The Debutante Is Mine(8)By: Vivienne Lorret
Thayne gripped the reins and offered a solemn nod. “It is expected.”
Having anticipated a jest in return, those words went sour in Jack’s ears. The rules by which the aristocracy lived infuriated him. His own mother had been left with nothing because of these rules. And because of love. “By all means, you nobles must do what is expected.”
Thayne jerked his head so fast in Jack’s direction it looked as he’d been struck. “ ‘Noble,’ ha! You have more noble blood in your right foot than I do in my entire person. I inherited my title from a distant fourth cousin, whom I’d never met. You, on the other hand, are the Earl of Dovermere’s son.”
Careful not to spur Bellum to a gallop, Jack gritted his teeth and felt his jaw twitch. “No, I’m his bastard. There is a difference.”
“Hardly. He’s acknowledged you openly.”
And what a happy day that had been, Jack thought wryly.
It wasn’t until he was ten years old that he’d first met Dovermere. That day, the man had gone pale and still the instant he’d clapped eyes on Jack. Other than the sudden pallor of his countenance, an uncanny likeness—one that even a boy could see—had shined through.
“Then it is true,” Dovermere had said, his voice gravelly and somewhat haunted. He’d looked past Jack to Mother but did not say a word before turning on his heel and disappearing into his carriage.
The day after, Jack had found himself in that same carriage on the way to Eton and, shortly thereafter, to a brutal initiation from a few of his fellow students.
“The only reason he has acknowledged me is because he has eight legitimate daughters,” Jack said. “If he had a son—”
“And he does. Yet you cannot put your prejudice for the aristocracy aside. Lately, I often wonder how long it will be until you treat me like the enemy as well.”
If nothing else, Jack was loyal to his friends. Had he not kept Vale as a friend after he’d inherited a dukedom? Or Wolford, when he’d become an earl? Jack was willing to overlook Thayne’s unfortunate circumstance as well. “What has put you so high on your horse and turned you into such an arse, Thayne?”
“Forgive me. I’ve been on edge these past few months. And now it appears that I must see my solicitor about purchasing a house.”
“I’m sure your ill humor could have nothing to do with Lady Granworth’s return to London,” Jack said, goading his friend with a lift of his brows.
“There.” Thayne’s tone sharpened to a razor’s edge. “We have both drawn blood. Now we are on even footing.”
Jack exchanged a glance and a nod with Thayne. All was forgiven, until the next time temptation got the better of them. “Good. I shall leave you to your errand. I have a call to pay.”
He looked at the name on the card once more before tucking it away. Soon, he would uncover the mystery surrounding Miss Lilah Appleton.
A short time after arriving at Aunt Zinnia’s townhouse on Hanover Street that morning, Lilah discovered that there was, in fact, something worse than having no gentlemen callers waiting in the parlor.
And that was having a room full of gentlemen.
And then witnessing their collective looks of disappointment when she entered the room. Naturally, those expressions altered to pleasure once Juliet followed.
Zinnia, Lady Cosgrove, rose gracefully from the jonquil-patterned upholstered armchair, which was the focal point of the violet parlor. She took great pride in her carriage and in keeping her figure well into her middle years. Her countenance and her precise coiffure conveyed elegance and composure. But her sharp bone structure and even the streaks of silver in her dark blonde hair conveyed an unmistakable edge of sternness underneath. Lifting a slender arm, she extended her palm in a wave toward Lilah and Juliet. “And here is my lovely niece and my cousin. Thankfully, they aren’t overly tardy.”
The mantel clock was only now chiming eleven. To Aunt Zinnia, however, being on time meant being a quarter of an hour early.
In the seconds that had transpired, neither Juliet nor Lilah made an excuse for their late arrival or mentioned the encounter with the Marquess of Thayne. Although every time Lilah closed her eyes on a blink, she could still see the man on the Destrier as if both were present in this very room.