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Consciousnesscame slowly to Kagome Higurashi. In her dreams she was aboard some great ship sailing an endless, glassy sea. And she was dancing, swirling, swirling, making circles within circles to the music of a waltz, thunderous, ecstatic, and it felt heavenly, thrilling, but she was dizzy, terribly dizzy.
On and on the music played and she couldn't stop dancing. Whirling around her were faces, so many beautiful faces. Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth the I of England. And there, yes, that was Napoleon. He was looking at her, smiling. He seemed to know her. Everyone was looking at her, and she knew why. She was naked. Where ere her clothes?
Then the music stopped and with it her dizziness. She looked for her partner. But he was gone. Whom had she been dancing with? Then a man appeared, a giant, so powerful people parted along the crowded deck to make way for him as he strode toward her, nearer and neared, ever bigger until he towered over her. Then she knew. He was a pirate and she was on a pirate ship.
Suddenly she was afraid and looked up at his face to see what he was going to do with her. But she couldn't see his face. Why couldn't she? Everyone has a face. Then he bent and picked her up. She felt so light, as though she were floating, suspended in space. It was wonderful, so wonderful, and she sighed with pleasure.
It was that sound of her own voice sighing which made her realize she was conscious. She opened her eyes, but every thing was so strange, her eyelids so heavy. She closed them again. It felt so delicious just to lie there, so relaxed, so comfortable. She was warm and tingly and rapturously languid. Heaven must be like this. She reached out with her hands and felt cool, smooth fabric. Again her mind forced reality upon her. The fabric was muslin. Sheets. She was lying in bed.
Once more she opened her eyes. She saw a ceiling first, then, lowering her vision, draperies at a window, the top of a door. She didn't know any of it. She raised her head. She was lying in a strange bed in a room she didn't know. Alarm sounded in her brain and she willed herself to sit up and slide to the edge of the bed. But it was all done slowly. Her arms, legs, her whole body seemed so heavy. What was wrong with her?
She shook her head, trying to clear it. She had to think. Where was she? Then she looked down at herself. She still wore her beautiful ball gown, her blue satin slippers. That was when she began to remember.
“Are your eyes close, dear? A gown this beautiful shouldn't be seen till everything is just right.”
Standing there in her bedroom, being dressed by her grandmother, Kagome Higurashi felt the high excitement of anticipation. “Yes, but I can hardly wait”
The excitement had been building for days. They were all going to a masked ball, a royal ball, the most important of the season. Prince Edward and Princess Alexandra were to attend, along with most of the brilliant people that the London of 1870 had to offer. There were ever rumors Queen Victoria might break her mourning for Prince Albert and come.
“I know, dear. It'll only be a minute now.”
Kagome heard a combination of calmness and amusement in the voice of her grandmother, the celebrated Kaede Morgan. In strict accuracy she was Kaede MacDoul, but everyone thought of her as Kaede Morgan, after Daniel Morgan, her first husband and Kagome's grandfather.
“KaedeMa . . .” It was her affectionate term for her grandmother; she had used it since she was a child.
“. . . Do you think the English will mind our costumes? After all, we are all Americans.”
“Hardly, dear. I should think everyone will be pleased.”
What Kagome was expressing, Kaede understood, was worry about egalitarian Americans dressing as royalty. Kaede was going as Marie Antoinette. She was already in her costume when she came to dress Kagome, her white hair piled atop her head. She wore a lavish hooped gown of white satin, so brilliant in the light it dazzled the eye. And the neckline was cut so deeply oval, Kagome almost couldn't believe it. She was always shocked by the daring gowns her grandmother wore---and she even wore a beauty mark to accentuate the necklines. Her mother, Kia Higurashi, was going as Elizabeth the I of England, and she was to be Empress Josephine to her brother Souta's Emperor Napoleon.
“Raise your arms, dear. It goes over the head.”
When Kagome had obeyed, Kaede said, “Now hold still. I don't want muss your hair.”
