Alice could hardly believe it when she finally caught sight of the shore. She’d been standing at the ship’s railing for the past hour, much to her mother’s worry and dismay. The journey, Alice thought, was finally over.
It hadn’t been long since they’d left America, but it felt like an eternity. She hadn’t ever dreaded something so greatly, but she hadn’t had much of a say in the matter. As if leaving her home wasn’t distressing enough, she’d been stuck on an unsteady ship, tossed to and fro for the past month. Alice was quite surprised at her lack of seasickness. Unfortunately, the rest of her family didn’t share in her good luck.
“Alice, come away from there,” Joanna, Alice’s mother, snapped. “I won’t tell you again.”
Alice sighed, moving back to where Joanna was standing, by the door to the inner cabins.
“Aren’t you excited to see it again?” Alice asked, nodding towards the shoreline. “After all these years?”
“We’ll see London soon enough,” Joanna said, taking Alice by the hand and leading her into the cabin.
Jacob, who’d been seated at the small desk he was not allowed to be near, jumped up the second his mother and older sister entered the room. Fortunately for him, his mother was occupied with Alice and didn’t spare her son so much as a glance. Alice winked at Jacob, who nearly fainted from relief.
“Alice, we really must work on your manners,” Joanna continued. “London is nothing like the Americas. Your dress, your speech, all of it. You must have a tad more decorum.”
“Mother, you’ve raised me with more than enough decorum, I should think,” Alice replied, thinking back on the many etiquette lessons that none of her American peers seemed to have participated in. It had been difficult enough for Alice to uphold her mother’s expectations there; how much harder was it going to be in London?
“It’s nothing near the same, I can promise you that,” Joanna said heavily, leaning back in one of the soft chairs bolted to the floor. She took a deep breath and tried to ease her seasick headache.
Alice bit her lip, trying to remember the list of rules her mother had spent years of Alice’s life drilling into her. She thought she could remember it all. Perhaps being surrounded by it would be easier than living as the sole example of propriety. She hoped beyond hope it would be the case.
“Do not believe your sister will be the only one practicing manners,” Joanna said to Jacob, who’d been caught red-headed attempting to slip back behind the desk. He jumped back to the center of the room, grinning from ear-to-ear, and forcing Alice to hide a smile.
A strong rap at the door took the attention from Jacob, and Alice began to get up at the sound. A glare from Joanna sat her straight back down.
“Come in,” Joanna called lightly, and Alice made a note of it. One doesn’t answer a call by oneself in London.
The Captain slid the door open, not entering the room.
“Nearly there, madam,” he said jauntily, “you may want to come and see the view.”
Joanna gave a curt nod, and the three joined him on deck, to watch the harbor come into clearer view. Joanna clasped her hands to her chest, heart swelling with pleasure at the sight of her long-left home.
“Oh, isn’t it the loveliest sight?” she said breathlessly.
Alice, folding her hands in front of her to quell the desire to lean on the rail as her brother was doing, tried to see the shore with her mother’s eyes. It was lovely, to be sure. What seemed to be a hundred boats surrounded the harbor, and there were many people bustling back and forth on the dock, creating a picturesque scene straight from a painting. And the city itself, all tall buildings and elegant trims, with streets full of charm which Alice could see from the ship. Still, it was no America. She thought nothing could compare to the vast forests and adventure undiscovered in her country. And it was her’s. London belonged to her parents. She swore she was designed for America.
“Your father will be waiting, so we mustn’t tarry,” Joanna said anxiously, scanning the harbor the closer they got to the docks. “Oh, Alice, it will be such a sight. He’s moved into the manor already, and his last letter promised us riches when we arrive.”
Alice didn’t respond; she wasn’t sure how to. The idea of them being rich was hardly something she could comprehend.
“Was the Earl truly that wealthy?” she asked, and Joanna clucked disapprovingly.
“That’s not how you refer to him, you know that,” she said, still watching the shore grow closer. “Lord Lockshire is what you mean.”
Alice simply nodded, and her mother continued.
