Author Topic: A Match Made In Paris  (Read 447 times)

Eleanor Marshall

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A Match Made In Paris
« on: November 24, 2018, 11:37:16 AM »
The nights were drawing in as autumn progressed, but in Paris, that simply meant that the nightlife became illuminated a little earlier. Fully aware that Eleanor and Jay were gently match-making, Alex had given in gracefully to their request that he take his hired car and collect Jay's sister from her apartment, parking in the street below to walk up. His tuxedo was covered with a warm greatcoat, shoes shining, hair neatly parted; he looked every inch the dapper gentleman as he rang her doorbell.

Though Eliza recognized that her new sister-in-law, at least, was match-making, she had no idea what to expect of the Scotsman. She hadn't even seen so much as a photograph to know what he looked like, but as it was, that was the least of her problems. If she had her choice, she might have wormed her way out of it, but she had promised Ellie she'd be there, and she didn't want to disappoint her. She just about jumped out of her skin at the sound of the doorbell, a mess of jangled nerves. She scowled at her reflection in the mirror one last time, hoping the makeup she'd carefully caked on her face would hide the bruise she'd only just acquired a few hours earlier. She didn't much care what the Scotsman thought, but she hoped her brother wouldn't notice. "Un moment!" she called, forgetting he might not understand French, as she applied a little more powder in hopes of looking half-way presentable. She smoother her dress down, drew a deep breath, and made her way to the door, pulling it open with a plastered-on smile she hoped he would find pleasing, if not fake.

Alex's smile as the door was opened faded at the sight of a false smile in return and, yes ... a creditable attempt at hiding a mark. His eyes narrowed for a split second before he raised his smile once more. "Miss Eliza Marshall?" he asked politely, offering her his hand. "My name's Alexander Finley. Your new sister-in-law thinks we should get married."

This was one woman who didn't miss a trick. Eliza caught sight of the faded smile, and the narrowed eyes, narrowing her own eyes at the sight of him. Oh, he was handsome, to be sure, but it was pretty apparent that he didn't want to be manipulated into a relationship anymore than she did. "Well, aren't you the charmer," she said, taking his hand with a fake smile of her own.

"I've never pretended to be a ladies man," Alex told her honestly. He jerked his chin toward her overly made-up eye. "Who walloped you?"

Eliza snatched her hand back with a scowl. "That is none of your business, Mr. Finley," she snapped, her expression darkening, along with her mood. "Let me just get my coat, and we can get this charade over with, shall we?"

"Miss Marshall," Alex said quietly, "if I have noticed, then your brother will notice. I'm not asking what happened, I'm asking who did it. Please, allow me to even the score somewhat."

"If you must know, I walked into a door. There, are you happy now?" she said, turning her back on him to fetch her coat and purse, leaving him standing in the open doorway. The invitation inside had not been made, but could probably be assumed.

Alex sighed. He knew he hadn't made the best impression, but did she really think he was that stupid? Did she think her brother would accept that? He stepped inside, closing the door behind him with a definitive click. "Are you done having a wee petulant tantrum, or shall I make myself comfortable?" he asked.

Eliza laughed, as she dragged her coat out of the closet. Unfortunately, it was a little threadbare, but would just have to do. "I assure you, Mr. Finley, that when I am having a wee tantrum, you will most assuredly know it," she snapped back.

"Oh, really?" Despite himself, Alex smiled at her robust response. "Well, I'm not offering to be your white knight, and I'm not looking to take away your independence. All I want is to punch the man that marked your pretty face, because no man should raise a hand to a woman and get away with it."

She breathed an audible sigh as she dropped her coat across her arms, her back to him. She could almost feel him watching her, eyes boring into her back. What would he think of her when he knew that black eye was no one's fault but her own? What would her brother think. She chewed at her lip a moment before making a reply. "That is very gallant of you, but impossible, I'm afraid." Was she being sarcastic or not? It was hard to tell.

He considered her answer. She was telling the truth, he could tell. "In that case, Miss Marshall ... will you allow me to wash your face and reapply your make up?" he asked her gently. "Ellie taught me how to do it years ago. I doubt you want your brother to fixate on how you were in a position to be assaulted all evening."

She turned her gaze toward him, perfectly-shaped brows furrowing as she assessed him again, more carefully this time. "Are you saying I do not know how to apply my own makeup?" she asked, with more than a hint of defensiveness.

Alex's smile showed itself again - the real smile, the warm quirk of lips and crinkling of eyes that Eleanor knew very well. "No," he assured her. "Only that in your concern over concealment, you may have overdone it a wee bit."

"You are not going to let this go, are you?" she asked, knowing when she'd met someone who was a worthy adversary. She might even find him attractive, if he wasn't so very full of himself. Or so she thought.

"You spent an afternoon with Ellie and you're surprised to find that I'm stubborn enough to handle her?" he countered with a low chuckle. "My dear Miss Marshall, I would rather see you enjoy your evening than spend it upset because your brother doesn't know how to let something go."

"My brother adores me," she said, though that was exactly why her dear brother might not let things go until he knew precisely what had happened and took action to make sure it didn't happen again - whatever that action might be. She flopped down into a chair with a defeated look on her face. "Perhaps you should just go without me. Tell them - tell them I am not feeling well." That wouldn't be too far from the truth, after all.

"Not a chance." Pulling off his coat, Alex laid it to one side and disappeared in the direction of her kitchen, returning just a minute or so later with a bowl of warm water and a small pile of soft dish cloths and towels.

There was that look on her face again - surprise first at his boldness, quickly followed by annoyance. "Oh, do make yourself right at home, Mr. Finley!" she chided as he returned with the tools he'd need to wash her face. "I am not a child, you know."

"I don't mean to suggest you are," Alex told her gently. "But no one should have to deal with the shock of such an attack, and the aftermath of it, all alone. Since I can't even the odds for you, I would like you to trust me enough to make it so that you need not worry about your brother doing something stupid on a whim."

Eleanor Marshall

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Re: A Match Made In Paris
« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2018, 11:37:37 AM »
She wasn't sure why she was being so prickly where he was concerned, but she had been hoping he wouldn't notice, hence, neither would her dear brother. The fact that she had failed in hiding the afternoon's debacle, not to mention the trauma of the event itself had left her feeling frazzled and irritable. She knew it wasn't his fault, nor was it fair to take it out on him, but being annoyed with him was far better than crying. "Very well. You can't do much worse than me, I suppose," she finally admitted, with a wave of her hand. "Be careful of the dress," she warned.

He gave her an amused look, and proceeded to swathe her upper body in a towel. "I'm not a wee laddie with finger paints," he promised, pulling a chair up close. Wetting one of the cloths, he gently began to remove the power from her face, very careful not to press down on or near the bruise by her eye.

