The Debutante Is Mine(7)

By: Vivienne Lorret

For good measure, Jack purchased two more clusters of posies and paid another woman for a blue ribbon to tie them all together.

“If you are not a romantic, then why are you buying flowers?” Thayne exhaled, seemingly impatient to end this errand as he glanced over to where their horses were tied.

“Because I promised Vale I would.” Jack always kept his promises. Like honesty, this was part of his code of honor. The part that made him a better man than his father. “Our friend arrived at my country estate on Christmas Eve to ask about the validity of his Marriage Formula.”

“The notion is ingenious,” Thayne remarked as they maneuvered their way out of the market. “The ton is still talking about it. Using a mathematical equation to find a bride would obliterate the need for the standard methods of courting. There’s no need to subject oneself to constant scrutiny by attending parties and balls . . . ”

As his friend continued to list the horrors of what the aristocracy willingly endured, Jack thought back to the night when Vale had arrived. He’d looked like a man half-possessed. Jack had always thought his friend had a brilliant mind but one plagued with doubt.

Then, suddenly, something had changed. Vale had become sure and confident, boldly stating that his formula worked. And before he’d left, he’d handed Jack a card with the name of a woman and her address, asking him to send her flowers.

At first, Jack had thought that the woman was a paramour of Vale’s, but his friend extinguished that immediately by stating that she was respectable.

Jack had wondered aloud why Vale was bothering with the flowers.

“Because I promised her friend that I would do whatever I could for her,” Vale had said, keeping the full story to himself.

“You have me intrigued.”

“No, Marlowe, I absolutely forbid you to be intrigued.”

Forbid him? Oh, but there was nothing more decadent than forbidden fruit. And Jack, because he never refused a friend, agreed to the favor. Granted, that had been on Christmas Eve, and now it was March—business matters had called him out of the country. Nevertheless, he’d kept the card with him to serve as a reminder each day since.

Now that he was back in London, he was prepared to fulfill his oath. One reason was because it was the honorable thing to do, but the largest reason was because he was intrigued.

Apparently, Vale thought that sending this young woman flowers would help her in some way. But what genuine need could be remedied with such a paltry gift?

Jack had supposed that Vale could have been dangling this mystery in front of him for another purpose. Something that had to do with the Marriage Formula. However, Jack readily dismissed that idea. After all, Vale knew that he had no intention of marrying. He had an abundance of lovers and no desire to produce offspring; ergo, Jack had no need of a wife.

Needing the answer inspired Jack not to simply send the flowers by courier but to deliver them himself.

“I’d say Vale proved his equation well enough by using it to find his own bride. And he wasted no time in marrying her,” Thayne continued, drawing Jack’s attention.

“Uncharacteristically impulsive of him, if you ask me.” The entire episode struck Jack as odd. Normally, the Duke of Vale was a stoic, rational man. Yet that night, his friend had been so clearly in love that even a cynic like Jack had seen it for what it was. Poor wretch.

It wasn’t that Jack didn’t believe in love. In fact, he often quipped about falling in love. True love, however, was different. True love left carnage in its wake. And Jack wanted no part of that idiocy.

Stopping near their mounts, Jack tied the flowers to his saddle. Then he paid the boy who’d been watching their horses before setting his foot into the stirrup.

Thayne mounted beside him. “I think Vale’s hasty marriage displayed a sound belief in his work. I, for one, will use it when it is my turn at the gallows. No messy courting for me, thank you. I’d much rather have the assurance of compatibility on paper beforehand, instead of learning of the lack of it later.”

Thayne clearly wasn’t in his right mind this morning. His encounter with Lady Granworth must have loosened a hinge or two. Therefore, Jack—friend that he was—couldn’t pass up this opportunity to mock him. “Now that you have a title to uphold, do you plan to marry and produce a legitimate heir?”

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