“And yes, though it’s hardly proper to talk about such things as money. Everything was left to your father. We shall be quite comfortable from here on.”
Alice forced a smile. Truth be told, she’d trade every penny if she could have her home back. But money was the reason they’d left anyway. At least, that was what she’d gathered. She and Jacob were informed six months ago that they were to be shipped off to London. Her father had some sort of distant cousin, perhaps estranged, or removed. In any case, her father was suddenly found to be in possession of a title and an estate. Alice’s parents had wasted not a moment in setting things in order, her father moving straight to London. Alice had no choice but to follow.
The ship settled into its dock nicely, and it was barely an hour before Alice set foot on the uneven wooden planks leading to London. Joanna bustled past her, and Alice looked up to see her father, Neil, holding his arms out for his wife. Alice sighed, looking around for Jacob. When she caught sight of him, she couldn’t help but giggle. He was perched on a stack of boxes, certainly not where he was not supposed to be.
“Jacob,” she called, glancing over her shoulder to ensure their mother hadn’t caught him, “you’re going to catch it later if you don’t come along.”
“You can’t say that anymore,” Jacob said, putting on fake airs. “You have to be prim and proper now.”
“So must you,” Alice said, steering her brother in the right direction, “I’m not to be the only one representing Mama and Papa.”
“There they are,” their father called, smiling widely at the sight of his children. Alice smiled back, thrilled to have their family whole again, even if it was in London.
“How is my family?” He asked, one arm around his wife. “Are they ready for a new life?”
Jacob grinned and nodded, eyes widening when he caught sight of the grand carriage standing nearby.
“Is that ours?” he asked breathlessly, and Neil chuckled.
“It surely is,” he replied, and Jacob completely forgot about manners or decorum in his rush to meet the pair of steeds attached to the carriage
“Shall we?” Neil asked Joanna, and she nodded eagerly, turning to Alice.
“Come along, there’s not a moment to waste,” she called, and Alice obliged.
The carriage ride to the estate was quite the adventure all on its own. Alice’s emotions were like the turbulent sea, with every new thing and grand sight they passed serving to make her ecstatic and melancholy all at once.
“It’s all right, dear,” Joanna said softly, placing her hand gently on her daughter’s, “there’s not a thing to fear. I promise, you’ll grow to love it.”
Alice gave her a tight smile, though she was skeptical. London was no America. But perhaps her mother was right.
She could grow to love it.
“Lady Alice, please try to sit still, if you please.”
Alice went rigid, obeying Mary’s request. The lady’s maid was in the middle of pinning up what felt to Alice like a hundred little braids and curling locks of hair on her mistress’s head, and Alice’s fidgeting wasn’t helping her a bit.
“Is the dress to your liking?” Mary asked around the pin in her mouth, which she took out and used to quickly fasten yet another delicate braid to the top of Alice’s head.
“It . . . it is,” Alice said lightly. Truth be told, she was too unsettled over recent events to even give the dress more than a glance.
Today was to be her debut into High Society, the very thing her mother had been preparing her for since they set foot in London. It had to go just right, with not a single thing out of place or imperfect. Her mother was counting on it.
“There, that’s all finished,” Mary said cheerily, slipping the last pin in place. Alice had lost count of how many there were nearly an hour ago.
“Thank you,” Alice said, moving to the door of her chamber, while giving her lady’s maid a small smile. “It looks lovely.”
“Lady Alice, if I may . . .”
Alice looked back, hand on the doorknob, to see Mary giving her an encouraging look.
“I know you’re nervous,” she said, “but it will go wonderfully. Yours will be the most successful debut of the year, if I’m any judge of the matter.”
Alice’s smile grew a little more sincere, and she nodded before pulling the door open and starting down the hall to present herself to Joanna.
“You look smashing!” A young voice rang from behind her. She started and turned to see Jacob grinning up at her.
“Don’t use that word,” she chided, but smiled anyway. “Thank you.”
“You look like a princess.”