She hadn't done a terrible job of applying her makeup, but she had gone a little heavy handed with it in an attempt to hide the bruise, which was looking ugly shades of black and blue now that he was uncovering it. He was close enough now that she could smell the clean, manly scent of him, whether it was merely soap of cologne, but she was doing her best not to notice. "It seems my new sister in law is quite the matchmaker," she said, just trying to make conversation, awkward as it was.

Alex laughed, washing out the cloth and inspecting her face to be sure he hadn't missed anywhere. "She's happier than I've ever seen her," he admitted in amusement. "She wants to spread it around, that's all." Taking up another towel, he gently patted her face dry. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"You will find I am not so easily broken, Mr. Finley," she replied, softening a little at the gentle way he was treating her. "No, you did not hurt me," she added in reply, a little gentler than before.

"I'm glad to hear it," he told her warmly. "And you can call me Alex." He looked down at her make up. "Now ... what order do you do this in usually?"

"Foundation, rouge, and then powder," she was quick to reply, arching a suspicious brow at him. "I thought you said you knew what you were doing."

"I do know what I'm doing, but I'm glad I asked. Ellie puts her rouge on last." He winked at her, lifting the foundation to begin gently applying it to her face. He even knew enough to blend it into her neck - Ellie had obviously trained her friend well.

She shrugged. It hardly mattered. "I don't usually powder my whole face," she explained, though she might have to make an exception to that rule today if she wanted to hide the bruise. Lipstick she would handle on her own. That had to be carefully applied and had very little to do with a black eye.

"Aye, well ... you can inspect my work before the powder goes on and decide how much you need," he told her, gently tilting her chin as he considered his handiwork. A little more foundation just to cover the bases, he thought, and the bruise would be hidden.

"What exactly do you do for a living, Mr ..." She trailed off, for a moment before correcting herself. "Alex. You don't seem like the type to work in a salon," she said, with a hint of teasing in her voice. It wasn't only that he was a man, but he was also British. Scottish, to be exactly. Men would not be found working in beauty salons in Great Britain for at least half a century yet.

He chuckled again, smoothing the foundation into blended invisibility with the pad of his thumb. "I'm a lawyer, believe it or not," he told her cheerfully. "Family and property law are my specialisation. There now. Take a look at that. I think I've covered what needs covering, and you can add your rouge and powder as you like."

"Oh, I see," she said, taking a harder look at him for a moment. Yes, he did look like the lawyery type, whatever that was - not that that was a bad thing. At least, he was stable, and she couldn't deny he was handsome. No, no, no, her mind was not going there. She cleared her throat as he pulled away. "Yes, thank you. I will," she said, moving to get up and inspect his handiwork.

She was awfully pretty, Alex had to admit. There was a delicate strength about Jay's little sister that drew his attention, but he was not going to press his luck. She had made her views on being match-made perfectly clear. Still, no one ever objected to having another friend. He watched her walk toward the mirror, washing the foundation off his hands.

She paused in front of the mirror to inspect her face, turning her head this way and that to see if any trace of the bruise was visible. "Hmm, you might have chosen the wrong occupation, Alex," she said, turning a playful smile toward him. "Have you ever considered a career in Hollywood?"

"Oh, I'm sure Clara Bow would love having a Scot do her make up for her." Alex laughed, rising to take the bowl back to the kitchen and clean it out. "I learned to do that because Ellie couldn't get her foundation to cover her first brush with poison ivy."

"I'm sure she would," Eliza replied with a grin. "If you'll just give me a moment, I'll finish fixing my face," she told him, moving toward the bedroom, but leaving the door cracked so that they could continue to converse. "I understand you've known Ellie all her life," she said, more question than statement.

"Most of it, aye," he agreed, tidying up the mess he had made without a second thought. "Her mother and mine were friendly, and my father was her father's lawyer. She didn't have any siblings, so my brother and I were brought over to entertain her quite a bit."

"You have a brother?" she asked, having only just heard of this. She couldn't recall Ellie having mentioned that, not that it was any of her business. She had only just met the woman, after all. He might not be watching, but she was taking care to apply the rest of her makeup, which included rouge and lipstick.

"Aye," he called back. "Bruce was my older brother. He died at Amiens - almost made it to the end of the war, but it wasn't to be." He sighed, shaking his head as he pulled his coat back on. "I apologize; that isn't the finest conversation topic you could ask for."

Eliza paused, frowning at her reflection a moment, her lipstick only half applied. That bloody damned war. It had ruined too many lives. It had almost destroyed her brother, as well as countless others. Too many lives lost too soon. And sometimes she thought they were the lucky ones. The war was over, but the wounds it had incurred were still healing. "I'm so very sorry," she said, barely loud enough for him to hear.

He didn't need to hear her to know that was what she had said. "Bruce believed in serving his country," he told her. "He died fighting for what he believed. I joined up because he did - I was lucky to be an officer's batman in Italy for most of it."

"That is little comfort, I'm sure," she said, unable to hide the sympathy from her voice, but at least, she was almost done with her lipstick. She pursed her lips, and then snatched a few blotting papers to take care of the excess. "War is a senseless waste of life, in my opinion."

Eleanor Marshall

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Re: A Match Made In Paris
« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2018, 11:37:59 AM »
"War happens when the men in charge fail to do their jobs properly, I have found," Alex agreed. He'd found his way over to an easel, admiring the work in progress set up there. "I don't think Europe will be a safe place to stay for much longer, myself."

"Why is that?" she asked, emerging from the bedroom at last, with her face made up far better than before. She noticed he was inspecting her work, but made no move to stop him. She didn't think it was her best work, but then, what was? The painting was nothing special in her mind - just an artistic impression of Paris at night.

"Oh, the treaty at Versailles was badly handled," Alex said dismissively. "Making the people suffer for the Kaiser's overreaction, reducing the size of the land itself ... all it's done is sow the seeds for a new war, and next time, Germany will be ready to wage it, unlike before." He gestured toward the canvas. "You've a good eye for light. At least I assume this is yours."

Eliza's brow quirked upwards, her heart seizing up with fear inside her at Alex's prediction. He was complimenting her work, but she hadn't really heard it. All she'd heard was that Germany wasn't finished waging war. Was it true they were only taking a break and secretly preparing for an even bigger conflict? If that was the case, she didn't want to be anywhere near Germany, and she didn't want Jay there either.

At the distinct lack of response, Alex turned his eyes toward the stunned young woman beside him, and almost instantly realized his mistake. He'd relaxed too much and said too much, and now she was frightened. He sighed. "I apologize, I should not have said that. For what it may be worth, they're in no position to begin such an undertaking and won't be for a good decade."

"How can you know this?" she said, her voice hardly more than a whisper. She was doing her damnedest to control her emotions, but her upset was obvious by the way she was wringing the pair of gloves in her hands.

