Author`s Note: This is the last chapter of The Debutante. I know the ending is a bit rushed and needs work, but I wanted to get it over with in time for NaNoWriMo. I`d like to thank everyone who has reviewed and shown their support for this story. If I have the time, I would like to personally thank some of you, so expect a few private messages next month.

For now, I want to work on a different project. But don`t worry, I`m hoping to start posting the sequel next year. It`s titled Dueling the Duke, and if you can`t figure out what it`s going to be about, then, well, you`ll have to wait till next year. Also, keep an eye out for the edited version of The Debutante, which will be a large improvement over this one.

Again, thank you, everyone. If you want to hear more news about my projects check out my livejournal, follow me on twitter, or just send me a message. I love hearing from new people.

Enjoy! Ignore the typos. It`s almost midnight, and I`m quite tired.

Chapter 32

The next day, Sebastian again brings up the topic of my going to London till the end of the season in the hopes of catching a husband.

I give my cousin a heated glare. "Absolutely not! Do not even think of ever mentioning that because my answer will never change." I slam my knife and fork so forcefully against my plate that the sound reverberates throughout the room.

Sebastian scowls. "Are you intending to become a spinster?" I throw my hands in the air. "Of course. What in the world did you think? I hardly doubt that any proper gentleman would want to ever marry a girl such as myself."

I turn to father and begin cutting up his roast beef into bite-sized pieces.

"Nonsense. With the dowry I provide for you, you will be able to attract at least an impoverished lord."

I pause halfway through cutting the meat. My temple throbs, and I feel my blood begin to boil. "Are you intending to rid yourself of me? Am I some bothersome relation that you hope to marry off so that you will not be burdened? I inquire in a steady voice.

My cousin does seem to dislike me if he seems so desperate to marry me off to even the most unsuitable man.

Sebastian sighs and shakes his head. "No, I just want you to find happiness. You can`t spend the rest of your life nursing your father."

"I can`t marry and therefore allow father to be hidden away in the countryside and nursed by servants who would like have no idea what they are doing," I retort. I pick up father`s hand and wrap it around a fork. "Not all women wish to marry and have children, Sebastian. To me, happiness is being in the countryside with father."

"I know that you want to be with father, but I often wonder if you`re truly happy," Sebastian murmurs.

The table is silent. I bite my lip and look away from my cousin. Father drops a piece of asparagus on the floor. Sighing, I bend down and pick it up, tucking it away into a napkin.

"Do be more careful when you eat, father. Cook will be displeased if he finds out that half the food he prepared went on the floor." I wipe away the grease around his mouth before turning back to Sebastian. "Please don`t bring up this subject again. I think it`s better for me to not—well, to not think of marriage."

The table falls silent again. Sebastian keeps his gaze on his plate as he chews his food slowly. Finally, he puts down his fork and knife and clears his throat. "I will not bring up the topic again, but there will be a time when you wish to marry and have children. If that happens, then I will be there to happily arrange a match."

"Thank you, Sebastian." I contemplate adding that his offer is unnecessary, as I have no intention of ever marrying, but I decide that it is better not to say more.

Sebastian leaves for London the next morning. I watch from an upstairs window as he climbs upon his horse and relays instructions to a servant. His gaze travel upwards and our eyes meet for a second. He nods in my direction, and I return the gesture before he takes up his reins and rides away.


Four days later, I sense a presence in the behind me in the music room. I continue to play my pianoforte piece, letting the last note linger for a full ten seconds before I stand up and turn around.

"You have a caller, Miss Randall. Shall I show her in?" The butler holds out a silver tray on which a white calling card sits.

A caller in the countryside? How unexpected. My family`s acquaintances in the neighborhood are either in London or are the sort who find us too unacceptable to pay a social call upon.

I can feel my stomach clenching in apprehension as I pick up the card and read it.

The Marchioness of Ainsworth, it says in black, flowing script.

I swallow hard; my legs go weak. Lady Ainsworth would never travel an entire day just to pay a casual call. Her visit has some sort of purpose—a purpose which I dread to discover. My thoughts drift off to Ethan, and my heart aches slightly.

"Shall I show her in, Miss Randall?" The butler repeats.

