The Debutante Is Mine(6)

By: Vivienne Lorret


He gestured with a nod in the direction of the opera house, where a young buck dropped to his knees in front of a young woman in a feathered turban.

“Idiocy?” Jack watched the scene with a measure of loathing when the gentleman’s signet ring fell onto the ground. Likely, the ill-fitting bauble was new to his finger from a recent death in the family. And as a holder of the title, his first order of business, clearly, was to procure a mistress. What rot.

But Jack expected nothing more from the aristocracy.

Scrambling to pick up the ring, the sap slipped it back on his finger before thrusting an audacious bouquet into the woman’s arms. Yet she seemed not to notice. Her attention was fixed elsewhere. In fact, she appeared to be looking in his direction.

Jack held her gaze in return. He couldn’t help himself. He enjoyed women, and they—by all accounts—enjoyed him as well. He made sure of it.

“Either idiocy or lust,” Thayne amended with a scoff.

Suddenly, appearing out of the throng, a shaggy-haired errand boy rushed up, stopping just short of stomping on the toe of Jack’s well-worn Hessians.

“Mr. Marlowe, sir?” the boy said, his thick Cockney accent nipping off the ends of each word. He stood no taller than a walking stick, his face lively and eager, though perhaps in need of a good scrubbing. He’d earn more coin with a clean face—a lesson Jack had learned.

“What can I do for you, my good fellow?” Jack asked, automatically reaching into his waistcoat pocket for a coin.

Surprisingly, the boy refused it with a shake of his head before lifting a yellow boutonniere into view. “Compliments o’ Miz Raintree.” He pointed to the woman on the opera house stairs. And, in turn, she offered a smile. A somewhat familiar smile.

“An acquaintance of yours, Marlowe?” Thayne asked.

Jack started putting the pieces together. An opera house likely meant an opera girl, and he’d entertained quite a number of them this past Christmas. He seemed to recall wanting to prove the common phrase of the more, the merrier. “Likely.”

Jack looked down to the boy, who was still holding the flower. He knew that if he offered the coin again, the boy would be too proud to take it. So he thought of a better option. “Would you deliver this boutonniere for a half a crown?”

The boy’s eyes went wide. “Yes, sir!”

“Very good.” Jack handed him the coin and watched with pleasure as the lad bit down on it like a true entrepreneur. “Now, deliver this to the besotted fool in front of Miss Raintree, where it will be appreciated.”

Grinning, the boy stowed the coin and rushed back to the opera house. He’d just earned half a crown for running forty paces. All in all, an excellent day’s wage. After the exchange transpired, the kneeling gentleman leapt to his feet and embraced the opera miss. She, however, cast a wan smile in Jack’s direction.

“I think she expected you to renew your acquaintance,” Thayne remarked with sly amusement.

“Then, Miss”—her name was on the tip of his tongue, but he’d already forgotten it—“she wasn’t paying attention when I gave her my speech.”

Jack turned his attention to the flowers, wondering which blooms were the most suitable for paying a morning call. He’d never done this before, either buying flowers for a young woman or paying a call. However, a favor was a favor.

“Speech?”

“Yes, the one where a man explains that he’s not looking for a wife or even a mistress, while stating that whatever they have together will be satisfying but of a brief duration.” After paying for a handful of pink posies, Jack noted his friend’s bewildered expression. “I believe in honesty from the very beginning. Don’t you have a similar speech?”

Thayne chose not to answer. Though Jack assumed he did have one because it was too early for Thayne’s new title to have turned him into a completely dishonorable cad.

Casting that thought aside, Jack looked down at the bouquet in his hand and found it on the small side. Then again, his hands were on the large side. When he was a boy, his mother had often called his hands and feet lion’s paws and told him that if he finished his broth, he might grow into them. Although he doubted that the meager broth they’d supped on had helped, eventually he had grown. Even so, his mother still bade him to eat his fill whenever he visited her.

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