After their promising start this wasn’t going at all the way Fiona wanted it to. Here she was dancing with a divine-looking partner from the “right” sort of background, but he seemed to be off in a different world. Fiona searched for some topic that might trigger interest in her — or at least what she was saying.
“My problem,” she told Adrian as he looked across the room rather than at her, “is that I want the same thing that men want.”
That got his attention! He nearly stumbled as he turned to look at her in disbelief. His eyes were a piercing, bright blue. “What?”
“No, I don’t mean sex. I mean I want to be liked — and one day loved — for what I am. I don’t want to have to deform myself to meet some ideal of what a woman should be.”
“Of course not,” Adrian agreed simply, looking away across the room again. He added wistfully, “but men shouldn’t have to conform to some ideal either.”
“Women don’t expect men to be ideal. We tolerate almost any number of faults, weaknesses and obsessions.”
“Just as long as they aren’t LMF,” Adrian noted under his breath.
“That’s not true! I would have broken off with Kit whether he’d been LMF or not.”
Adrian stopped dancing so abruptly that Fiona lost her footing and stumbled. Adrian stared at her. “What did you just say?”
“That Kit being LMF wasn’t the reason I broke off our relationship.”
“When was Kit LMF?” Adrian spluttered in disbelief.
Too late, Fiona realised that Adrian hadn’t known. “Oh, my God,” she took a step back, covering her mouth with her hand. “I shouldn’t have said that,” she confessed. Then, more forcefully, she added, “Please forget I said it.” But that was impossible. No one could forget something of such import. Kit and Georgina would think she’d done this deliberately to discredit and hurt Kit. They would hate her and blame her for hurting his reputation, yet she had neither intended nor wanted that. “Please promise me you’ll never tell anyone what I said. Please!” she begged hopelessly.
Adrian shook his head as though dazed. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone. I just — I — maybe — maybe, I understand something now.” He twisted away from her, and his eyes sought out Kit, still dancing in blissful oblivion with Georgina. Then he seemed to remember Fiona and turned back to her only to say, “I sorry. I don’t feel like dancing. May I get you something to drink?”
“Only if we go together. I don’t want to be accosted by one of the Americans.” She slipped her hand through Adrian’s elbow and clung to him. She was trying to work out why Adrian had mentioned LMF if he didn’t know about Kit. Why had he said that was the one thing a woman wouldn’t forgive? Surely, he wasn’t…? No, he couldn’t be. He was Kit’s navigator. None of this made sense.
They reached the bar and Adrian asked what she was drinking. Fiona asked for cider, and Adrian ordered for her. When it came, he passed it to her, saying, “We were talking about what you wanted in a relationship.”
“Oh, that’s not important. I just wanted to get your attention.”
He smiled softly. “Well, you have it. Tell me more.”
“It’s just —” suddenly she didn’t feel as sure of herself as when she was lecturing other girls. In fact, she felt a little confused, but she tried to explain. “It’s just that it seems to me that people — all people, men and women — have different talents and gifts. I mean, your father is apparently a brilliant barrister, but you are an architect. Another man is skilled as a writer or a mechanic or at mathematics. We seem to accept that each has a role to play regardless of their chosen field, but women — we’re all supposed to good obedient wives and loving mothers. We aren’t allowed to be anything else.”
“It certainly has been that way in the past,” Adrian conceded, nodding thoughtfully. “But I think that’s changing. I know that I’d rather have a wife who can talk about something other than nappies or fashion.” He tried to make it a joke but didn’t quite pull it off.
Still, Fiona appreciated his attempt at understanding. “It’s a little more than that, really,” she tried to explain. “What I’d like is to follow my own dreams. I’d like a career and income of my own. I suppose what I’m saying, when you get down to it, I want to find a partner who understands me and loves me the way I am, with all my warts and pimples, ambitions and bad habits.”
Adrian nodded seriously. “I think that is what we all want, but finding someone like that isn’t easy — for men or women. Frankly, I don’t think any woman could accept me with all my faults.”
What faults could this exquisitely handsome, gentle and well-mannered man possibly be hiding? Fiona wondered. She could not believe his flaws were anything truly terrible. He probably set too-high standards for himself, and what he considered “weaknesses” were simply things that made him more human and interesting. Maybe, for example, he was afraid of being LMF?
Fiona found the humble and melancholy young man a thousand times more attractive than the self-confident and brash young men she had met at other dances. She felt a powerful desire to get to know Adrian better. His gaze had drifted into the distance again, so she called his attention back to her, “Adrian.” When he looked down at her questioningly, she risked being very bold. “You’ll never know if you can be loved faults and all unless you give me a chance to get to know you better.”
For a moment, he seemed to want to smile, but then he shook his head. “No, there’s no point in starting anything, because I don’t think I’ll be around here much longer.”
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