“It was a letter…”
Black hooves struck the cobblestones in rapid succession, the sound echoing into the London night. Torchlight caught the well-polished flanks of the pair pulling the carriage, their ebony coats stained even darker with sweat and their heads bobbing up and down as they made quick work of the streets. On either side of the traveling carriage, the Town houses climbed high into the midnight, an avenue of sleeping giants. Tucked away inside the buildings, the owners were either entertaining guests or else enjoying a breath of quiet before the bustling London Season truly began.
On went the carriage. The houses and squares disappeared into darkness while bright lights illuminated the destination ahead.
The driver headed towards the lights as fast as the cobbled streets would allow. The autumn had begun mild, but tonight was proof of the progression towards deep winter. The horses’ breath escaped in plumes from their nostrils. The heavy greatcoat which the driver had donned in place of his summer livery warded off the majority of the cold, but fingers of icy air still managed to find their way around his neck. Blast it! How could he have forgotten his woolen scarf on a night like this?
The occupants of the carriage fared slightly better. Protected from the cold wind, two gentlemen sat across from each other on the cushioned seats, both in evening attire. One lounged comfortably, but the taller, darker of the two kept arms crossed over his chest and threw frequent glances out of the window.
“Damn it all, Courtenay! How long does it take to get to Almack’s?”
The ill-natured question only served to make the other gentleman smile, his rounded cheeks bulging on either side of his mouth. “Oh, you are in a sour mood tonight, Wolversley.”
The taller man scowled in return. “You would be too if you had traveled all the way from Sussex only to have your best friend cart you off to the most boring charade of polite Society.”
“You’re lucky there is no one to hear you say so. I declare, if one of the patronesses heard your description of their hallowed rooms, your voucher would be revoked!”
A jolt on the near side of the carriage upset the occupants for a moment until the vehicle settled into its regular motion again.
“Besides,” Courtenay continued after repositioning himself, “how can you be in a bad mood? You have been away from Society all this time, not even bothering to come back to Town for Viscount Beauford’s ball, and now you are back to civilization and dinner parties and masquerades and all things marvelous, and you’re miserable! I tell you, I do not understand you.”
That last bit was a barefaced lie. Lord Courtenay understood his old university friend very well—which is exactly why he had refrained from telling him that their destination for the evening was not, in fact, Almack’s. They were en route to a private ball, the sort of event that Wolversley rarely attended, preferring his estate and account books to most kinds of social engagements. Part of Courtenay did not blame him. After all, it was not an easy thing to mix with your peers when you had a past like Earl Wolversley’s.
“You make a mistake in thinking my misery is connected to being in London. Rather it’s connected to you whisking me away from a large bottle of burgundy I had at home. It could have kept me far better company than you will this evening.”
“Oh, a dagger to the heart! I am so hurt.” Courtenay’s lips gave an affected pout. “But in truth, you did surprise me. I half thought you’d refuse to come out, even at my invitation.”
Wolversley snorted, muttering something about rather being under the table at home, and then finally mustered up some kind of civility. “I suppose I am pleased to see you again. My sister, though pleasant company, is somewhat exhausting when she assumes I am her sole entertainment on the estate.”
“Ah, the lovely Selina, I wish I could see her again.” Courtenay’s eyes went misty in the dim light of the carriage and his tone turned wistful.
“I expect you do,” said Wolversley dryly, “but I shall not let you near her until she is out and until some of that naivety is rubbed off. You are far too much of a scoundrel for her company at present.”
“Well, no matter, we shall have plenty of schoolroom misses where we’re going.”
“Almack’s? It’s all rather staid don’t you think? Hardly the place for you to make young chits swoon.”
“Ah, well…that is the thing….” Courtenay looked down at his black silk breeches molded tightly over his podgy thighs and below those to his astonishingly elegant feet encased in evening pumps. The thing was—although he was dressed in the requisite uniform of Almack’s, one of the most exclusive assembly rooms in London, he had never intended to go there.
Now came the sticky part.
“I actually thought we could take advantage of an invitation I received. It’s to a somewhat better place than Almack’s.” He was trying his best to seem nonchalant while revealing his deception. “It’s a coming-out ball. I know your distaste for this kind of thing, but it will be a splendid evening. I was assured by the father of the debutante that his wife was sparing no expense. All the beauties of Society will be present, and I daresay one might even catch your eye, despite your habitual insistence on prolonging your bachelorhood.”
Wolversley’s anger had been growing steadily as Courtenay unfolded their new plans for the evening, and by that last comment, he was positively seething. “You ass! How dare you lie to me?”
