"My temper," Lucinda had primly informed her-by way of apology, Elizabeth supposed "is my only shortcoming."

Privately, Elizabeth thought Lucy must bottle up all her emotions inside herself as she sat perfectly still on sofas and chairs, for years at a time, until it finally exploded like one of those mountains she'd read about that poured forth molten rock when the pressure finally reached a peak.

By the time the Camerons, along with Lucinda and the necessary servants, arrived in London for Elizabeth's debut, Elizabeth had learned all that Mrs. Porter could teach her, and she felt quite capable of meeting the challenges Mrs. Porter described. Actually, other than memorizing the rules of etiquette she was a little baffled over the huge fuss being made. After all, she'd learned to dance in the six months she was being prepared for her debut, and she'd been conversing since she was three years old, and as closely as she could tell, her only duties as a debutante were to converse politely on trivial subjects only, conceal her intelligent at all costs, and dance.

The day after they settled into their rented town house her sponsor into the ranks of the ton, Lady Jamison, called on Elizabeth and Robert. With her were two daughters, Valerie and Charise. Valerie was a year older than Elizabeth and had made her debut the year before; Charise was five years older the young widow of old Lord Dumont who cocked up his toes a month after the nuptials, leaving his new wife wealthy, relieved, and entirely independent.

In the two weeks before the Season began Elizabeth spent considerable time with the wealthy young debutantes who gathered in the Jamison drawing room to gossip happily about everything and anyone. All of them had come to London with the same noble duty and familial objective: to marry, in accordance with their family's wishes, the wealthiest possible suitor while at the same time increasing their family's wealth and social standing.

It was in that drawing room that Elizabeth's education was continued and completed. She discovered to her shock that Mrs. Porter had been right about name-dropping. She also discovered that it was apparently not considered bad manners among the ton to discuss another person's financial status particularly the status and prospects of an unmarried gentleman. The very first day it was all she could do not to betray her ignorance with a horrified gasp at the conversation swirling around her: "Lord Peters is an excellent catch. Why, he has an income of 20,000 pounds and every prospect of being named heir to his uncle's baronetcy if his uncle dies of his heart ailment, which there's every reason to expect he will," one of the girls had announced, and the others chimed in: "Shoreham has that splendid estate in Wiltshire, and Mama is living on tenterhooks waiting to see if he'll declare himself. . . . Think of it, the Shoreham emeralds! Robelsly is driving a splendid blue barouche, but Papa said he's up to his ears in debt and that I may on no account consider him. . . . Elizabeth, wait until you meet Richard Shipley! Do not under any circumstances let his charm fool you; he's a complete scoundrel, and though he dresses to the nines, he hasn't a feather to fly with!" That last advice came from Valerie Jamison, whom Elizabeth regarded as her very closest friend among the girls.

Elizabeth had gladly accepted their collective friendship and, outwardly, their advice. However, she felt increasingly uneasy about some of their attitudes toward people they judged as their inferiors which wasn't surprising from a young lady who regarded her butler and coachman as her equals.

On the other hand, she was in love with London, with its bustling streets, manicured parks, and air of excited expectation, and she adored having friends who, when they weren't gossiping about someone, were merry companions.

On the night of her first ball, however, much of Elizabeth's confidence and delight had suddenly vanished. As she walked up the Jamisons' staircase beside Robert, she felt suddenly more terrified than she'd ever felt in her life. Her head was whirling with all the dos and don'ts she'd not really bothered to memorize, and she was morbidly certain she was going to be the Season's most notorious wallflower. But when she walked into the ballroom, the sight that greeted her made her forget all her self-conscious terrors and made her eyes shine with wonder. Chandeliers sparkled with hundreds of thousands of candles; handsome men and gorgeously gowned women strolled about in silks and satins.

Oblivious to the young men turning to stare at her, she lifted her shining eyes to her smiling brother. "Robert," she whispered, her green eyes radiant, "have you ever imagined there were such beautiful people and such grand rooms in the entire world?"

Clad in a filmy, gold-spangled white gauze gown with white roses entwined in her golden hair and her green eyes sparkling, Elizabeth Cameron looked like a fairy-tale princess.

She was enchanted, and her enchantment lent her an almost ethereal glow as she finally recovered herself enough to smile and acknowledge Valerie and her friends.

By the end of the evening Elizabeth felt as if she were in a fairy tale. Young men had flocked around her, begging for introductions and dances and for the opportunity to bring her punch. She smiled and danced, but she never resorted to the flirtatious contrivances used by some of the other girls; instead she listened with genuine interest and a warm smile to the beaux who spoke to her; she made them comfortable and drew them out as they led her to the dance floor. In truth, she was thrilled by the contagious gaiety, beguiled by the wondrous music, dazzled by so much attention, and all those emotions were displayed in her shining eyes and winsome smile. She was a mythical princess at her first ball, bewitching, entrancing, twirling around and around on the dance floor beneath glittering chandeliers, surrounded by charming princes, with no thought that it would ever end. Elizabeth Cameron, with her angelic beauty, golden hair, and shining green eyes, had taken London by storm. She was not a rage. She was the rage.

The callers began arriving at her house the next morning in an endless stream, and it was there, not in the ballrooms, where Elizabeth made her greatest conquests, for she was not merely lovely to look at, she was even easier to be with than she had been at the ball. Within three weeks fourteen gentlemen had offered for her, and London was abuzz with such an unprecedented occurrence. Not even Miss Mary Gladstone, the reigning beauty for two consecutive seasons, had received so many offers as that.

Twelve of Elizabeth's suitors were young, besotted, and eligible; two were much older and equally besotted. Robert, with great pride and equal lack of tact, boasted of her suitors and ruthlessly rejected them as unsuitable and inadequate. He waited, faithfully keeping his promise to Elizabeth to choose for her an ideal husband with whom she could be happy.

Tags: Judith McNaught Sequels Billionaire Romance
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