I opened the card and began reading it aloud. “My Dear Miss Delacourt -“

“Ooh, he called you his dear Miss Delacourt!”

I glared at Isabelle over the card. “Do you want me to read this or not?”

“Sorry, sorry. I’ll be quiet as a mouse. Do continue.”

I cleared my throat and started over, trying to ignore the many squeaks and sighs of the “mouse” as I read. “My Dear Miss Delacourt, it was a distinct pleasure meeting you last night. Your beauty is equal only to your charm. I hope I have the pleasure of meeting you again soon. Yours Very Truly, Viscount Henry William Cardet Beauchamps Dubois.”

“How many names can one man have, dear God?” Candace exclaimed as I finished, and both Isabelle and I succumbed into fits of laughter.

This was the tableau that Lady Huxtable encountered when she reentered the room. She didn’t say a word – she didn’t have to. Her eyes said it all. Our laughter quickly died and both Isabelle and Candace scurried out of the room, leaving me alone with the “dragon.”

“Begin, Samantha.”

I gulped. “Begin what, Louisa?” Louisa was my guardian’s name, and I normally felt quite comfortable using it with her, but now I felt as though a stranger were standing in front of me, and saying her name seemed somehow strange, as if I was trespassing onto private property.

My guardian began pacing, which was really uncharacteristic of her. She said in an exasperated tone, “Begin at the beginning, child! Tell me why I had to come home to find a man in my ward’s own chamber! I thought I had raised you better, I thought for sure I was doing right by your mother and father. Where did I go wrong?”

She put her head into her hands, stray strands of black hair coming down from her chignon. I gaped at her. Were today’s strange events the hallucinatory product of my fever?

She looked up at me again, dark eyes fiery. I quailed against my pillows. “Please – tell – me – you – are – still – untouched.” Her words came out slowly but deliberately, like well-aimed arrows. I blinked, not understanding her meaning.

The End

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