“It’s for your own good, my friend, I promise.” Courtenay shifted a little farther away from the Earl who looked ready to round on him. “You know, since you’ve been away from Town, there have been plenty of young bachelors trying to usurp your place as the most eligible gentleman this side of thirty. I had to take it upon myself to hold that position until you came back.”
Wolversley’s lips curved up into a crooked smile, “You did, did you?” If there had been more light in the carriage, Courtenay would have seen Wolversley’s pale gray eyes begin to dance.
“Yes, because I am a dear, dear friend.”
“And a dear, dear liar.” Wolversley sighed. “How on earth could you be deemed an eligible bachelor with your estate teetering precariously between dun territory and utter ruin?”
Courtenay could hear the Earl’s anger turning to amusement and he took advantage of his friend’s improved temper. “Ah, it’s all about wording it right, my good man.” He leaned forward and waggled his finger under the Earl’s nose. “But since I am a faithful friend who cannot help but see to your best interests, I will allow you to reclaim your position You need to come out into Society again somewhat, reclaim at least a semblance of a figure in the best circles, if only to ensure you can someday get yourself betrothed and all that.”
Wolversley grimaced, but his face was obscured by the shadows in the carriage. He had been betrothed once. He did not have any intention of finding himself in that position again.
“Besides,” continued Courtenay, “I have it on good authority that Jonny Odd is attending Almack’s tonight.”
Wolversley grimaced again. Courtenay was adept at stirring up unpleasant memories. The two of them—or rather, the three of them—had attended university during the same time period. Jonny Odd had never liked the Earl, making him the object of many of his taunts and practical jokes. Graduation and the intervening years had done nothing to improve their acquaintance. The man was an ass and Wolversley quite agreed with Courtenay that he was best avoided.
“So, I thought the ball the better invitation of the two. And of course, if you should manage to find a little amusement there to entice you back into Society, then all the better.”
Before the Earl could question Courtenay about their actual destination, their journey was over. The horses ceased their spanking trot, the hoof beats slowed from two to four beat, and the carriage came to a dignified halt.
“Ah, we are arrived. Excellent.” Courtenay peered out of the window at the Palladian Town house lit up by the hanging lanterns.
Outside, the driver relinquished his tight hold on the reins, giving the slack back to his horses. He pulled the collar of his greatcoat up about his ears and blew on his hands. The footman was not long in performing his duties and soon the steps were down. The door swung wide and Lord Courtenay’s elegant foot and shapely calf descended, followed by his rather larger upper half.
Courtenay’s countenance was now lit by the lanterns held by the servants either side of the door. His avid consumption of wine showed in his pinkish face and he had a rosy tint to the end of his nose. That being said, it could not be denied that Lord Courtenay was a good-looking man with a good-natured face. As he reached the floor, he swung round to await his friend.
“A coming-out ball, you said?” Wolversley called, descending the carriage steps. He glanced up at the house, not waiting to listen to Courtenay’s response. He was too intent on stifling the unpleasant memories that his friend had dredged up. As he caught sight of the building, however, a sickly feeling began to invade his body. He glanced up and down the street, trying to ascertain if they were in fact standing where he suspected—and feared—they might be.
“It is indeed, and in honor of a beautiful young girl I’m told.” Courtenay slapped a hand on the Earl’s athletic shoulders, ignoring the unsettled look that had painted itself across his face. “I am jolly glad you’re back in Town. It’s been dashed dull without you, believe it or not. Despite your moods, you do make a man much better company than these jumped-up young scamps running about the clubs and balls these days.”
Wolversley neither felt umbrage at the insult nor gratitude at the compliment. It was all quite lost on him as he kept looking up at the house, determined to believe he was anywhere other than where his mind told him he must be.
“Where are we exactly?” he managed at last.
“I say!” exclaimed Courtenay, looking around uncomfortably. “Bad form, old man.”
Fortunately, there were no ladies in earshot, but two young bucks who had just alighted from a nearby carriage ceased their jocular conversation to raise eyebrows at Wolversley’s uncouth remark. One of them looked the Earl up and down and snorted unfavorably.
The Earl, who took no pleasure in being so brazenly measured, felt a stab of annoyance as the young man’s appraising gaze fell fearfully short of impressed. It was not just the crude language the Earl had used that caused his disdain; it was the Earl’s jacket. Wolversley could feel the young man’s eyes on his shoulders and lapels as his lips curled up in scorn.