Alice tilted her head, doubting the truth of her brother’s statement. But she turned anyway, walking the few steps to the large mirror in the hall.
She could hardly believe her eyes. She hadn’t taken more than a fleeting glance at her reflection while Mary bustled around and prepared her, and the figure staring back from the mirror hardly looked like her at all.
Her long, auburn hair was wound up into a fetching knot of curls, with delicate braids woven around it. It was pulled back in the best way, showing off her captivating green eyes and gentle face.
And the dress. Oh, the dress! The deep, forest-green shade of her gown, perfectly cut, emphasized both her dainty features and her petite figure. She couldn’t help but smile at her reflection, and begin to agree with her brother. She certainly felt like a princess, whether she looked the part or not.
“Oh, dear . . .”
Alice turned again, to see her mother at the other end of the hall, hands clasped before her and tears in her eyes.
“You look like a vision,” Joanna said breathlessly. “You’re sure to be the biggest success of the year!”
Alice smiled, though shocks of nerves went through her at her mother’s speech. She wasn’t certain she believed the words of encouragement, but they were said kindly enough. Perhaps the claim might prove true. Alice took a deep breath and straightened, surely, the night would go perfectly.
“Come, it’s time to begin,” Joanna said, leading her to the ballroom.
The evening went more quickly than Alice thought it would. Once she was announced and well into the event, she began to relax. Her attention was turned to attempting to remember the many people she was being introduced to.
“Well, what a success she is!” A man who Alice wasn’t certain she’d met yet said to Neil, “I haven’t had the pleasure.”
“Oh, of course,” Neil said with a smile. “Your Grace, this is my daughter and the debutante, Lady Alice. Lady Alice, please meet the Duke of Carlisle.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Your Grace,” Alice said, giving him a fetching smile.
“Likewise,” the Duke replied. “I’ll move along, wonderful to see you, Lord Lockshire.”
“You’re doing wonderfully, Alice,” Neil whispered to his daughter, while leading her to yet another new face. “Do your best to remember everyone.”
Alice’s head was spinning by the end of the introductions, and she hadn’t met half of the people there. She took a deep breath, looking around the room and running through the names in her head. The Marquess and Marchioness of Burbury, the Duke and Duchess of Canton, the Lord and Lady Farix, and a hundred more that Alice wasn’t certain she’d remember any longer than the night would last. She clung to her father’s words, putting on a brave face and resolving to do everything in her power to keep the night as enjoyable as possible.
Her resolve weakened the moment her father led her out to open the dance floor. The dancing was the one thing she had been dreading the entire night. Still, she placed her hand in her father’s and followed his smooth movements until the music stilled and the applause began.
“Lady Alice, care for a dance?” Lord Angeis asked from her side. She turned, giving him a winning smile that showed none of her misgivings about the entire situation. He led her by the hand to the dance floor and did his best to guide her through the dance.
“I’ve heard tell you hail from the Americas,” he said lightly, and Alice smiled and nodded. She opened her mouth to respond, but the Earl gave her no chance to speak.
“I’ve had business there,” he said proudly. “It’s a dangerous game, to be sure. But I must say, I’ve been a bit surprised at the success—”
He winced when Alice missed a beat of the music, stepping on his foot. Alice gasped, her attempt to catch up resulting in more missteps.
“I’m so sorry, er . . . I mean, I apologize, my lord,” she stuttered, blushing furiously. She tried to breathe, but she could feel every eye in the room on her. She fell silent, her focus on the steps of the dance. She barely heard a word the Earl said after that, though she didn’t believe it would have mattered if she had. Something told her Lord Angeis preferred the sound of his own voice over hers.
She gave a quick curtsy once the dance was done, already looking for her parents. She caught sight of Joanna and Neil across the room, wondering what to do with herself while they were occupied.
“Lady Alice, I don’t believe I’ve ever laid eyes on a thing more lovely than you.”
Alice whirled around at the deep voice behind her, recovering quickly and smiling demurely at the man standing behind her. She blushed furiously at the compliment, though the color rose from embarrassment rather than pleasure at the flattery. She panicked, realizing she hadn’t the slightest idea of his name. She resisted the urge to run.
