I woke up with a start when I heard voices in the hall. I blinked at the seemingly sudden darkness in my room. Glancing at my clock, I realized it was a quarter past four…
I suddenly heard Candace’s raised voice and another voice in concert with it, a somehow familiar voice…
“Now, did you say her room was the second or the third?”
“I said nothing of the sort! Sir, you cannot go in there! Lady Huxtable is not present at the moment and she does not allow Miss Delacourt to receive gentlemen callers without a suitable chaperon present! Furthermore, that is Miss Delacourt’s bedroom!“
“You seem a suitable enough chaperon to me, Madam.”
The door opened and a tall man in riding boots stood there. It was Lord Windham.
I saw a strange glitter in his eyes as he stood there looking down at me, and I suddenly realized I was lying in bed with the covers thrown off, plus my night-shift had hitched up while I was sleeping and my legs were currently quite bare.
With a shriek, I yanked the covers over my head.
I didn’t move. I didn’t breathe. I just lay huddled under the covers, willing the earth to open up and swallow me. My cheeks were blazing hot, and not just because of my fever. I wanted, truly, to die, and be relieved of this misery.
But then I heard something that quite washed away my embarrassment, something that was enough to make me resurface again.
Lord Windham was laughing at me. If there was one thing I could not tolerate, it being laughed at.
I pushed the covers off again (though keeping them modestly tucked under my chin) and chided him, “How dare you laugh at me! First you have the nerve to – to break into my house -“
“Actually, miss, I did open the door -” Candace tried to interject, but I went on as if I didn’t heed her.
“-And then you have the unsufferable gall to come into my bedroom and laugh at me whilst I lay in my sick bed? For shame, Lord Windham!”
This was enough to still his torrent of laughter, though I could still see the mirth reflected in his eyes.
Suddenly, all trace of laughter was erased from his chiseled features (I hadn’t noticed last night what fine cheekbones he had) and he essayed a decorous bow.
“I apologize, Miss Delacourt. It’s just I wanted to give you this in person. I’m quite sure you’ll understand and perhaps even forgive my … intrusion when you see it.” He drew a long, flat box out from beneath his riding cloak. The box was light blue in color and trimmed with gilt.
“What is it?” I asked, curiosity getting the better of me. I held out my hands and he placed the box gently on my waiting palms. It felt light. I was almost tempted to shake it.
“Something you left behind last night. Something every fashionable lady requires for her season.”