Page 29 of The Husband Season

 ‘Sorry.’ He fell silent and she was glad when the dance ended and he escorted her back to her place beside Lady Cartrose. Teddy returned with Cassie, who sat beside her. ‘I don’t see Viscount Kimberley,’ her friend said. ‘He said he would come.’

 ‘Only if he did not have other more pressing engagements,’ Sophie reminded her. ‘You must not count on him.’

 * * *

 Sophie did not sit out a single dance before the supper interval. The gentlemen flocked to ask her to stand up with them, including Sir Reginald and Mr Richard Fanshawe, who was exquisitely attired in black and white. ‘What brings you to town?’ she asked him as they danced a chaîne anglaise.

 ‘When England’s handsomest flower is in town, that is where I want to be, too,’ he said.

 ‘You are not the only one,’ she said, ignoring the flattery. ‘Sir Reginald is before you.’

 ‘Yes, I know. I have spoken to him. We have agreed to a friendly rivalry.’

 ‘In what connection?’

 ‘Surely, Miss Cavenhurst, you know the answer to that? Your hand is our goal.’

 ‘Then, you are both wasting your time. There are any number of beautiful young ladies in town. Turn your attention to one of them, Miss Malthouse or Miss Martindale, for instance.’

 ‘Ah, but they do not have your attraction, my dear.’

 She was glad when the steps of the dance separated them and the subject was not resumed when they joined hands again. Those two men were likely to ruin the pleasure of her Season if she were not careful. She wanted to enjoy her time in London, to meet new people, not be bothered by those she had turned down in Hadlea. So far the only new acquaintances she had made were Vincent Malthouse, Captain Moore and Viscount Kimberley. Vincent was too silly for words and Captain Moore was considerably older than she was and, for some reason she could not explain, he made her skin creep. He smiled a lot, but it was the smile of a tiger and she wondered what Teddy saw in him. That left only Viscount Kimberley, but he was also older and had been married before. In spite of her pretended indifference, she found herself wondering why he was not there.

 * * *

 The first dance after supper was a cotillion, and Sophie found Captain Moore bowing in front of her with his hand held out. ‘Miss Cavenhurst, may I have the pleasure?’

 She would have liked to refuse, but Teddy said, ‘Go on, sis, he won’t eat you.’

 Somewhat reluctantly she allowed the captain to lead her into the dance. ‘When did you meet my brother?’ she asked him.

 ‘Oh, years ago, before he went to India, but we lost touch. It was a great pleasure to come upon him again this year.’

 ‘Do you live in London?’

 ‘No, I come every year for the Season.’

 ‘To find a wife?’

 ‘No, I am a bachelor and always will be. I come simply to enjoy the entertainment on offer.’

 ‘Like dancing?’

 ‘Among other things.’

 ‘Such as gambling?’

 ‘I like a game of cards now and then. Why do you ask?’

 ‘Because Teddy is very fond of gambling and I suspect he spends a great deal of his time at the tables. I do hope he doesn’t lose too heavily.’

 ‘On the contrary, Miss Cavenhurst, I believe he is enjoying a winning streak.’

 She greeted this statement with foreboding. Winning streaks did not usually last, especially in Teddy’s experience, and she wondered what their father would have to say if he knew his son had broken his promise not to gamble. She would have to have it out with him, though she doubted he would listen to her.

 ‘I hope you do not encourage him in extravagant bets,’ she said.

 ‘Me?’ he queried, feigning surprise. ‘Why would I do that? A man who cannot meet his gambling debts is to be shunned. I would not want that for my friend. I am hurt that you should think it of me.’

 ‘I am sorry. I meant no offence.’

 ‘None taken. Tell me, are you enjoying your stay in town?’

 ‘Yes, very much.’

 ‘How long will you be here?’

 ‘Until after my friend Cassandra’s ball, then I return to Hadlea.’

 ‘No come-out ball of your own?’

 ‘No, that is not possible.’

 ‘Oh, you never know,’ he said. ‘Teddy might come up trumps.’

 She looked sharply at him, but his expression was bland and smiling. Why did she feel threatened?

 The dance came to an end and he took her back to her place, where she discovered Viscount Kimberley had arrived and had been dancing with Cassie. Her friend was hot and flushed and fanning herself vigorously. ‘I think I must have some fresh air,’ she said. ‘Mama, may I go on to the terrace?’