He turned to face her, capturing her hands in his. "I stay abreast of the political news," he told her. "I studied the Treaty when the details were released. It wasn't a surrender. The allied powers went out of their way to impoverish and humiliate Germany. If the wrong man comes to power, there will be war again."

Her heart seemed to freeze in her chest, but it wasn't because he had taken her hands, but because of the news he was telling her. Her face paled, beneath the makeup. She had not experienced the war the way he and her brother had, but she had seen the affect it had had on people, and most importantly, on those she cared about. "Isn't there anything we can do?" she asked, her voice quiet, looking up to him, as if he might have the answers.

"Hope that the men in power see the harm they've done and correct it," was Alex's honest reply, though he kept to himself the certainty that this would never happen. He gently chucked her chin. "And perhaps stop listening to doomsayers like myself," he added with a smile.

She smiled at last, her eyes bright with a hint of hope. Maybe things really were looking up, at least as far as her personal life was concerned. "I may be an artist, but I am also a realist, Mr ... Alex," she said, quickly correcting herself. Despite her dreams, it seemed she'd learned the hard way that life was not all roses.

"You're going to have a good time tonight, at the very least, Miss Marshall," he told her confidently, releasing her hands to step away and collect her coat. He held it out to help her into it. "Shall we?"

"Liza," she corrected him again, offering not only her first name, but the shortened, more familiar form of it. It was what her family and friends called her, after all. "Merci," she said, as she let him help her into her coat. It wasn't a test to see if he knew any French; only a habit formed from years of living in Paris.

He chuckled, settling the coat onto her shoulders carefully. "Enchanté, Mademoiselle Liza," was his response, his arm offered to her with a smile. "My car is downstairs, if you would care to join me for dinner."

She smiled again and took his arm as he responded in French. "I would be delighted, Monsieur Alex," she replied. "Ellie did not mention that you are such a gentleman."

He flashed her a grin as he drew her to the door. "I grew up with her, what else were you expecting?" he pointed out in amusement. "Old Lady Howard wouldn't have had any rough, nasty boys anywhere near her precious fleur."

"Hmm, I wonder what she would think of my brother," she mused, as he led her to the door. She was more than happy to be so led on his arm, so long as he didn't try to stifle her independence too much. If nothing else, perhaps they'd become friends. One could always use more friends.

"Oh, was he a rough, nasty wee laddie, then?" Alex asked, his voice rich with an unexpressed laugh. He could make a guess at Jay being somewhat more rough and tumble than he himself had been, but sincerely doubted that nasty could have been used to describe the man as a boy.

Liza laughed at the way he'd described her brother. "I would not say nasty. A little rough, perhaps, but he did not have the easiest time of it growing up." At least, not after their mother had died. "Some boys might have grown up to be bitter and resentful, but Jamie has always been very good to me."

"I cannot see him behaving badly toward anyone he loves," Alex pointed out warmly, pausing to allow her to lock her front door. "And what do you think of his wee wifey?"

She let go of his arm long enough to fit the key in the lock and secure her apartment, which wasn't in the best part of the city, but not the worst either. It was likely Ellie and Jay were going to change that, too, before long. "I am very fond of her, actually. I've never had a sister. It will be fun to see if Jamie can handle her." She tucked the key back into her beaded bag as she turned back to face him.

Her companion rolled his eyes, offering his arm once again. "Be glad you didn't have to watch them getting to know each other," he told her cheerfully. "I had to lock them in a private dining room at one point so they'd have an actual conversation."

"You didn't!" she said, looking equally surprised and amused by that bit of information. "Do tell!" she said, eager for a bit of juicy gossip, especially where her brother was concerned.

By the time Alex pulled up outside the Ritz and helped Liza out, handing his keys to the valet, he had regaled her with all the little details about her brother's courtship that Jay would not have mentioned, from that near disaster of a first meeting, to the arguments on the boat to Manaus, to the pair of them bathing together in the rainforest and coming back with a declaration that they wanted to get married right at that moment. It was certainly one way to spend a car ride.

She had been an avid and eager listener, surprised and delighted to hear her brother was not quite as stuffy and straight-laced as she'd feared. It was good to know he had found love and happiness with Ellie, and she was not only happy for him, but a little envious, too.

"I am happy for them," she said with a small sigh once he was done with the telling.

"As am I," Alex agreed, leading her into the hotel and to the cloakroom, offering to help her off with her coat before they entered the dining room to join her brother and his wife. "It may sound strange, but I'm halfway to packing up in England and striking out to wherever they choose to settle. Theirs is a friendship I'm unwilling to set aside."

Eleanor Marshall

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Re: A Match Made In Paris
« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2018, 11:38:24 AM »
Liza arched a brow, looking worried. "You don't think they'll stay here?" she asked, a small frown marring her pretty face. "Ellie said something about helping me get started here," she said, though Alex might not understand what exactly she was referring to.

"I think they've a clean slate ahead of them, and intend to stay here in Paris for as long as it takes to decide and arrange where they want to set up for life," Alex told her gently, handing both their coats to the girl behind the counter and taking the ticket back from her. He offered Liza his arm once more. "Wipe the frown off your pretty face, or your brother will wallop me."

"But I thought ..." Liza trailed off, still frowning. What had she thought exactly? Had she really thought Jamie and Ellie would stay in Paris indefinitely? But then, why should they? And wherever they were going, it seemed Alex was going, too.

"It'll be months yet, maybe even a full year before they make their decision," Alex pointed out, patting her hand. "And they won't be keeping it a secret. So hush your fears now, Miss Liza."

"I will try, Mr. Alex," she replied, smiling back at him, if only for his sake, a hint of worry remaining in her eyes. Hopefully, her brother wouldn't notice either the worry or the bruise beneath the makeup. "Shall we join them?"

"I think we shall, Miss Liza."

Chuckling, he drew her to the large dining room, alive with light and the hum of chatter, catching the maitre'd's eye easily and murmuring who they were there to join. Moments later, they were being directed to a comfortable table on the right side of the dining room, where Jay and Eleanor were waiting for them.

Liza was having a hard time containing both her excitement and her nervousness. "Have you ever been here before?" she asked, leaning closer to Alex to whisper her question. She had certainly never been anywhere so fancy as this before, a brief frown flickering across her face. She hoped she hadn't miscalculated in her choice of clothing.

"No." Alex chuckled softly at her nerves, laying his hand over hers on his arm for a moment to squeeze. "I'd rather do my own cooking, to be honest, but Ellie does like to spoil her friends."

As for whether or not Liza would fit in, she needn't have worried - all the young women in the room were hot to trot with their stylish bobbed hair and flapper dresses. Paris was the fashion capital of the world, after all.

