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Perfection in my Eyes
by Cindy W.

Chapter 2- The Dance

Archie found Leigha on the terrace leading out the garden, "There you
are," he said with a smile, "were you planning to stand me up?"

"What?!" She yelped jumping, "Oh, Lieutenant, you startled me. I
thought you would be dancing with Genevieve."

He looked at her strangely for a moment, "No, I asked you for the
dances. Why would I dance with Miss D'Armond? I wouldn't treat you as rudely
as that."

"Well," Leigha replied putting on a strained smile," I'll not hold you
to your promise, if you wish to turn your favors elsewhere."

Archie, noticing the shine of tears in her brown eyes, smiled tenderly
and reached out to stroke her soft cheek, "I don't wish to dance with anyone
else, I wish to dance with you."

Much to his surprise, she pulled herself up stiffly and with her
snapping flames, she hissed through clenched teeth, "I don't need your pity,
sir. If you wish to dance with someone else, do so! But don't feel that you
need to humor poor little Leigha!"

This time it was Archie's mouth that fell open,"Leigha! Er...Miss
Sommes, I am *not* doing this out of pity, I am doing this because I *wish*
to dance with you and no one else *but* you. Though, now I am seriously
reconsidering. You wound me, Madame."

Leigha sighed and then smiled apologetically, "I'm sorry, Mr. Kennedy.
I didn't mean to snap at you. I'm so used to Genevieve treating me as she
does that I have no inkling why it's upsetting me now. Forgive me, please, I
was being unfair to you."

Leigha *did* know, though, why Genevieve's comments hurt tonight. She
usually deflected the barbs Genny directed at her with a laugh and a shrug,
but having them flung at her in front of Lt. Kennedy, whom she so very much
admired, was the pinnacle of endurance tonight. He was the last person she
wanted to be made the object of ridicule in front of.

He smiled at her sweetly and said, "Apology accepted. Now, are we
still dancing?"

Leigha laughed and put her hand in Archie's. As he swept her into the
ballroom and out onto the floor, she knew that she would remember this moment
forever. The way her heart would pound and her skin would tingle at each
brush of his hand. And the way she, plain little Leigha Sommes, received
jealous glances from many a beautiful woman.

*******************************************

Three pair of eyes watched them dance. One pair, filled with joy and
pride, belonged to Sir Ainsley Sommes. He watched his only daughter sparkle
in a way he never knew she could. He smiled in delight at the besotted look
upon her partner's face, and he laughed with smug satisfaction at the sour
look upon his wife's features. Sir Ainsley could admit that his sweet Leigha
was almost pretty tonight and he noticed that the other gentlemen were also
taking second glances.

The second and third pair of eyes belonged to Lady Sommes and her
sister, Genevieve. "How dare she, " said Leona waspishly, "doesn't she
realize she's making a spectacle of herself."

Genevieve nodded her head in agreement, " I think she forgets her own
advanced age and state of spinsterhood."

The thing was, that while Leigha was at the "advanced" age of 19,
Genevieve was two years older. "She really is making quite a card out of
herself." Genny sneered.

"Well," Leona said with a shrug, "at least the Lieutenant is a good
sport. Leigha is probably boring him out of his wits."

**************************************

Archie was anything but bored. He was amazed at how bright and witty
she was. The more he got to know her the more he realized how utterly
beautiful she *was*. Maybe it wasn't in features, though she was now more
than passing handsome to him now, but it was her personality that so charmed
him. The way she laughed and smiled. The way she moved and the scent of her
hair-the scent of her-as she passed by him in the measures of the dance.

He was fascinated by the way her cheeks and throat would flush when he
accidentally brushed against her. He couldn't help but to wink at her so he
could hear her low chuckle and he found himself watching her lips as she
spoke. More than once he had to mentally restrain himself from leaning in and
stealing a kiss right there on the dance floor.

*********************************

Chapter 3- The Kiss

All to soon the dances came to an end and Archie lead a smiling and
breathless Leigha off the floor. He caught the eye of a footman, who sported
a glass of champagne, and gestured him over. He grabbed two glasses and
handed one to Leigha.

"Thank you." She smiled wider and took a delicate sip. Archie watched
the movement of her throat and lightly tugged at his cravat which felt a
little tighter.

"You dance wonderfully, Miss Sommes." He said trying to make
conversation.

