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Authors: Rebecca Connolly

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BOOK: Secrets of a Spinster
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“You know, I have had a season or two before this, Cassie,” Mary broke in, finally, not bothering to keep her voice calm. “I think I know how to behave in public.”

Cassandra snorted and tossed her hair. “Obviously not, or you would be married by now.”

Mary’s mouth popped open and she stared at her sister in shock. “I cannot believe you just said that.”

Cassie shrugged. “It’s the truth, and you have said no less yourself. You have absolutely no skills when it comes to social occasion.”

Mary sank onto the bed with a hard thump. “Well, this is certainly enlightening.”

“You’ve never thought yourself very good either, so don’t blame me for being honest now,” Cassie scolded, placing her hands on her hips.

“No, why should I? The rest of the world has been honest my whole life, I hope my family would do the same before I fell under some delusion.” Mary looked away, flicking the ends of her plait irritably.

“Mary,” Cassandra said slowly, coming over to sit beside her on the bed, “I thought you wanted me to be honest. I am only trying to help you, but if you have changed your mind…”

“No, no, it’s not that,” Mary sighed, adjusting her shawl. “I am just… I just…”

“You’re nervous,” Cassandra said in a soft, somewhat awed voice.

Unable, and frankly unwilling, to lie about it, Mary simply nodded.

“Oh, Mary, I’m sorry,” Cassandra said, putting her arms around her and touching her head to Mary’s. “And here I was rattling on about details. Why didn’t you say something? I would have shut up.”

“I doubt that.” Mary folded her arms over her worn linen nightgown and smiled at her sister.

“Very well, probably not,” Cassandra allowed, smiling back, “but I would have listened. Why are you nervous?”

Mary stiffened and shifted away. “It’s nothing. It’s silly, don’t worry about it.”

“Mary. I’m your sister. What else are we for but the silly things?”

Mary looked at her sister, for a long moment, then sighed and looked down at her hands. “I don’t want to make a fool of myself.”

“Why would you make a fool of yourself?” Cassie asked in surprise. “Mary, you have never been a fool.”

“When I have been myself, no,” she agreed. “But how can I be me and still be the debutante?”

“That is a question every debutante asks herself, I can assure you,” Cassandra said with a knowing smile.

“So what is the answer?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” her sister replied with a laugh.

“Cassie!” Mary laughed and fell back onto the bed, arms around her middle.

The laughter continued for a few moments, and then Cassandra grew serious. “Mary, this is all a game as it is. If you don’t want to play, no one will make you.”

Mary looked at her sister, tempted to back out, despite everything. “Thank you,” she replied slowly. Rationally speaking, she did not have to do this. She was content as she was.

She was satisfied.

She was lying.

“I will still do it,” Mary relented.

“Oh, good,” Cassie burst out, sighing heavily with relief and collapsing onto the bed beside her. “I was going to beat you over the head with your water pitcher if you backed out, especially after all the work I have put in to get you ready.”

“Really, Cass?”

Her sister smiled a bit impishly. “No, not really. But I would have stolen all of your dresses.”

Mary laughed and smacked her with a pillow. “Wretch. I knew it.”

Cassandra giggled, then sighed. “Mary, if it will help, here is a thought for this season; pretend the whole thing is a masquerade.”

That brought a bit of a frown to Mary’s face. “What good will that do?”

“We are all hiding behind masks whenever we are around others. We want to be the best version of ourselves, we want to hide what we are not, we want to be liked, we want to escape.” She shrugged lightly. “It is the way of things. So just change your mask. It’s still you, but the mask and costume are different.”

“And I have to flirt.”

Cassandra grinned. “Of course, you have to flirt. That’s where the fun is.”

“I think you have an entirely different version of fun than I do,” Mary muttered as she sat up.

“Is that what this is all about?” Cassandra asked, watching her closely. “Are you worried about flirting?”

“I have no idea how to do it,” Mary admitted in a small voice.

The look on Cassandra’s face was priceless and she jerked to a sitting position. “I’ve never heard of any such thing,” she said in a shocked voice.

“Now you have.”

Cassie shook herself and stood. “Well, you happen to be related to a girl who was once quite the flirt, if you recall, so I think you will find my instruction adequate for your needs.”

“I think I should pass,” Mary suggested.

“I think you should stand up and stop being afraid of everything that comes out of my mouth,” Cassie returned, looking severe.

“Old habits.”

Cassie’s blue eyes rolled dramatically. “Really, Mary, you will never be able to flirt if you’re going to be a troll.”

“Trolls have no need of flirtation.”

“Mary!”

“All right, all right, you can teach me!” she cried, standing up.

Cassie smiled mischievously. “You will not regret this, Mary.”

“I doubt that,” she muttered, hands anxiously gripping her nightgown.

Cassandra chose to ignore that comment. “First things first, you need to bite your tongue.”

“I’m working on it.”

She nodded approvingly. “Now, have you ever seen how Marianne Bray acts in public?”

“Yes…” she replied, suddenly wary. She liked Marianne, from what she knew, but she couldn’t deny that she was quite a sight when on display.

