MaryEscaping a Marriage of Convenience
There was a tremendous crash from downstairs, jerking Mary awake.
She sat up in bed, heart thumping, and strained her ears. There’d been a spate of burglaries recently, and every member of the ton imagined they were next. Mary was usually more rational about this. There’d probably only been one real burglary, and the rest were almost certainly the result of thieving servants, overactive imaginations, and the misplacing of jewellery.
She and Felicity, her sister-in-law, would often roll their eyes and chuckle at the nervous matrons and jumpy new brides, who were all convinced that they, too, were about to be robbed blind in the middle of the night or perhaps even murdered in their beds. They talked about boarding up windows, installing new padlocks on the doors, or even hiring guards.
Mary had once commented that the real danger was not burglars but fire. If a fire broke out in a house as secure as these homeowners claimed, the family would burn to a crisp before they could escape. It wasn’t so much funny as it was worrying. Mary, of course, had not bought into the hysteria.
Somehow, it was harder to be calm and rational when you were sitting in bed in the middle of the night, listening to mysterious noises from downstairs.
Then Mary heard a shouted curse and the tinkle of smashing glass, and her heart sank.
Perhaps it would have been better if it had been a burglar.
Sighing, Mary threw back the blankets and climbed out of bed. She reached for her large, round spectacles on her nightstand and slipped them on. The world leaped into sharp focus, and Mary immediately felt better and more able to tackle whatever chaos was happening downstairs.
She wrapped a robe around her nightgown, thrust her feet into slippers, and hurried downstairs before her father woke up everyone in the house.
Sidney Davenport, the Earl of Trevorton, was a short man, deceptively strong, and sporting an impressive belly that no amount of corsets and belts could hide. He had been handsome in his youth, a fact he liked to mention to his decidedly plainer daughter, but those good looks were long gone. His youth and good looks had been drunk away with the wine, and port, and whiskey, and gambled away at card tables along with most of their money.
Lord Trevorton had collapsed over a neat little coffee table which had once been a very pretty and valuable piece of furniture but was now reduced to splinters.
The night footman had obviously been caught sleeping when his drunken master stumbled home. He stood in the hallway, holding a candle, rubbing his eyes, and looking thoroughly guilty.
Their butler, Toby Timmins, stood over the earl, trying to convince him to get up. Mary had arrived too late to save the rest of the household from being woken up. A huddle of maids and sleepy footmen gathered in the hall, craning their necks at the display. Mrs. White, the housekeeper, was trying unsuccessfully to herd them back to bed.
“I shall deal with this, Mrs. White, Timmins. Go back to bed, all of you,” Mary said, trying to exude authority despite being in her unflattering nightgown and robe.
Mrs. White stepped closer to Mary, dropping her voice.
“Miss Davenport, can I have a word?”
“Of course, but make it quick. I need to get Papa into bed.”
“Naturally. Well, you remember Hannah, one of the upper housemaids?”
Hannah was a beautiful girl, cheerful and hardworking, and universally liked in the tumultuous Trevorton household.
Mrs. White sighed. “Well, she’s putting in her notice. She told me last night.”
“Oh, that’s such a shame. Why?”
The moment the question was out of her mouth, Mary regretted asking it. Why else did pretty housemaids leave their household as soon as they were hired? Mrs. White glanced through the open doorway to the drawing room, where the comatose Lord Trevorton was singing a bawdy song that made Mary cringe.
“She was being harassed, it seems.” Mrs. White said quietly, and Mary swallowed.
“Well, that’s a pity. She will be missed. Tell her to come to my writing-room tomorrow morning, and I shall give her a letter of recommendation. She’s a hard worker and a very likable woman, and I hope she’ll find another place at once.”
“Thank you, Miss Davenport. I knew you’d understand,” Mrs. White said, visibly relieved. “Well, goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Mrs. White.”
The maids and footmen gradually disappeared, leaving only Mary, Timmins, and their drunken mess of a master and father.
“Go to bed, Timmins.”
“With respect, Miss Davenport, I would like to help you get his lordship into bed. He is very heavy and can be troublesome when he is in his cups.”
Mary couldn’t argue with any of that. “Very well. Thank you.” She leaned over her father. “Papa? Come on, time to get up. You need to get to bed.”
Lord Trevorton muttered a curse that would have made a sailor or soldier blush. Mary sighed.
It was going to be a long night.
“You look tired,” Felicity observed. “We’ve only just got to London. The Season is barely starting. You can’t be tired yet.”
Mary smiled weakly. “I didn’t sleep well.”
She carefully didn’t mention the long, hellish night she and Timmins had had, wrestling her heavy, drunken father into his bedroom and then into his bed.
Felicity’s eyes sharpened, and Mary knew that she knew the truth just as much as if Mary had said it aloud.
“Is your father again?”
Mary sighed. “Why did my brother marry such a clever woman? It’s very tiresome, Felicity.”
Felicity chuckled, tightening her arm around Mary’s. “You know quite well that I’m a blundering fool compared to you and your brother.”
Mary and her older brother, William, were three years apart. They looked so alike as to be mistaken for twins. They had the same coffee-colored eyes, round, pale faces, and both were cursed with terrible eyesight. However, in Mary’s opinion, William suited his spectacles. They made him look intelligent, whereas Mary’s spectacles just made her look dowdy and owlish.
As if she needed any more help to look plain.
“Will and I were talking about you coming to live with us again,” Felicity said with studied casualness.
“I can’t, Felicity. Papa won’t let me.”
“You will be twenty-one in two months. Then you’ll be of age, and he can’t stop you.”
