The Debutante Is Mine(4)

By: Vivienne Lorret

As they neared the entrance where they’d begun their walk, Juliet lifted her hand, signaling their waiting driver to come around. “If the late Lord Granworth’s name, or even my own name, is on anyone’s lips, it only means that the gossips are in want of interesting topics.”

“Or perhaps that you have always made a favorable impression.”

Juliet stiffened but did not respond.

Lilah thought back to last night and wondered what it would have been like to have stood in Juliet’s slippers. “If I had your beauty, then—”

“Do not make such a wish, dear Cousin, I beg of you,” Juliet interrupted, turning toward her. Fine worry lines knitted her brow, and her mouth drew tight in a frown. “You have qualities that are far and above my own. You are lovely, sharp-witted, and approachable. I daresay the very makings of the Season’s Original.”

At this, Lilah could not contain her laugh. “The Original, indeed!”

Each year, an anonymous committee named the one person whose style and character shined above all others, the one person whom everyone wanted to imitate . . . the Season’s Original. No one knew which members of the ton comprised this anonymous committee. Nonetheless, at the end of the first month of the Season, the name of the Original was published in the Standard. Last year, the poor but beautiful Annabel Bronwyn was named and shortly thereafter had become the toast of the ton. Rumor had it that she had over a dozen offers for marriage.

Juliet stood in front of Lilah, hands clasped and eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. A slight gesture but laden with immeasurable disapproval. The women in the family possessed a skill for such looks. “Do not make the assumption that a fashionable degree of beauty will guarantee your heart’s desire.”

Lilah chose not to mention that she’d abandoned any hope of fulfilling her heart’s desire long ago. “But you married Lord Granworth. At the time, he was one of the wealthiest men in England.”

“And renowned for his exacting taste in what he considered beauty.” Juliet closed her eyes for a moment and exhaled. “Nevertheless, even though he was thirty-four years my senior, I was fortunate to gain his interest. After all, you might recall a slight . . . scandal regarding the events that led to my sudden marriage.”

Yes. Lilah had heard mention of it during one of her father’s rants to Mother about the embarrassment of her bloodline.

“Lord Granworth saved me from ruin,” Juliet stated, the dip in her voice hinting at a modicum of regret. “But had I been named the Original, my life might well have turned out quite differently.”

“You mean to say that you weren’t?”

Juliet averted her gaze, her attention on the slow progress of their carriage in the ever-increasing traffic. “No. In fact, the man I’d hoped to marry ended up marrying the Original instead.”

Shocked, Lilah’s lips parted on a gasp. “She could not have been more beautiful, of that I am certain.”

“As I said, the Original possesses other qualities . . . ” Juliet’s words drifted off as her eyes widened, settling on a point over Lilah’s shoulder.

Lilah pivoted on her heel and saw a handsome man on an ebony Thoroughbred, stopping on the street before them. Beneath a black hat, he wore an expression similar to Juliet’s, though his was darker and somewhat angry. Lilah recognized him as Maxwell Harwick, Marquess of Thayne—or rather, the other party involved in Juliet’s scandal from years before.

“You are still in London,” Thayne said, gritting his teeth.

Juliet lifted her chin, her lips tight. “As you see.”

“Hmm,” he growled. “I’d heard a happy rumor that you’d returned to Bath.”

The air surrounding them suddenly became weighted and tense. Even the horse must have felt it because he shifted and exhaled a harsh, steamy breath from his nostrils.

“I see things have not changed, Max. You’ve fallen behind on the latest gossip.” Juliet smiled, even while her eyes narrowed. “I am living here now and staying with my cousins for a time. The townhouse where I once lived with my parents is looking for a new owner, and I plan to purchase it. This week, as a matter of fact.”

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