It takes a while before I finally make out his words. "I—I" My first instinct is to turn Lady Ainsworth away. There is no law that states that I cannot reject callers. Knowing her, she most likely came here to scold me and fill my ears with her hateful words. I could avoid that by simply telling the butler to send her away.

But turning the dowager marchioness away will show my unapprecation for her sponsoring my season, despite the season in question being wholly unfruitful. I may dislike the marchioness and her son, but that will not influence my ability to be gracious to any person who comes along. I refuse to sink to Lady Ainsworth`s level by being unkind.

"Show her in," I finally say, albeit reluctantly. "Send word for cook to prepare tea. I expect her ladyship is tired and hungry after the long journey from London.

"Should I show her into the west parlor?"

I sigh. "Yes, I suppose it can`t be helped since I`m redecorating the other room."

I head upstairs to regain my composure and change into a proper receiving dress as the butler shows her ladyship in. I can hear her moving about downstairs.

Taking a deep breath, I walk downstairs and enter the parlor. I look at a brown stain on the white carpet most likely caused my whiskey or tea—when I replace the carpets in the house, they will be in dark colors such as brown—before settling my gaze on Lady Ainsworth.

Wearing a dark purple down, diamonds glittering at her next and ears, Lady Ainsworth has her back turned to the door. Her head is tilted upwards to examine a landscape painting hanging on the wall.

When she turns, I drop into a curtsy, my knees shaking. "How unexpected of you to come here. I hope that your journey was not too tiring. Would you care for a cup of tea, my lady?"

"I`m not here to have a long chat," Lady Ainsworth snaps, taking me back by her directness. "I had to cancel several social engagements to come here, so my visit will be short and to the point."

My stomach begins to not up like tangled string. I nod and Lady Ainsworth continues.

"I will not allow you to toy with my son`s heart."

The accusation awakens something within me. My nails begin to bite into my palms. I take a deep breath in the hopes of cooling my blood, which is beginning to boil.

"I beg your pardon?" I ask, trying to keep my voice as calm as possible.

"Do not toy with me! My son may be foolish and naïve but you will discover that I am of a different nature."

"I have no idea what you are talking about. If someone has told you that your son`s heart was broken, then you are duly misinformed. I never `played with your son`s heart`, as you incorrectly put it, during the time that I was acquainted with him."

Lady Ainsworth walks up to me until our noses are only inches apart. I straighten my spine and meet her hard gaze with one of my own.

"Do not lie to me." Lady Ainsworth`s voice is low, but the venom it carries is unmistakable.

"I told you that I did not break his heart. As much as you will be pained to hear this, your son is nothing but a rake and is a person more suited to breaking hearts than I am. As a concerned lady, I must tell you not to let your love for your son blind you to the reality of what he truly is. Moreover, I should add that the victim here is not your son, but me."

Lady Ainsworth narrows her eyes. "I know enough of reality to know that my son is deeply heartbroken, and I will not stand and do nothing as he drinks himself into an early grave." Lady Ainsworth points a long finger in my face. "If I ever hear of you toy with another man as you did with my son, I will personally make sure that you are never accepted into a respectable establishment ever again."

I cross my arms and turn away. "I must ask you to leave. I refuse to listen to your verbal abuse any longer."

"Very well." Lady Ainsworth`s skirts rustle softly like leaves being blown across the ground. I listen to the doorknob turn and the door creak open. "My son loves you very much, and if your feelings are not the same, then I must ask you to stay away from my family. If, however, a part of you cares for my son, then please consider his feelings."

And with those words, Lady Ainsworth walks out of the room.

I fall to my knees and tears start pouring down my cheeks. Lady Ainsworth`s visit was like salt being poured on a raw wound. My bones ache, and I want to do nothing more than lie in bed with the covers pulled over my face.

How dare she come here telling these lies! I have half a mind to go out and inform her that it was he, not I, who broke off the engagement.

I love Ethan too much to want to break his heart. Lady Ainsworth is too cruel to realize that.

Sighing, I brush the tears from my eyes. I shouldn`t let that horrid woman`s words affect me like they do since everything she said is a lie. First of all, I do not toy with male hearts. Secondly, I would never break Ethan`s heart.