“Try that.”

“I do not want to be… like that!” she protested weakly, suddenly envisioning it and feeling ill.

Cassie snorted. “You would have to practice for years to be as accomplished as Marianne is. But just for fun, try it.”

“I feel ridiculous,” Mary muttered as she tried to adopt the mannerisms that came so naturally to Marianne Bray.

“You look it.”

“Whatever happened to hold your tongue?” Mary asked with a raised brow.

“It doesn’t apply to sisters.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“You. Now, stand taller and glide.”

C
hapter
S
even

I
t was not often that Geoffrey Harris was surprised. It simply was not in his nature. Whether it was the calmness of his character, or some deep rooted inability to be astounded, he didn’t know, but surprise rarely struck him.

Until tonight.

He slowly sipped whatever it was he was drinking and stared off at nothing, albeit in the general direction of his best friend, who has already well on her way to achieving exactly what she wanted from this season.

And therein lay his surprise.

He had arrived at the Hamilton house earlier than expected, and made himself at home, as he usually did, asking Winston to inform the ladies of his arrival. Word was sent back down that they were not ready yet, but would be shortly. Three quarters of an hour later, Cassandra came down, gave him a beaming grin, and said Mary would be down momentarily.

He hoped that Cassie’s meaning of the word “momentarily” was a good deal less than that of “shortly.”

“How does she feel?” he had asked with concern, wondering if a rare case of nerves had afflicted her.

“You’ll see,” she replied with a smug smile.

“I said feel, not look,” he grumped.

Cassie had only smiled again and said again, “You’ll see.”

Entirely unsatisfied, Geoff folded his arms and waited.

Less than five minutes later, Cassie had waved him over to the stairs excitedly. He rose from his seat and came over to the base of the stairs, and looked up.

Never before in his life could he recall surprise of such magnitude.

She was wearing the lavender gown he had seen the other day, and it had been one of his favorites. Now, however, the details were complete and it was fitted, and it was as if he had never seen it before. But it was not the dress that surprised him, beautiful as it was. It was the woman who wore it. Her tiny waist was on display for the entire world, who had never known her to have a figure at all. She was moving with a grace and elegance he had never seen in her. Her hair looked rich and thick, and it was dotted with small pearls that matched the ones now embellishing the bodice, drawing more attention there than anyone would have paid before, and the gown made it worth their while. Her complexion was rosy and healthy, and she had a glow about her that made impossible to look anywhere but at her.

For the space of an entire three heartbeats, he wasn’t even sure it was Mary. Then he met her eyes and the familiar friend was there, and he could breathe a little. He took her hand, bowed very properly over it, and murmured, “Miss Hamilton.”

“If she pinches my cheeks one more time, I’m going to slap her,” Mary hissed through a smile.

Relief had washed over him as he glanced up at her and grinned. Things would be just fine.

Now, as he pretended not to watch her, he wasn’t so sure.

It was as if she had been a natural debutante her entire life.

She flirted, she smiled, she hypnotized. There were at least seven men standing around her, all of whom had seen her before, and often, at other events and had never even looked in her direction. It made no difference to them that she had come here on his arm, in his carriage, and with his protection. They were just as keen to make a favorable impression on her as if she were the freshest female in the room. To them, he supposed she was.

“I think this is going rather well, don’t you?” Cassandra asked him as she came to his side.

“Do you?” he murmured, slowly drinking again.

“Of course,” she replied. “Look at how happy she is. She has never had this much attention in her entire life!”

“Mary doesn’t like attention.”

“Oh, please, Geoffrey,” Cassie laughed, smacking his arm with her fan. “Every woman likes attention, even if she pretends she does not.”

“Mary isn’t every woman.”

Cassandra rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Geoff, what has your breeches in a twist? I have never known you to be so grumpy. Why can’t you be happy that she is happy?”

“Is she happy?” he asked in reply, tearing his eyes away from her. “Because unless she tells me so herself, I cannot believe it.”

“Then go dance with her, and ask her yourself,” she muttered with a snort of derision. “Don’t stand in the corner like some old man, grunting about the impropriety of the younger generation.”

He gave Cassandra an assessing look, then laughed. “Forgive me, Cassie. You’re right. It’s the change. I suppose I have to get used to it like everybody else.”

“Yes, you do,” she said with a nod and a smile. “Our project is working, just as we predicted. She will be right as rain, and will laugh about it with us later, you’ll see.”

He glanced back over and caught Mary giving him a warning look he well recognized as a rather young gentleman struggled desperately to maintain her attention. “She wants to be rescued,” he said in a low voice. “Shall I save her or let her fend for herself?”

Cassie smiled rather wickedly. “Let her endure for a dance. She won’t have us watching her all the time, she must learn how to escape on her own.”

Geoff chuckled and held a hand out to her. “Then will you dance with me, Cassie?”

She beamed up at him, and for the present, his troublesome thoughts abated. Let Mary find her own way out of her quandary.

After all, this was what she had wanted.

 

BOOK: Secrets of a Spinster
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