‘I hate carriage rides,’ Lucy said, linking arms with the other two. ‘We had to keep stopping all the way from Norfolk to London, and I would as soon not have made the journey, but Mama was adamant that I had to have a Season or I would never find a husband. She has lined up a long list of gentlemen, not one of whom matches up to Mr Cavenhurst and I did not need to come to London to meet him.’
‘Not even Viscount Kimberley?’ Cassie said.
‘Of course not. You may rest easy, Cassie, and have the field all to yourself. If you can capture him, that is. He seems to take delight in laughing with Sophie.’
‘Laughing at the faux pas I keep making,’ Sophie said. ‘And scolding me. He has no right to censure me.’
‘I heard he has vowed never to marry again,’ Lucy put in.
‘Mama says to bear that no mind,’ Cassie said. ‘If he is sufficiently attracted he will succumb in the end.’
Sophie laughed. ‘I wonder what he would say if he could hear our conversation.’
* * *
Adam watched them go, relieved to see they were friends again. Miss Sophie Cavenhurst was not as uncaring as he had imagined. The scrapes she found herself in were largely due to ignorance of acceptable behaviour rather than mischief. It did not matter in present company—she was looked on with indulgence—but it could lead her into more serious trouble. Her brother was almost useless as a protector and Lady Cartrose too easy-going to restrain her. By all accounts her ladyship had been a bit wild herself in her youth.
He did wonder what Swayle and Fanshawe were up to. He had spoken to them, but as he had no business questioning what they did he had learned nothing. Both had said they had come upon her by chance and simply escorted her back to the party. It would not have been necessary if her brother had been doing his duty. Where was that young man? He had had time to ride all the way back to town and must surely have realised he had missed her. Mark’s warning about Toby Moore came to his mind. Something was afoot, and if it put Sophie in danger, then he had better keep his eyes and ears open. ‘You have dropped me right in the soup, haven’t you,’ he murmured, addressing his absent cousin.
It was not all Mark’s fault. He felt drawn to the lively girl who was bright and intelligent and did not seem to care a hoot for protocol. He suspected her apparent self-assurance masked a vulnerability she tried to hide from the world. Having two sisters who had both made excellent marriages and were making their mark in the world on their own account must be hard to emulate.
The girls turned away from the towpath and struck off across the grass and were soon lost to sight among some trees. He resisted the inclination to follow them and was surprised at how relieved he felt when he saw them returning. It was ridiculous to think anything bad could happen to her strolling in a park with friends, only yards from help if they should need it.
‘My lord,’ Reggie called out to him. ‘We are going to play cricket. Will you join us?’
He scrambled to his feet and joined the rest of the party who had fetched out a bat and ball and some stumps and were debating the rules of the game. ‘There are not enough of us for two sides,’ Richard said. ‘So it’s one batting against the rest, winner is the one with the most runs. Agreed?’
They marked out the pitch and tossed for who should bat first and Sir Reginald won. Adam was to bowl and the rest spread out to field, including Sophie. ‘Sophie, do come and sit down,’ her aunt called out to her. ‘You will be hit if you stand there.’
‘Not I.’ She laughed. ‘If the ball comes my way, I shall catch it and Reggie will be out.’
Adam grinned. She was full of surprises, that one, and apparently unaware of the disapproving looks of the ladies of the party. Or perhaps she did know and enjoyed shocking them. He ran up and delivered the first ball, which Reggie fumbled. Lord Martindale picked it up and returned it to him. He sent another one down, which Reggie hit in Sophie’s direction. She ran forward and caught it neatly.
‘Out!’ she cried triumphantly.
Reggie handed the bat to the next man and took his place in the field. And so it went on, but most of the men avoided hitting balls towards Sophie, and though she retrieved one or two balls, she was not given the opportunity to catch another. Mr Malthouse was out trying to avoid sending the ball in her direction. Adam was relieved of the bowling and Vincent took his place. Anxious to show his mettle, he bowled very fast, and one after the other fell until Adam came to the wicket.