Page 39 of The Husband Season

‘And who might that be?’

‘I don’t know. I haven’t met him yet.’ She said it firmly, but in her heart there was a tiny doubt. She pushed it away.

Bessie laughed. ‘You are making too much of this, child. Let destiny take its course. You cannot force it.’

She sighed. ‘No, I suppose not.’

‘What shall you wear today? It is very warm.’

‘The blue flowered gingham, I think.’

She finished dressing and went down to the breakfast room, where her aunt was sitting over a cup of coffee, reading a newspaper. ‘There you are,’ she said, putting the paper down. ‘What time did Edward come in?’

‘Nearly dawn. He had been at White’s and was a little foxed.’ She sat down and poured herself a cup of coffee and took a slice of bread and butter.

‘What did I tell you? You worry for nothing. And is that all you are going to eat? Have some eggs. I have them sent in fresh from the farm.’

‘No, thank you. What are we going to do today?’

‘I think you should rest. You had a tiring day riding all that way yesterday and then sitting up half the night. I certainly intend to stay at home this afternoon. This evening we are booked to go to Ranelagh Gardens.’

‘With whom?’

‘Just about everyone who was at the picnic. We arranged it then. Did you not hear us discussing it?’


‘No doubt you were too busy entertaining your swains. I notice that it was Viscount Kimberley who managed to jostle the other two out of the way to ride beside you on the way home.’

‘Aunt, I hope you are not reading anything into that. His lordship knew I didn’t want them near me.’

‘Humph. You seemed to have much to talk about.’

‘We were having a perfectly ordinary conversation. Nothing more to it than that.’

‘I hope you can convince Cassandra of that, because she was looking daggers at you all the way home.’

‘Oh, dear, I didn’t think of that. I shall have to go and see her.’

‘It is my “at home” this afternoon, and she may come with her mother. You had better reassure her then, though if you have designs on the gentleman yourself, that is a different matter. You may employ whatever wiles you deem fit.’

‘I do not have designs on him, Aunt Emmeline, and you make it sound as though he would have no say in the matter. I am sure he is old enough and wise enough to know his own mind. Wiles would pass him by.’

‘Whereas you,’ her aunt added, ‘are neither old enough nor wise enough to know yours.’

Sophie remained silent while she digested this. She knew her own mind—of course she did—which was why she would reject any man who did not fit her idea of a husband. Her first meeting with the viscount had been humiliating and she could not forget that, could not forget his half-hidden smile of amusement. She was never quite sure in their subsequent conversations if he was still laughing at her and whether the things he said were meant to provoke her into a response that would amuse him still further. It made her prickly. On the other hand, when he was talking about the mill and his care of the men, he hadn’t been laughing, nor even smiling. She had seen a little of the real Adam and she liked him for it.

‘I hope there will not be too many callers this afternoon,’ her aunt said. ‘I am excessively fatigued. And the weather is so hot.’

‘Can you not say you are indisposed?’

‘No. I go out so little and my callers are important to me. How else am I to hear all the gossip and keep up with what is going on?’

* * *

Mrs Malthouse arrived early without Cassie. ‘She is not quite the thing today,’ she told them. ‘I think she was out in the sun too long yesterday. One forgets that though it is cooler in an open carriage when it is moving, the sun is just as hot. And walking in the park did not help.’

‘I am so sorry to hear that,’ Sophie said. Her friends were evidently not as robust as she was; Lucy was carriage sick and Cassie could not tolerate the sun. Their childhoods had obviously not been spent out of doors trying to keep up with a brother. ‘I must go and visit her. Is there anything she would like me to take her?’

‘I should not go today,’ Mrs Malthouse said. ‘She is not in a mood to be sociable.’

Emmeline sent Sophie a knowing look as if to say, ‘I told you so.’

‘Will she be well enough to come to Ranelagh Gardens tonight?’ Sophie asked. ‘It will be cooler by then.’