And most importantly, Ethan does not love me. Lady Ainsworth`s age must be getting to her if she believes that Ethan is drinking himself into the grave because of—

I gasp and stand up. Sebastian would call me pathetic, but I have to know: does Ethan feel as wretched as I do?

A cry escapes from my lips as I stand up, yank open the parlor door, and run outside.

I catch Lady Ainsworth just as she is being helped into her carriage.

"Please, don`t go yet," I call out.

Lady Ainsworth waves the footman away and turns around. Like a slave begging its master for mercy, I throw myself at her feet. Violent sobs begin to rack my body, but I manage to make out a few words.

"I love your son very much, but I have to know: does he truly love me, as you said he does?" I then cover my face with my hands.

I can no longer ignore the fact that I love Ethan to the point where my life will never be the same whether or not I am with him. If I never see him again, I imagine spending the rest of my years with father, always thinking about a part of me that seems incomplete.

A warm arm wraps around my shoulders. I lift my head and stare into Lady Ainsworth`s blue eyes.

"There is no one I`d rather have as my daughter-in-law than you, Priscilla."

Warmth blossoms in my chest. "I would never intentionally hurt Ethan," I whisper. "Please understand that. It was he, not I, who broke off the engagement."

Lady Ainsworth sighs, her face so weary compared to when she yelled at me in the parlor. "Then I`m afraid that my son has made a grave mistake—and so have I for making accusations without hearing your side of the story."

"Does he truly miss me?" I ask, half-convinced that I am dreaming.

"He does—to the point where I fear for his mental and physical health." Lady Ainsworth grabs my arm and pulls me up. "We must hurry to London. I`ve waited 24 years to see my son marry, and I refuse to wait another day. We will fix this problem and clear up any misunderstandings between the two of you."

I feel as if butterflies are fluttering in my stomach. This could be my chance to be with Ethan again.

At the same time, however, I am scared.

If Ethan rejects me, I fear that the pain I feel will be more excruciating and humiliating than the most fatal wound.

Moreover, I am bound to my home by the only one who matters to me more than Ethan.

I shake my head. "I can`t travel to London. There will be no one to care for father while I`m gone."

"Do you mean to say that there are no servants in the house?" Lady Ainsworth says in disbelief, her eyebrows rising to her hairline.

"No, but I don`t trust any of the servants to care for father properly."

"Then we`ll simply have to take him along."


It takes barely an hour for the servants to pack enough clothes to last two days—the rest of the luggage will be sent to London later.

When I help father into Lady Ainsworth`s carriage, I fear how my father will be received. Will Lady Ainsworth be repulsed or embarrassed? Will she regret saying that she wanted me to be her daughter-in-law?

Her warm welcome takes me by surprise. I discover that Lady Ainsworth and father have known each other since they were children—their friendship remaining strong throughout the years despite my father`s deteriorating mental state.

For a normally sour woman, Lady Ainsworth is abnormally cheerful as she begins a one-sided conversation with father.

Letting out a girlish giggle, she tells father how happy she is about two great families—hers and ours—finally being joined together and how he still looks as handsome as the man "who set the young debutantes` hearts aflame" in his younger days.

Father answers Lady Ainsworth by drooling and giving her a dull-eyed stare.

The day-long journey passes by relatively quickly. Lady Ainsworth holds my hand the entire time as I tell her about my kidnapping, my last conversation with Ethan, and my return home. I am convinced that I am making a right choice by marrying into Ethan`s family because Lady Ainsworth accepts father with open arms, unlike others who see him only as a madman.


We arrive in London just as the color of the sky slowly deepens to a midnight blue. Street lamps light the roads as the carriage twists through the winding streets and enters Piccady, an area known for containing the townhouses of the most prominent members of the ton, including Ethan.

Aunt Arabella meets us at the doorway—her face a chalky white—wearing an urgent expression.

"Ethan has been kicked out of Brook`s for fighting."

Lady Ainsworth pushes into the house and closes the door behind father and me before she speaks. Her expression is grim. "When did this happen? How many people know?"

"Earlier today. One of the old gentlemen present came by a few hours ago to tell me of the incident." Aunt Arabella looks at me; recognition flashes her eyes, and she gives me a weak smile. "Only those who were in the club know of what happened, but I expect everyone will find out within the week. It would be impossible to cover up something like this."