“Thank you, my lord,” she said, praying her forgetfulness would go unnoticed. The man, whom she thought might be a viscount, offered his hand for the next dance. Alice, for the first time, was thankful that her partner was not much of a conversationalist. However, the silence did not serve to ease her nerves, and she ended the dance watching the fellow limp off due to her clumsy missteps.
The following dances did nothing to make up for the first failures. She lost count of who she’d partnered, and she was ashamed to admit she’d trampled on every single partner’s toes. The night ended none too soon, and she couldn’t bear to remain downstairs a second longer than she was required to.
Once the last esteemed guest was out the great double doors, Alice dashed up the stairs in a very unladylike fashion. She said not a word, throwing herself onto her bed without a care for her dress or hair, sobbing into her pillow. The night had been a disaster.
Mary opened the door slowly, wincing at the sight of Alice in such a state. She didn’t say a word, moving about the room and preparing things for when Alice was ready to get undressed.
She finally sat at Alice’s side, placing a gentle hand on her back, and speaking over the sobs.
“My lady, we should get you out of these clothes,” she said quietly, and Alice sat up. She simply nodded and stayed in her melancholy silence for the remainder of the night.
The next morning, Alice woke up unfashionably late. She covered her face against hot, bright sun streaming through her windows, fully dreading facing the day. She forced herself not to think about the events of the night prior, focusing on Mary’s efforts to get her dressed and presentable.
Alice’s thoughts were so distracted, she didn’t notice her parents’ countenances when she took her seat at the breakfast table. She didn’t notice the newspaper hurriedly brushed into her mother’s lap either.
“Alice, dear,” her mother said quietly, “how did you sleep?”
Alice glanced up and around the table at Neil and Joanna’s wary looks. Her heart sank nearly to the floor.
“What has happened?” she asked, choking back tears. “Was it truly that awful?”
Joanna nodded slowly, pulling the paper up. Neil took her hand, pausing her.
“Are you certain we should show it to her?” He asked his wife softly. Joanna hesitated but passed the news report into Alice’s waiting hands.
“She’s a grown women,” Joanna responded, “and she can face this and handle it as one.”
Alice’s tears spilled over the moment she caught sight of the paper opened to the scandal sheet. She had to fight sobs as she read over the content.
It reported, in no kind terms, exactly how the debut of the young American debutante had proceeded. Alice had no idea how they’d managed to find out the details of the night, but her lack of skill at dancing was prominently featured. The cruel words it ended on stated that Americans would have a better time of it if they stayed in their own country.
“Mama, I’m so sorry,” Alice choked out. “I’ve ruined it all, haven’t I?”
“You haven’t ruined a thing,” Joanna said bravely, “and one thing you’ll learn quickly in London is that these sorts of things get wildly exaggerated. It wasn’t as bad as all that.”
“But all your hard work,” Alice lamented, “all the time you spent on teaching me, it’s all been for naught.”
“That’s not true,” Neil interjected. “You behaved like a lady and were quite courteous. It’s an unfortunate accident that it didn’t go off just as planned.”
“My dancing was atrocious,” Alice, not quite ready to let go of the shame, covered her face, “that can’t be denied.”
“Who cares for dancing anyhow?” Neil said, glancing at his wife, who, in fact, loved dancing, “it was the fault of the whole thing making you nervous.”
“You were the prettiest one there, anyways,” Jacob piped up, grieving his mother with his indelicate speech but lifting his sister’s spirits. “You can just try again another time.”
Alice forced a small smile despite the pang of regret that shot through her. There were no second chances, not with a debut. She hoped and prayed she wouldn’t continue being such a disappointment to her parents.
“That’s not quite how it works,” Joanna chuckled, “but you’re quite right, in a way. Alice will have plenty of chances for both dance practice and more socializing.”
Alice stood up as slowly as she could manage when every part of her desperately desired to run.