"Why, thank you, Mr. Kennedy," she beamed," you, too, dance superbly.
Your *actually* very graceful."

Archie chuckled, "You sound surprised, Madame. I am a sailor, you
know."

"What does that have to do with your being graceful?"

"Well," he said with a twinkle in his eyes, "you have to develop some
grace aboard ship, with it's constant pitching and rolling. If not, you'll be
forever weaving and falling."

Leigha chuckled, "I guess I can understand that. I appreciate your
explaining it to me."

"Miss Sommes," Archie began, "it's rather warm in here, can I entice
you into taking a turn with me around the gardens?"

"Mr. Kennedy, you can lead me into temptation itself," Leigha teased,
"but a turn through the gardens will do for now."

Archie laughed and offered his arm to her.

**************************************

Lady Sommes watched them leave the ballroom with a jaundiced eye. She
walked up to her husband and said peevishly, "Sir, your daughter is behaving
with the loosest sort of morals. She is making herself ridiculous. You should
do something about it before she brings shame upon herself."

"Leave her alone, Leona," he snapped, "for God's sake, she's going out
into a garden with plenty of other people around."

"Ainsley," Leona whined, "Leigha is too old to throw herself at some
poor unsuspecting gentleman's head. I, daresay, that anyone as handsome as
that can only have no good on his mind in regard to the girl. He will only
use her and cast her aside."

"Lady Sommes," in growled, "leave her be! Leigha is old enough and
sensible enough to know what she is doing. If there is *one* lady in my
family I can trust when it comes to character, it's my own daughter."

"Fine, Sir Ainsley, "Leona replied shrewishly, "but when your darling
daughter finds herself seduced and thrown away, I will delight in saying 'I
told you so' !"

And with that she stormed away.

**************************************

"It's a beautiful night, " Leigha sighed rapturously as she and Archie
meandered their way through the gardens.

"Yes, it is," Archie agreed enthusiastically, "and it's made even more
beautiful by my present company."

Leigha stopped suddenly, "You don't have to put on the Prince Charming
act with me, Lt. Kennedy. I don't need to be mollycoddled, I thought you were
different."

"What is your problem, Miss Sommes?" Asked Archie in annoyance, "This
is the second time you have nearly bitten my head off for paying you a
compliment."

Leigha just stared at him mutely which infuriated him further.

"GAAH!" He exploded, "You would try the patience of a stone saint! I
am being absolutely sincere! Most women get upset because you don't pay them
compliments enough; *you* get upset because I *do* pay you compliments! What
makes you so perverse, Madame?!"

He watched surprise cross her features, but he was on a roll, "I like
you! You're witty and charming, Honest, sincere and, damn it, fascinating!
So, from now on, when I pay you a compliment, you are going to smile and say
'thank you, Archie.' Understood?"

"Yes, sir, " Leigha said meekly, but she had a faint smile on her lips.

Archie wound down and answered her smile with one of his own. He then
questioned, "Why do you get so upset when I pay you a compliment?"

Leigha shrugged, "I suppose I'm not accustomed to receiving them. No
one pays me compliments, sir."

"No one pays you compliments?" Archie repeated stupidly, "You're
joking?"

"No, I am not. Between Leona and Genevieve, the blonde goddesses, why
should anyone notice the small, dark troll?" Leigha asked bitterly. "Oh sure,
my father compliments me on what a dutiful daughter I am. My younger brother,
Charles, tells me I'm a great sport for a girl. As to other compliments, no,
I receive none."

"Surely, *some* gentleman has told you how pretty you are?"

"No, Mr. Kennedy, never. Gentlemen don't find me pretty. They find my
dowry attractive, but not me. Mostly, I'm the sour pill that goes with the
cure."

"My sex can be quite dense and rather mercenary. Allow me to make up
for their negligence; you, Miss Sommes, are one of the most handsome women of
my acquaintance."

Leigha blushed and smiled up at him, "Thank you...Archie."

"There now," he murmured, "that wasn't so hard was it?"

"No, it wasn't hard a'tall."

During this exchange they had moved closer to each other and a silence
sprang up them as they became aware of their proximity to the other. Archie
stared down at her for a moment before licking his bottom lip. He said
nothing as he reached out an arm to wrap about her waist. Leigha sighed as he
pulled her closer, she lowered her eyelids and watched his progress through
her lashes. All she could see was the blue of his eyes meld with the night
sky before he, too, closed his eyes. She felt his breath against her lips and
she waited with her heart beating in her throat as his mouth moved closer and
closer until...