Lady Ainsworth nods. "Yes, unfortunately. We`ll have to keep our chins up until the gossip dies down. I`ll try to talk to Ethan when he comes home, but I`m afraid he doesn`t listen to me anymore." She sighs.

"When does he usually come home," I ask, feeling a strange tingle in my stomach. In a matter of hours, I will be seeing Ethan again. The thought is exciting but frightening.

"A few hours before dawn—usually around 3 in the morning. I suggest going to sleep or waiting till tomorrow afternoon to talk to him… I don`t think you should meet him when he gets back home." Lady Ainsworth sighs again. "He usually, well, it would be a bad idea to see him, because he drinks a lot whenever he goes out these days."

"I still want to meet him," I say firmly. "Maybe I could talk to him and convince him to behave."

"Priscilla is right," Aunt Arabella adds. "She may be able to succeed in what you and I have spent years trying to do."

"Very well, but I would prefer that she wait until Ethan is sober—if that ever happens. I can`t remember the last time my son wasn`t foxed." Lady Ainsworth pauses before asking, "Do you know his motives for starting a fight at his club? My son is foolish, but he would never be so stupid as to risk his membership there."

"Ethan wasn`t the one who started the fight." Aunt Arabella glances at me guiltily for a moment. "It was… It was Sebastian Randall."

My legs grow weak. I gasp and lean against the wall behind me to prevent myself from collapsing on the floor.

Really, I shouldn`t be surprised. That is the sort of stupid thing my foolish cousin would do. However, hearing someone say that my cousin started a fight in a gentlemen`s club is still quite shocking.

I wet my dry lips with the tip of my tongue. "I should have known that something like this would happen. Sebastian is rash, and he was quite upset the last time I saw him. Since he and Ethan run in the same circles, it was only natural that the two would meet and eventually start a fight," I say in a shaky voice.

"Are you alright, dear? Shall I get you a glass of wine or some smelling salts?" Aunt Arabella grabs my arm and holds me up.

"No, thank you. I just need to sit down for a bit."

"Take her into the sitting room. I`ll show Lord Newsbury to his rooms." Lady Ainsworth leads father away by the elbow.

Wrapping an arm around my shoulders, Aunt Arabella helps me walk to the sitting room. When I arrive there, I collapse onto one of the long seats with a large sigh.

"Why don`t you lie down and put your head under one of these pillows?" Aunt Arabella suggests. I thank her and recline on the settee, lifting my head to that Aunt Arabella can prop a pillow under my neck. "You look quite exhausted. Did you and Lady Ainsworth stop at an inn for rest even once?"

"No." I yawn and realize how tired I am. Except for a couple of hours when I managed to ignore the rocking of the carriage, I barely slept throughout the journey. "I guess I`m quite exhausted. I haven`t been sleeping well lately."

Lady Ainsworth enters a few minutes later. I listen as she and Aunt Arabella discuss Ethan`s recent behavior and consider hiring a man to follow him around if his behavior continues to deteriorate. Despite my concern for Ethan, my eyelids flutter open and closed. I let out a loud yawn, and sigh deeply when I finally close my eyes and give in to the part of me that screams for rest.


The sound of heavy boots hitting the floor jerks me awake a few hours later. A quilt that was tucked around me falls to the floor as I sit up and stretch my arms above my head. The fire has burned itself into a pile of softly glowing embers; I can barely make out the farthest corners of the room.

Someone passes the cracked open door. I can make out a human shaped shadow on the floor in front of the fireplace before it disappears a second later. Running my hand through my hair--half of it fallen out of my bun and flowing down my back--I stand up and tiptoe to the door.

Holding my breath, I push the door open, cringing when it lets out a loud creak. I make out a tall figure with wide shoulders turn the corner of the hall. My heart begins to thump loudly, and I take a deep breath.

Swallowing hard, I walk down the hall and stop in front of Ethan`s study. The door is cracked open, and I hear low grunts and mumbles as someone shuffles through the room. A minute later, a lone candle sputters to life, and I make out Ethan, his skin the color of honey in the low lighting. My breath hitches.

The door creaks as I push it open. "Ethan," I call out in a low voice.

