hand, leading her to the dance floor, he felt something inside him had revived. Besides, he could hardly take his brown eyes off her captivating emerald ones, and yet she appeared guileless, unaware of how easily men could lose themselves in those green pools of light.
While dancing, the men around them shot him envious glances as Darren had anticipated. He ignored that and focused on the lady. She seemed accustomed to dancing, and her movements were natural and flowing with grace. He honestly admired her, and then he introduced himself a bit more. Yet, unlike most other girls he had met in the past, Miss Candice just listened and smiled, asking nothing in return, not even about his family fortune. It wasn’t like she couldn’t care less, but her thoughtful silence seemed to indicate that her mind was preoccupied by something else. Before long, he realized she masked the sadness in her eyes by smiling constantly, but once he had seen it the sadness never disappeared. Before he knew it, someone tapped his shoulder and asked him to introduce the beautiful lady. The time passed by so fast that he wasn’t even aware the music was ending, but as much as he wanted to stay with her, he had to let her go.
Since then, many had invited Miss Candice to dance. Beyond intrigued, Darren found himself waiting in line for her. She exuded such a charming aura that people couldn’t help but be drawn to her, and Darren was no exception. He wanted to be physically close to her again. At the same time, he was getting more and more curious about her relationship with the handsome Sir William. Why on earth a young man like him has adopted a lady her age?
Then it came the time for photograph shooting. To Darren’s surprise, Miss Candice refused to stand next to her adoptive father. Instead, she stood among the Leagans’ employees. Some moments later, Mrs. Leagan asked for the guests’ attention and made a brief speech. Many in the audience were taken aback when Mrs. Leagan mentioned that they had hired Miss Candice from the orphanage as a playmate to her children but later demoted her to a servant girl, working in the barn. Nobody would have guessed Miss Candice wasn’t born a lady, that she had been merely adopted into a rich family.
When Mrs. Leagan was speaking in an icy tone, Darren’s brows drew together in a deep frown. His own mother was known as a philanthropist among her contemporaries, and she was a founding member of a local charity for people with disabilities. Therefore, Darren was immensely disturbed by the way the Leagans had treated a less fortunate person. How old was Miss Candice then? How long has she been mistreated? How could they do that to a girl?
Every now and then, he couldn’t help throwing a glance at Miss Candice, who was sitting near the orchestra with her eyes fixed on her lap. He had a hunch she must have an awful childhood before the adoption. As he imagined how Sir William had discovered her existence and rescued her out of pity, he didn’t quite hear the rest of the monotonous speech. When Mrs. Leagan was done talking, he decided to talk to Miss Candice to cheer her up. Wait a minute… where has she gone?
Darren then saw Eliza and her mother leaving the ballroom in a hurry. He rose from his seat and headed toward where Miss Candice had been sitting, and yet a heavy hand landed on his upper back. He turned his head over his shoulder and saw his father shaking his head in disapproval. The man’s face clouded over, and he whispered to his son, “Hold it, Son. Let’s talk later.”
Darren nodded once. “Fine,” came his terse reply.
Though he had no problem deciphering his father’s cryptic message, he disobeyed him and secretly looked for Miss Candice, worrying that she might have been affected by the speech, but soon the sadness in her eyes resurfaced in his mind. He gathered something else had been bothering her, but what could make a lady like her feel down? She had nearly everything one would ever want, youth, beauty and riches, no doubt about that. Yet, was she in a steady relationship with anyone? She had reached marriageable age after all. Many ladies in the high society were either engaged or married around this age.
Regardless, Darren pretended to be mingling with others while scanning the grand ballroom with his eyes. When he was certain that Miss Candice was no longer inside, he found that Sir William Ardlay was not in their midst anymore. Is he looking for her too?
While his father wasn’t looking, Darren exited the crowd, heading toward the terrace. Up there, he saw two ladies near the swimming pool. If he wasn’t mistaken, they looked like Eliza and her mother, Mrs. Leagan. Perhaps they might know where Miss Candice was? With that thought in mind, he decided to check with them.