Page 69 of The Husband Season

 Anne had been loving, obedient, trusting and he had adored her. She would never have dreamed of behaving in the hoydenish way that Sophie Cavenhurst behaved. She would never have flouted convention, wandered about town unaccompanied, dressed in a man’s garb, played cricket or ridden astride. Was that why he found Sophie so endearing? She did not try to be anything but what she was: maddening, intensely loyal and outspoken.

 At nineteen she had already turned down three suitors. Was she so very hard to please? Or was she playing one against the other while she made up her mind? Did she know about that preposterous wager her brother had made? The irony of that was that Cavenhurst could not lose that one. If she married one of them and he had to pay up, he would still have collected from the other two and been a thousand pounds in pocket, although that would not have helped him much, considering what he owed Toby Moore. What infuriated Adam most was that they appeared to treat it as a game. None of the men needed money.

 ‘What are you smiling about?’ Sophie’s voice was close to his left ear and startled him.

 ‘Was I smiling?’

 ‘Yes. Come, share the joke with me.’

 ‘It is not fit for a lady’s ears.’

 ‘Then it is uncivil of you to think about it in a lady’s company.’

 ‘I beg your pardon. I was thinking about Bertie Gorange.’

 ‘Lord Gorange. Why?’

 ‘It was he who rescued you from being apprehended for a jewel thief, was it not?’

 ‘How do you know that?’

 ‘I collect your aunt saying something about Lord Gorange calling yesterday. I surmise he brought you home.’

 ‘He happened to be passing near the jeweller’s shop.’

 ‘Just happened to be passing?’

 ‘Yes, and I was grateful for it.’

 ‘How grateful?’

 ‘My lord, you are as bad as everyone else, thinking I am going to marry one of those three. What I cannot understand is why they persist in wanting me. I have no fortune and I am always falling into scrapes and, according to some, I am a hoyden and a flirt.’

 ‘Flirt, Miss Cavenhurst? I have seen no evidence of it. And no doubt the gentlemen have their reasons.’

 ‘Do you know what they might be?’

 He was tempted to tell her, but decided she might be hurt by it. ‘No, but you could always marry someone else. That would put a stop to it.’

 She gave him a sharp look. He was still smiling. ‘I would, if someone loved me as much as I loved him.’

 ‘Are you in love?’

 ‘No, I was speaking generally,’ she said, feeling the colour mount in her cheeks. ‘Shall we change the subject?’

 ‘As you wish.’

 ‘Tell me about the business that took you to London, if it was not to look for a wife.’

 ‘I went to speak in the House of Lords about the problems of the workingman and what I thought should be done.’

 ‘What do you think should be done?’

 They were on safer ground now and he outlined his ideas on the subject. She listened carefully. ‘Unfortunately, they were in no mood to listen and I fear the workers will take matters into their own hands,’ he said.

 ‘Riot, you mean?’

 ‘Perhaps. They are certainly planning another large meeting.’

 ‘And you mean to stop it?’

 ‘I wish I could. I do not know when and where it is to be. And the hotheads will not listen, either.’

 ‘And you are pig in the middle.’

 He smiled. ‘You could say that.’

 ‘Is that how you received your injuries?’

 ‘Injuries? You mean this?’ He pointed to the eyepatch.

 ‘Yes, and other injuries not quite so obvious. I noticed you flinch when that ostler bumped into you when we stopped to change the horses, and you wriggle in your seat as if you find it difficult to be comfortable.’

 ‘You are very observant.’

 ‘Teddy was always injuring himself when he was young and pretending it was nothing. I learned the signs.’

 ‘I was set upon by thieves. I do not think it had anything to do with my mission to London.’

 ‘I am sorry, my lord.’

 ‘No need to be. I’ll live.’ He gave her a quirky smile, which made her heart flip. The more she learned about him, the more she loved him, if that were possible. He cared about people, especially those for whom he felt responsible. He was thoughtful and generous. Who else would have paid Teddy’s debts? Certainly not Reggie or Richard Fanshawe, and Lord Gorange had only offered to do so on a consideration.