Wolversley had been in the country too long. His jacket was outdated—he had known that when he had put it on this evening, having already seen several gentlemen walking the streets of Town in far more modish creations. He enjoyed a well-cut jacket, though he would not claim the careful eye of a dandy where his appearance was concerned, but his extended trip to the country had left him no opportunity to ensure that his wardrobe was full of the current fashions, nor to cut his hair for that matter. The luxuriously dark lengths were tickling his collar, unlike Courtenay’s sandy locks which were swept up into a form of the Brutus, a style far too ostentatious to be attractive. Wolversley looked back to the young men. Those scrutinizing eyes that would not forgive his outdated clothing were one reason he disliked Society gatherings so much, and yet, thanks to the cajoling—and chicanery—of a particular friend, he was back.
The Earl glared at the young buck who did not approve of him, but it seemed that he had already forgotten the Earl’s existence as he turned to go up the stairs to the house. Wolversley looked back at his friend. His jacket was a very minor problem compared to the one presented by his location.
He knew exactly where he was. He knew exactly whose house this was. And if his exacting knowledge was correct, he was in quite a deal of hot water.
Courtenay, having missed most of this unvoiced exchange thanks to a beautiful young woman stepping out of a carriage four spaces down—waved his hand at their waiting vehicle and ordered his driver to come back later.
The driver tipped his hat and then took this last chance to pull his collar up. After his neck was protected as well as it could be from the elements, he whipped up the horses and returned the way they had come.
The Earl stared at the departing carriage, his only method of retreat disappearing into the foggy London evening. Several more people emerged from carriages and chairs along the length of the street. Mothers and fathers shepherded young daughters past the two men towards the open door of the house.
Courtenay smiled at his friend. “Shall we go in?”
“A moment.” Wolversley held up a hand. “It would perhaps be best for me to know who the hosts of this ball are, seeing as I am arriving on their doorstep uninvited.” He struggled to maintain an even tone.
“Oh, well, the funny thing is, someone I was talking to the other day seemed to think you might know them. It is the delightful Miss Annabelle we are welcoming into the affectionate arms of Society this evening, but the family name is Rotherham.”
Wolversley cursed again, this time under his breath. “You should have told me where you were taking me this evening.”
“Oh, I know, I know—my deception was inexcusable. But it can hardly be helped, and besides we are here now.”
“Courtenay?” Another male voice entered the conversation. The gentleman walking towards them presented a fine sight, his long legs encased in some very fine and very tight silk breeches, his stockings showing off a set of fine calves and his evening jacket, made of superfine, mirroring his form with a closeness some might think impossible. The subtlety and taste of his clothes denoted his status as a dandy and the fine cut indicated he was a man of considerable fortune. His countenance gave nothing of his age away with its high cheekbones, well-cut jaw, and lack of wrinkles. He could have been anywhere between one-and-twenty and thirty years of age.
“I say, is it Highsmith?”
“Yes, Courtenay, how’d you do?” The gentleman was upon the two now and bowed to both.
Courtenay presented the Earl. “A fine friend, Wolversley, and quite the ladies’ man!” He winked at Highsmith. “I can vouch for him.”
Wolversley hardly cared. He was far too distracted by the confirmation of his fears. This was the Rotherham house, the house he had avoided since their taking it. The family he had avoided for six years. He was hardly in the mood to make new acquaintances. He mumbled a perfunctory greeting to Highsmith and was so distracted that, before he knew it, Courtenay had taken his arm and led him into the house he so much wanted to flee.
They walked through the crowded hallway, discarding their coats and hats and, in Courtenay’s case, a cane. All the while the color was draining from Wolversley’s face. Courtenay reached the top of the stairs beside Highsmith, oblivious to the Earl’s deteriorating state of calm. Wolversley drew level with them at the end of the landing where a small set of stairs led down to a ballroom. The high ceilings of the large room filled with the heat from the energetic crowd of people below, each dressed in their finest gown or breeches and eagerly chatting to their neighbor.
“I say, a splendid affair, just as I was told it would be.” Courtenay turned to Wolversley for agreement but his look of pleasure was soon changed to one of slight concern. “You’re looking a trifle peaked.” The concern turned to funning as he nudged his friend’s arm. “Perhaps a glimpse of our beautiful debutante will restore your color. Come, it’s high time we greeted our hostess.”
Courtenay descended the stairs and left Wolversley to do the same. The Earl did so with a mind full of foreboding and a set of particularly unsure feet. Courtenay’s earlier words concerning Wolversley finding a betrothed were about to become shockingly true.