He sneezed.

Leigha jumped back and blinked in disbelief. Her mouth dropped open
and all she could do was gape. Archie looked completely stunned and
mortified. He couldn't believe it, he sneezed! He actually, honest to
goodness, in the middle of a romantic moment, sneezed on the poor girl!

"This will give her a favorable impression of you as a lover, you
great fool," he muttered to himself. Mentally, he bent over and planted a
swift kick to his bum.

"I-I-I'm sorry, Leigha" he stammered, cursing himself silently, "this
really is quite-er-well..."

Leigha's eyes grew wide and sparkled with moisture.

"Oh great, you bloody sod," he thought, "you ruined it for her. Now
she's going to cry."

Her shoulders started to tremble and then to Archie's astonishment,
she laughed. She held one arm across her stomach and the other gripped
Archie's upper arm.

"Oh...my...God," she gasped, wiping the tears from her eyes, "I...oh,
heavens!"

Archie stared at her as if she had gone stark raving mad, then
suddenly the absurdity of the situation struck him as well. He gave a light
chuckle before breaking into a full throated laugh. The garden rang out with
their peels of merriment, as they held each other upright.

"I. Think. I. Could. Fall. In. Love. With. You..." Archie struggled to
get out and pulled Leigha closer.

The laughter faded as quickly as it came and in the soft light of the
moon, two shadows blended into one.

Chapter 4- With the Dawn

      Leigha was the first to break the kiss. She looked at Archie from only
inches away, her lips swollen and still slightly parted. She could feel his
fingers tangled in her hair and the rise and fall of his chest against hers.

      "Heavens" she breathed slightly dazed.

      Archie smiled tenderly down at her, "You act as if you've never been
kissed."

      His voice was somewhat hoarse and it sent a tingle down Leigha's spine,
"I have *never" been kissed."

      "So, I'm your first?" He asked sounding oddly pleased.

      "Well, if we're not counting the chaste kisses of my father, brother,
and various other male relations," she teased, "then, yes, Archie, you're my
first. Sneeze and all."

      Archie threw back his head and laughed, "I see I'm never going to live
*that* down."

      Leigha looked up at him impishly then asked with a smile, "Do you think
you could be my second as well?"

      "Leigha!" Archie exclaimed in pleasant surprise, "That's quite forward
of you, Madame."

      Leigha lowered her eyes chastely, but the smile still remained on her
lips. Archie shook his head in amusement and replied, "Yes, Miss Sommes, I
will be honored to give you your second, third, fourth, etc. You promised me
I could lead you into temptation tonight, are you prepared to follow?"

      "Oh yes!" She answered eagerly, putting her arms about his neck and
offering her lips up invitingly.

      Archie groaned softly and murmured as he lowered his head, "I am sunk."

************************************

      "She's been gone a while," Genny remarked slyly to her sister, "I
wonder what she's up to?"

      "No good, that's for sure," replied Leona, "I remarked to Sir Ainsley
about it, but he refuses to see his precious daughter for what she truly is,
the deceptive little tart."

      "I, daresay, it is a bit warm in here. What say you to a stroll in the
gardens, sister? Too cool off, of course." Genny asked with a cattish smile.

      Leona smiled back, "Of course, sister, that sounds divine."

************************************

      Sommes watched the exchange with suspicion. He knew his wife and
sister-in-law well enough to figure out that they were up to trouble and that
usually meant it involved Leigha. He grew very alarmed as he watched them
head towards the garden. He hurried his way to his study and leapt out the
window in an attempt to head them off.

      "Oh no, you don't, you scheming bitches," he thought to himself as he
made his way through the shrubs, "you two are not going to embarrass Leigha
tonight. Why can't you two troublesome harpies leave her to her own
happiness?"

      Sommes rounded the corner quickly and came face to face with his wife
and her sister. They were both staring at something in shock. He turned and
found his daughter locked in an embrace.

      "You little tramp!" Leona's ear-piercing screech broke the stunned
silence, "I knew you were a devious little harlot! Pretending innocence and
here you are caught in the arms of your lover! How long has it been going on,
you...you strumpet!?"

      Archie and Leigha jumped apart in surprise. Leigha flushed scarlet in
embarrassment and anger. Archie remained cool and he kept his arm
protectively about her.