She realized that, too, as she looked around the room, but as much as she loved Paris, she often felt like a faker. She was English, after all, but Paris was the place to be these days - English, and French, and even Americans all converging on Paris to enjoy the freedom of the post-war madness.

"You cook?" she asked, only momentarily distracted before her attention returned to her handsome escort. But before he could respond, Jay and Ellie were waving them over to their table to join them.

"I told you she looked stunning," Ellie said to her husband as they rose to greet their guests. She had gone through with the flapper look herself, her long hair caught in a soft chignon to mimic the bob without sacrificing her crowning glory.

"As do you," Jay replied, touching a kiss to his new bride's cheek, before rising with her to greet his sister and her companion. "What took you so long? We were starting to worry," he said, looking from one to the other for an answer, though he didn't really suspect anything improper had happened between them.

"I asked for a turn with the paint," Alex told him obliquely. It wasn't entirely a lie, and it certainly didn't paint anything near the truth.

Ellie rolled her eyes at her friend. "I'm surprised you're not covered in paint, then," she teased fondly, kissing Liza's cheek. "He didn't destroy anything important, did he?"

"No, he's actually quite talented," Liza replied, returning the kiss to her friend's cheek. She wasn't quite lying either. He had painted her makeup back on her face, after all.

"You never cease to surprise me, Alex," Jay said, slapping the other man on the back amiably, before moving to greet his sister with another kiss to the cheek.

"I'm not entirely useless," Alex defended himself laughingly, kissing Ellie's temple as he moved to hold out Eliza's chair for her.

"You take us far too seriously sometimes, Alexander Finley," his friend informed him with a grin of her own.

"Thank you," Liza whispered her thanks, this time in English, as she moved to claim the chair. "What do you think of your wife's dress?" she pointedly asked her brother with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. She would have liked to have seen the look on his face when Jay had laid eyes on Ellie's appearance, but she would have to be satisfied with his belated assessment.

"Er, what do I think?" Jay echoed, looking from Liza to Ellie. His eyes had just about popped out of his head when he'd laid eyes on her in that dress, but he wasn't about to tell his sister that. "I think she's the bees knees?" he ventured, in a poor attempt at the slang of the day.

Blushing, Ellie moved to sit down herself. "He had to have a drink before he could string a coherent sentence together," she told Liza with a cheeky giggle.

 Alex, on the other hand, was smirking at Jay's slightly hunted expression. "Anyone'd think you've not seen her ankles before, James."

"I do not believe that is something that should be discussed in polite conversation," Jay replied, though he was looking more amused than annoyed. At least, he wasn't blushing. He took hold of Ellie's hand and drew it to his lips for a kiss. "I think she is gorgeous, whether she is covered in mud or wearing beads and sequins."

Liza couldn't help but laugh. "But that doesn't really answer the question, James!" she teased.

"Oh, aye?" Alex said with a wicked glimmer in his eyes. "Should we be discussing your sister's pretty ankles instead, then?"

"Alex!" Ellie swatted at her friend's arm with a laughingly scandalized expression, rolling her eyes as he winked at Eliza above his grin.

Liza couldn't help but laugh at Alex's statement. "I knew you were a charmer," she said, bumping his foot with hers beneath the table, a playful smirk on her face.

"If I didn't know better, I'd think you two were flirting," Jay remarked with a smirk of his own.

"Would I be fool enough to do such a thing in front of you, Jamie?" Alex asked innocently, his gaze flickering just a moment to Liza as she bumped his foot with her own. Well, it was certainly better than their first impression on one another, wasn't it?

Jay's brows arched upwards at Alex's use of the familiar form of his name that only Liza ever used. "I don't know. Would you, Alex?" he countered, eying the other man pointedly.

"Now, boys ..." started Liza. "There's no need to quarrel. We're here to have fun!"

Alex chuckled, nodding easily to Jay. They both knew he was teasing, and that he was easily drawn along by the good temper of his companions. The effect of Eliza and Ellie on him might prove a little much for Jay's peace of mind. Their waiter arrived, dispensing menus and champagne for their enjoyment.

Eleanor Marshall

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Re: A Match Made In Paris
« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2018, 11:38:51 AM »
"Oh, champagne!" Liza exclaimed with a grin. "How lovely. Open the bottle, Alex. We must toast the newlyweds!" she said, eager for a sip of the bubbly. This was Paris, after all. What else would they be drinking?

"Would you like the do the honors, Jay?" Alex offered to the other man at the table.

Ellie rolled her eyes, opening the menu in front of her. "Honestly, they're not usually this competitive with one another," she promised Liza. "They seem to be getting territorial over you."

"Be my guest, Alex," Jay replied, with a wave of his hand. "On the contrary, we are being perfect gentlemen," he pointed out, smiling amicably, laying the charm on perhaps a little too thick.

Liza giggled at the thought. "Or over you," she countered, with a grin at her new sister.

"Oh, hardly. I'm just married to one of them, that's all," Ellie answered with a soft giggle of her own, winking at her husband affectionately.

Alex rose to his feet to open the champagne with barely a pop of sound, sitting once more to pour it out. "And what shall we drink to?"

"To Ellie and Jamie!" Liza was quick to suggest. "Much love and many happy years together!" she said, waiting for Alex to pour her a glass before she lifted it in a toast.

"To our new family," Ellie countered, raising her own glass with a smile. "Long may we affectionately annoy one another."

Alex snorted with laughter as he raised his glass with them. "I'm sure you will."

"Hear, hear!" Eliza said, tipping her glass back for a long sip, and giggling as the bubbles tickled her nose.

"You are part of that equation, you know, Alex," Jay pointed out, raising his own glass, along with the others.

"Aye, but I don't have to live with any of you," Alex pointed out laughingly to Jay as he touched his glass to the ladies' and then Jay's before taking a sip himself. "I thought you didn't like champers, Ellie?"

Eleanor gave him a pointed look, and downed half her glass in defiance of that sentence. She didn't actually answer the question, though.

"Who doesn't like champagne?" Eliza asked, coming to Ellie's rescue.

"Certain special occasions do seem to require champagne," Jay pointed out in agreement. Occasions like weddings, for example.

"Exactly," Ellie appeared to agree with Liza cheerfully, setting her glass down as she opened her menu. It was a relief to see that the prices were not listed - the Ritz was very exclusive, after all. But this, at least, meant that Liza would not worry about what the meal might cost.

Jay smiled, leaning over to touch a kiss to his wife's cheek, which, in turn, had Eliza grinning. If it were not for Alex, she might have teased them, but she was truly happy for her brother, and happy to call Ellie "sister". She opened her menu, while Jay read over Ellie's shoulder.

"What looks good, Alex?" she asked, as she perused the menu.

