The Debutante Is Mine(5)

By: Vivienne Lorret

“Impossible. That house is not four doors down from my mother’s residence.”

The incredulity and unleashed outrage in his tone caused Lilah’s shoulders to stiffen. Ever loyal, she stood beside her cousin in a show of support. Not that the marquess would notice. As of yet, he had not once glanced in her direction.

Juliet squeezed her hand as she continued this heated exchange. “I have already been to see your mother, and she couldn’t be more delighted about the news.”

“She never mentioned—”

“Thayne!” A shout interrupted the exchange. “Are you accompanying me or not?”

Lilah’s attention shifted to the commanding tone. As a coach and four ambled out of the way, she first noticed the chestnut Destrier. It towered over the bays and trotters on the street. Such a colossal horse was never seen in town. Hunting grounds, perhaps, but certainly not the teeming London streets. Was the rider prepared for battle? She nearly laughed at the thought. Then, tilting up her head, she wanted to see the man who would dare.

Yet when she did, something unexpected happened. She met his gaze. And, more important, he met hers.

Even in the shadow beneath the brim of his gray top hat, Lilah distinctly noted the uncanny brightness of his irises. His aquiline nose sloped down to a broad mouth that slowly arced upward at one corner. More smirk than smile. She tried to blink but couldn’t. Breathing proved equally difficult.

Then, he inclined his head, touching two fingers to that brim. The gesture was meant as an acknowledgement, she was sure. She’d seen gentlemen salute similarly to other young women but never to her. And that was when she realized her error.

Likely, from this distance, she was confusing the direction—or target, rather—of his gaze. Clearly, he was yet another man caught by her cousin’s beauty. She could not fault him for it. Even so, knowing it made her feel foolish for that single instant she’d thought otherwise.

Uncomfortable prickles of heat burned her cheeks. She couldn’t be certain, however, if it was from embarrassment or a keen sense of longing. All she knew was that a man such as he would never tip his hat to her, let alone call on her.

With that final thought, their carriage pulled up, blocking her view. The marquess and her cousin’s exchange concluded abruptly too, which was likely for the best. And now, it was time to return to Hanover Street and face the empty parlor.

At least there was a measure of comfort in knowing what to expect.

Jack Marlowe surveyed the flower market at Covent Garden with an appreciative eye. Not for the flowers but for the enterprise itself. He admired this horde of ragtag sellers, waving bundled blossoms in his face, shouting alliterative phrases to gain his attention. “Penny posies, ’ere. Spare a penny for pretty posies!”

Removing his hat to feel the cold morning mist on his face, Jack inhaled a potent combination of scents—the earthy, brackish stench of the gutters, the lingering odor of smoke and soot, and, rising above it all, the cloying perfume of flowers spilling from baskets in bright shades of pink, yellow, violet, red, and blue.

“Breathe it in, Thayne,” Jack said to his friend, walking beside him. “This market is the epitome of determination. The very heart and soul of survival.” He understood it well. He could even see a younger version of himself in a few of the faces of the errand boys and young hawkers scurrying about. Then, taking it all in, Jack raked a careless hand through his blond mane before donning his hat.

Beneath the black brim of a different hat, Max Harwick, the recently named Marquess of Thayne—poor wretch—furrowed his dark eyebrows. He’d been in a foul temper since encountering Lady Granworth and her blushing companion near Hyde Park a short while ago. “I see utter chaos.”

“Precisely. A living, breathing entity born from hunger, cold, and perspiration. There is nothing more powerful.” Jack still felt that invigorating chaos in his veins—that need for more. Even now, after he’d amassed a fortune through years of his own hard labor, he still craved it.

Thayne issued a grunt of acknowledgment as he scrutinized the market. Then he chuckled. “There might be one thing more powerful than chaos.”

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