Page 80 of The Husband Season

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 Adam, strolling in the village, saw her galloping out of the Witherington turn as if the hounds of hell were after her. She could certainly ride, that one, but she had no hat and her hair down over her shoulders. Was this what she had meant when she boasted of galloping all over the village? He was about to call to her but changed his mind when he saw another rider coming down the same road and recognised Lord Gorange. The man did not go after her, but turned into the yard of the Fox and Hounds and dismounted.

 What was going on? Had she lied to him about her involvement with Gorange, or was he still pestering her in an effort to win that wager? It was, as Sophie had pointed out to him, no business of his; he would be gone in a day or two and could forget her. Once he was back in familiar surroundings with evidence of Anne all about him—her books, her half-finished embroidery, her music on the pianoforte, the little china ornaments she liked to collect in the display cabinet, her clothes still in the closet because he could not bear to give them away—then he would go back to being the man he had been before he went to London. That was simply an interlude, he told himself severely, a short pause in the even tenor of his life.

 He would stay for the birthday supper party because he had promised Mark and Jane he would, but the day after that he would go home. He turned into the Fox and Hounds to enquire about a stage coach going north. Gorange was in the parlour, sitting by himself with a glass of cognac. Curious, Adam went over to him. ‘Afternoon, Gorange. What brings you here?’

 The man left off contemplating the liquid in his glass and looked up. ‘Oh, it’s you Kimberley. I might ask you the same question.’

 Adam called for a glass of ale and sat down. ‘I am here to enquire about coach schedules.’

 ‘Back to the Smoke?’

 ‘No, back to Yorkshire.’

 ‘Given up, have you?’

 ‘Given up?’

 ‘On little Miss Cavenhurst. Just as well, we are to be married, you know.’

 Adam stifled his gasp and kept his voice level. ‘She has agreed?’

 ‘As good as. It wants only Sir Edward’s permission and I do not think he will withhold it, considering the circumstances.’

 ‘What circumstances?’

 ‘Why, the matter of a little overamorous encounter in a carriage. You know how it is...’

 ‘No, I do not.’

 ‘No? Do not tell me you spent—how many days was it?—on the road and you did not try to seduce her? You must be losing your touch, Kimberley. But I am glad of it. I should not like to find myself with damaged goods.’

 Adam stood up so violently his chair fell back with a crash. The sound served to remind him where he was. He dropped his raised fist and composed himself with an effort. ‘If you were not such an old lecher who is not worth fighting, I should call you out for that,’ he said through gritted teeth. ‘But if I ever come across you again, I shall certainly make sure you regret your words for the rest of your miserable life.’

 He heard Gorange laughing behind him as he hurried from the building, forgetting the reason for entering it in the first place. After all her protestations that she would not marry any of her suitors, had Sophie succumbed? He felt like finding her and shaking her and shouting at her not to do it.

 By the time he reached Broadacres, his pace had slowed and his anger had cooled. His head told him it had nothing to do with him what Sophie Cavenhurst did, so why did the rest of him—his gut, his heart, his muscle—refuse to believe it? One thing he could do was to tell Mark about Gorange and his brother-in-law’s ridiculous wagers. If anything needed doing, Mark would be the one to do it.

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 It was her pride that made Sophie wear the blue gown to go to Broadacres. She spent a long time dressing, determined to shine. To that end she had Bessie arrange her curls in an elaborate coiffure. Her necklace, the one that had given her all that trouble, was fastened about her neck.

 ‘You are not going to a ball,’ Bessie said.

 ‘I know, but it is Jane’s birthday and that is special. Jane made the gown and gave me the necklace and she did not see me wearing them in London, so this seems a good opportunity to show her how well I look.’

 ‘Oh, I see.’

 Sophie knew the maid did not see at all. It was Adam’s last day, he was going home tomorrow and he had not seen her in the gown either because someone had been giving him a beating at the time. She would show him what he had missed and perhaps he might be sorry. She slipped on her shoes, picked up her shawl and reticule and went down to join her parents. If her mother noticed her finery, she did not comment and led the way out to the waiting carriage.