With Ellie and Jay virtually in each other's laps to read the same menu, Alex did his best to ignore the married couple. "The langoustines are always a temptation," he admitted. "Seafood is generally a treat for me - I work mainly inland."

"Langoustines?" Liza echoed, scrunching her nose, just a little. While she enjoyed French cooking as much as anyone, she wasn't too sure about that particular type of seafood.

Alex chuckled at her expression. "Well, I can't really ask them for cod and potatoes here, can I?" he pointed out, proving that he didn't really have what you might call a refined palate.

"Have you ever had Coquilles Saint-Jacques?" she asked with a perfect French accent, trying hard not to look too impressed with his own French. He was decidedly Scottish, after all.

But, of course, historically France and Scotland had always been close. Alex grinned back at her, not even trying to respond in French this time. "No, I don't believe I have," he admitted. "Would that be your recommendation, mademoiselle?"

Across the table, he caught sight of Ellie biting down on a smirk as she whispered something into Jay's ear.

"Oui, monsieur," Liza replied with a smile that was equally pleased and amused. "I do not think you will be disappointed," she assured him, daring a light touch of her fingers to his hand, an almost flirtatious gleam in her eyes.

He raised a brow above a teasing smile at her touch, his hand twisting to catch her fingers. He raised her hand to his mouth ... and blew a loud, wet raspberry on her palm, winking as he drew back. "You're going to get me lamped by your wee big brother over there. Minx."

Liza's face underwent a small transformation, changing from amused to annoyed and back again within a few seconds. She glanced briefly in her brother's direction, noting how he seemed to be busy whispering sweet nothings in his wife's ear. "I would like to remind you, Mr. Finley, that I am an adult. I do not need my wee big brother's permission to flirt with a man." She leaned a little closer, a sweet smile on her face, before adding, "I also might as well tell you that blowing raspberries on a lady's hand is not very romantic. Just so you know," she said, with a playful tweak of his nose.

"Oh, is that not the way to your heart, Miss Liza?" he asked through another warm chuckle. She really was rather adorable, and far less uptight than he had first thought she might be. He would very much like to hunt down the man who had hurt her today, but that was a no-go. "Perhaps you'll save me a dance, then. I may redeem myself through the power of the waltz."

"Waltz?" she echoed, with a sputter of laughter. "Tell me, Mr. Finley ... Do you know how to do the Charleston?" she asked, with that bright flash of mischief in her eyes again.

He laughed. "Ah, my dear Miss Liza," he said, "it's the mark of a gentleman that he knows how to Charleston, but never does in public."

"Don't you believe it," Ellie interjected from the other side of the table. "That man did the Charleston at my mother's funeral just to cheer me up."

"Magnifique!" Liza exclaimed with a grin at Ellie's interjection. "I will make a bargain with you, Mister Finley," she said, accentuating the "Mister". "If you will Charleston with me," she said, tapping a finger against his nose, "I will waltz with you. Do we have a deal?"

Alex rolled his eyes at Eleanor, neatly choosing not to respond to his friend but to focus on his dinner-partner instead. "If I'm to Charleston in a public place, I feel I should require a little more than a single waltz from you in return, Miss Liza," he said with a faint grin. "I feel I should at least be able to claim the right to take you home at the end of the evening as well."

Eleanor Marshall

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Re: A Match Made In Paris
« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2018, 11:39:20 AM »
"Do you really?" Liza asked, trying not to look too pleased by his suggestion. It was a lot more fun playing hard to get; she didn't want to make it too easy for him, after all. "Hmm, I don't know. Shall I ask my wee brother what he thinks of that idea? After all, how do I know your intentions are honorable?"

"Oh, ask him," Alex encouraged her, leaning back with a wider grin. He was enjoying the conversation, determined not to make it seem too forceful or commanding. He had a feeling Eliza Marshall needed to be in control but still able to laugh. "And remind him who had the key when he made his first peace with his wee wifey there at the same time, aye?"

"His first peace?" she echoed, brows arching curiously upwards. She'd heard a little about that, but not the whole story, as her brother was not as forthcoming as his wife. "You mean, there was more than one?"

Meanwhile, it was becoming increasingly difficult for Jay to remain inconspicuously silent through all this.

Alex's chuckle was just a little on the evil side. "Oh, they still argue like cats and dogs if you get them started," he told her. "Though I believe making up is more fun now -"

"Alexander Finley, you shush right now!" Across the table, Eleanor's face was bright red as she glared at her friend.

Jay couldn't help but laugh, more at his wife's reaction than to what Alex was actually claiming. "He does have a point, love," he said, having a hard time hiding his amusement.

"They do say making up is the best part of arguing, though, of course, I wouldn't know," Liza said, feigning as much innocence as she could get away with.

"You're a fine, upstanding young lassie, clearly," Alex agreed with her verbally, while his eyes teased her for the lie in silent discretion. He would be very surprised if this young woman had never had a lover, even if she was still innocent in some ways. "But, you know, he asked her to marry him before we ever got into the jungle. She turned him down flat."

"Did he?" Liza asked, turning her gaze upon her brother with a curious expression on her face that was begging for him to confess either now or later. "Do tell," she said, studying her brother, though her statement was clearly meant for Alex.

"Oh, look! There's the waiter!" Jay interjected, raising his arm to get the man's attention, as well as to save himself from further explanation and embarrassment.

Alex chuckled again, clearly enjoying having the upper hand over Jay for the time being. He had no doubt his best friend's husband would find a way to even the odds again fairly soon. It was barely a few minutes to place their order, and Alex was quick to continue the conversation.

"Oh, aye," he told Eliza. "Offered to marry her so she wouldn't have to go into the jungle or marry her cousin, and she told him it was a lovely idea, but she didn't need a husband."

Ellie's blush deepened. "Well, I don't need a husband," she defended herself in embarrassment. "I love my husband, that's why I ... why am I defending this?" This was offered to Jay in exasperation. "I do love you, darling, that's why I agreed to marry you."

"Of course, you do. And I love you, too," Jay replied, leaning close to touch a tender kiss to her lips. Whether they'd had their share of arguments in the past or not, it seemed they were in complete agreement now.

Liza rolled her eyes at the smooching, though she was actually overjoyed that her brother had found happiness. "No one is questioning that, Jamie," she pointed out.

Ellie's smile was shy but warm as Jay kissed her, quietly relieved that Alex's teasing wasn't hitting any sore spots.

Alex caught Eliza's eye, rolling his eyes with her. "Aye, I'm just teasing you," he admitted. "You have to admit, it's bloody funny that she turned you down flat and then all but ran to the altar dragging you behind her."

"It almost makes you wonder what happened in the jungle," Eliza murmured, loud enough for the other couple to overhear, clearly teasing. Ellie had told her some of the story, but Liza assumed the other woman had left out the more personal bits.

