tutelage to get that out of hand. All things considered, it turned out quite well. And Sebastian, lucky dog, was so blasted attractive and well titled to boot. The man could be diagnosed with a flesh-eating disease, and women would still be pounding down his door. The silence in the room was deafening. The cruel world seemed to continually remind Phillip how alone he was. As if he needed reminding that no lady was beating down his door except the one he couldn’t take, no matter how desperate he became. He sat and listened. The fire crackled and spat. Laughter danced in from the streets. And Phillip sat…empty-handed and alone. It was time he did something about it. Time he changed his life, changed his reputation and his future. And he knew just how to do it. An idea manifested, and as Phillip glanced into the wicked flames he smiled his first genuine smile in years. Yes, things were looking up.
Abigail hated that she was crying. Showing weakness was not tolerated in her family, and she held herself to a higher standard. But he had been so cruel. She thought they were merely exchanging witty banter. Instead the man had slain her with one well-placed phrase, paralyzing her tongue from snapping a vicious retort. After he had abandoned her on the dance floor, her only choice had been to smile through clenched teeth and return to Emma’s side. Emma offered her a look of concern. “Where has Phillip run off to?” Wanting nothing more than to curse the man who had embarrassed her, Abigail had to fight to keep her face and words kind. “Oh, I believe he had another engagement. I wouldn’t worry.” Content with the answer, her sister looped her arm with Abigail’s and led her to the place Rawlings had indicated earlier. “My dear, look at all these gentleman. They’ve been asking about you all night. I do believe we’ll have many callers tomorrow afternoon. Why don’t I introduce you?” Abigail tried to think of any excuse to allow herself to remain where she was. The last thing she wanted to do was make friendly with gentlemen her own age. All she wanted was the horrid wretch who had ridiculed her inexperienced kiss. “ My head aches,” Abigail lied, lifting her gloved hand to her forehead in attempt to deter her sisters pestering questions. The tears Abigail had been holding back grew painful as she tried to keep them captive behind her eyes. Emma seemed to understand and escorted her quickly down the hall. “Has something happened, Abby?” “ No.” Abigail sighed. “I’m just exhausted. It has been a very trying night. After all, it is my first ball.” “ But you haven’t danced with anyone other than family and Rawlings. However are we to find you a match if you don’t make yourself available? Abigail, remember. You wanted your first Season, though Mama and Papa argued that you should wait.” She hadn’t wanted to wait, because she was worried Rawlings would find someone else to steal his heart. Desperately, she had done all she could to get her parents to agree to allow her to debut this Season, short as it was—only a month of social occasions left. “ It is merely a headache, Emma. I’ll be feeling better in the morning. Will you give my apologies to everyone for retiring so dreadfully early?” Skeptically, Emma’s eyes narrowed before she nodded her head and gracefully returned to the ballroom. Slowly, Abigail took the stairs. How had things gone so horribly wrong? Had Rawlings not been transfixed when they kissed? Was he merely skilled at looking devastatingly handsome, no matter what the weather? His eyes had sparkled after their lips touched. But perhaps he was upset, or worse, irritated that she had interrupted his brooding. Abigail bit her lip, and the music from the ballroom floated to the ceiling. Boisterous voices and laughter echoed off the walls. She was a young debutante; she should be out dancing, experiencing her first time in London. Instead she