Great secrecy surrounded the dress, and that only heightened Kagome's excitement. Kaede had insisted on buying the costumes for Kagome and her mother, but they had to be a surprise. Fitting were made from dress forms, and Kagome had no clue to the nature of the gown. For days she had asked girlish questions. What color is it? What material was it made of? It had become a family game with Kaede teasing her with silly answers: “Just an old rag, dear.” “I think it is made from old gunnysacks.” It was great fun, Christmas in April, and an excited Kagome loved every moment of it.
She felt cool smoothness against her skin and shivered a bit from the luxuriousness of it. “It's satin, isn't it, KaedeMa? I can feel it.”
“Only partly, dear. Now bend over.”
Kagome thought it strange that her grandmother had told her to wear only pantaloons and no chemise before putting on the dress. Now she began to understand. For a second Kagome felt her breast falling free, then felt the bodice of the dress fit over them. As she stood up, she could feel the pressure of whalebone at the bottom and sides of her breasts. Then her grandmother's fingers were fastening the back of the dress, and in a moment she felt hands tugging at it, adjusting the bodice, patting here, smoothing there.
Then the hands were gone. “Kagome, my dear, I think I may cry.”
“Why, KaedeMa? Isn't the gown right?”
“Oh, no, darling, it's just perfect. You look breath-taking.”
“Then why are you crying?”
“I 'm not crying, dear. I just felt like it for a moment.” She sighed. “How can I tell you? When I was almost eighteen, just a little younger than you, your grandfather Daniel bought me my first ball gown. We were in Lisbon, and I adored it so. It was just like this. I was thrilled then and I'm thrilled now. I feel like I'm looking at myself as a young girl.
All her life Kagome had heard how much she looked like her grandmother. Kagome couldn't see the resemblance. KaedeMa seemed so old to her, and her hair, which everyone said had once been so black, had turned silver in the Celtic manner. She loved her grandmother dearly and thought she still very beautiful, but she didn't feel she looked like her.
But then there was no way Kagome could have seen her grandmother when she was young. There could be no doubt genetics had a powerful influence on Kagome Higurashi. From Kaede, she inherited hair so black and shining it looked like polished onyx. From beneath dark brows and heavy double lashes showed eyes the color of brilliant sapphires. But, like Kaede, it was her complexion which gave her her true beauty, being so fair it was almost white, with hardly a hint of color, and so thin it seemed to possess at times an inner luminescence.
Their resemblance truly did amaze Kaede. Oh, when she mad the effort, Kaede could see the difference between them. Kagome's mouth was a little fuller, her nose a trifle smaller and turned up a bit more, her chin more square. And Kagome's eyes, if a precise measurement could have been made, were a little larger and perhaps even more vivid. Yet, the similarities between Kagome and the young Kaede were surely startling.
“Is the dress really beautiful, KaedeMa?”
“Oh yes, darling, yes. Just like I've remembered it all these years.”
“Can I see now? I think I'm going to burst with excitement.”
“Of course. Let me help you to the mirror first. You should see the entire effect.”
Kagome felt her grandmother take her hand and lead her a few steps to the left.
“Open your eyes, darling. Behold a vision.”
Kagome waited a moment longer, letting the anticipation build, then slowly opened her eyes. Almost immediately she gasped, for there in the chifforobe mirror was a person she hardly recognized. Her hair had been arranged in tiny ringlets to frame her face, then pulled to the back of her head and fashioned into a cascade of curls at her neck. She saw eyes, larger and bluer than she'd ever seen them before, ruby lips, and expanse of white throat---and the dress, oh, the dress. Never had she seen a gown so exquisite. Yards and yards of silk chiffon draped over a thin slip satin et, all of it a shade of blue, between sapphire and delphinium, that deepened and magnified her eyes.
Because she was Empress Josephine, the gown was Empire style, snugged high under her bosom with ribbons, and falling straight over her hips to her ankles. Below the hem, the tips of blue dancing slippers could be seen.