Ethan stiffens for a second. Slowly, he turns around, his long fingers wrapped around a tumbler filled with an amber-colored liquid.

The tumbler falls out of his hands and shatters into a hundred pieces on the floor. I gasp, and barely make out the shock that registers on Ethan`s face before I turn around and run.

This is a stupid idea. I should have stayed in the sitting room and listened to Lady Ainsworth`s advice about waiting until the next day. I would feel so much more comfortable confronting Ethan if I had Aunt Arabella or Lady Ainsworth sitting by my side.

I gasp when Ethan`s arm wraps around my waist, pulling me to his hard body. His lips brush along my jaw before stopping at my ear. "Am I having a dream?"

"No." My lower lip trembles, and my breathing turns ragged. I squeeze my eyes shut.

Ethan shocks me by spinning me around and kissing me. My surprised squeal is silenced by his lips. I taste whiskey on his lips, and I pound on his chest and try to push him away. I will not allow myself to be taken advantage of by a drunken man.

But soon I am intoxicated by his spicy, masculine scent. I melt in his arms like butter, and I grab the front of his jacket to keep myself from falling down. My hands slowly move up, and I admire how Ethan`s muscles bunch under my hands as I trail them up his body. I tangle my fingers in his hair and touch the rough stubble on his cheeks, pressing my body to his and wishing that I there is a way to pull myself closer to Ethan.

It is only the need for air that forces us to part. Breathing heavily, we press our foreheads together and look into each other`s eyes.

"It can`t be possible that I`m dreaming. I never see anything in my sleep but nightmares."

"You`re not dreaming. You may be foxed, but what you`re seeing before you is real." I lick my lips. Ethan`s heated gaze locks onto my mouth, and he moves in again to capture my lips with his. I push him away and shake my head. "Why? You broke off our engagement and said that you no longer loved me. I cannot allow myself to be kissed by a man who will end up breaking my heart again.

"I…" Ethan`s voice trails off. His hands slide down my waist before dropping at his sides. "I lied. I loved you even when I broke off the engagement. It wasn`t the easiest thing for me to do, and I felt myself falling apart the entire time."

"Then why did you break off the engagement?" I demand, a tear rolling down my cheek. Wiping my eyes, I let out a loud sniff.

"Because I love you."

I stare at Ethan, my jaw hanging open. I wonder the strangeness of his answer was brought on by his drunkenness or my exhaustion.

"Then why did you break off the engagement when you claim to love me?"

"I began to feel guilty about forcing you into a marriage that you were adverse to… but I didn`t want you to feel pressured," Ethan says in a strained voice, as he runs his hands through his hair. "I thought that if I pushed you away, made myself look like a criminal, people would not blame you for breaking off the engagement." Ethan looks me in the eye. "I love you so much that I want you to live a happy life, even if it makes me feel wretched."

"Did you realize that I wanted to marry you? It may have taken a while, but I accepted—no, wanted—the marriage. But then you had to throw my heart on the ground and—and stomp on it!" I rub my eyes and wish that I wasn`t so weak—that I don`t succumb to tears over every little thing.

Ethan brushes away a tear with his thumb. "I`m a fool, Priscilla, and if I had known that parting with you would make me turn out like this, I wouldn`t have broken off the engagement, even if it`s a damn selfish thing of me to keep you by my side."

"If I had known that your reasons for breaking off the engagement had to do with me, I would have told you that I love you earlier."

"You do?"

"Yes, I love you Ethan. Very much."

I hold my breath and eye Ethan`s lips as they near mine. Our lips make contact for a second time, and Ethan picks me up and twirls me around. I throw my head back and laugh. Ethan joins in a second later.

Our laughter cuts off when my foot knocks into a wooden table. I cringe as a vase falls down the floor with a loud crash. Several pairs of footsteps pad down the hall. Ethan keeps a protective arm around my waist.

"What in the world is going on here?" I recognize Lady Ainsworth`s voice as she cries out. "Someone bring a candle."

A light is procured a minute later. Lady Ainsworth gasps as she takes in the broken vase.

As if sensing his mother`s displeasure, Ethan gives me a light squeeze and says in a voice slurred from an evening spent downing too many drinks: "It`s great that you`re here to witness this, mother, as I`m standing here to announce my engagement to Miss Priscilla Randall."

