The Debutante Is Mine(3)

By: Vivienne Lorret

And she appreciated her cousin’s efforts. It had been a few months since Juliet had come to stay at Aunt Zinnia’s townhouse. Only four years separated them in age, with Juliet the elder, and they’d become close.

It seemed strange, however, that for most of Lilah’s life, she’d never known her second cousin. Many years ago, the family had fractured, severing ties with Juliet’s parents and leaving them strangers. Then, a year ago, shortly following the death of Juliet’s husband, Aunt Zinnia had reached out to her with an olive branch. And now it was as if they’d always known each other.

“Jest aside, however,” Juliet continued, “in the past few weeks, I’ve suspected you have been hiding your best feature. Your milky complexion serves as a canvas for dark brows, warm eyes, and chimney-sweep lashes. Your nose is neither too long nor too pert. Your chin is nicely curved. And whenever you choose to smile—which is not nearly often enough—you look as if you have a secret. From what I understand, men are intrigued by women with secrets.”

Lilah didn’t know how to respond to such flattery. Other than her dearest friend, Ivy, Juliet was the only other person who said nice things to her. Mother had tried once or twice, but the efforts had been entirely too awkward and better left forgotten. “But I have no secrets. I believe in honesty.”

“Yes! Don’t you see? That is your secret. No one in the ton ever expects honesty,” Juliet said with a light, conspiratorial laugh. Then, linking arms with Lilah, she turned and began to breeze down the path in the direction of their waiting carriage. “I can tell by the abundance of carriages on the street that it’s nearly calling hours. If we fail to return shortly, I fear that Zinnia will unleash her severe stare upon the innocent parlor clock.”

Aunt Zinnia’s requests were always of an urgent nature. She was forever saying, “Time is not our ally.”

Thinking about time was exhausting. It would be nice to enjoy a single moment without worrying about the clock or the calendar. “Aunt Zinnia is rather like my mother. Both sisters are rather severe about most things.”

Lilah cast one last glance back at the spider, wishing that she too could spin a web to decide her own fate.

Juliet quickened their pace. “This is why we must return. Your future husband might very well call upon you this morning, flowers in hand.”

With the clamor of carriages nearby, Juliet likely missed Lilah’s snort of disbelief. “I do not mean to disappoint you, but there will be no morning callers.”

It wasn’t that Lilah was a pessimist. Not entirely. The simple truth was that during her first two Seasons, she’d never once had a gentleman caller. Therefore, the beginning of her third was likely to transpire as any other day would. Still, she felt a measure of comfort in her low expectations. There was no need to imagine a catastrophe awaiting her arrival.

“Last night’s ball held little promise, I grant you,” Juliet offered with a thoughtful nod. “However, it was only the first ball of the Season. There will be many other opportunities to make an impression.”

“I think I would be content if a single gentleman had remembered my name.” Lilah recalled every moment of the awkward evening. Standing between the perfectly poised Aunt Zinnia and flawlessly beautiful Juliet, Lilah had felt like a broom—out of place, uninteresting, and not meant to be acknowledged. “I was introduced to Lord Ellery three times last night, but each time he hadn’t the vaguest notion of who I was.”

“Some gentlemen have horrid memories.”

Lilah appreciated the sentiment but knew that her cousin had no idea what it was like to be plain. After all, during Juliet’s Seasons and before she’d married Lord Granworth, she’d been given the moniker of the Goddess. Even as a widow, now aged seven and twenty, it was still true. Juliet possessed a timeless beauty. “You have been away from London for more than five years and yet the viscount remembered your name.”

“I’m certain it was only by chance.”

That particular happenstance had yet to favor Lilah. “He was amongst several gentlemen who offered condolences over the loss of your husband last year.”

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