When Julia Rotherham caught sight of Lucius Wolversley at her sister’s coming-out ball, her jaw shot downwards, her fan fell to the floor, and her feet stumbled backwards in quite an unladylike fashion. She blinked, but rather than the Earl’s presence being a trick of the mind, as it so often had been, he remained. She felt her fan pressed back into her hand by one of the servants, but her gaze could not be shaken from the man who had just entered the ballroom. He had not seen her yet, and she prayed that it would remain that way. If only the priceless crystal chandelier would fall down and break a hole in the ballroom floor through which she could be swallowed.
At any moment, according to decorum, he would come to greet the hostess, her mother, the woman next to whom Julia was standing. She absolutely could not speak to him. Why on earth was he here? Had he been invited? How dare he invade her home in this manner!
Julia’s wide green eyes flashed around the room, in the hopes that Peter Highsmith, who had greeted her mother just before Lord Courtenay, was still in the vicinity. Surely, he would lend her his arm and support her through this nightmare? They were friends, after all, despite the proposal he had offered and she had declined last year. Where was he? It was no use, thought Julia. He had already dissolved into the crowds.
The shock Julia felt at once again seeing the dark hair and cool eyes of Earl Wolversley gave way to sheer panic. He was closing in on her. She glanced about again. How could she escape speaking to him?
Her darting eyes found a path through the crowd. Perhaps if she ran now…. She looked back at her mother and father and knew in an instant she could not run. It was quite simply the most scandalous thing for a lady to do in the midst of a ball, and her mother would not forgive her for it.
The middle-aged woman, dressed in dark blue, began sending her eldest daughter excited looks. Julia could sense that her mother had spotted Earl Wolversley and her panic increased.
No, she could not run, but if she managed an athletic leap, she might dive under the seats lined up against the wall just to the side of her. A whisper of reason told her that this plan was also no good. Even if she managed to fit through the chair legs, she would most probably upset the occupants of said chairs, not to mention that it would be far more improper than merely running away.
Botheration! Why was it so difficult to form a devious, last-minute departure plan in the midst of a ball? One would think that, owing to the large amount of people, it would be easy to dissolve into the melee. Not for Julia Rotherham it seemed. There was a spacious gap between the Rotherham welcoming party and their guests, and her mother’s watchful eyes would catch and put a stop to her flight in seconds. Julia glanced again at the chairs next to her and huffed in frustration.
In mere seconds she would come face to face with the man who had broken her heart six years ago and not one decent plan of escape would materialize in her mind. Fiddlesticks! If only she had worn a better dress. She had not wanted to steal attention from her sister this evening—as if she could steal attention from her golden haired, Greek goddess of a younger sister—but the determination not to do so had led her to wear a plain evening gown with very little decoration and a rather high neckline. If only she had taken up her mama’s offer to buy her a new dress. She could have chosen a ravishing one. She would have had it made up in green silk to pick up her eyes and set off her rich brown hair. She would have asked Madam Trouleux to cut it daringly low. Oh, the preparations she would have made if she had known that Lucius Wolversley would be in attendance. She would have looked so enchanting that Earl Wolversley would have fallen on his knees and begged for her to take him back.
Ridiculous! She reprimanded herself silently. Her daydreams were even more ridiculous than her plan of running through a crowded ballroom or diving under a set of chairs. She closed her eyes and shook her head a little just to be sure she had rid herself of the ludicrous notions her panicked mind was manufacturing.
She opened her eyes again to see a much larger hand taking hold of her own. Before she could look up, she felt the briefest press of lips on her silk glove.
“Your servant, Miss Rotherham.”
After presenting her hand with a perfunctory kiss, the face before her rose steadily, its eyes intentionally evading her own. Her hand froze into position, and it was just as well that the Earl’s larger hand let go of it, for she would not—could not—have made the conscious effort to take it back.
After the first jolt of recognition, her lips became an uncompromising line and her eyes widened with anger. It took all her will power to keep herself from laying a stinging slap across Earl Wolversley’s falsely smiling face. Fortunately for him, the gentleman had turned back to her mother almost immediately after greeting her, thus avoiding the blow to the cheek that he richly deserved.
How dare he! She cast a look of fury in his direction. She could still feel the heat of his fingers where they had touched her silk gloves. She clenched her hand, pressing all her fingertips savagely into her palm, obliterating the sensation of his hand holding hers.
