Passionate
in the ballroom dazzled them as they entered.
    “Excuse me,” she said. “I must visit the ladies’ retiring room.”
    James watched her go, then turned away. He could not spend the evening staring at the spot where she had disappeared.
    “There you are Huntington,” Sir Edward hailed him.
    “Come, let me introduce you around. There are several people you should meet—and the delicacies at the refreshment tables are starting to disappear. I promised you a fine repast, but we’d best hurry.”
    “To the refreshments.” James hoped he sounded adequately enthusiastic.
    “I trust Lily has made your evening more pleasant. She is acquainted with almost everyone—practically grew up here.”
    “How is it that she has spent so much time with your family? Don’t her parents live in London?”
    Sir Edward laughed. “Indeed they do, but as you have no doubt discovered, Lily has a will of her own. London is not entirely to her taste—especially these days.”
    “Why is that?”
    “Her mother. She is quite set on Lily making an excellent match—drags her around to all the balls and whatnot. Lily would rather paint. A pity it has to end. Lily’s parents have made it clear that her—rusticating, they call it—will no longer be tolerated. They intend to take her in hand, poor girl. Ah, here we are.” Sir Edward gestured to the sideboard loaded with platters of meats, oysters, chilled salads, and various pastries. “Didn’t I tell you there would be fare to rival London’s finest? Do try the lemon tarts. Splendid things.”
    James took a bite. “Delicious. You were saying about Lily…?”
    “Oh, yes. Whisking her back to London tomorrow is part of the new program. Lily’s mother sees matrimony as a battlefield, with spoils to the victor. I never understood that, although she certainly married well by her standards. My brother Michael’s rise in the House of Lords has increased her matrimonial investment many times over.”
    James nearly choked on his lemon tart. “Lord Michael Strathmore is your brother?”
    Sir Edward nodded. “Yes, although he knows next to nothing about botany.”
    James cast about for an empty chair. To think, five minutes ago he had been kissing the daughter of one of the most influential men in Parliament. Lord Michael Strathmore, Marquis of Fernhaven. The name was a fixture in the London papers. And Lily, with her paint-spattered blue apron and her botanical illustrations, was his wayward daughter.
    It was not good news.
    Sir Edward selected another tidbit from the table. “Say, don’t these oyster croquettes have a fine flavor? I doubt even Lily’s independence will stop her mother this time. Unique as Lily is, she is still a catch, particularly for one with political ambitions. My sister-in-law will have her sights set high, you can be sure.” He broke off. “There you are, Charles. I have someone I want you to meet. Huntington, this is Mr. Crawford.”
    James shook hands with the elderly gentleman sporting a bottle-green velvet coat at least two decades out of fashion. “Mr. Crawford, I’m delighted to make your acquaintance. The weather this evening is unseasonably warm. Are such early springs common here?”
    “Common?”
    Sir Edward pointed to his ear and nodded significantly toward the older gentleman.
    “Are early springs common here?” James repeated.
    “Springs? Why back in ’08 we had such a spring. The fruit trees were blooming in March. Unseasonably warm, that. There was an abundant run of herring that year off the coast of Cornwall. When the herring come, you can count on a mild winter. Now, in ’14 we had just the opposite…”
    James set aside his plate, appetite gone.
    Lily was the Marquis of Fernhaven’s daughter. Strike him for a fool. It was a good thing that her father was sending a carriage to collect her tomorrow. If he slept late enough he might never have to see her again. He certainly would not seek her out. In fact, he would go out of his way to

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