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The Debutante's Dilemma
One woman in search of passion
Miss Cecilia Hastings has achieved what every young lady hopes for during her first London season...in duplicate! She's caught the eye of not one but two of England's most eligible bachelors. Both Jeremy Battersley, Earl of Henley, and Richard Huxley, Duke of Wexford, are handsome, wealthy and kind, the epitome of proper gentlemen. But Cecilia doesn't want proper, she wants passion. So she issues a challenge to her suitors: a kiss, so that she may choose between them.
Two men in love with the same woman
Friends since childhood, and compatriots on the battlefields of Spain, Jeremy and Richard have found that falling for the same woman has set them at odds and risks destroying their friendship forever. But a surprising invitation to a late-night garden tryst soon sets them on a course that neither of them could have anticipated. And these gentlemen quickly discover that love can take many forms...
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Miss Cecilia Hastings was the luckiest girl who had ever lived to draw breath.
This was the near-universal assessment of the five hundred guests who found themselves crushed into Lady Stanhope's lavish ballroom like so many potted fish on this early June evening.
That the young lady was well-favoured, with a tall, even figure, a smooth throat and milk-white skin, striking grey eyes and dark chestnut hair, there was no doubt. Just eighteen, Miss Hastings was everywhere lauded for her calm manners and her unerring ability to navigate London's treacherous social shoals while appearing neither missish nor imperious. She danced divinely. She both sang and played the pianoforte. She could read Italian and spoke French beautifully. She befriended those wealthy and modest, with equal disregard for their particular standings. Her sartorial sense was unmatched and her dresser had been offered no less than a half-dozen bribes if she would but reveal the secrets to her mistress's beauty regime.
But there was no doubt that Miss Hastings's most particular and celebrated feature had been her abilityin this, her first London Seasonto attract not one, but two, of the most eligible bachelors in England as suitors to her hand.
Single, handsome, titled heirs, educated at Cambridge, related to some of the oldest families in the country, and possessors of estates that would make the most hardened steward weep for joy. Each with a splendid house in town, their family seatsin Kent and Sussex, respectivelymarvels of country grandeur and, crowning joy of crowning joy, each able to avail himself of a clear £30,000 a year.
In a word, that which every young womanand her mamaaspired to with a fierce and competitive single-mindedness during the whole course of the Season from January to June, Miss Hastings had achieved in duplicate without seeming to discompose a single hair on her perfectly coiffed head.
Of course, there were some of her immediate peers, girls who had not met with such unmatched reception, who thought this excess smacked of matrimonial gluttony and behind her back took a savage delight in criticizing her faults, real or imagined. But to her face, they were all smiles and compliments, begging, in their most gracious voices, to have Miss Hastings share her secrets for winding her turban à la turque or to solicit a recommendation for the name of her mantua maker.
The knowledge that both gentlemen had made handsome presentations to Miss Hastings's gratified father in advance of their declarations to the lady herself was in such widespread circulation that any repetition of the fact elicited the merest murmur of acknowledgement by its weary listeners, so shop-worn had that particular social nugget become in the retelling. Now, as the Season wound its way to another overstuffed and over-heated conclusion, the single most pressing question in the minds of nearly everyone who had made an appearance in the Stanhopes' crowded ballroom on this warm summer night was which of the two gentlemen Miss Hastings would ultimately accept.