      "Watch yourself, Madame. You are insulting a lady." Archie warned
softly.

      "How dare you, sir, " Leona said in peeved surprise, "I think you have
caused enough trouble as it is. I told you, Ainsley, I told you no good would
come of it! You have only yourself to blame!"

      "Leona, keep your voice down!" Sommes roared, "I don't think we need to
draw any attention to ourselves!"

      "I think Leigha *should* have attention drawn to her, so that she may
learn the consequences of her folly." Genny said in malicious delight.

      "You, Genevieve, " Sir Ainsley said icily, "will remain quiet. One
word, just one more, out of you and I will send you back to wilds of Devon
for the rest of the season."

      Then he turned his glare onto his wife, "And you, Lady Sommes, will
hold your tongue as well, or by God, I will exercise my right as a husband
and beat you, you silly git! Now the both of you will take yourselves back to
the ballroom and say NOT one word to any one of this. If there is even a
murmur or sly look directed towards Leigha when we return, you two will face
the harshest of consequences. Is that understood?"

      They both nodded and huffed off.

      "Papa, I..." Leigha started, but Sommes held up his hand and cut her
off.

      "No, Leigha," he said, "I don't want to hear excuses. I know you,
child, and I trust you. You're not the sort to go getting yourself tumbled
under the hedges. I'm not going to read anything improper into this, it was a
kiss, for God's sake."

      Leigha flushed again but she and Archie both breathed identical sighs
of relief.

      Sommes then pointed to Archie and said sternly, "You, young sir, are
coming with me to my study, we need to have a conversation. Leigha, I think
it best if you return to the house alone."

      "Yes, sir," she replied dutifully and left after giving Archie's arm a
squeeze of encouragement.

************************************

      Archie followed Sommes into his study nervously. Even though Leigha's
father had seemed calm and understanding, it still didn't mean that he
wouldn't receive a challenge. A father's forgiveness may extend to the child,
but it didn't necessarily leave him off the hook.

      Sommes gestured to a chair, "Take a seat, Lieutenant, may I offer you a
glass of claret."

      "Yes, sir, thank you." Archie answered, but he thought to himself,
"Okay, Archie, maybe you're in the clear. After all, a man isn't going to
waste good liquor on a man he's about to put a hole in."

      "Now, young man," Sommes began after handing Archie his drink and
taking a sip of his own, "I want to know your intentions towards my daughter.
You don't seem the type to trifle with an innocent young girl."

      "Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir. I mean..." Archie fumbled as he hastened to
assure Sommes. "I mean, I'm not the type to play deep games with young girls.
I want you to know that I admire your daughter and have only the most noblest
of intentions towards her..."

      "Towards my daughter or towards her dowry? Come, sir, my Leigha could
make you a very rich man if you wed her."

      "I wish to court your daughter, sir, not her dowry." Archie said
through clenched teeth, "'tis your daughter I want, not her money, though I
won't lie and say it wouldn't be welcomed."

      "You're serious, then, about courting my daughter? Why? If I may ask?"
Sommes saw the angry look that crossed Archie's feature and realized what he
sounded like. "Oh, don't get me wrong, Mr. Kennedy, I know what a great and
wonderful girl my Leigha is; but truth to tell, I don't think anyone else
realizes it. She has been in the shadow of Lady Sommes and Genevieve since
she was fourteen, it's a fact that gentlemen overlook her. She's not
beautiful, you know."

      "I find your daughter very lovely. Her spirit and kind heart make her
near to perfection, at least to me, sir. " Archie replied defending his lady.

      Sommes beamed at Archie in approval, "My good sir, if you wish to court
my daughter, you have my consent. Though, I would like to know, are you in
love with her?"

      Archie looked thoughtful for a moment, then answered as honestly as he
could, "I don't know, sir. I know I feel for her as I have never felt for
anyone else, but is it love? I'm not sure. We've only known each other for so
short a time, and yes, there is attraction there and fondness. I know I
*could* love her after we've gotten to know each other better."

      "Ah," Sommes nodded, "you are a sensible man. If you had answered yes
immediately, I would've taken you for a fortune hunter and had you thrown out
on your ear. It is settled then, you may court my daughter...and I wish you
luck in the endeavor, you'll need it."

      Archie rose and shook hands with Sommes and then with a smile on his
lips he went to find Leigha. He stopped at one of the large windows and saw a
streak of orange light up the sky.