But Kagome attention was immediately fixed on something else. She glanced at herself and gasped at her décolletage. The bodice, held up bu little puff sleeves at the shoulder, seemed almost nonexistent, just a few wisps of chiffon shielding her areolae. She looked at her image in the mirror, then down at her front again and finally back at the mirror. Her breast lifted up and pressed together with the cleverly concealed whalebone, were almost entirely revealed, twin milky mounds with a deep valley between.
“My dear, you look absolutely enchanting.”
The gown, indeed the entire effect of the girl wearing it, was every ting Kagome had ever dreamed of, a hundred French and English romances all rolled into one, flawlessly beautiful, wholly fashionable and demure, yet shockingly sensual. A word leaped to her mind---womanly. The girl in the mirror seemed the embodiment of womanliness.
She felt her heart pounding with excitement, and to quell it she closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them to again confront the image, she saw reality. This was no storybook romance, no indulgent daydream. This was herself, Kagome Higurashi, wearing this shocking gown, and those were her breasts exposed for public inspection. At that moment her instinctive shyness exerted itself, and the vision in the mirror was instantly changed to an ugly, menacing apparition.
Her mouth came open, and when the words finally came out they were a stammer. “I---I can't---wear this, KaedeMa. I---I'm a---a spectacle.”
In the mirror, Kagome saw Kaede step into the reflection andput her arm around her waist affectionately. Kaede eyes were bright with laughter.
“I remember when I first wore my gown. I felt as you do---thrilled, yet dismayed. I remember saying almost your same words. 'Daniel, I can't wear this. I'm a spectacle.' You know what he replied?”
“I think he said something like, 'Indeed you are.' So let me tell you, sweet Kagome, you are indeed a spectacle, sure to be the loveliest girl at the ball.”
Kaede had deliberately understated the case. Kagome looked devastatingly lovely. There was a natural aura to her which this remarkable gown merely highlighted. She conveyed, always, petiteness, demureness, fragility. She had an inborn delicacy, a natural reserve, a comfortableness with silence which was at times positively unnerving. No matter what she did or wore, she was always every inch the lady. This natural created a stunning effect. Kagome Higurashi was at this moment pure femininity.
Kagome had another view. She knew what her grandmother was doing. KaedeMa worried about her being so shy and withdrawn, so timid and selfconsciouss. She had been, in her grand mother's opinion, overprotected at Miss Pinckney's School in London, however posh it was. She read too many romantic novels and lived far too often in a world of daydreams. This dress was a calculation by her grandmother. It was supposed to bring the butterfly out of the cocoon, break down her shyness, make her get over her selfconsciousness. Kagome wanted no part of it. “I can't, KaedeMa. I can't wear this.” In the mirror she saw Kaede's brilliant smile turn into a light laugh as she reached around her and snugged the bodice a little further down her breasts. “Don't KaedeMa. I'm almost naked.”
Again the smile mixed with laughter. “Almost is not quite.”
Once more Kagome surveyed her form in the mirror, disapproval, even desperation, on her face. “KaedeMa, it's practically a nightgown.”
And KaedeMa laughed. “I suppose that's why it was called the chemise dress. In Napoleons day, it was always white. But I like blue. It's perfect for your eyes, don't you think?”
Kagome did not think anything was perfect. “You're going to make me wear this?”
“Yes, it cost a fortune.”
“Why must I wear this?” There was a pleading tone to her voice.
“Because you're Empress Josephine and that was the style in those days. And you're so lovely, Kagome.
She still sat on the edge of the bed, struggling against he languid, heavy feeling. All she wanted was to fall backward on the bed and sleep. But she fought it. Where was she? How had she got here? She looked around the room. It was small, utilitarian. Nothing was familiar. Whose room was it? She had to remember. Slowly, Kagome looked down at her dress again, seeing her breasts protruding in front of her. Yes. Ma ma had entered the bedroom, and Kagome had protested to her that the gown was to revealing. She, too, had said it was lovely. If Kagome were embarrassed, she could hide behind her mask. That had her feel better, for a while anyway.
