A shrill, practically operatic voice sang out through the corridors of Crescent Hall.
“Liddy, you must swear to me you will not tell a soul! And it is not poppycock, I can assure you!”
“My dear girl, I doubt there is a soul here who knows who you are—”
“That may be true, but there are those who may know who he is.” Estelle interrupted her trusted, if untactful, confidant.
“Oh poppycock!” The widow repeated defiantly. “Am I allowed no fun in my old age?!”
Liddy chuckled along heartilly.
They made their way back to the dayroom, tracking their charges amongst the array of sausage curls and puff sleeves. Estelle noticed Marielle at once. She saw the debutante smile sweetly at her partner as they twirled between the other couples.
“I am so very sorry, Estelle. I am so naïve…I…Believe me when I say that I will never go near that wretched man again!”
Estelle turned to her, fake smile already in position. “Oh, it is nothing, Liddy. Just the heat getting to me.”
As the waltz came to an end, Estelle wondered whether the two weeks of ‘house arrest’ had actually done Marielle any good. However, judging by the shifty behaviour she had just witnessed, she was no longer so sure of any such redemption taking place.
Liddy’s voice broke through Estelle’s thoughts. Swallowing, Estelle prepared for the inevitable clench in her gut.
Because she had literally just been thinking exactly the same thing.
Honestly, she was beginning to tire of the game Marielle was playing; associating with some brainless heir whose bed she was so ardent to warm.
She chuckled impishly. This time she would catch Marielle; hopefully with the man she intended to box round the ears.
It seemed that, yet again, she had found herself in a completely empty space, devoid of Marielle, an unintelligent heir to a fortune, or any other vaguely human being.
A fire blazed in the hearth behind a large, intimidating desk covered in letters and papers. It was both a study and a library apparently, since its walls consisted of rows of various tomes; practically falling apart through overuse.
Estelle assumed that whoever used this room must be learned, or at least well read.
That was the name of the hostess.
…. something about a Viscount?
Oh good Lord. Marielle expected to ensnare the Viscount Afonsine?! Eldest living son to the Earl of Barnacle Bay. He was one of the more well-known rogues in this part of the country, or indeed any part.
By God, that girl was naïve to think she even had a chance!
Possibly. Although it was well-known fact that he seldom came to Moonlight Falls due to poor health. Indeed, he had certainly not been present that afternoon.
Her gaze was drawn to a particularly well-thumbed tome, out of line with the rest, obviously due to a recent re-reading.
“Gaea. A novel of the stars.”
She smiled, intrigued to discover who had written such mysterious words.
How mysterious indeed! Frowning, her fingers lifted in preparation to turn the page…
Cursing mentally, she rested the book on the edge of the shelf and leapt into the centre of the room. Nevertheless, she was prepared for another scolding from a displeased footman.
“Ah, the unbearable chaperone. May I ask why you’re in here?”
“I-I might ask you precisely the same question.”
How long had it been since she’d seen him? A fortnight?
“Not a chit, not a chick… Tell me, sweetheart, how is it you wish to be addressed by a man?”
“W-Well, certainly I do not approve of ‘sweetheart’!”
“Truly, Sir. Now if you’ll excuse me—”
“Always in such a rush, aren’t you darling?”
The governess scowled. “I am not your ‘darling’.”
“Tell me yours and perhaps I will!”
“I asked you first,” he insisted. “Who told you where to find it, first of all.”
“Nobody told me anything! This was merely the last room I had yet to search—”
Estelle’s scowl darkened. “Who are you? Asking me all these questions when you have absolutely no right! Especially when it is clear that we are both trespassing! You sir, are—”
“Tell me what you were searching for.”
Estelle swallowed, only just realising how very warm the air in the room was. Or perhaps it was just the memory of those lips on hers….?
The stranger gave a low, amused chuckle.
“I’m afraid that may prove rather pointless, chick. Because—”
The door opened without warning.
“Lord Vaughn, your Mother has requested your presence in the dance hall for the next waltz.”
“Did she give any particular reason, Jones?”
“Indeed, my Lord, she said you’d ask for one.”
“‘Do stop being such a bore, Vaughn. There is many a girl here who would love a dance with the Viscount – do humour me and associate with at least one. It’s not as if you must marry every single one, chérie.'”
Jones nodded. “Very good, my Lord.”
And with that, he left them, closing the door.
But that didn’t stop the entire county from knowing who he was.
Viscount of Moonlight Falls and heir to the most powerful house known to the ton.