Today's Reading

The Debutante's Revenge (Inaugural Edition)

Dear Debutantes,

Be forewarned: This column is not intended for the meek or retiring. It shall contain information of a direct and, sometimes, shocking nature. If you are likely to take offense at its provocative prose and intimate illustrations, pray, avert your eyes now.

For this space is hereby dedicated to the edification of the so-called gentler, fairer sex. It is reserved for the subjects you shan't hear discussed in genteel drawing rooms, the lessons that your very proper headmistress failed to teach, and the frank conversations that would have your dear, sweet mama calling for her smelling salts.

This column is about the joys and perils of courting, which include flirtation, desire, intimacy, and, most of all...love.

If you would prefer to avoid such scandalous topics, you are advised to turn at once to the fashion pages, where the most controversial debate is likely whether the color of the season shall be jonquil or lavender. But if you are curious about matters of the heart, read on...



CHAPTER 1

"Read the forbidden books—the ones hidden at the back of the top shelf that will surely make you blush—for they are, undoubtedly, the most edifying."
—The Debutante's Revenge

Miss Lily Hartley plucked a silk pillow off the settee in her sister's drawing room and hugged it to her chest, carefully observing Fiona's expression as she read the paragraphs Lily had drafted that morning for their wildly popular column in the London Hearsay. She wanted her sister's opinion on this week's installment before delivering it to the newspaper's offices.

Noting Fiona's widened eyes and arched brow, Lily braced herself.

"'If she so wishes, every young woman on the marriage mart should experience a real kiss—the sort that starts with a brush of the lips but progresses to knee-melting pleasure,'" Fiona read, nodding as though she was impressed. She lifted her gaze from the paper and swept an auburn curl behind her ear. "Have you kissed someone?" she asked, a conspiratorial grin lighting her face. "Like that?"

Lily sighed, deflating. "Much to my chagrin, no." She found it ironic—tragic, really—that the authoress of The Debutante's Revenge, the column that had scandalized proper matrons and dutiful chaperones throughout London with its salacious advice and provocative drawings, had never been properly ravished.

"It's only a matter of time," Fiona sympathized. "You'll find someone who makes your heart beat faster and who admires your generous, adventurous spirit."

Lily had heard Fiona's reassurances before. But if the dance floor were a metaphor for life, she was still lingering on the perimeter, squished between the potted palms and a wall of matchmaking mamas.

Over the last few months, Lily had watched wistfully as her older sister fell in love and married a handsome earl who adored her. Lily couldn't have been happier for Fiona, but she missed having her at home. Everyone said Lily's turn was coming, but so far, no prince had appeared. She'd had her share of suitors, but each one had been looking for a reserved, genteel wife. Someone to decorate his arm and nod in awe while he waxed on about horses or hunting. She wasn't about to give up her spot among the potted palms for a man who thought women were mere ornaments.

Happily, however, she and her sister would be together for the next fortnight. Fiona's husband, Gray, was traveling to Scotland to conduct some business, and Fi had invited Lily to stay with her while he was gone.

Lily walked to her sister's desk and shuffled through the array of Fiona's sketches strewn across the polished surface, each one dreamier than the next. A vignette of a broad-shouldered soldier bowing over a young woman's gracefully extended hand. A man and woman seated on a park bench beneath a parasol, their heads intimately inclined toward one another. The silhouettes of a couple facing each other, their bodies only a breath apart—as though they were on the very brink of a kiss.
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