A Season for Treason (Deception and Discipline #1) - Golden Angel
Mary - One Year Earlier
Debutantes were supposed to avoid rakes at all costs.
It was not a hard and fast rule, but the debutante who ignored the social guideline did so at her own risk.
Mary was not a risk-taker. She never had been. She left the risk-taking to her parents, who were consummate travelers and happiest when exploring uncharted territory and facing unknown dangers. Of course, she had no firsthand knowledge of their preferences, but she gleaned it from the many letters they had sent her over the years and listening to their conversations during the occasional visit.
There were three people in the world who she relied upon completely. She had recently received a letter from one Eveline Stuart, requesting Mary learn everything she could about the Marquess of Hartford. Mary did not question the appeal—rather, she did not wait for an answer after sending her own letter back to Evie—but immediately began to investigate the Marquess.
Gossip was easy to come by, viable information much less so, and an actual encounter was nearly impossible… until the Somerset ball.
Walking on her cousin Thomas Hood’s arm, Mary was surprised—and a tad shocked—to see one of her acquaintances standing with the Marquess of Hartford. Lady Arabella Windham was one of the very few people Mary had met in London she would consider a friend. She was also a debutante and the sister of a duke, so what the devil was she doing with a man whose mere presence could tarnish her reputation? Being the sister of a duke gave her greater leeway than other debutantes, but there were still limits.
Even if Mary had not been curious about the pairing, she still would have attempted to direct her cousin that way. Especially when she realized he was eying a small group of ladies who were definitely not friendly. She knew Thomas was considering Lady Winifred Bellmont as a possible wife. It was her duty, as his cousin, to save him from himself. Really, she was killing two birds with one stone.
“Look, there’s Lady Arabella,” she said, tugging gently on Thomas’ arm to gain his attention. His head swung around, the expression on his face turning disapproving.
It was all Mary could do to keep her eyes from rolling upward. Thomas’ taste in women was extremely poor, in her opinion. Lady Arabella was kind, warm, and entertaining—the very opposite of Lady Winifred.
But Arabella was not her true target. Her true target was the man standing next to her. Tall, broad-shouldered, and so handsome, almost too beautiful for words, the Marquess’ tawny hair and amber-gold eyes made her think of a lion. Which made the nickname she’d overheard one man use even more appropriate—Rex.
Not the actual King, of course, but the moniker suited him. Never mind he was something like eighteenth in line for the throne. He acted as if he was the ultimate authority wherever he went. Mary wondered what it was like to have that kind of arrogant confidence. Even more annoyingly, it did not detract from his appeal one whit.
Thomas had not moved from his spot, but it did not matter. The Marquess and Lady Arabella were coming closer while Thomas appeared to be lost in his own thoughts, more interested in the ton’s reactions to the couple than in their approach. Mary wondered if Thomas would ever realize his trenchant disapproval of Lady Arabella stemmed from his attraction to her. Unlikely. Stubborn ass.
Well, she would do what she could for him, but in the meantime…
“Hello, Lady Arabella,” Mary said as the couple came within earshot.
Lady Arabella’s warm brown eyes widened, and she hesitated, but she covered her pause quickly.
“Good evening, Mary,” she said, smiling sincerely. There were so few sincere smiles among the ton, seeing one was always refreshing. Mary smiled back. “Have you just arrived?”
Rather than introducing Mary, Lady Arabella was ignoring both gentlemen as if they were not there at all. Which was likely beneficial for Mary’s reputation with the ton, but not very helpful when it came to Evie’s request. If she could not gain an introduction to Hartford, she would not be able to speak with him without ruining her reputation completely.
The social strictures of Society were extremely frustrating sometimes.
“Not long ago,” Mary replied glibly, covering her disappointment. “It was a bit of a crush coming in.”
The familiar patter of social chatter was easy to fall into, allowing Mary to examine Hartford in her immediate proximity rather than from afar. This close, he was even more disturbing to her