“If you’ll excuse me,” she said, head held high, “I have a few matters to attend to this morning.”
“Are you all right?” Joanna asked. Alice nodded, and Joanna sighed, waving her hand to indicate that Alice was dismissed.
Alice barely held her sobs back before reaching chamber, and the window seat overlooking the trees they were surrounded by. Her tears dripped down, making a mess of the fetching rouge Mary had applied to her cheeks that morning. Alice sighed, thinking wistfully of home. She felt a bit guilty that she couldn’t bring herself to think of her parents’ home as hers, but she hadn’t been raised here as they had. Her parents truly belonged to London, but she couldn’t resist the conviction that America was home. She knew she would adjust . . . but she also knew she would miss America for the rest of her life.
Still, she pulled herself together, sitting up and lifting her chin. She knew she had to make her Season a success, in one way or another. She’d rather die than forever be known as the American who didn’t belong in London. She swore to herself then and there, she would pay attention to every one of Mama’s lessons, practice her dancing until her feet were bound to fall off, and take every chance to prove her civility and grace. She needn’t be the belle of every ball—she knew she wouldn’t be. She just needed to be a minor success.
The birds chirping and the sunlight filtering through the trees and windows to light the desk seemed so close to being out in the countryside, yet not nearly close enough for Vincent. He tore his gaze away from the window, looking back down at the ledgers spread open before him across the thick oak desk.
He hated the city so, it was increasingly difficult for him to stay focused on his duties. He would have sooner been in prison than London, or so he felt. He’d already been fortunate enough to delay his visit to Town by means of a convenient business matter requiring resolution, he felt he wouldn’t come across such luck again. His suspicions were confirmed when his mother stepped in to the room.
“We’ll be preparing to leave in two hours’ time,” Grace said softly, scanning the mountains of paper surrounding her son. “Will you be ready?”
Vincent closed his eyes for a moment, quelling the irritation rising at even the thought of attending. He nodded, hearing his mother leave the room, shutting the door behind her.
He sat back in his chair, glaring at the figures, notes, and information surrounding him.
“I’d far prefer this to attending yet another social event,” he muttered, running a hand through his ink-black hair. But, regardless of what he’d prefer, he knew he didn’t have much of a choice in the matter
His thoughts were interrupted by a flurry of energy and black hair matching his own bursting into his office.
“Vincent, did Mother tell you?” his sister, Edwina, exclaimed, “isn’t it the best news?”
“What, the ball?” Vincent asked incredulously, watching his younger sister twirl about the room. “I hardly think it’s the best news.”
“Oh, that’s because you’re a bore,” Edwina huffed, stilling for a moment, and giving her brother a withering stare. “I think you’ll be rather more inclined to it once you come along.”
“Edwina, I was here for your last Season, if you’ll remember,” he said impatiently. “I was not inclined to it then, and I shan’t be now.”
Edwina shook her head, turning towards the door before looking back at him for a moment.
“I think you’ll be inclined to it when you find someone to make it worthwhile,” she said coyly. Vincent didn’t bother to give her a response. She sighed, giving it up and leaving him be.
Vincent glanced up when a few minutes of silence had passed, sighing in relief when he saw his whirlwind of a sister no longer remained. He shook his head, letting himself become distracted by the outdoors once again.
He had already begun to count down the days until Edwina’s second Season would end, when he could wrap up his duties as a chaperone and go back to the country. He hated the false smiles, fake cheer, and pretended goodwill between the members of High Society. Specifically, London. He’d visited other cities with what was referred to as High Society, and not one had such a social standing made up of the greatest collective of false friends possible. He’d avoided London successfully thus far, though it had been difficult, what with his duties as Duke of Brookwood. He was quite proud of the success he’d met so far in avoiding Society altogether. Though, with his sister on the hunt for a husband, he was obliged to partake in the hated games for the length of the Season.
He stood and, casting a final long look at the solace and safety of his office, he closed the door behind him to head into the fray.
