Page 30 of The Husband Season

‘Yes, but do not go alone. Vincent, take your sister out for a few minutes, but do not be long.’ She turned to Adam. ‘My daughter does not like the heat, my lord. She will be back directly.’

‘I understand.’ He turned to Sophie. ‘Will you honour me with the next dance, Miss Cavenhurst?’

She consulted her dance card, although she knew very well that the next dance had been left blank on purpose. It was a waltz, but she would not admit she had been saving it in case the viscount should ask her.

‘Do you know, it is the only vacant spot on my card,’ she said. ‘I will be delighted to accept.’

He held out his hand, led her onto the floor and bowed before her. She curtsied, put her right hand lightly into his left and raised her other hand to his shoulder. It was the nearest she had ever been to him, the closest she had been to any man except her father and brother. It sent a quiver of excitement running through her body and made her realise why the more strait-laced of the ladies still considered the dance improper.

He danced well and seemed able to do the steps while talking at the same time. ‘I noticed all the young blades flocking round you,’ he said. ‘From which I surmise you are enjoying yourself.’

‘Yes, but...’ She stopped.

‘But what? Do go on. You intrigue me.’

‘Most of them are very silly.’

He laughed. ‘What, even the more mature among them, like Lord Gorange and Captain Moore? Older men sometimes make better husbands.’

‘Lord Gorange I have already rejected,’ she said. ‘How did you know about him?’

‘Mark told me.’

‘Oh, and what else did he tell you?’

‘That you have had a string of suitors who have all been rejected. I am curious as to the reason. You must be very hard to please.’

‘So my brother tells me, but I am not going to fall at the feet of the first man who offers for me...’

‘Nor the third either, it seems.’

‘No, I do not love any of them and they do not love me. Why they want to marry me I have no idea, but it is certainly not love.’

‘And is that important to you?’

‘Yes, it is. You loved your wife, didn’t you?’

‘Indeed I did.’

‘There you are, then. You understand me.’

‘I am trying. Tell me, if you had so lately turned down Sir Reginald Swayle, why did you consent to ride in his phaeton? I should like to think you were persuaded against your will.’

‘I was not persuaded against my will, my lord.’ It was said firmly, because it was the truth and she did not want him to think she was so easily coerced.

‘Oh. That sounded like a put-down.’

‘A put-down, my lord? I would never dream of trying anything like that on a superior being like yourself.’

He laughed. ‘Miss Cavenhurst, I think you are bamming me.’

She laughed, too. ‘That is for you to decide.’

‘Then I shall decide that a superior being like yourself would not be overawed by anyone, least of all me. You decide with whom you will ride and with whom you will dance and I am flattered that you consented to waltz with me. After all, I am older than Sir Reginald and almost as old as Lord Gorange.’

‘Ah, but you have not offered for me,’ she said.

‘True,’ he murmured.

She was becoming embarrassed by the way the conversation was going. As so often happened her tongue had run away with her, and she did not know how to turn it back to safer subjects. ‘Lord Gorange is a widower with two small children. I believe he is looking for a replacement wife, and that I will not be.’

Oh, dear, she was making things worse. She felt the colour flood into her face and would have stumbled if his firm grip had not held her upright.

‘If it helps, then be assured I am not looking for a replacement wife,’ he said. ‘No one can replace Anne. Not everyone comes to town to join the marriage mart, you know.’

‘No, of course not. I did not mean... I forgot...’ Her voice trailed away.

He smiled. ‘You are forgiven. No one could be at outs with you for long. Perhaps that is why your suitors are so persevering.’

He had deftly hauled her out of the pit into which she had fallen and for that she was grateful.

‘You have disposed of your three suitors,’ he went on. ‘What about the others, Mr Malthouse and Captain Moore?’

‘Vincent Malthouse is one of the silly ones, and as for Captain Moore, he may not be silly, but I cannot like him. I fear he is leading Teddy astray.’