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Schooled by the Bastard
Author: Annabelle Anders

Mayfair, London in the Spring of 1815
Lady Augusta Primm eyed the bustling backside of her maid, who’d gotten quite far ahead of her as she chatted eagerly with an old friend. Augusta slowed her own pace as she strolled along the path that crossed this section of Hyde Park.
Before she arrived in London a fortnight before, Augusta hadn’t appreciated the level of independence she’d been allowed at home. Because here, her father proved even more overbearing, insisting she only go out with a companion, thusly ending the solitude she’d taken for granted walking along the cliffs overlooking the sea near Starbridge Manor.
But spring was in the air, and she was on the cusp of beginning her life.
Her heart ought to be lighter. There ought to be no time so special in a young woman’s life as when she was but seven and ten. Especially when that young woman was the daughter of a wealthy marquess and she was finally making her much-awaited come-out.
Augusta’s heart, however, remained heavy with disappointment.
Only two days prior, her father had informed her that he’d made an agreement with the Duke of Malum—promising her to his old friend’s son—a boy she’d met only once. That had been over a decade before, and all she remembered of him were his overbearing demeanor and cruel eyes. He’d failed to leave her with a good impression.
Two young men she recognized from a garden party the day before glanced toward her from across the lawn, but then turned away, hurriedly marching in the opposite direction. News of her betrothal had spread quickly throughout the ton and the decently-sized pool of suitors she’d accumulated had immediately dried up.
“Hello there! Have you seen a young man with dark blond hair running about? Dressed in ridiculous finery?”
A low voice cut through her melancholy, stirring an odd sensation in the depths of her being. She was certain she’d never heard the man before, and yet her heart skipped a beat.
Holding her breath, she pivoted slowly.
The sensation of almost recognition spread through her again. She had not imagined it.
Him, the wind seemed to whisper as her gaze landed on the young man who’d spoken to her.
He met her gaze, stepping forward. “I seem to have lost track of my brother. Addison looks younger than his age, which is four and ten, and he’s… well, he’s eluding me this afternoon.”
This young man’s most prominent feature was his hair, which was black and curly and longer than it ought to be. But then his eyes caught and held her attention, so dark as to almost be black, and a shiver rolled through her.
He stilled, staring back at her, and even from several yards away, she could see his throat move. Did he feel it too?
He resumed walking toward her, and Augusta immediately shook herself. Even as a little girl, she had never been the sort of child to give in to flights of fancy. With the Marquess of Starbridge for a father, she knew better than to believe in fairy tales.
“I—” she began. He’d asked her a question. Oh, yes. “I haven’t seen such a boy.” Though she truly wished that she could help him.
Her answer did nothing to deter his approach, and Augusta glanced around to see if anyone was watching them. Luckily, this part of the park didn’t attract many visitors. The abundance of trees didn’t lend itself to showing off a lady’s ensemble as well as the clearings near the lake.
The young man smiled, and white teeth contrasted against his not-quite-bronze skin. He was the most handsome boy she’d ever seen. No, not a boy, but not a grown man either. He was tall with a slim physique that would likely fill out over the next few years.
Augusta guessed him to be a few years older than her.
He stopped but two yards away, and as though their meeting had been scripted for a play, neither looked anywhere but at the other.
Leaves rustled in the wind, a few billowy clouds floated across the sky, and yet time stood still.
If Augusta was breathing, she was not aware of it.
It was he who broke the spell. “Mr. Rowan Stewart, at your service.” He bowed low, performing the gesture with more grace than she’d ever seen.
Rowan Stewart.
Following his lead, Augusta executed what she hoped was an equally elegant curtsey. “Lady Augusta Primm,” she provided, pleased that her voice sounded normal.
It was not at all acceptable to introduce oneself in this manner, without a proper introduction, but at that moment, she felt as though higher powers were at work—giving him her name was merely the formality to a beginning.
To a glorious beginning.
He cleared his throat, his gaze locked onto her. “It’s a beautiful day, is it not?” he asked.
This made her smile. Taking in the quality of his clothing, sturdy tan breeches, a perfectly tailored coat, and elegantly tied cravat, he ought to appear similar to other gentlemen of the ton. But Augusta immediately sensed that he was nothing like them. Not because of the color of his skin or the impropriety of their introduction, but because of the look in his eyes.
Familiar while proving utterly unreadable.
And yet, like other young men had done over the past few weeks, he’d commented on the weather.
She tore her stare away just long enough to glance toward the sky which, although mostly blue, held dark clouds gathered in the west. “But not for long.”
Something life-altering was happening to both of them, and here they were discussing the weather. Butterflies zinged around her belly and her bodice felt tighter than usual.
“We’re lucky to have come this morning, then,” he answered. He took another step toward her, cutting the distance between them in half. If she reached her hand out, she could almost touch his chest.
This close, he appeared even taller and might seem imposing if not for his expression—a little stunned. Was it a mirror of her own?
“We are.” Augusta gripped her elbows to ward off a shiver. With the sun already bright and warm, she could only attribute the shaking inside to his nearness.
“Have we met before?” He cocked his head sideways. “You seem familiar.”
Because he was, and yet Augusta would have remembered meeting him. “I don’t think so.”
One of the nearby trees shook, drawing both of their attention.