      "I think it's going to be a perfect morning," He said and went on his
search, whistling happily.

*************************************

Chapter 5a- The Courtship

Three Days Later...

"I'm so happy for you!" Gloriana Seton-Harlowe greeted her friend's news with
a laugh, "to be courted by a naval officer. You, lucky thing, you."

Leigha smiled serenely and poured the tea. She didn't try to respond because
she knew Glory had not yet finished talking.

"Is he handsome? Oh, of course, he's handsome. *All* men in uniform are
handsome, even the ugly ones." Glory rambled on enthusiastically, her
Virginian twang floating musically about the drawing-room. "How are Genevieve
and Leona taking this? Probably not very well. Good! They both deserve a
set-down, after all they've put you through. So, tell me about your Mr.
Kennedy."

"He *is" handsome, Glory."Leigha said fondly, "He's tall and blonde with
beautiful sapphire eyes that you can drown in. And his smile! Oh, Glory, you
should see his smile."

"He sounds delicious, but is he intelligent?" She asked seriously, "I know
you well enough to realize that you wouldn't respect a stupid man."

"Yes, Glory, he's very intelligent."

"Then I'm doubly happy for you, sweeting. Of course, I always knew you would
land a handsome man."

Leigha looked at Glory in surprise, "Well, then you expected more than I."

"Fustian" She waved her hand dissuasively, "you, my dearest friend, have
absolutely no faith in yourself. It's a good thing I'm around. Genny and
Leona have beauty, true, but they have no personality; therefore, there is
nothing to recommend them. You, my love, are brimming with life, wit and
charm; so, you are ten times more lovely than the two gorgons!"

"Gloriana,"Leigha scolded mildly, "you are terrible!"

Glory just smiled and sipped her tea, her green eyes sparkling over the rim.
Leigha opened her mouth to say something more, but was interrupted by
Buckston, the butler, who announced the arrival of guests.

"Miss Sommes, Mr. Kennedy is here and he has a young gentleman, a Mr.
Hornblower, with him.

"Show them in, Buckston." Then in an aside to Glory, "This must be Archie's
best friend, Horatio."

Leigha and Glory stood up to receive the gentlemen as they came in.
Introductions were made and then Archie took Leigha hands and apologized for
interrupting, "I was unaware you had company."

Leigha smiled and squeezed his hand, " 'Tis all right, Archie. We were just
having tea, would you care to join us?"

"Yes, thank you" Horatio said with a shy smile, his stomach already growling
at the thought of fresh tea and homemade crumpets, preserves, and sandwiches.

He kept his gaze on Gloriana , who smiled back politely. Glory was tall and
fairy-slim with lovely sea green eyes and a mass of titian curls arranged
under a charming confection of a hat. Her skin was the flawless alabaster
that English ladies found fashionable and did everything in the world to
achieve. Her laugh was musical and her accent lyrical.

"Suh," she asked Horatio, "are you a shipmate of Mistah Kennedy's?"

"Uh, y-yes, " Horatio stammered and colored before getting himself in hand,
"we met as Midshipmen aboard the Justinian."

"And are you the same rank?"

"Yes, Mam...though I have more seniority as a Lieutenant."

"Wonderful." Glory smiled at him, "Would you like a cucumber sandwich, suh?"

Horatio looked puzzled at the quicksilver change of subject and grabbed the
sandwich without realizing it. Leigha chuckled softly at the expressions on
both Horatio and Archie's faces, she knew Glory had that effect on everyone
who didn't know her well enough too be used to her. Gloriana was the only
person that she knew who had the ability to hold three conversations at one
time.

"So tell me, suh, how long have you been in the navy?"

"For four years, Madame."

"And do you enjoy it?"

"Oh, yes, yes I do!" Horatio replied his eyes lighting up, "I couldn't see
myself doing anything else, Miss Seton-Harlowe."

"Oh, heaven's to Betsy, suh," Glory exclaimed, "you need not mumble that
mouthful every time you address me. Miss Glory, is perfectly fine."

"Yes, Mam."

"And NO Mam, it makes me feel old. My Aunt Sela is a Mam, I am not."

Horatio and Archie exchanged amused glances, but before either could reply
Genevieve floated into the room. She looked absolutely ravishing in yellow
muslin gown that flattered her blonde coloring. They both stood and bowed at
her entrance, but only Horatio's gaze lingered appreciatively.