"Well, they were all alone together for three days," Alex agreed cheerfully, still reveling in the freedom to tease. "And she didn't object to sharing a hot spring with him when they got back to us."

Liza gasped in feigned shock. "Scandalous!" she said, though there was that teasing gleam in her eyes once again - or had it never really disappeared? Whatever it was that had upset her earlier seemed to be at least momentarily forgotten.

"And what happened during those three days is no one's business but our own," Jay interjected, with a look of warning in his eyes that his sister only laughed away.

"I find it fascinating that you're so interested in my love life, Alex," Eleanor said suddenly, "when you were so vocally against ever letting anyone marry me when I was eight years old."

Now it was Alex's turn to blush faintly, clearing his throat. "I was a child, then," he pointed out, but Ellie was smirking, turning her eyes to Eliza.

"I really think you should ask him about what he did to his own brother for proposing to me when I was sixteen."

Jay was only too eager to exchange the hot seat with Alex, if only for a little while. He looked expectantly toward Alex with a smug grin on his face, but it was Eliza, who asked,

"Well, Alex? What did you do to your own brother for proposing when Ellie was sixteen?"

Alex squirmed, flicking a vaguely annoyed look at Eleanor. "I ... may ... have broken his nose with a feeding bucket from the stable," he said reluctantly.

"And filled his bed with manure," Ellie added. "Despite the fact that Bruce was just teasing me because I was being too girly."

Eliza's eyes widened at this revelation and she turned her scrutinizing gaze toward Alex. "And why was that? Were you jealous?" she asked. It was either that or he was over-protective of a girl he thought of as a sister, but to break his own brother's nose seemed a bit excessive to her.

Alex's expression darkened for a moment before it cleared again. "My brother was enjoying the freedom women don't have at the time," he said obliquely. "I wanted to make absolutely sure he wouldn't push his luck."

Eliza got the feeling the subject of Alex's brother was a touchy one. He had shared with her the tragedy of his death, and she didn't want to make him feel any more guilty than he already did. She reached over to touch his hand, a sympathetic smile on her face. "It's all right, Alex. You can't change the past, and I'm sure your brother understands."

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Re: A Match Made In Paris
« Reply #6 on: November 24, 2018, 11:39:46 AM »
"I should hope so," he mused, wry humor brightening his expression. "I broke his nose three times that year."

Ellie choked on her drink, startled at this news. She'd known about two of those, but apparently not the third.

Eliza winced. "That is a bit excessive," she murmured, but what was done was done. She secretly hoped Alex wasn't the violent type - she'd had enough experience with those, as evidenced by her black eye.

Alex lowered his voice so only Liza could hear. "Not when you consider that I have two illegitimate nieces that were born the year after," he told her softly. "Bruce was not a nice man." He patted her hand. "I should bring them over here sometime," he considered. "They might enjoy France."

Liza's eyes widened again. "Oh, I see," she murmured back, without asking further. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked," she apologized, despite the fact that it had been Ellie who'd brought the subject up.

Alex leaned toward her with a smile, shaking his head. "Ellie knows about them," he assured her, nodding toward the other pair. "She's probably filling him in now. And you didn't ask, I volunteered the information. Truth is, I'm sort of their guardian. I pay for their keep, both girls. A pair of ten year old sweethearts who know exactly how to wrap their uncle around their wee fingers."

Eliza smiled, though she was just now realizing that getting involved with Alex was a package deal. "I see," she murmured thoughtfully. This was going to take some getting used to, but then, she wasn't even sure if this was going anywhere yet.

But wasn't he already proving to be a better bet than her former love? Alex kept nothing back, even those things that might damage his standing in her eyes. He wasn't asking her to love him, or even to look at him in that light; he was offering his friendship to a woman who intrigued him, and if something came of it, he wanted her to know what she was getting into from the start. Thankfully for the rescue of the conversation, however, their food arrived, and talk turned to the delights of Paris over more personal topics.

Though Liza might not admit it or even realize it, Alex was slowly growing on her. She wasn't even thinking romance, though he was certainly attractive, and from what she had seen of him so far, he seemed kind and caring and he had a sense of humor, but was she ready for another romance? The fact that he was helping raise his brother's children didn't discourage her in the least. In fact, that only added to his charm, but she wasn't really ready to rush into anything. Get to know him first, she tried to tell herself, and yet, she couldn't help but smile, every time she chanced a glance at him.

Across the table, Ellie nudged Jay with a hint of smugness in her eyes. She had been right - Alex and Liza clearly liked one another, and whether it became a romance or not, that was a good thing.

"I do believe you have lost our bet, Captain Marshall," she murmured to him teasingly, sipping her coffee as Alex traded his after-dinner chocolate for another dance with Liza.

"I will admit, they seem to be getting along well with each other, but friendship is not the same as romance, Lady Marshall," he countered with a smile that was quickly replaced with a worried expression. "Is it me or does she look like she is trying to cover a bruise?" he asked, not quite fooled by the makeup job Alex had done, but too polite to mention it.

"As I recall, our wager was only on whether or not she would like him," Ellie murmured, tilting her head to glance at Eliza as he queried. Liza's eye did look a little swollen, but that could be caused by anything. "It could be the lighting," she said softly. "But, darling, if she is concealing a bruise, it will be because she does not want it mentioned this evening."

"I suppose," Jay reluctantly agreed, as he eyed the other couple. If she was bruised, he was sure it wasn't Alex who'd given it to her. Maybe she'd collided with a door, but somehow he doubted it. Whatever had happened, he was unlikely to find out without asking, and he knew asking would only upset her. "She does seem to be enjoying herself."

"You are having lunch together tomorrow while Alex and I move us into our rented apartments," his wife reminded him fondly. "I am sure you will have plenty to talk about." She kissed his cheek, nestling into his side as she smiled over at the others. "They both do. Alex has never told anyone about the girls at the first meeting before."

"I didn't know that about him," Jay said, with a frown that was more thoughtful than anything else. The more he got to know the man, the further impressed he was by him, and the same probably went for Eliza. "Are you keeping any secrets I should know about?" he asked her, though he doubted it.

"He doesn't want the shame of it to reflect on his brother's memory or on the girls," Ellie told him softly. "But he's the closest thing to a father they have." She smiled at the question aimed at her, more amused than anything. "Nothing as earth-shaking as that, darling," she promised impishly.

"Ah, but you do have secrets then," Jay teased, that frown turning into a smile as he refocused his attention on Ellie. Though they were married, they hadn't known each other very long and were learning new things about each other all the time.

"One or two," she admitted sweetly, tilting her head back to meet his gaze. "As I am sure you have one or two yourself." She took another sip of her coffee.

