Morgan stared, at the ugly brown dress spread across the bed. She shivered. Remembering again what she must do tonight she turned slowly and gazed wistfully into the without interest her pale hair mirror, seeing and blue eye. She tried cocking her head and smiling. But no...she wasn't pretty, and she was sure she never would be.
She turned quickly as a knock sounded and her uncle strode in. He was a short, portly man, given to excess at the table, He smiled at her and reached out to touch her chin. She tamed her head away.
"What do you want?" she asked coldly.
"Is everything all right? How is your packing coming?"
"Fine." She kept her face averted.
He looked around the room at the closed trunks and, finally, at the brown silk dress on the bed. He touched the silk lightly.
"Why don't you rest before we leave for the ball? You have a few hours yet."
She didn't answer, and he turned and left the room, closing the door behind him quietly.
Morgan removed her dress and replaced it with a plain dressing gown. She lay down but she couldn't sleep. Instead, she found herself going over it all yet again.
The problems had started before she was born. Both her father and her mother had been brought up to the life of wealthy plantation owners in southern Kentucky. But her father had wanted to venture out, to seek the hardships and challenges of the frontier.
After her parents' marriage, the young couple had moved to New Mexico. Morgan was born there. Her mother had nearly died in childbirth. The baby was early, and it was a full eighteen hours before her husband could bring a midwife to his wife. Morgan had heard many times from her mother of the horror and pain shewent through all alone. Being a lady, she would not allow any of the ranch hands in the room.
When Morgan was a year old, her mother and she returned to Kentucky. Her mother had refused to bring up her daughter in savage New Mexico. There had been many an argument between her parents, and her father had said that if his wife took their child and left him, he never wanted to see either of them again. And that's the way it had been: she had not seen her father in seventeen years.
Her mouth hardened as she realized that he had his revenge now. In death, he was punishing his wife through his daughter.
She tried to keep her mind off the reading of the will, just two weeks ago, that horrible will that had led to her decision about tonight.
She turned her head toward the door when she heard a light knock, smiling at her aunt's voice.
As Lacey entered, Morgan couldn't help but think how well the older woman's name fit her. Lacey was small and frail, as if she might break. She reminded Morgan of a starched and crocheted doily.
"Hello, dear. Are you feeling all right? I imagine you're excited about tonight.
Aunt Lacey was always so sweet She assumed that, since Morgan was young, she must be excited about going to the ball. And Morgan would have been, too, if the circumstances were different She gazed at the nondescript brown dress, which she had pushed to one side of the bed, and Lacey's eyes followed hers.
Lacey walked around the bed, touched the silk, and said gently, "Brown isn't really your color, is it, my dear?"
Morgan fought the urge to throw back her head and laugh hysterically. "It's all. right, Aunt Lacey. I don't mind
I could have a Paris gown and it wouldn'tmatter. Nothing could make me pretty, just as Uncle Horace says."
Lacey's eyes were sad. She moved around the room to sit beside Morgan on the bed. She looked at her niece closely. "I know Horace says you're not pretty"
"My mother said so too."
"But I can't help thinking that if you wore brighter clothes and didn't hide your hair ... you know you have lovely hair." She ran a finger down Morgan's cheek. "And such lovely skin." She paused. "I really feel, dear, that if you smiled more, you would be much more attractive."
Morgan grimaced. Her aunt had often told her that if she looked happier and were a little bit livelier, she would be pretty. Morgan smiled faintly at what her mother would say about her aunt's encouraging Morgan to make herself more "attractive." Attractive indeedlike a flower enticing bees.
Seeing Morgan smile, Lacey patted her hand. "That's better, dear." She rose to leave, pausing with her hand on the door. "Could I help you dress, or help with your hair?"
"No, thank you, Aunt Lacey. I think I may sleep awhile."
"Good. I'll wake you in an hour."
The door closed, and Morgan was alone again. She lay back and slept. An hour later, Lacey returned to waken her, then went back to her own room to complete her toilette.
Morgan lifted the brown silk dress, stared at it a moment, and tossed it back on the bed. She had to fight the urge to tear it to shreds. Again, she thought of her father. This was all his fault In all her eighteen years, she had never had to worry about her appearance.
She and her mother had lived alone for fifteen years in Trahern House. "Trahem House." The very name made her homesick. Trahern House was one hundred seventy-five acres ofgreen, rolling countryside with a duck pond, bridle paths, and woods. Her mother had indulged Morgan's every desire. She longingly recalled her pretty little mare, Cassandra...
Jude Deveraux is the author of historical and contemporary women's fiction featuring women of strong character and gorgeous, exciting men. Jude has had more than thirty books on the New York Times bestsellers list, 60 million copies in print, and has been translated into 18 languages. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading murder mysteries, working in her garden, and in boxing class she likes to show much younger males that she can throw a mean right cross.