Luck Is No LadyBy: Amy Sandas
This series is dedicated to my sisters.
Fadi Ada, BB Club, Pink Fringe, Apex, and P3.
Love you, ladies!
London, May 1817
Emma resisted the urge to press her fingertips to her temples. A headache had started just over an hour ago and was increasing in strength by the minute. She was irritated and exhausted, but she was careful no one would know it to look at her.
Holding her position along the wall, Emma concealed her discomfort beneath a fixed and proper demeanor. The attentive focus of her gaze was the only thing to suggest her state of vigilance as she scanned the ballroom.
She spotted Portia quickly enough. The youngest Chadwick was eighteen and her dark mahogany tresses contrasted dramatically with her all-white ball gown, allowing her to stand out amidst the crush of debutantes. Her eyes sparkled beneath a thick fringe of lashes and her smile was engaging and pretty as she looked up at her dance partner.
A frown pulled at the space between Emma’s brows. There was something odd in her sister’s manner.
Portia’s smile was too stiff and the sparkle in her eyes was not from pleasure but rather a glazed sort of half focus. In spite of the girl’s agreeable expression, it was clear she was nearly bored to tears. Thank goodness she had enough presence of mind to try to hide it. It was not common to Portia’s nature to express anything other than exactly what she was thinking. That she did so now gave Emma some hope her sister might be taking this husband hunting business seriously.
Scanning the other couples sweeping past her in the ballroom, it took a few more moments for Emma to catch sight of her other sister. Lily Chadwick did not share Portia’s dramatic characteristics. Her hair was a lighter shade of brunette and her features were softer, less striking.
Lily at least appeared to be genuinely enjoying herself, Emma noted. Her dance partner was a mature and distinguished gentleman who had danced with Lily at a ball just last week. Emma narrowed her gaze. A thread of anxiety pulled taut through her chest as she noticed the gentleman holding Lily a bit closer than what was appropriate.
If Portia needed to be watched for her willful irreverence, Emma needed to keep just as close an eye on Lily for her naïveté. The middle Chadwick sister was an idealist. Her reserved nature and genuine desire to see the best in people made her vulnerable to dishonorable men who might think to take advantage.
Emma’s headache worsened.
As her sisters’ guardian, it was her sole responsibility to keep them safe and secure until they traversed to their husbands’ households. When she had the brilliant idea they must have their social debuts, Emma had underestimated the level of anxiety inherent in being responsible for them as they navigated the dangerous waters of the haut monde.
The girls had been presented only a few weeks ago, but already potential suitors had started to call on them regularly. Lily and Portia did not have the lure of large dowries, but the Chadwicks did have an earl on one of the loftier branches of their family tree. Emma hoped their noble connections and charming natures would be enough to garner acceptable proposals.
Distracted by concern for her sisters and the headache pressing at her temples, Emma almost failed to see the threat approaching her. Luckily, the flashing color of a garish green-and-pink-striped waistcoat in her peripheral vision managed to draw her attention. A groan of dismay caught in her throat. The rotund figure of Lord Marwood pushed toward her through the crowd. It wasn’t an easy task. His width measured almost two men across and he didn’t stand tall enough to see above many of the guests’ shoulders.
Of all the people who might have remembered Emma from her own debut seven years ago, it had to be this man.
Her entrance into society had been cut short by her mother’s illness, but she would never forget her disturbing encounters with Lord Marwood. His intentions had been dishonorable when she had been a debutante, but were doubly so now that she was twenty-five and considered an unfortunate spinster. He had already taken several opportunities to hint at his desire for an intimate association with her. And now he was heading her way, his face florid with his exertions to forge a path through the crushing crowd.
Emma cringed at the thought of having to endure even a second of his company. Aside from the fact that she had absolutely no intention of involving herself with the man in any capacity, that he continued to seek her out was becoming a problem for another reason—people were beginning to notice his dogged interest. And that was unacceptable. Emma could not have any gossip surrounding her or her sisters’ presence in society.
Without considering how it might look, she made a rash decision—something Emma rarely did—and turned to slip through the crowd toward the nearest door. She did not once look back as she fled the ballroom.