The Debutante Is Mine

By: Vivienne Lorret

CHAPTER ONE


The Season Standard—the Daily Chronicle of Consequence.

Lilah read no farther than the heading of the newspaper in her hand before she lost her nerve.

“I cannot look,” she said, thrusting the Standard to her cousin. “After last night’s ball, I shouldn’t be surprised if the first headline read, ‘Miss Lilah Appleton: Most Unmarriageable Maiden in England.’ And beneath it, ‘Last Bachelor in Known World Weds Septuagenarian Spinster as Better Alternative.’ ”

Lilah’s exhale crystallized in the cold air, forming a cloud of disappointment. It drifted off the park path, dissipating much like the hopes and dreams she’d had for her first two Seasons.

Walking beside her, Juliet, Lady Granworth, laughed, her blue eyes shining with amusement. Even on this dull, gray morning, she emitted a certain brightness and luster from within. Beneath a lavender bonnet, her features and complexion were flawless, her hair a mass of golden silk. And if she weren’t so incredibly kind, Lilah might be forced to hate her as a matter of principle, on behalf of plain women throughout London.

“You possess a rather peculiar talent for worry, Cousin,” Juliet said, skimming the five-column page.

The notion pleased Lilah. “Do you think so?”

After twenty-three years of instruction, Mother often told her that she wasn’t a very good worrier. Or perhaps it was more that her anxieties were misdirected. This, Lilah supposed, was where her talent emerged. She was able to imagine the most absurd disasters, the more unlikely the better. There was something of a relief in the ludicrous. After all, if she could imagine a truly terrible event, then she could deal with anything less dramatic. Or so she hoped.

Yet all the worrying in the world would not alter one irrefutable fact—Lilah needed to find a husband this Season or else her life would be over.

“Indeed, I do,” Juliet said with a nod, folding the page before tucking it away. “However, there was nothing here worth your worry or even noteworthy at all.”

Unfortunately, Lilah knew what that meant.

“Not a single mention?” At the shake of her cousin’s head, Lilah felt a sense of déjà vu and disappointment wash over her. This third and final Season was beginning on the same foot as the first two had. She would almost prefer to have been named most unmarriageable. At least she would have known that someone had noticed her.

Abruptly, Juliet’s expression softened, and she placed a gentle hand on Lilah’s shoulder. “You needn’t worry. Zinnia and I will come up with the perfect plan.”

As of yet, none of their plans had yielded a result.

Over Christmas, they had attended a party at the Duke of Vale’s castle. Most of those in attendance had been unmarried young women, which had given nearly everyone the hope of marrying the duke. Even Lilah had hoped as much—at first. Yet when the duke had been unable to remember her name, she’d abruptly abandoned that foolishness. And a good thing too, because he’d married her dearest friend, Ivy, instead.

The duke had developed a Marriage Formula—a mathematical equation that would pair one person with another according to the resulting answer. Then, using his own formula, the duke had found his match—Ivy. As luck would have it, both Ivy and Vale had fallen deeply in love as well. Now, if only Lilah could find her own match.

“I have been considering Vale’s Marriage Formula. All I would need to do is fill out a card.” At least, that was how Lilah thought it worked. “Yet with Vale and Ivy still on their honeymoon, I do not know if they will return in time.”

Then again, there was always the possibility that the equation would produce no match for her either.

Juliet’s steps slowed. “Even though I couldn’t be more pleased for Ivy, I’m not certain that I want to put your future happiness in the hands of an equation.”

Lilah didn’t need happiness. In fact, her requirements for marriage and a husband had greatly diminished in the past two years. She’d gone from wanting a handsome husband in the prime of his life, to settling for a gentleman of any age who wasn’t terribly disfigured. She would like him to be kind to her as well, but she would accept any man who didn’t bellow and rant about perfection, as her father had done.

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