"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."