Today's Reading

"What of Lord Morrison? He was a nice man—"

"He laughed when Father called me a rather proficient artist during dinner."

"It was nothing more than a nervous chuckle, Hathor."

"It felt like condescension." I did not have very many talents as it was, and he seemed completely unimpressed by me.

"And Mr. Bennett? What was his great fault, then? I noticed he took an abundance of interest in your art and complimented you profusely."

I did not wish to answer as I picked up my canvas. 

"Well?"

"Mama, must I say?"

"Say what? You never explained why you all but ran him from our home."

"He was ugly!" 

"Hathor!"

"What? I felt like I was going mad as you all pretended not to notice the horrid condition of his face! The only person who dared say anything was Abena, and you locked her away in her room for it."

"Hathor, will you seek to find fault in everyone? You give no one a chance, and as such, I fear for your reputation. You will not find all you want in a man."

"Aphrodite did. Why is it possible for her and not me? Why is she always the fortunate one?"

"Do you not think your sister suffered? Were you not there at her door when she wept? Do you believe these last two years have been easy for her at Everely?"

"Yet it always works out for her somehow, Mother. She always gets what she wants in the end. Meanwhile, I am told to settle for gentlemen she would never have even considered. I know I am not a famed beauty, as she is, or as beloved by the queen or by you, Father, or even Damon as she is, but at the very least, I should measure in a husband." I muttered the last part looking down at my canvas. I had drawn my father's nose too big.

"When you speak like this, Hathor, it hurts my heart deeply, for it is utter lies. You know it. You are a great beauty and very well loved by us all."

I sighed. "I do know it, Mama. I never said I was not beautiful, nor did I say you all did not love me. I—"

"You merely keep comparing yourself to your sister. And it is unfair to you, her, and the rest of us. She is living her life, and you ought to do the same. That starts by measuring suitors not by Aphrodite's standards but by yours. The most important thing is that they bring comfort to you."

"I am trying, but they are all...wrong. Lord Galbert, Lord Morrison, and Mr. Bennett stirred nothing in me."

"Did you even give them a chance? Love does not happen overnight. Like your art, it comes stroke by stroke and never looks perfect until completed. If you give up each time a mere line is drawn, nothing ever comes of it, my dear."

I sighed, and my shoulders dropped. "I did not think this would be so hard, Mama. I've tried so much, but it has been two years since my debut and yet—"

"One of your greatest strengths is your tenacity, so do not let it falter now. Especially when I have worked so hard planning these festivities."

The London season was almost over. My mother thought a change of scenery and fewer distractions within the city would tilt the odds in my favor. So she had selectively invited the very best of society to be hosted for a weeklong gathering upon our estate, Belclere Castle. It was rare for us to hold such gatherings, as my father believed London was for entertainment and the castle was for rest. Seldomly was anyone welcome but distant relatives and the royal family, though the latter had not been here since my birth.

Nevertheless, the queen had spoken so highly of her stay here that many often sought an invitation. Consequently, not one person had failed to send word of their attendance. Everyone would be here tomorrow. Then I would have a little more than a week to find my husband and return to London triumphantly to conclude the season at the queen's yearly finale ball, before traveling contentedly into my future on some other grand estate.

"Yes, Mama, your plans are perfect but obvious, so much so that I fear what shall be said if I do not find anyone still." Part of me was grateful she put such effort in for me, but another part felt embarrassed that the exertion was needed.

"Fears I also share since you are so reluctant to rid yourself of this pitiful disposition," Mother said as there was a knock at the door. "Enter."
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