But the drawing that made Lily's breath hitch was a rough, unfinished sketch on a scrap of paper no larger than her palm. It showed a man gazing at a woman with blatant admiration and awe. His expression said he was head over heels in love—and that the woman, shown only from the back, held his whole world in her hands.
If a gentleman ever looked at Lily in just that way, she'd probably swoon on the spot. And she'd know he was the love she'd been looking for.
Lily brought the little drawing to the settee where Fiona sat and showed it to her. "I didn't think it possible, but you grow more talented with every sketch. This is so...poignant and lovely. May I keep it?"
"It's just a rough drawing, but if you like it, it's all yours," Fiona said kindly.
Lily carefully folded the paper and tucked it into her bodice. "Thank you."
Fiona frowned slightly. "May I ask you something—about the column?"
"Do you ever worry that one of our readers will find herself in trouble because of our advice?"
Lily considered the question. "I suppose that if a reader was caught doing something improper, her reputation could suffer a bit. There are worse fates."
Fiona nodded, thoughtful. "She could be forced to marry a man she doesn't love."
"You have a point," Lily conceded. "But our readers know the column isn't meant to be taken as gospel. The advice is on the daring side and a bit tongue-in-cheek. Still, truth lies at the heart of all we say. We should not shy away from that truth."
Fiona pulled Lily into an unexpectedly fierce hug. "You're absolutely right. Someone needs to champion all the shy debutantes and meek wallflowers out there, and I can think of no one better than you." She pressed a kiss to Lily's temple.
Lily wriggled away from her sister's embrace. "I'm eager to deliver the column and sketch to the 'Hearsay''s offices." She peered at the elegant clock on the mantel. "It's only an hour until they close—I must leave soon. When I return, I'll arrange to have some clothes sent from home. Just think, we'll have two whole weeks together. We shall stay up late chatting, raid the kitchen for midnight snacks, and then lounge about all day."
"It will be lovely," Fiona agreed. "Like old times."
Lily nodded. "Just like it used to be." Except that now Fi had a doting husband and a home of her own. For all Lily knew, Fi was expecting a babe already. The gulf between them seemed to widen daily. "I'm going to change. Is my disguise still in the trunk?"
"Yes." Fiona smirked. "Unless one of the maids mistook the items for dust rags."
"Heaven forfend," Lily said, grinning. The outfit was one of her favorite parts of the job.
She, Fiona, and their dear friend Sophie had agreed that no one must discover they were the creative forces behind The Debutante's Revenge. Though the column was all the rage, it also had plenty of detractors— aristocrats who found the advice too scandalous, too shocking, and too true. Which was why no one could know about the three friends' involvement.
One whisper of their connection to the column would destroy their reputations. They had no wish to be cast out of polite society or to bring shame upon their families—not before Lily and Sophie had made matches. And especially not before they'd had sufficient opportunity to convey all they wished to say to the young, female population of London.
So, each week, Lily took the precaution of donning her disguise prior to delivering the latest column to the newspaper's offices. The editor assumed she was merely a scrawny messenger boy rather than the controversial column's author.
Lily hurried to the guest bedchamber where she slept whenever she visited her sister and brother-in-law's house, closed the door, and opened the trunk at the foot of the bed. Buried deep in a corner were an old pair of boy's breeches, a dingy white shirt, and a jacket with patched elbows, along with socks, shoes, and a cap.