Charbury Manor, though full of the exact types that so aggravated Vincent, was exquisite. He couldn’t help but acknowledge it, though he desperately didn’t want to. Edwina, on the other hand, had not a qualm admitting to it
“Oh, Mother, just look at it!” she squealed, leaning against the carriage window and clasping Grace’s hand. “It’s positively stunning!”
“You’ve seen it before, my dear,” Grace chuckled, “around this time of year, I believe.”
“And it’s not near often enough,” Edwina sighed wistfully, sitting back in her seat, and smoothing out her midnight-blue gown. “Can you imagine living somewhere like that?”
“I imagine it would be full of societal obligations and many false friends,” Vincent returned flatly, much to Edwina’s despair.
“Will you at least pretend to be entertained,” Edwina pleaded, walking a faint line between anger at his callousness and guilt at dragging him along, “it’s not at all proper to look as though you’re being tortured!”
“As you wish,” Vincent said simply, and remained silent until he was required to speak.
They were ushered into the ballroom the moment they stepped out of the carriage. Every step proved harder for Vincent to take, as he learned he was dreading the affair even more than he’d thought. He resolved to get through the night so as not to humiliate Edwina, but he knew he’d spend every second thinking about getting the whole mess over with.
The ballroom was massive, much larger than he recalled from the year before, though he wondered how much of the memory rang true. Edwina looked like she could burst with all the excitement, and he smiled briefly at the contrast evident between them for onlookers to notice. The doors opened wider, and they walked in together.
He could feel the stares before he even caught sight of anyone. This was a ball usually held at the very beginning of the Season, so, of course, many unmarried women after a beau would be in attendance. And everyone who knew a thing about the current members of Society knew the very eligible Vincent Brooks was very, very far from being taken.
He pointedly avoided looking at anyone, staring straight ahead, while he guided Edwina to greet their hosts. She was a chore to chaperone, with her enthusiasm dragging her in a hundred different directions, but it was far preferable to chaperoning an insincere girl with no care for a soul but herself.
They approached the crowd in the center of the room where their hosts, the Marquess and Marchioness of Charbury, stood greeting guest after guest. The Marchioness caught sight of Edwina first, smiling at the young girl.
“Oh, it is so good to see you here again,” she exclaimed, taking Edwina’s hand in hers. Vincent couldn’t remember exactly what, but something had occurred last year that had very much endeared his sister to Lady Charbury.
“I see you’re at it again this year, Your Grace,” Lord Charbury addressed Vincent in his large, deep voice. “Are you up for another Season?”
“It is no choice of mine, Charbury, that is a given,” Vincent responded, lightening his tone so as not to give away just how much he hated it, “but if it makes my sister happy, I’m happy to oblige.”
“Why leave it at that?” Lord Charbury said with a chuckle. “Might as well make it worth your while as well! Have you met my daughter as of late?”
Vincent wanted to protest when the Marquess started to lead him through the crowd, but he was at a loss. He couldn’t simply deny the host, and he’d likely have to meet the host’s daughter before too long anyhow.
“Your Grace, I’m pleased to introduce you to my eldest daughter, Lady Helena.” Lord Charbury gestured to the girl with long blonde hair and striking green eyes standing before them. She curtsied, smiling up at Vincent, who offered a forced smile in return.
“The pleasure is mine, my lady,” he said with a polite bow. She looked at him expectantly as the dancefloor was announced open, the orchestra started up, and music began to ring through the grand hall. Vincent stifled a sigh, holding his arm out for Lady Helena to take.
“Would you do me the honor of sharing this dance?” he asked, and Lady Helena’s smile lit the room. She was charming, he had to admit; if only he had a shred of interest in marriage.
“You’re quite the dancer, Your Grace,” Lady Helena said coyly after they had taken the first few steps in silence.
“Thank you,” he replied with as much patience as he could muster, “I must return the compliment.”
Lady Helena, Vincent noticed, did not seem too pleased with the reply. She spent the rest of the dance looking up at him through her eyelashes, moving closer and closer by the step, and generally, if Vincent hadn’t known any better, giving her best attempt at seduction.
