Nick and LilacBy: Marian Tee
The said playboy was also gazing at her with one coolly raised eyebrow, but Jilly didn’t care. Last night was the last straw. She truly believed that if they weren’t surrounded by his bodyguards right now, she would have cheerfully murdered him. Last night, she had begged Nick not to mess with their latest initiate and what had he done? Bang the stupid girl in the broom closet during their sorority’s Welcome Party then leave Jilly to deal with a hysterical mess the next morning.
She gritted her teeth at the memory. “He left me a note – reminding me not to call him!” the girl had shrieked.
“This is how you’re going to make me pay? Force me to pander to an infatuated tongue-tied bookworm?” The voice was cultured but slightly accented, the product of being an heir to a centuries-old Greek shipping dynasty and a dozen or so years spent in an English boarding school.
The words oozed with icy derision. Most people would have cringed from it, but not Jilly. She was immune to it, being the childhood sweetheart of one of his closest friends. She said succinctly, “No.” And then she was making the decision for all three of them by hurrying up to Lilac and catching her friend’s arm just before Lilac could execute her usual rabbit hole trick and disappear.
Lord Tennyson’s garden parties were usually a bore, but today was something she would not have missed for the world. Today, he had also unveiled his newly built garden maze and it was the most complicated one so far. It even beat the one in Austria that she had visited the year past, one inspired by the labyrinth in old Greek myths.
This one had hedges so tall, she would not be able to see if the other path led somewhere even if she were to jump. But she jumped anyway. It was silly, but she could get away with being silly since she was a Nobody.
The Ton did not give a whit about what a Nobody did or said.
She raised her skirts, scandalously exposing her ankles as she prepared to jump. Her lips curved into a smile, imagining how her mother would react to the sight. Oh, the horror - if her mother saw her now, she would probably have a need for smelling salts!
“Here,” a husky voice lined with amusement drawled from behind. Sure hands suddenly circled her waist. “Let me help.” And then she was being lifted in the air, so high she felt like she was about to reach the sky.
In that moment, she felt like she had the world in her grasp.
And it was all because of the stranger who had her in his hold.
“Got you,” Jilly said as she spun her friend around.
And with that, Lilac York was trapped, torn out of her fantasy and thrown into a real-life nightmare.
Oh, Jilly, what are you doing?
Panic twisted Lilac’s tongue into knots. She had been doing her best to ignore Jilly the moment she realized her friend was not alone and that the man beside Jilly was not someone Lilac would ever be prepared to meet.
Jilly was talking about Nick Christakos, for heaven’s sake. He was everyone’s secret and not-so-secret crush, herself included. She even had a secret folder on her laptop filled with online grabs of his photos. And every so often, American tabloids would manage to get a topless shot of him whenever he was in Ibiza, the Maldives, or some other exotic and dreadfully expensive resort. Of course she saved those, too.
The point was - you didn’t need to meet Nick to know of him. Jilly would know that, so what was she doing?
“I’m so happy to see you again, Lilac,” her friend was saying. “And I’m so excited for you to meet this friend of mine.”
Even with her gaze firmly fixed on the ground, Lilac felt derisively measuring eyes settling on her, making her feel even more self-conscious.
When Jilly continued to wait for her answer with an expectant air, Lilac knew she had no choice but to look up.
Lud! The old-school expression of surprise came out as a mental sigh as their university’s so-called Don Juan locked gazes with Lilac’s. His swoon-worthy blue eyes arrested her in place, changing her world in an instant.
The ancient brick walls of their college melted into ornately designed brocade-covered walls of a 19th century ballroom, golden light radiating from the brightly burning candles set in the exquisite chandeliers hanging from above.
Other students slowed down as they walked past Lilac and Nick, gazing at them surreptitiously over their books and binders. But in her mind, they had been turned into debutantes and swains, dressed in velvet and silk ball gowns and elegant waist-coated shirts and breeches, the women peering over ivory-backed fans before gracefully waltzing away.
In her favorite daydreams, she was an impoverished genteel bluestocking daughter. Her favorite hero to fall in love with: a tall, dark-haired man whose face she could couldquite picture. All she knew of him was that he was a duke notorious throughout the Continent for his rakish ways.