The Debutante Is Mine(9)

By: Vivienne Lorret


Of course, that would make for quite a crowded parlor, she mused, almost smiling at her own jest. Her thoughts often vacillated from levity to worry when she was uncomfortable. And right now, facing a room full of men made her quite nervous.

The gentlemen all stood at once and bowed. It should have been thrilling. At last, it seemed possible that Lilah could escape the dire fate that awaited her. She might actually find a husband before the end of her third Season and not be forced to marry Winthrop.

Yet as she rose from her curtsy, she worried about all the things that could go wrong. She could trip on her way to the settee, bumping her knee and collapsing against the low table, effectively scattering dishes, spilling the tea, and toppling the biscuits and tarts from the tiered tray. Aunt Zinnia would be mortified.

Lilah blinked. Thankfully, she was still standing in the same spot. Collecting herself, she brushed the imaginary carnage from her skirts with one careful swipe. Her gaze drifted to the bouquets clasped firmly in the gentlemen’s grips.

Flowers?

Oh dear . . . She could sneeze and have a dozen handkerchiefs presented to her at once. Which one would she choose?

Then again, she could sneeze and have no handkerchiefs presented to her—which seemed far more likely.

Best not sneeze, she warned herself.

Distracted by the cheerful blossoms, she allowed herself to wonder if it was possible that one gentleman in this very room might present her with flowers. The notion sent a tiny jolt of alarm through her. She thought she’d prepared herself for callers. Apparently not. Neither, it seemed, had she prepared herself for receiving flowers.

Did one merely say thank you and blush demurely? Did one praise the blossoms for their beauty or instead extend compliments to the gentleman on his keen eye for color? Did one remark on the size of the bouquet and compare it to the others? No, surely not.

After all, her brother had once told her that men were rather sensitive about comparisons. At least, that was the reason he’d given her when she’d asked why there were so many men who disliked him. She’d often wondered what object they’d been comparing.

“It is a pleasure to see you again,” Lord Pembroke said, his nasal tone breaking Lilah away from her thoughts. He lifted a cluster of violets, a few of them wilting over his fingers. But that didn’t matter. Until this moment, Lilah had had no idea that she’d made an impression on him. Then he pushed the flowers out of her reach, grazing her shoulder, and concluded his greeting by saying, “Lady Granworth.”

Pembroke’s actions started a melee of sorts. The gentlemen were eager to raise their bouquets and offer their effusive compliments to Juliet. Considering her cousin was newly back in London and past the period of mourning, this was to be expected. Only . . . Lilah wished she had expected it. An abundance of callers but apparently none for her.

She tried to step out of the way. Then suddenly, a bunch of fragrant white hyacinths appeared before her face. She gasped with pleasure. Which gentleman’s hand held the precious gift? As they were all crowded into one space, she couldn’t tell. However, that didn’t matter. All that did were these pretty little blossoms. She reached up to take them. “Thank you so very much. I don’t really know what to say—”

Abruptly, the flowers were tugged out of her grasp. “My mistake, miss,” someone said and proceeded to nudge her out of the way.

Lilah stumbled back, the corner of a gilded milieu table striking the outer curve of her bottom. A hiss left her lips as she eased away. Not that anyone noticed.

“Gentlemen, if you please,” Aunt Zinnia scolded. The austerity in her tone commanded instant respect, and the men, in turn, resumed their seats. “Myrtle, please see that the flowers find vases,” she said to the maid who was hunched slightly forward and lingering near the door. And just when Lilah was beginning to wonder if her aunt had noticed that all of the bouquets were for Juliet, her aunt added, “And place them in the upstairs sitting room.”

A room none of them frequented due to its poor lighting and lingering mildew odor. It was as good as banishing the flowers. Since her aunt was not an affectionate person—similar to her sister, Lilah’s mother, in that regard—this likely was her way of offering support. Lilah’s heart warmed.

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