The next afternoon, I was in Mama’s sitting room, attempting to make sense of the month’s household accounts before Mama handed them over to Papa’s secretary—which frequently resulted in considerable ranting and raving when Papa learned that the only thing that was decipherable in the hodgepodge of figures was that the total far exceeded the amount he deemed acceptable. Even in the country Mama was not what one would call “of a practical nature,” and in London during the Season with a treasure like Nessa to display . . . ? I glared at the stack of bills beside the account book, nibbled on the feather tip of my quill, and sighed, doubting there was any way, short of fraud, I could make the figures palatable.

Lady Marian.” Soames, our butler who had known me from the cradle, stood in the doorway, his face reflecting disapproval. “There is a caller, my lady,” he pronounced in icy tones. “I have informed him that Lady Albemarle and Lady Vanessa are not at home, but he states he will not go away until he has spoken with you.” Soames paused, his look of disapproval deepening. “I beg your pardon, my lady, but I did not feel I could oust him. Lord Rushton is very large,” he added apologetically. “I have put him in the drawing room.”

My quill wavered, shooting a blob of ink onto the pristine surface of Mama’s rosewood desk. I gasped, blotted it with the cloth kept expressly for such disasters, scrubbing the surface until it shone. Slumping back into my chair, I turned back to Soames. “You may inform the marquess I will be with him shortly.”

Rushton wished to see me! My stomach roiled, my hands shook.

Nessa aside, was this an acquaintance I wished to pursue? I could say I was ill, an excuse that would signal I had no interest in his attentions . . .

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