The dance ended, and with a stiff bow, Vincent returned the lady to her mother’s side, then moved hastily back to where his own mother was seated, on a sofa next to Lady Charbury. Edwina, apparently, was on the dancefloor with her partner, getting ready for the next set to begin.
“It will be in your interest to dance more than once, Vincent,” Grace said to her son quietly behind her fan, “at least, so as not to appear rude.”
“I believe it would be worse to give anyone false hope that I am on the marriage mart,” Vincent replied.
He looked around the room, observing all the pomp and grandeur of the room and its occupants. The Season, debuts, balls—it had never been anything he was particularly inclined to. He saw no reason for it, not when one had no interest in marriage. He constantly wondered what stake the married couples had in the game. But, regardless, he wasn’t interested enough to find out.
Another few hours passed, and at long last, the whole affair began drawing to a close. Vincent escorted his mother and sister back to their carriage, good-naturedly enduring his sister’s gushing about this lad and that dance, the outfits and the splendid state of the room. He shut the door for them without getting in himself, to his mother’s surprise.
“And where are you off to?” she asked him, leaning out the carriage window.
“Just to a club for a spell,” Vincent responded. “I won’t be more than an hour or two.”
Grace studied him for a moment before nodding, and Vincent sent them off, watching the carriage rumble down the road before turning and walking the opposite direction, into the lights of the town.
The dimly lit club, though modest on the outside, was one of the best, and Vincent’s favorite. He took a deep breath, finally relaxing after the night’s events.
He scanned the room, and, to his surprise, caught sight of his good friend settled at a corner table. He strode over immediately, sitting across from Isaac and combing a hand through his hair
“Well, look who’s here,” Isaac said with a smirk, “it’s good to see you back in Society.”
“It’s not by choice, I assure you,” Vincent returned.
“Do you regret the chance to see me so much?”
Vincent glared at him, Isaac’s smug look never wavering.
“You’ve come to the country often enough. I needn’t come here to visit.”
“But you’re here all the same,” Isaac shrugged. “Is it to your liking?”
“I’d sooner be trampled by wild horses then set foot in another ballroom.”
“You quite enjoyed the ball, I assume?”
Vincent scowled, causing Isaac to lau
“What a thing to suggest,” he replied darkly. “I don’t believe I’ve ever enjoyed something less in my life. After Edwina is wed, I’m set to never return to these ghastly activities.”
“And what of a bride?” Isaac asked with a grin. “I think you may need one of those to gain an heir, yes?”
“I truly could not care any less,” Vincent said, sitting back. He called for a drink, rubbing a hand across his brow while he waited for the relief of his headache.
“Perhaps I’ll grow desperate in the future,” he amended, “but for the time being, I’m perfectly content with no one to take my title.”
“You don’t desire any sort of companion?” Isaac pressed, “no one to love?”
“What use is love once it fades?” Vincent asked. “Surely, it’s destined to either burn out or leave, there’s no eternity to it.”
“Some would disagree.”
“I don’t believe I ever will,” Vincent replied. “My mother never was the same after my father’s death. Why one would put themselves in a position to feel that grief, I will never know.”
“Do you not think she would call it all worthwhile?”
“She may, but I wouldn’t.”
“Stubborn as ever,” Isaac laughed, “you are free to think whatever you wish about the whole affair, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you change your opinions before too long.”
“Then you would be a fool,” Vincent said with a smile, “though it’s hardly a change for you.”
Isaac laughed, shaking his head.
“Out of the both of us, I believe the fool would be the dark cynic,” he returned, standing up and clapping Vincent on the shoulder. “I have other business to attend to, so I must leave you to your brooding, my friend.”
Vincent raised his glass, watching Isaac march off across the room. He turned back, resting his head in his hand and thinking. He had no way to avoid most of the Season, neither the ton itself, nor even more torturous events. With no options before him, all that was left to do was endure the Season as long as it lasted. He sighed, his dread for it only growing. But it was for his sister, he reminded himself, and it would be worthwhile to see her happy.