Lady Marielle Harrington exclaimed.
“It’s only a little cleavage!”
“Do you not think it just… a little too much?”
“Estelle, that neckline is positively nunnish compared to some I’ve seen. Why, last week, Lady Harris donned a garment which was more akin to a handkerchief than a dress! You certainly have nothing to worry about.”
How stupid she had been to think that tonight would be different! To think that tonight people might ask her name instead of merely asking for Marielle’s!
Because no man had ever shown any interest in her, and she doubted they ever would.
Kissed out of sheer exasperation!
What a sad story she was!
Why did he show up to her residence, claiming to visit Marielle when she knew it was simply a gesture to antagonise her?
What did he want from her?
That evening, and another party was in full swing. The country mansion was absolutely swarming with eligible bachelors and debutantes alike, as well as the spinsters and chaperones who were paid to keep an eye on them both.
“… and it turns out she is pregnant, of all things! ” Liddy exclaimed. “They are to be married immediately, of course, and move before the month’s out! The girl’s life is ruined! All because of a night’s passion with her footman!”
“But my dear girl, it is because of love that her life is ruined, don’t you see?”
“I don’t understand what you mean, Liddy.”
“Well, just think about it. If it weren’t for love, she would never have broken class codes by talking to him in the first place. One day, she’ll look at her life and realise that love is no substitute for security and respect. By then it will be far too late.”
“Sit down and let her be, girl,” Liddy chided. “She’ll only be this age once, you know. I’m surprised you’re still worried, especially since Viscount Afonsine has made his intentions clear to you.”
“I-I-I… I don’t I don’t quite u-understand your… ”
Did Liddy know what had happened between her and the Viscount? But how? And what did she mean by ‘intentions’?
“My dear, I was merely referring to the visit he made to the Harrington residence today. I assume he intends to court her with your permission, for the gesture can be read as nothing else. Why, it is the talk of the ton.”
“Oh! Oh, right! Of course, well, I—”
Estelle bit her lip.
The crush parted just enough for Estelle to make out Lady Millerna Landgraab, bedecked in finery from her latest benefactor, attracting the Viscount’s attention from across the room.
Estelle suspected their relationship had, at one point, been fairly… personal.
Indeed, she doubted that the blonde had any morality left at all in that perfectly proportioned body!
She regarded Estelle out of the corner of her eye.
“Would you not agree?”
Liddy chuckled under her breath.
“Lady Millerna’s younger brother; Charles Landgraab, Duke of Sunset Valley. An introvert, apparently. He’s only seen socialising with the Viscount, and rarely at that.”
“That’s… odd, for a Lord.”
“I heard it was a riding accident. Clearly he still blames himself.”
“Oh, darling, it’s all in his eyes.”
“Boyhood friends. Apparently, Lord Landgraab was the only person who could convince the Viscount to return from Barnacle Bay. They set up business together overseas. A very lucrative venture, so I hear.”
Gossip circles in Barnacle Bay call him a womaniser, a rogue, a rake; breaking hearts, stealing hearts, he owned them, then let go of them without a second thought…”
Estelle leaned in, intrigued.
Vaughn has a brother?
“Now, I hate to trouble you, but I suddenly feel terribly parched. Would you take the trouble to fetch an old widow a glass of champagne, before she continues spinning her gossip?”
A furtive, bitter thought snaked through her head:
It’s not like he told you anything about himself in the first place…
“Is this how you apologise to everyone you smack into awkwardly?”
“I have already apologised to you, my Lord, now if you would just let me through—”
“Where must you get to so hastily, chick? A secret rendezvous on the terrace, perhaps?”
“Do not be ridiculous!”
“There is nothing ridiculous about it.”
“I— will you please let me through! People are beginning to watch!”
“Let them watch.”
Estelle blinked at the Viscount’s boldness. Again, she considered his motives. The media would have no hesitation painting a scandalous affair between a lowly governess and the Afonsine heir on the front page news.
Why, it would surely be the talk of the town for months, should they be caught!
Maybe he wanted to get caught. Maybe Vaughn wanted to spit in the face of those who had revered him, to prove that he too contained undesirable traits.
Admittedly, it wasn’t exactly reasonable but it held a twisted ring of truth to it.
Surprise! Look everyone! I’m not as perfect as you thought I was!
I fooled you all!
“I’ve never seen you in a dress like this before.”
“A-and? Since when did you see fit to concern yourself with my wardrobe?”
“Well don’t! Besides, you have only seen me three times in your entire life, and the first time it was dark; so pardon me if I do not—”
“Ah yes, I remember. We were alone at a rather droll soiree, weren’t we? Just like we are now.”
“Meet me by the staircase in ten minutes.” He muttered, low and soft near her ear.
He had wanted her.
He still wanted her.
And the thought terrified her more than anything she had ever known.
“Why, Estellise, you appear to be missing my drink!”
“O-Oh, well… you see, they didn’t have any champagne left, and I know how you hate lemonade…”
“I’ll have to go back and check… i-in ten minutes or so.”