Seeing the look upon his face, Glory sighed in disgust and rolled her eyes.
Leigha smothered a giggle behind her hand. Archie shook his head in bemused
dismay, and Genny looked supremely satisfied with herself.

"Mr. Hornblower," Leigha introduced after receiving a displeased look from
Genny, "this is Genevieve D'Armond, my aunt by marriage. Genny, this is Lt.
Horatio Hornblower, Archie's friend and shipmate."

"Pleasure to meet you, Miss D'Armond."

"Of course, it is."

Horatio blinked in surprise. No, she couldn't have meant it in that way,
could she?

******************************************************************************

*******************

"Ugh," Archie grimaced at Leigha, "I never thought we'd escape the Queen Bee."

"It was rather kind of Glory to suggest we go for a walk." Leigha replied,
"But I wonder if she'll survive the gesture?"

"Well, I don't think Horatio will complain one bit. He couldn't keep his eyes
off of Genny. I really need to teach him something about women."

"Oh, do you now, Lieutenant? And will you be taking the practical method and
using examples?" Leigha asked, her hands on her hips and the toe of one shoe
tapping in warning.

Archie smiled mischievously, "I'll only use the best example of womankind, my
dear elf."

"Really? Who might that be?"Leigha simpered in an imitation of Genny and
patted her hair.

"Why, my mother, of course" Archie said innocently.

"Oh, you!" Leigha exclaimed and punched Archie in the arm. he caught her hand
and placed a loving kiss upon before tucking it into the crook of his arm.

They walked through the garden, a companionable silence stretched between
them. Every now and then Archie would stroke the delicate fingers that rested
lightly on his sleeve and watch, in admiration, the way the sunlight would
play with the highlights in her hair and the way it kissed the soft curve of
her cheek.

"I'm glad you're not as lovely as Genevieve." He suddenly blurted out.

Leigha glanced over in surprise.

"I mean," he explained, "that she's beautiful and draws all the attention.
Men overlook you and that's perfect with me. I don't have to fight through a
crowd to spend time with you. 'Sides, your kind of my own special secret and
I'd like to keep you and your charms all to myself."

"Archie, that's the sweetest backhanded compliment I have ever received."
Leigha teased.

Archie smiled back at her, then swept her into his arms and kissed her
thoroughly.

******************************************************************************

********************

"Leigha! Mr. Kennedy! Leigh...oh, good gracious!" Glory broke off as she flew
around a hedge in her search for them.

Horatio, who had heard the story of their first kiss from Archie, laughingly
teased, "Are you two going to make a habit of getting caught in the act?"

"Shut up, Horatio."

"Where's Genny?" Leigha asked trying to change the subject, but became
alarmed when she caught the look on Glory's face.

"She changing." Horatio answered casting an accusing glance towards Glory.

"Oh?" Questioned Leigha.

Glory shrugged and said with an innocent air, "You know how clumsy ah am
sometimes. Was it my fault that ah tripped ovah my skirt hem and accidentally
smeared strawberry preserves on her gown?"

"Oh, Glory..." Leigha sighed.

"That wasn't the worst part," Horatio continued, "while trying to set herself
upright, Miss Gloriana here, managed to somehow get the preserves into Miss
D'Armond's hair as well."

Archie chuckled but quickly stifled it after Leigha shot him a warning glare.
"Don't encourage her," she hissed.

Horatio looked pensive for a while before he remarked, "The way she carried
on, you'd have thought it was a catastrophe."

"To her it was. Perfection undone, merciful heaven's save us all." Glory
muttered under her breath.

Horatio glanced at her quellingly and Glory stared right back in defiance.

"My God, you colonists are wild and...and barbarous!" Horatio exclaimed
walking off.

"Colonist? We are Americans, after all we *won* the damned war, you just
remember that, suh!" Glory retorted as she followed him down the path.

"You don't even talk like a proper lady!"

"Oh, just yank that stick out of your..." Glory's last words trailed off as
they got out of hearing range.

Archie and Leigha stared at each other in consternation. What had they
missed? Then in wordless agreement, they hurried down the path after the two
opponents

Interlude

Archie and Horatio sat at a table at the Golden Hart Inn, both quaffing ale
from huge mugs and enjoying a repast of fresh beef and potatoes.

"This," said Archie, closing his eyes and patting his stomach in
satisfaction, "is heaven. I'm almost loathed to go back to the Indy and it's
rations of rum, salted meats and hard, weevilly biscuits."

