Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell

Book: Unrivaled by Siri Mitchell Read Free Book Online
Authors: Siri Mitchell
I saw people at the refreshments table trying my candy and wanted to make my way over, but my progress was blocked by my mother. She had a gentleman in tow. I thought . . . he seemed familiar, but I couldn’t quite put a name to his face.
    “Look who’s here, Lucy!” She was smiling brightly. “It’s Mr. Alfred Arthur.”
    I bit the inside of my lip to keep from giggling. We had always joked, my girlfriends and I, about which of those two names was his first and which was his last. He was a good ten years older than I, and his father owned the city’s electricity company.Often present at the social events in the city, he seemed to prefer to watch and hang about the fringes rather than participate. He was not unhandsome. Pleasant was the word I would have used to describe him, rather than attractive or even stylish.
    He nodded at me. “I’d heard of your return, Miss Kendall, and I’m delighted to see you crowned our queen.”
    “Thank you.” In spite of his years, I was flattered that he would take the trouble to tell me that himself.
    The mother of one of my school friends approached us, clasping my gloved hand in hers and kissing my cheek. As she left, another woman came to take her place, clucking about my father’s illness. As I greeted her, Mr. Alfred . . . Arthur . . . stepped back and disappeared into the crowd.
    Walter Minard joined us, boldly taking up my gloved hand and planting a kiss atop it.
    I vowed to throw the glove away once I got home.
    “I don’t see how they could have chosen anyone else. You’re first in the city. A veritable model of pristine beauty.”
    The Alps were pristine; I didn’t see how the word could be applied to a person. But then, he had never been especially bright. Just terrifically loud.
    He flashed his large, yellow teeth at me in a grin.
    I’d forgotten how obsequious he could be. “You’re too kind, Walter. But you mustn’t say things like that. The rest of the court would consider your compliments a snub.” I struggled to see over his shoulder. If only I could reach Sam! I wanted to know what people were saying.
    “A word to the wise.” He stepped close enough that I could smell the stench of his breath. “I’d stay away from the refreshments if I were you. There’s some sort of funny-tasting candy on the tray in the center.”
    I felt as if someone had pinched me. Quite hard. My breathhitched for just a moment. “It’s not nice to tease, Walter. Someone must have gone to a great deal of trouble to make it.”
    “Of course.” He flashed those horrid teeth again in a semblance of apology. “Be glad it wasn’t City Confectionery! And please give my regards to your father.” He saluted and moved away.
    Funny-tasting? Well! No one had ever accused Walter Minard of having any taste at all. “I need some punch.” I left Mother before she could stop me and pushed through the crowds toward Sam.
    Or tried to.
    With every step someone stopped to congratulate me. Or welcome me back to the city. Or commiserate about my father. Sam bobbed in and out of view, but he never looked in my direction.
    “Lucy!” A woman seized me by the shoulders and embraced me.
    Did I know her?
    “Don’t you remember me?”
    “Of course I do.” I smiled, hoping that I would, and soon, before I embarrassed myself.
    “Alice Fulton.”
    “Fulton . . . ?” The Alice I knew had been a Bingham. And she’d still been a gangly girl when I left, not a full-figured woman.
    “I’m ever so glad you’re back.”
    Her voice sounded right. And her eyes were that appealing shade of brown that I remembered. It had to be her . . . didn’t it?
    “Look at you! The Queen of Love and Beauty. I might have made the court last year, but I was already married by then.”
    “Married?” The Alice Bingham I’d known hadn’t been able to talk to any boy without bursting into giggles.
    “Hadn’t you heard? To Peter Fulton.”
    A vision of a towheaded boy chasing her down a street

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