Jay lifted a shoulder in a faint shrug. "Nothing too shocking. I despise escargot. Does that count?" he asked, with a teasing grin. He glanced at the dance floor as the band slowed the music down. "Care to dance, Lady Marshall?"

"I would love to, Captain Marshall," she answered, her smile warm and bright as she set down her cup to take his hand.

Jay offered Ellie a hand, to led her to the dance floor. He didn't think he was much of a dancer - or much of a catch even - but he would try not to step on her toes.

Across the table, Alex cut a glance at Eliza. "Do I have to Charleston before I get that waltz, Miss Liza?"

Liza smiled coquettishly and even batted her lashes. "Are you asking me to dance, Mister Alex?" she countered. Or more accurately, to dance again.

"Well, far as I can recall, you owe me two waltzes and I owe you a Charleston, so ... yes," he agreed with a bright grin. "Want me to do it properly this time?" He caught the end of Ellie's giggle as she and Jay slipped to the dancefloor, and suddenly found himself flustered. He wasn't performing for anyone's benefit, but it suddenly occurred to him that being this much himself might not always be a good thing.

Liza seemed to sense something was wrong suddenly and reached over to offer another reassuring touch to his hand. "Alex, you don't have to try so hard. Not with me. I like you already," she said, her voice quiet, her tone reassuring. "But I will take that dance."

He grimaced gently, the expression turning to a smile at her words. "I just don't want you to think I'm doing this for Ellie's sake," he said. "I like you, Liza, a good deal. But I wouldn't force my attention on you if you don't want it."

"Relax, Alex," she said, sliding her fingers through his and giving his hand a gentle squeeze, a soft smile on her face. "I know Jamie and Ellie are playing matchmaker, but I like you, too. If I didn't want to dance with you, I wouldn't."

"Well, then ..." Smiling, Alex rose to his feet, bowing to her with perfect aplomb. "May I have this dance, Miss Marshall? I do solemnly swear not to tread on your feet."

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Re: A Match Made In Paris
« Reply #7 on: November 24, 2018, 11:40:11 AM »
"You have not done so, so far," she reminded him. "I think my toes are safe." She offered her hand, letting him take it before moving to her feet to follow him to the dance floor.

He chuckled, gently tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow to draw her out among the dancing couples. "And to think, just twenty years ago, this dance was considered scandalous," he teased as he drew her into his arms, his hand resting with confident calm at her back.

"But it's 1926 now, Alex. The world is changing," she pointed out, one hand coming to rest against his shoulder, while the other clasped his hand, allowing him to lead her across the dance floor.

"Do you know, I believe you're right." He flashed that grin down at her again, daring a little more scandal by sliding his arm just that little bit further about her waist. Drawing her just that little bit closer. "So, Miss Liza, we've talked greatly about me this evening. I should like to know a little about you."

She shrugged lightly, despite the fact that they were currently waltzing about the dance floor. "There's not much to tell really. It's just been Jamie and me for some time now, ever since Father died. Before that even. He became distant after Mother died, and we were mostly raised by governesses after that." She wasn't sure how much he wanted to know, or how much he knew already.

"Sounds lonely," Alex murmured, a flicker of guilt crossing his gaze. He couldn't help thinking of the two little girls he was responsible for, who were also being raised by governesses for the most part. He really should go back to England for a while soon. "And what is it Miss Eliza Marshall dreams of?" he asked then, brightening his expression. "What would make her happiest?"

"We had each other," she pointed out with a smile she hoped he would interpret as reassuring. At least, until her father had sent Jay away to boarding school, but she didn't mention that. "What do I dream of?" she echoed, repeating a question few had ever bothered to ask. "I don't honestly know. I have only thought of painting for so long."

"Are you happy, Eliza?" Alex asked her gently. "With your life as it is? Or is there something you would change, if given the opportunity?"

Liza frowned as she considered his question. She knew what she wanted, but was a little reluctant to admit it. Or perhaps she was just afraid to hope.  "I want what every woman wants, Alex - someone to share my life with," she confessed, not saying one way or the other if she was truly happy.

His smile was just a little sad. "It's not just women that want that, pet," he said quietly, not even noticing that he had given her an endearment he didn't even give Eleanor. Then he drew in a sharp breath, seeming to clear the sadness from his mind. "Tell me ... how do you feel about spending Christmas with a pair of ten year olds? They're marvelous at bringing the joy back into the season."

"Me?" she asked, eyes widening in surprise. "But what about Jamie and Ellie?" she asked, unsure what exactly he was suggesting.

"Well, all of us, aye," he assured her with a low chuckle. "But I would hope we'll still be friendly in a couple of months' time. If you're on my side, Jay and Ellie won't be able to drag me to too many society parties because the girls'll be here."

"Alex," she started, furrowing her brows at him, still trying to sort out what it was he had in mind exactly. "You don't need me around to spend time with your nieces," she pointed out.

"I'd like you to be, though." It was a gentle sort of honesty - not offered because he was hoping to ensnare her, but because it seemed as though Eliza Marshall could do with a little innocent pleasure in her life. "There's nothing else quite like spending the festive season with excitable wee ones. It's a pleasure you seem to be missing in your life, and one that I can share with you, if you'll allow it."

"Well, if Jamie and Ellie are going to be there, I see no reason why I shouldn't be," Liza replied, though her reason for saying yes really had very little to do with her brother and his wife and more to do with Alex.

"I would be very glad to spend my Christmas with you, Liza," Alex assured her. All the while they had been dancing, barely putting a foot wrong, proving that, while he may have been of a lower class than his best friend, Alex Finley had clearly retained much from his lessons in childhood.

"Then you shall," Liza replied, smiling. "It's the least I can do to repay you for helping with my little, um, problem," she said, meaning the shiner, though once again, that wasn't really why she was agreeing to it.

"And here I thought one of my dances was for that," he teased gently. "I shall have to think of another dastardly way to make you fall over yourself to make me smile ... though I must say, your smile is by far the prettiest in this room."

Liza laughed quietly, a little more than a giggle. "If I didn't know better, I might think you were flirting, sir," she teased in return. If he was, indeed, flirting, she didn't seem to mind.

He flashed her a grin. "Now, do I seem the sort to risk your wee big brother's wrath with some harmless flirtation, Miss Liza?" he asked. The press of his hand at her back could probably answer that question for her; he was holding her closer than an unmarried couple should be when dancing.

"You have mentioned my wee big brother's wrath more than once, Mister Alex, and yet, I have not yet seen him so much as bat an eye in our direction. I wonder if, perhaps, you are afraid of something else," she considered aloud, with a playful twinkle in her eyes. "And if so, I wonder what that something else is."

"Perhaps I am afraid to show too much interest, for fear such interest will put too much pressure on you to make a decision neither one of us would be ready to make until we know one another," he countered, winking down at her as they traversed the dancefloor.

