The Debutante Is Mine(2)

By: Vivienne Lorret

“A pleasant conversation with someone who shares my interests would be nice, not necessarily happiness, or even love, for that matter,” Lilah said, thinking of the alternative. “All I truly need is not to be forced into marriage with Cousin Winthrop.”

Lilah cringed as she spoke. This was the crux of her problems. If she did not marry a titled gentleman by the end of this Season, then she would have to marry Winthrop, as her father’s will decreed. Like her father, Winthrop was obsessed with social standing. Perhaps even more so. And worse, whenever he’d witnessed one of Father’s tirades, a dark, fiendish gleam lit his eyes and curled his lips into a smile.

Lilah did not need the gift of foresight to understand what the future would hold for her as the wife of such a man.

This union     had not always been her father’s demand, however. At one time, all familial expectations had lain on her brother’s shoulders. Yet when Jasper was killed in a duel over a married woman and known courtesan, Father had been humiliated. His position in society faltered too, because Jasper’s actions had tainted the family name.

As a result, Father had amended his will. He’d wanted to restore the family’s honor by aligning with another noble bloodline. And since his only daughter was such a plain, unmarriageable creature, he’d added an incentive to ensure her success. Thereby, it was written that Lilah would have three Seasons to secure a titled nobleman or else be forced to preserve the family bloodline by marrying Winthrop Appleton, the new Baron Haggerty.

Lilah tried to expel her fear in an exhale, but all that came out was mist. She wished she could think of a worry that was worse than marrying Winthrop. Like the world suddenly opening up and swallowing her whole, for example. But still, that wasn’t the worst possibility.

“I will not let you marry that conniving serpent,” Juliet hissed. “We both know that if it weren’t for him, your brother would still be alive.”

Lilah nodded thoughtfully. True to his nature, Winthrop had been the one who’d told the Count of Montclaron that his wife planned to run away with Jasper. The French nobleman—and renowned marksman—hadn’t cared about his wife’s random affairs, but to abandon him would have caused humiliation. Therefore, he’d challenged Jasper to a duel.

“Though who is to say that another husband might not have stood in Montclaron’s place sooner or later?” Even though she’d loved her brother dearly—loved him to this day—Lilah also knew that his roguish nature would have caught up with him eventually.

Her own experiences were completely opposite of what her brother’s had been. While he had received so much attention that a constant selection of women had been at his disposal, Lilah could not tempt even one single man. And she was running out of time.

Pausing on the path to calm her nerves, Lilah noticed a spider’s web draped over the boxwood hedge beside her. “I envy the lives of spiders. All they do is wake up, build a web, and wait. Likely, there is no concern involved. The spider knows that, eventually, the sticky gossamer threads will ensnare something.”

Proof of that rested in a taut bundle of silk near the center of the web. In the bleary late-morning light peering through a soot-colored sky, beads of dew clung to the spiral, resembling drops of liquid silver. The spider herself was a dark beauty, marked with faint gray lines. She possessed a rather optimistic view of her future, busily repairing the surrounding area of her web, apparently anticipating more visitors.

Juliet leaned in to study the web as well. Then, with a shake of her head, she took a step back. “While I am not particularly fond of any eight-legged creature, I admire your rather unique perspective. Many a young woman would prefer to emulate a butterfly, gaining admiration and flitting from one gentleman to the next.”

“Lying in wait for a victim seems to be my only option.” Lilah laughed wryly. “A young woman of three and twenty with brown hair, brown eyes, and a forehead—which my mother has described as vast—is not likely to be compared to a butterfly.”

“And for that, you should be thankful. Have you ever seen one up close? Absolutely terrifying!” Juliet kept her expression serious for a moment, until a smile gave her away and distracted Lilah from her worries.

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