It was on a hot summer afternoon that Lady Hill, the visiting Marchioness of Dunstand, declared the lavish tea party on their country villa. Word had gone around that nobles from far and wide would come to the party, making it the ideal hunting ground for opportunistic mothers with daughters of the marrying age. Nevertheless of the uncomfortable summer heat, everyone donned on their best summer garments. The jolly festivities guaranteed everyone a great time.
Meanwhile, a little black head stuck out from the door with great caution and scanned the deserted hall way with keen sapphire eyes. Six year old Serena Fallows mentally plotted on making a run for the glass door that led outside to the gardens where the party was taking place. She, along with several playmates, had agreed on a game of hide-and-seek; as the best player among the group, Serena took her hiding very seriously. Unfortunately, she hadn't gone halfway through the hall when the shrieking voice of Emily Vanders pulled her to a halt.
It turned out that she was the last to have gotten caught, so her ego wasn't too bruised.
Emily giggled. "Jeremy told me."
The little brunette tossed the boy of eight a haughty look for squealing and gave him the silent treatment. Being the sole heiress of an Earl; thus, as the undisputed head of the group, Serena led the gang outside for refreshments and snacks. They eyed the conversing adults with disinterest and secluded themselves in an area not too far away.
Victoria Britton, a brusque blonde and daughter of a rich local merchant, bickered on the best and most awful dresses the grown-ups were wearing with the shaking of her head. The company, she went on, was totally unfit for the Duke of Norton who was rumored to be arriving at the party. Emily frowned at the scornful attitude, having always been the angel of the group as well as Serena's best friend. It had been a common joke between them how they had practically been together since their diaper days. And as always, they were there to back each other up.
"Don't be silly, Victoria. I heard my grandfather say how good his grace is, and I won't believe that he's arrogant enough to refuse common company." The remark with its usual haughtiness left Victoria red.
"I heard the Duke will be bringing their son with them today," Emily contributed, shyly twisting her copper hair in her little fingers. "I hope he'll be nice."
"The name's Derek, or so I heard," John Marshal, son of a Baron and the eldest of the group at eleven, corrected.
"Well, I think he's going to be a fine gentleman," Serena said, laying down her assumption on their conversation. "I've met him once before at our house. He didn't stay very long though so I only had the impression that he was quiet. But the servant girls simply gushed how adorable he was and how he'll sure to grow up handsome."
"I'm sure that's why you've been crushing on him!" Jeremy Prince teased. Like Serena, he was an heir of a less renowned Earl. And more than once had the privilege been abused with his pranks.
The little brunette flamed red. "You shut your mouth, Jeremy Prince! I do not!" She did, as a matter of fact, have a slight crush on the soon-to-be Duke as Jeremy said, but was ready to deny it even at the risk of a spanking.
"Well, is he handsome?" Ashley, Jeremy's twin sister, wanted to know.
Blushing, Serena shrugged. "I suppose."
Victoria, who had her eyes at the party all the while listening to the group, squealed in delight. "I see them! I see the Duke and his son!"
Five heads turned at once to catch glimpses on the mysterious Cradwells, the noble family who was once said to be a common presence at the Queen's castle! Serena's eyes searched the crowd for the little Duke she once saw at their parlor and since then had resided in her innocent fantasies. Her blue eyes scouted the vicinity helplessly until they met the form of the boy of her dreams.
At the age of thirteen, hardly a child anymore, Derek Cradwell walked with two friends of his own toward their little group. Together, they looked superior and almost adult that Serena felt the bitterness of being on different worlds. He had grown over the period of time since she had last seen him so that now, she had to strain her eyes by slanting them upward.
The Duke's friend, a dark haired boy with a friendly smile talked with John and arranged a game of a tag by pairs to avoid difficulties. Partners appeared in a blink of an eye and by the time Serena had recovered from her trance, she found her usual partner Emily already snagged by Ashley. John always partnered with Jeremy, and the dark headed boy sided with their other companion, leaving her and Victoria with the Duke as a matter of who will be left out.
Serena smiled smugly and felt the confidence burning in her chest. It would surely be her-after all she was known as the best runner throughout the country side! She was the champion of champions in tags! Everyone was already telling the young boy to choose her! She eagerly anticipated the Duke, who even at this time had not said a word, to call her forward. But to her absolute shame, Derek motioned for Victoria to come.
Humiliation had never been as worse for the little brunette.
Serena forced a smile to Emily, who sensed her hurt pride, to tell her she was okay and mumbled about resting for a while. She took a glaring look at the nasty Duke and Victoria who was more than happy to be partnered with the most handsome boy she had ever seen. Tears were stinging her eyes and blurring her vision; with all the haughtiness she could still muster, the little brunette turned and walked away from the group, scarred with shame and wounded pride.
It was on that hot summer afternoon that six year old Serena Fallows swore to loathe the Duke of Norton for as long as her rage would allow her to. And somehow, it was a rage that never went away.