Despite the pleasure of everyone present in hearing this news, Lady Ainsworth laments the loss of her vase, which according to her is "a rare Tang Dynasty artifact that was shipped all the way from the Orient". Her stern lecture lasts well into the morning. Ethan has to hold me up to keep me from collapsing from exhaustion.

We marry a week later, in a small ceremony performed at the townhouse. Sebastian, his right eye still sporting an ugly bruise, glares at my husband the entire time, but nonetheless congratulates me on my marriage.


Epilogue

Ethan surprises me by wrapping his arms around my waist. My giggles turn into moans when his lips latch onto my neck.

Even after more than a year, it feels as if we are newlyweds. Ethan is compassionate, an attentive lover, and all that I could wish for. I didn`t imagine that Ethan would turn out to be this sort of man when I first met him.

"How is he doing?" Ethan asks, referring to the child that has been growing in my stomach for the past three months.

"She is doing quite well today," I answer, emphasizing the word "she". Ethan is convinced that our first child will be a boy, but I am of a different opinion.

However, I know that Ethan will love the child no matter the gender. I, of course, will hardly mind if we have another Ethan running through the house, though I do have fears of ending up like Ethan`s mother.

"And what of the child`s mother?" I smack his arm playfully. "The mother is feeling quite unwell. She spent the entire morning with her head stuck in a bucket, unable to keep her breakfast down. Worst of all, her husband was absent the entire time, so she was feeling quite lonely."

"Then I guess the husband will have to make up for the loneliness his wife felt this morning." Ethan chuckles as he moves in front of me and tilts my chin up.

His lips move on mine tenderly. I wrap my arms around him to pull myself closer.

Someone`s clearing throat interrupts our kiss. Lady Ainsworth—or mother, as I`ve come to call her—stands in the doorway, looking quite displeased with the sight before her, despite the fact that she has softened since my marriage with Ethan.

Ever since I announced my pregnancy, she has been in particularly higher spirits than usual.

Ethan and I have discussed sending mother to a physician, as her recent behavior is quite abnormal. It is not possible for such a sour woman to act so cheerful!

"When you two are done acting foolish. You can start packing. I want to start heading for London tomorrow morning."

"To London, mother? Do you expect us to accompany you?" Ethan asks. His hand rests on my stomach. "You know that Priscilla hates the city—and that she is with child."

Mother throws her hands in the air. "Fine, then you don`t have to respect the wishes of an old, dying woman. I`ll just tell the Duke of Sutherfield that we won`t be attending his wedding, because the Marquess and Marchioness of Ainsworth hate the city."

Ethan lets out a choked cough. "W—what? Royce is getting leg-shacked to some poor soul? Since when? The last time I talked to him he told me that marrying was the last thing on his mind."

"Well, he should have remembered that when he seduced the poor girl. It`s a relief that he`s making amends by marrying her. I find it despicable how young men act these days."

I smile. "There must be a reason for his….erm seducing a young girl. Perhaps he is fond of her?"

"Oh no." Lady Ainsworth shakes her head. "He absolutely hates her, but that doesn`t matter to most men when it comes to wanting a woman."

"Do you by any chance know the name of this young girl?" Ethan asks.

"I believe the young girl is Miss Olive Pennant—I think Priscilla and I met her and her mother in town last year."

This time, it is my turn to cough. Ethan looks at me with a concerned expression on his face.

"Are you alright, dear?"

I nod. "Just a small cough. Nothing to worry about."

"Are you sure? I could send for a physician if you want?"

Ever since I discovered my pregnancy, Ethan has being concerned with my health to the point of foolishness. I can`t even walk down the stairs without being escorted.

"She says that she`s fine, Ethan. Hurry up. I don`t want to miss the wedding of the season." The dowager marchioness chides. She grumbles loudly as she walks out of the room.

"Well, at least she`s acting normal again."

Ethan sighs. "Yes, I was a bit worried. I hope you won`t mind having to go to town, especially since you hate it there." He plants a kiss on my head. "We`ll go somewhere together—perhaps your father`s house—just you, me, and our child."

I smile and breathe in deeply. "I think I would like that very much."