Dora lowered her eyes in humility. “I apologize, madam. I run off at the mouth too often. I wish I were more of a compassionate soul like you.”

“I lead by example. Oliver taught me.” She rose from her seat then rubbed Dora’s shoulder to soften her rebuke. She appreciated Dora’s forthright manner, but sometimes, the woman didn’t think before she spoke. She always had to show the younger the error of her ways.

“I’ll make certain to remember,” Dora said in a restrained voice.

“Good.” With a shimmy of her hips, her nightgown fell to the floor. “Help me get dressed, and then you can go see your brother.”

* * *

Sunlight cascaded on Julia, giving her the perfect light to read. She sat under a tree, quite comfortable, even with a slight nip in the air. Brightly colored leaves blanketed the ground, and birds chirped in the tree branches over her head. For the last hour or so, she had pored over the notes and invitations to tea and various social functions from many names she didn’t recognize. Most addressed to her mother and made no mention of her. She should have been insulted, but she guessed it was to be expected. She had never been adept at forming new friendships and had relied on David and Maria for companionship. But now with them both gone from her life, she would have to search elsewhere for company, or turn to Isaiah for companionship.

She sighed in regret at the idea her only friend left in the world was Isaiah.

“I’m so lonely.” She stared at an invitation written in bold, yet feminine handwriting. The words blurred on the page, and she swiped at her eyes. Enough with the tears. Crying made her head throb and her face red and splotchy. She cleared her throat and scanned the paper on her lap. Her eyes widened as she absorbed the information on the invitation from the countess Guetall for her holiday party at the de Fleurre estate the first Saturday of December, which happened to be in less than ten days.

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