Yes, they had all gone downstairs. Souta, her brother, was waiting, dressed as Napoleon. She had laughed at him. He was too tall and too handsome to look anything like Napoleon. She had seen his eyes widen as he saw her dress. Then he'd smiled and said, “Big sister, you look like---a big sister.” She had laughed. If anyone else had said it, she would have blushed.
At the ball she had been introduced to Prince Edward, Princess Alexandra, Prime Minister Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli. She couldn't remember everyone. All of them were nice, but she couldn't get over being nervous, feeling self-conscious. It had seemed to her she was all breasts and that's all anyone looked at. She had tried to be more poised, but she couldn't help it. She was shy. That's all there was to it. She wished she had never gone to the ball. She was having a miserable time. Then something happened. What? If she weren't so tired and sleepy, maybe she could remember. Maybe if she just rested a moment, she would be able to think. Slowly she fell back on the bed and closed her eyes.
Kagome had no idea if she slept or for how long. But she was shocked awake by the sound of a key turning in the lock. Instantly she sat up, and as soon as she saw who entered, she remembered what had happened. At the ball she had danced with a youkia dressed as a pirate---buckle shoes, white hose, satin britches, wide belt form which a sheathed knife hung, blue and white striped shirt with a red kerchief knotted at his throat. Another kerchief, tied at the side concealed his hair. Little of his face had been visible, for his mask covered his forehead, cheekbones and much of his nose. She hadn't wanted to dance with him, but he had insisted, almost dragging her out on the floor. He had said wicked, intimate things which had shocked her. She'd tried to break away but he held her, dancing faster and faster to a tumultuous waltz. When it was over, she was out of breath. He'd fetched her some punch, then she'd felt dizzy. He'd led her out into the garden. The dizziness had increased. He'd led her deeper into the garden. That's all she could remember.
He was in the room with her now, still wearing his pirate costume. She could only stare at him wide-eyed, for she was suddenly afraid.
“Don't be frightened. No harm will come to you.”
Still she looked at him. Did she know him? She could see so little of his face, just gold eyes peeking through the mask, and below, a wide mouth with a full, sensitive lower lip, a strong chin. It was a nice mouth. She'd noticed that first thing. But did she know him?
“I'm not going to hurt you, Kagome. Believe me.”
Finally she was able to speak. “Were am I?”
“With me, at my place.”
“But. . .” There seemed something she ought to say, questioning to be asked, a protest to be made, but her mind didn't seem to be functioning right. She felt so heavy, so languorous. All she wanted to do was sleep.
“You must be thirsty. Drink this.”
“Why have you brought me here?”
He held a crystal wineglass toward her. “Drink.”
“Yes, I am thirsty.” She accepted the goblet. The liquid was clear and cool, but thick and a little sweet. She wasn't sure that she liked it. But she heard him order her to drink it all and she obeyed. Almost at once, she felt the heat in her stomach, burning.
“You'll feel better in a moment.”
She looked at him again, the pirate, a mask obscuring all but his mouth and chin. She'd liked the mouth. And his voice. It was soft, mellow, yet there was command to it. She'd never known a man to talk to her as he did.
“How long did I sleep?”
“Not long, only a few minutes.”
She looked at him more intently. If only she could see his face, Those eyes, that beautiful mouth conveyed no menace to her, but why had he brought her here if he intended no harm. “What are you going to do to me?” Her voice was little above a whisper.
She saw him smile. “Nothing you don't want me to do, Kagome, I wouldn't harm you for a minute.”
Somehow she didn't believe him “But. . . why?”
“I told you. Don't you remember, when we were dancing?”
“No---I---I can't seem to think.”
“I told you. You are so beautiful. Your skin is like warm snow. Your lips, your breasts. I can't resist you.” He hesitated. “I am sorry to do it this way, but I must have you.”
She could not fully comprehend the meaning of his words, but she knew fear as she saw his hand slowly moving toward her.