"Is "weevilly" even a word, Archie?" Horatio asked as he, too, leaned back in
his chair and sighed in pleasure.

"It is now." Archie replied with a grin, "So, H'ratio, what think you of my
Leigha, eh?"

"She's delightful, Archie, but I'm surprised. She hardly seems
your...er...type."

"What do you mean by *that*?" Archie asked with a scowl.

"Now don't go taking my head off," Horatio held up a hand placatingly, "I
merely meant, that you usually tend to lose your head over the, well, over
the prettier sort of girls."

"Maybe I've realized that a man needs more than a pretty face to satisfy him."

"Yes, like maybe £10,000 per annum?" Horatio snorted and received a glare
from Archie in response.

"No, Mr. Hornblower, I am NOT after her money, damn you! I happen to truly
*care* for the girl," Archie replied in restrained anger, "maybe all you see
is someone who is not a "diamond of the first water", but I see a very sweet
and wonderful lady. Someone who has more to offer a man than just looks and
an empty head."

"I'm sorry, Archie," Horatio murmured in shame, "that was unforgivable of me."

"She makes me laugh, H'ratio." Archie said softly, "She infuriates me at
times, damned girl doesn't know how to take a compliment, but she doesn't
bore me. The other's, the pretty ones I admired, they always managed to bore
me after a while."

"I like her. No, I really do, Archie," Horatio admitted, "but she could use
better sense when it comes to choosing her friends."

Archie glanced at him and started laughing uncontrollably. Heads turned in
their direction and ladies sighed over the mirthful countenance of one
officer and the displeased puzzlement of the other.

"Archie! Stop that! Your causing people to stare!" Horatio hissed, "What is
so bloody funny?"

"Oh, 'Ratio!" Archie exclaimed, "I never thought I'd see the day when you
would lose your damnable composure towards a lady! I mean, and God and
Captain Pellew knows, that you're no ladies man, but the way you snapped and
snarled at Miss Gloriana, how unlike you! I remember hearing Major Edrington
say that you once protected the feelings of a lady by saying that 'you hoped
that you would always treat a lady with respect'!"

"That Gloriana Seton-Harlowe is *no* lady. She's trouble, Archie. Mark my
words, she'll bring some poor fellow foolish enough to court her, no end of
it. Why, she embarrassed poor Miss D'Armond out of spite. That was no
accident, Archie."

Archie sobered at his friend's defense of Genny. "Better put an end to it
now, before Horatio finds himself in over his head." He thought to himself.
He looked at his shipmate and said seriously, "No, H'ratio, there is nothing
"poor" about Genevieve D'Armond. She's petty, selfish, and thoroughly
self-absorbed. It causes her no end of delight to heap pain and humiliation
upon Leigha's head and she cares not one wit how or who she does it in front
off. No, my friend, cast your eyes elsewhere."

"Archie, she can't be *that* bad. Maybe you misunderstand her?"

"No, Miss D'Armond is a she-wolf in sheep's clothing."

"Jesus, that's harsh." Horatio protested.

"I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. Upon my word,
H'ratio, I tell you the truth."

"I believe you, Archie."

They sat in silence for a little while, and as Archie singled the serving
girl over to refill their mugs, Horatio ventured to ask, "Archie? How serious
are you about Miss Sommes?"

Archie just smiled at him and took a deep drink of his ale before answering,
"Serious enough, my friend, serious enough."

*******************************

Genevieve sat in front of her mirror, brushing out her blonde locks. One
hundred strokes, faithfully, every night and *she* did them, not her maid.

She stopped midstroke and glanced at her reflection. She studied her face
very carefully. She had no flaws that she could see. Her skin was clear and
perfect. Her eyes a brilliant blue. Her nose, well defined. Her lips, full
and pouty. Her teeth, white and straight, and her figure, well, her figure
was marvelous. Slim and rounded in all the right places.

"What's wrong with me then?" she asked herself, "why is that little troll
being courted by Mr. Kennedy? It should be *me* ,not her, that gets his
attention! Why does he ignore me?"

The more she thought about the imagined insult being heaped upon her by
Archie and Leigha, the angrier she became. Suddenly she smiled, viscously, as
a plan came to her.

"Oh, yes," she thought, "I'll have my revenge, sweet little Leigha. Enjoy
your happiness while you can... I guarantee it won't last long."

*********************************************