She watched his face as he spoke to her mother. It still contained many of the features of the youth that she remembered, and yet now she could see small lines at the side of his mouth and eyes. The latter were still the pale, engaging grey they had always been, but now they seemed less open, with a sharpness she had never seen. His face also seemed stiff and guarded. He appeared old—well, not old, but certainly aged. She remembered the boyish side of his character with the mischievous tendencies that she had found so amusing in youth, but now he looked world-worn. If she had been on good terms with him, she might even have accused him of being in the sulks. Then again, she was fairly sure her own face did not hold any affability at this present moment, and besides, she was most certainly not on good terms with this man.
He glanced at her then, as if to include her in the conversation he was having with her mother. She stared back at him as though she were a statue, wondering what had paralyzed her, wondering why she could not react. Then realization struck—the one thing that was missing from his face was a recognition of their past. There was no spark or knowing look when his eyes met hers. There was only the presence of controlled bad humor underlying a false smile of civility. Julia could not but wonder if it was really an act or—heaven forbid!—had he really forgotten?
She certainly had not forgotten. It was not every day that an engaged girl was thrown over. It was not every day that a betrothed young man tasted the sinful fruits the world had to offer and developed a decided preference for them over his intended. A saint turned rake. Well, that was a slight stretch—he had never been, exactly, a saint. And he was certainly a gentleman of the world now. A common rake, she thought angrily—there was no enigma there!
All those years ago she had been in love and had thought herself loved in return. In the end it had all been for nothing, leaving her with a deep, aching loss which time had only been able to numb but not completely heal. Now he was here and she had no idea what to say. She was, in fact, for the first time in her extremely talkative life, completely lost for words. There were no words large enough or furious enough to express what she was feeling. Nor were there any words subtle enough to convey the cutting remarks that wanted to fly through the air like knives at this very public occasion. And since the right words were not available to her, Julia could only stare, her mouth poised to open but refusing to do more.
Mrs. Rotherham, seeing her daughter’s verbal ineptitude, fanned her pink face in an attempt at charm and then leapt into the conversational void as Julia still remained silent. “Do not mind my eldest, my lord. I suppose you will remember her.” She fanned herself slightly faster as she glided over the allusion to Julia and Wolversley’s youthful betrothal. “She was a shy girl always.”
Julia could hear her mother’s voice babbling away and, despite her frozen state, she was sensible of the fact that her mother was telling outrageous lies. If Wolversley remembered their first meeting, he would most certainly know the truth that she was not now, nor had ever been, a shy girl.
She had been introduced to the Earl when he was still in shortcoats at a garden party. Much to her mother’s distress, Julia had run amok, engaging in rowdy horseplay with Wolversley and another neighbor’s son. The real gem in this memory was when Julia dared Wolversley to paddle in the lake, and then called him a coward when he refused. There was a supposed man-eating fish lurking in the algae infested waters. Julia had then decided to brave the beastly deep herself in order to prove Wolversley’s cowardice. Annoyed by such slurs being cast upon his character, Wolversley had raced ahead of Julia and knocked into her as he ran past. This rude bump was taken to heart, and when they both finally stood in the shallow waters, Julia discreetly put a neat foot behind Wolversley’s right leg and gave him a sturdy kick. He landed on his backside in the muddy shallows and promptly pulled her down after him. It had ended in a quarreling match, a bout of splashing, and finally a fit of the giggles.
Whilst Julia dallied in the waters of nostalgia, her mother continued to talk to the Earl, asking after his family. “I was sad to hear of your uncle’s passing, though it is some years ago now—so sorry that your family has suffered so much loss, first with your parents and now your guardian.” Mrs. Rotherham’s most winning trait, as anyone of her acquaintance would tell you, was her compassionate heart. Her soft brown eyes grew wide with sympathy. “I suppose you miss him greatly.”
The object of said sympathy, however, did not seem to receive it in an appreciative light. His eyelids narrowed, the muscles at the corner of his mouth twitched, and his lips compressed themselves into a firm line. His uncle, the guardian of his deceased father’s estate until Wolversley had come of age, was someone he did not care to discuss.
Mrs. Rotherham did not notice the displeasure manifesting itself in Wolversley’s manner. She carried on, assuming it was grief that kept Wolversley from speaking. “How have you been getting on since?”
Wolversley, pleased that the topic had changed, spoke again, but his conversation was now stilted and abrupt. “Well enough, thank you, Mrs. Rotherham.”
“And your poor, dear sister, Lady Selina. How is she?”
“Well, I thank you, and much grown since you last saw her, I am sure.”
“Does she accompany you for the Season?”
“As simple observation can show you, madam, she does not.”