"Oh, I don't think you need to worry about that," Liza assured him, making no complaints about how close he was holding her. In fact, thought she might not say so, she was rather enjoying it. "You did say you were looking for friendship," she reminded him, with a wink of her own.

"Aye, well ..." For a moment, he seemed a little awkward. Could he be blushing? "Friendship's a good place to start, isn't it?"

"I think so, don't you?" she countered, turning the question back around on him. Maybe it wasn't friendship either of them was looking for, but considering her past, it was probably a good place to start. "Tell me ... How did you and Ellie meet? You said you grew up together?"

"Oh, my father was her father's lawyer," he explained, "and our mothers grew friendly through that. After my mother passed, Ellie's mother insisted that we boys spend time with her wee girl, that it would good for us. She was right, too."

A brief frown crossed her face at news of his mother's passing - an old pain they both shared, it seemed. "So, she's like a sister to you, then," she deduced. It was an easy presumption to make now that she understood what their relationship had been growing up.

"Aye, she is." He tilted a curious look toward her. "I'm not jealous of your brother in that regard, pet," he promised. "When we were younger, Ellie was the biggest thorn in my side. These days, she's my best friend. but in love with her? Never."

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Re: A Match Made In Paris
« Reply #8 on: November 24, 2018, 11:40:31 AM »
"I didn't think you were," Liza assured him. At least, not anymore - not now that she knew how Alex felt about her brother's wife. She couldn't help but giggle a little at his confession regarding Ellie. "Jamie was a thorn in my side sometimes, too, but mostly, we were all each other had."

"Aye, it can feel that way, can't it?" he commiserated softly. "I don't blame my father, but he had no time for us after my mother died. Everything became about his work, his standing in society. Losing Bruce almost killed him; he won't even acknowledge his granddaughters. They're shameful, to him."

"Nor did mine," Liza replied, with a small frown. This was another thing they had in common, it seemed. "He's still alive?" she asked, brows arching upwards in obvious surprise. For some reason, she'd assumed his father had died.

Alex nodded, his gaze far away for a long moment. "He and I ... we're oil and flame," he told her in a quiet voice. "He's happiest with his club and his gentlemen. He's spent his best years working; now he can enjoy his life on his own terms. I speak to him once or twice a year, but so long as I'm caring for the girls, he won't have much to say to me."

"What the devil does he expect you to do with them?" Liza asked, her face flushing in what almost seemed like anger. She had never been very good at hiding her emotions. "They are his flesh and blood, whether he likes it or not. And those children should not be held at fault for the sins of their parents."

"Their mothers were serving maids." Alex sighed, shaking his head. "And he has always wanted to raise his position in society. He almost disowned Bruce when my brother took the girls from their mothers, but his eldest boy was special. Without Bruce in the family, my father and I have little to talk about."

Liza hardly noticed that the music was changing from a waltz to something with a little more lively, until she looked around and saw no one was waltzing anymore but then. She blushed a little before pulling away from his embrace only to lead him to the side of the dance floor. "Is there some place we can talk?" she asked, not quite ready to rejoin Jay and Ellie.

"Uh ... aye, there's a garden, I believe," Alex agreed, drawing her arm through his. "We'll not stay out so long you get chilly, though." He offered Jay and Ellie a smile and a nod, just so they knew where Liza had ended up.

"Is it me or is my sister beaming?" Jay asked, returning Alex's nod as the man and his sister walked past. And just where did they think they were going? Though he kept that question to himself, his expression probably asked as much for him.

"She does seem very happy with the company she is keeping," Ellie agreed, sipping her drink. She tilted her head toward her husband, softening her voice. "She is perfectly safe with Alex, love," she told him quietly. "He would never take advantage of her."

"But would she take advantage of him?" Jay murmured quietly, mostly to himself. His gaze followed the pair until they were out of sight, but he remained where he was. His sister was an adult, after all, and he knew Alex enough to trust him.

Ellie gave him a sharp look, surprised by his murmur. "She ... no, she wouldn't," she insisted firmly, slapping his arm with a gentle hand. "Give her a little credit, darling - not every woman wants to take advantage of the man she finds most attractive."

Jay blinked out of his thoughts and turned his attention back to that of his wife. "No? What about you?" he asked with a playful smirk, his worries about his sister at least temporarily forgotten.

His wife offered him a rather innocent smile. "Have I ever taken advantage of you?" she asked sweetly, reaching up to draw her fingertip along the underside of his jaw. "No, I don't believe I have. Perhaps I should make it my goal."

"Actually, I think you have," he replied with a grin, though he didn't think she'd agree. He turned to face her and slid his arms around her waist, though they were no longer dancing. "Care to take a walk in the garden and spy on them?" he asked, that hint of mischief in his eyes again.

"And when did I take advantage of you, pray?" she asked through a smile of her own, slipping her arms about his waist as he drew her in. She didn't care what watchers thought of them; she was a very happily married woman.

"When you took a bath in the spring?" he replied. Okay, so that hadn't exactly been taking advantage of him, but it certainly had been tempting.

"I did not touch you!" She laughed, rising onto her toes to brush a kiss to the corner of his mouth. "Are you sure you want to spy on your sister, love? Or should we, instead, say goodnight and ... explore these strange recollections of my boldness in your mind?"

"Do you trust Liza enough to leave her alone with Alex?" he asked, smiling into her kiss. Perhaps he should be asking that question the other way around, but in truth, he trusted them both. And if Ellie was right and Liza found romance with Alex, who was he to fault her for finding that little bit of happiness?

"Well, Captain Marshall ..." Her hands slid against his back as she grinned at him, nose to nose. "I do believe I do. Do you?"

"Do I trust Liza or Alex?" Jay countered, mirroring her grin, as he brushed his nose against hers. "Shall we say goodnight before we get arrested for lewd conduct?" he asked, though that was hardly likely. After all, this was Paris and they were fully dressed.

"Oh, I think we should," she agreed impishly, drawing back from his embrace with a mischievous glimmer in her eyes. "After all, love, you have yet to make me absolutely aware of how you feel about seeing my ankles in public."

"I'm looking forward to seeing more than that in private," he said, leaning forward to whisper it in her ear, a whisper of breath against her neck.

She giggled, swatting at him with her purse. "Let's find your sister and say goodnight," she told him. "Then you can play."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, chuckling at the swat. He touched a quick kiss to her lips, just a preview of what awaited her later, and linked her arm with his to lead her into the garden to bid the other couple goodnight. Jay may have lost the wager, but he didn't much care, so long as Liza was happy.

A little early, perhaps, to be declaring the introduction a success, but nevertheless ... a very good start to the beginning of the rest of their lives.