Eight

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Wednesday was Fellows and Members Day at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Excluding the general public didn't mean the event was any less crowded, it just implied people were better dressed.

Izzy stood in front of the Great Pavilion, a huge white tent erected on the grounds of London's Royal Hospital, next to the Thames. The weather was glorious, and she shielded her eyes against the sunshine with her show's catalogue. A few steps away, protected by a parasol, her mother chatted with a wrinkled lady whom Izzy thought was a duchess. Beads of sweat were already forming on her temples, and she squinted to try and spot Mr. Lang among the crowd of men in grey suits and women wearing navy blue.

"Any sign of him?"

Vita's question startled her.

"Not yet," Izzy said, keeping her tone careless to hide her blossoming anxiety. "What time is it?"

Next to Vita, Archie had his hat tipped back, his shirtsleeves rolled up and his jacket thrown over his shoulders. He took a gold watch on a chain out of his pocket and announced:

"Ten past eleven."

Izzy bit her lower lip, once more scanning the crowd.

"Don't worry," Vita said. "The poor man has never been here. He must be wandering the gardens, still looking for the entrance to the pavilion."

Izzy gave her a tight smile, grateful for her reassurance, but unconvinced. What if he had stood her up? How embarrassing would that be? Half the year's debutantes were here today, along with their illustrious families. Izzy needed to be seen with a beau on her arm.

"We'll wait," Archie added, in an unexpected show of support.

Vita smiled at him, and Izzy sighed, annoyed. If they were back to being as thick as thieves, it could only mean there were no more secrets between them. Vita must have told him everything, yet she still kept her best friend in the dark. Izzy couldn't see what made her trust Archie more that she would confide in him rather than in her.

Izzy glanced at Vita's hands. She wore long white gloves, which were out of place in this weather. The rest of her outfit was the latest fashion: a nautical dress with white flat shoes and a white crochet cloche hat.

"My apologies!"

Mr. Lang appeared among the crowd, hurrying towards her with his hat in his hand. His black hair was slicked back with brilliantine. Like Archie, he wore a cream tailored suit, but he had the elegance of having kept his jacket on despite the heat.

He apologised again for his tardiness – he had indeed been lost – and greeted them all. When he flashed his dazzling smile at Izzy, she forgot about her nervousness. Then he offered her his arm, and her whole body tingled when she took it.

Inside the pavilion, the breeders' floral displays were a marvel. They walked along the crowded aisles, sometimes stopping to look at the plants labelled with their Latin names or to chat with another debutante and her suitor.

"Which flower is your favourite?" Mr. Lang asked, as they made their way between stands, a few steps ahead of Vita and Archie.

"I like peonies," Izzy said.

It was a lie. She didn't know much about flowers, and peonies were her mother's favourite flowers, not hers. But she wasn't about to admit this to Mr. Lang.

"Allow me to buy you a bunch, then," he said.

Izzy let out a delighted laugh.

"I'm afraid you can't," she explained. "Nothing you see here is for sale before Friday. People come to look from Monday to Thursday, and on the last day of the week, they come to buy what they've reserved."

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