Page 66 of The Husband Season

 Her aunt came down in a pink satin dressing gown to have breakfast with her. ‘You must come back and visit me again some day,’ she said, helping herself to coddled eggs and three slices of ham from the dishes on the sideboard. ‘I have enjoyed our little excursions.’

 Sophie looked down at the bread and butter on her own plate and didn’t feel a bit like eating it. ‘So have I, Aunt, and I thank you for having me. I am only sorry that Teddy has been a worry to you.’

 ‘He is young and strong and can no doubt look after himself,’ her ladyship said. ‘I am more concerned for you.’

 ‘Me? Why?’

 ‘You are so obviously enamoured of Viscount Kimberley and he is too blind to see it. If you want him, you are going to have to fight for him.’

 ‘Aunt, I could not do that. Even I know it is not proper for a lady to make the first move, even supposing she wishes to, which I do not.’

 Her hurried addendum made her aunt smile. ‘You must contrive to make him think he is doing all the running, my dear. You have a golden opportunity on the journey. I shall be very disappointed in you if he comes back to London and offers for Cassandra.’

 Sophie had nothing to say to that and in any case there was no time, for the sound of the door knocker told them he had arrived.

 He came, still wearing his eyepatch, doffed his hat and bowed to them both. ‘Good morning, my lady. Miss Cavenhurst. I have taken the liberty of asking your man to load your trunk on to the roof. If we are to make the journey in two days, we must not delay. I have sent Farley on ahead to arrange horses and accommodation.’

 There was a flurry of activity as Sophie’s trunk was heaved up and roped down beside his own, and her portmanteau and Bessie’s stowed in the boot. Sophie put on her bonnet, but decided to carry her shawl because, even so early, it promised to be a hot day. She hung her reticule over her wrist and turned to embrace her aunt. ‘Goodbye, dear aunt. I am truly grateful for all you have done for me and for Teddy. No doubt he will come and see you when he returns.’

 ‘I will send him straight home when he does. Write to me when you are safely home and I hope you will have good news to tell me.’

 ‘Aunt,’ she protested, feeling the warmth flood her face.

 Her aunt simply smiled and kissed her.

 Sophie climbed into the carriage followed by Bessie and Adam and they were off. She looked back to see her aunt standing at the door, still in her dressing gown, waving a handkerchief. Then they turned the corner and she was lost to sight.

 Sophie settled in her seat, wondering how they were going to occupy the long hours of travel. Ought she to say something, or leave him to begin a conversation? He did not seem inclined to do so. He sat in the opposite corner, trying not to let his long legs tangle with her skirts. The heat in the coach was oppressive. She was glad of the bottle of cold lemonade that her aunt had provided her with. She poured some in a cup and offered it to him. He shook his head. ‘No thank you, Miss Cavenhurst. I will procure a drink when we stop for refreshments at noon.’

 She offered the cup to Bessie, who drank it greedily. Sophie, taking the cup back, noticed the perspiration standing on the maid’s brow and her flushed face and realised she was overcome by the heat. ‘Bessie, would you like us to stop so that you can have some fresh air?’

 ‘No, Miss Sophie. It will delay you.’

 ‘That can’t be helped. I cannot have you fainting on me.’ She turned to Adam. ‘Please ask the coachman to stop.’

 He did so, and the vehicle drew to a stop beside the road where a tree offered a little shade. They all left the carriage and Bessie walked up and down a little way, fanning herself with the fan Sophie had handed to her.

 ‘We ought to go on,’ Adam said after a few minutes. ‘We will fall behind schedule and the innkeeper might let others have our fresh horses.’

 ‘Of course. I understand. Do you think the driver would mind if Bessie sat alongside him on the box? I will let her have my parasol to shield her from the sun. I am sure she would be cooler there.’

 ‘Miss Sophie...’ Bessie protested, but not vehemently.

 ‘Just until we change the horses,’ Sophie said. ‘You will feel much better by then.’

 ‘Very well.’

 Sophie gave Bessie her parasol and Adam helped her up on to the box beside the coachman, who gave her a grin. ‘I’m Joe Brandon,’ he said. ‘Welcome to my world.’

 Sophie and Adam resumed seats in the carriage, but this time he sat beside her so that he could stretch out his legs.