This curt remark, unlike Wolversley’s previous change of countenance, did not go unnoticed by Mrs. Rotherham. But once again, she simply attributed his abrupt manner to grief at the references to his departed uncle. Knowing that gentlemen in general disliked showing sensibility of any kind, especially in public, she smiled and accepted that the conversation was coming to an end. A queue of guests was forming behind the Earl and, not wanting to be disagreeable to them or detain the Earl against his will, Mrs. Rotherham decided it best to release him.
“Well, it has been a pleasure to renew our acquaintance.” Her voice softened. “I am sure you are also pleased to reacquaint yourself with my daughter.”
Julia, still frozen with shock and unable to deliver the set-down she so desired, cringed inwardly at her mother’s mention of her.
“Indeed,” responded the Earl flatly, managing a false smile to cover up the lack of enthusiasm in his voice.
Julia did not miss the slight.
“I do hope you enjoy the ball, Wolversley!” said Julia’s father, who had hitherto been caught up with another guest and was just now turning to shake hands with the Earl. “I am sure you remember most of the faces–a good many of our neighbors from Sussex are in attendance.” Mr. Rotherham’s good-natured voice softened Wolversley’s reserve, at least for the moment.
“Good to see you again, Mr. Rotherham. I must apologize for not calling previously, and also for darkening your doors at such an event without an invitation. My friend, Lord Courtenay, insisted that I come along with him. I only arrived back in Town today.” Wolversley’s guarded tones had changed to honest ones as he conversed with the country-squire.
“Think nothing of it. It’s just jolly good to see you again, my lad.” Mr. Rotherham pumped his guest’s hand with genuine warmth. “It’s been too long since we’ve had you under our roof.”
At this comment Wolversley’s clouded countenance cleared a little.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Yes, indeed!” Julia’s mother would not let the chance slip by, especially as the Earl’s mood had become affable once again. As her daughter shot her a despairing look, knowing what was about to take place, Mrs. Rotherham proceeded on her motherly course. “So much dancing to be done this evening.” She lifted her eyebrows helpfully at her daughter, but Julia only shot venomous looks back.
Oh, goodness! Julia felt sick. How was this happening? How could he simply barge back into her life again? It was true she was situated in the busy hub of London at the start of the Season—certainly not the place and time to avoid seeing another member of the ton—but still! This was her social circle, her life, her part of the world—and he was like a bull, coming in and crashing everything about. She felt the crushing misery of six years ago come bubbling back to the surface.
“Indeed,” said Wolversley, once again without much enthusiasm. He bowed with engrained courtesy and took his leave of his host and hostess.
Julia stared after him like a lost pup, completely ignoring the guests who attempted to greet her. It was a letter—that is how he had broken their engagement. One single sheet of paper, that’s all it was, and that insignificant object had broken her heart. She forced her eyes away from his shoulders melting in the crowd and turned her attention to the boards on the floor.
“Daughter, you do not look yourself,” Mr. Rotherham whispered in Julia’s ear. “I think you had best go and find some refreshment, my child.”
Julia grasped for an excuse to explain away her pale face, but one look at her father told her she did not have to. She nodded and left the greeting line.
Mr. Rotherham turned back to his wife. “Now my dear, that was a little hard on poor Julia.”
“You know very well what I mean, my dear, and although I admire your knowledge of the marriage mart and your matchmaking ways, that was not one of your finest moments.”
Mrs. Rotherham colored at her husband’s reprimand. She fluttered her fan for a few moments before speaking. “It’s all very well her wanting to be unmarried now, but the years are passing faster than she knows. I simply thought that perhaps, since he has come tonight and since so much time has passed since the…unfortunate event, there may still be hope for them.”
Mr. Rotherham, who knew the anxiety his wife suffered over their eldest daughter’s future, could understand her path of logic, but he could hardly concur with it. He sighed. “Do you remember how low our Julia was after Wolversley cried off? That same look she used to wear was on her face again just now. I doubt there is any hope for them until her heart is mended.”
“It’s been six years, George!”
“Yes, and just imagine if it were you and I.”
Mrs. Rotherham smiled at that. “Well, I don’t believe you would have been foolish enough to cry off.”
“And suffer your wrath? I think not!” He let out a practiced cough and shook his head.
“George!” She swatted his shoulder with her fan. “Behave yourself, we have guests to greet and you will paint an awful picture of me if you carry on so.”
“Your wish is my command, O wrathful one!” Mr. Rotherham grinned mischievously at his wife, winked, and then nodded to signal that the next guest could approach.