Mary bit her lip. “You can’t afford it.”
She hadn’t meant to be so blunt, but it was the truth. William had no money of his own. He would be an earl one day, but until then, he was just a lord in waiting. Felicity had been a modest heiress, but they couldn’t live on her money forever.
Felicity was undeterred. “You can’t possibly cost much to feed and clothe.”
“It isn’t fair on you, Felicity. Besides, you deserve the chance to be a family, without an ugly old spinster aunt trailing along behind you.”
Felicity stopped walking abruptly. “Don’t you dare talk about yourself like that, Mary. I can’t stand it.”
“Well, Papa said ….”
“I don’t want to hear what your wretched father said. When he isn’t in his high cups, he’s spouting all kinds of hurtful nonsense. I can keep William away from his father’s poison, but not you, and it upsets me.”
“You’re too kind, Felicity.”
“On the contrary. I’m rather a horrible person. I just like my family.”
Mary smiled weakly. “Well, you never know. Perhaps I’ll find a Lord Felicity this Season.”
Even as she said it, the idea sounded ridiculous. This would be Mary’s third Season. Her third. Most ladies were married by the end of their first Season. At worst, they found someone suitable during their second Season.
But nobody wanted a plain, bespectacled, serious young woman with a drunken father and a very small dowry, it seemed.
“Yes, but finding a husband isn’t as important as people say. You can come and stay with us so you have the chance of a good life without marriage,” Felicity said.
“I know, but I always thought …” Mary trailed off, watching her brother and his children play in the distance.
It was a warm day for late January, and the family had gone to Hyde Park to take in the air.
Baby Claire, barely a year old, sat on a blanket on the ground, watching her older brother and father play, and waved her fat arms in the air. William and Daniel, nearly three, were chasing each other around on the sunny grass, the little boy laughing and screaming as his father nearly caught him.
Mary smiled to herself. “I just always imagined myself with children. You know I adore my little nephew and niece.”
“Oh, Mary,” Felicity murmured. “You deserve all the happiness in the world.”
Mary smiled brightly, glad that her thick glasses hid the damp glitter in her eyes. She could usually avoid thinking about all the things she did not have, all the opportunities she’d missed, but occasionally she was forced to face her life’s inadequacies head on, and it was always upsetting.
“Well, well, we can’t always get what I want. I had better get back, Felicity. Papa will be waking up soon, and he’ll be furious if his breakfast isn’t exactly how he likes it. I hate to put the cook and maids in the firing line, so I usually take it up myself.”
Felicity did not smile. “Think about what I said, Mary. There is room for you in our home. Always.”
Mary said nothing. There was no room for her, not really. Not in her father’s house, not in her brother’s house. She belonged nowhere.
Three Days Later
It certainly wasn’t right for a daughter to rejoice over her father’s pain, but Mary couldn’t help but feel relieved over her father’s terrible hangover. It stopped him from going out to drink and gamble, which was something of a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, no drinking and gambling meant that Mary could arrange the accounts into some sort of order and pay the servants and some of their bills. On the other hand, it meant that Lord Trevorton wasn’t leaving the house. He stayed inside, and everyone suffered.
He was in a terrible state, of course, rampaging around the house like a bear with a sore head. He roared at the servants, throwing vases and ornaments, and even threw a bowl of soup at the wall, demanding that it was vile and the cook should be turned out of the doors directly.
Mary followed in his wake, cleaning up the mess, soothing frightened maids and hurt servants, assuring the cook that she would not be dismissed and that the soup was perfectly fine.
On the morning of the third day, Mary came down to breakfast with some trepidation.
The earl was already at the breakfast table, to her surprise.
“Good morning, Papa.”
Lord Trevorton gave a grunt. “Why are there no boiled eggs? How am I supposed to enjoy my breakfast if half of it is missing?”
“I thought you didn’t like eggs, Papa. Remember, you said eggs of any form weren’t to be served at breakfast?”
“I said no such thing. I daresay you said that on my behalf. You are too fussy, girl, and you ought to stop. It’s an unattractive quality in a woman, and heaven knows you don’t need any more unattractive qualities.”
Mary kept her composure, taking her seat at the table. “I shall tell Cook to add eggs to our breakfast from now on. How is your head this morning, Papa?”
“Eh. Not too bad. Just in the nick of time, I suppose.”
Mary’s heart sank. No doubt there was another evening of drinking and gambling planned for tonight, and they would be right back at square one again.
“Oh. What are you doing tonight, Papa?”
He glared at her, and Mary flinched.
“Don’t be so nosy, girl. I’ll say the same thing I said to your useless mother. I’ll come home when I come home, and you’ve no business asking questions. Understand?”
Mary stared down at her plate, not answering. A dozen sharp responses sprang to mind—Mary had never had a problem with ready wit—but she knew from experience that a clever response, no matter how reasonable, would only bring a torrent of insults, screaming, and blows down on her.
Better to stay quiet and avoid the storm altogether. It wasn’t as though she could stop her father from doing what he wanted.
There was a long silence.
“As a matter of fact,” Lord Trevorton broke the silence first, “We have a guest coming tonight.”
Now that was a surprise, and not a pleasant one. Lord Trevorton rarely entertained his friends, and when he did, they were vulgar, crude, and keen on drinking and carousing. Mary steered clear of her father’s friends.
When they got particularly rowdy, she would shut herself in her room with her maid and instruct Mrs. White that none of the female servants were to go near the drunken louts playing cards upstairs. The ever-dignified Timmins and his team of brave footmen could handle them.
“Anyone I know?” Mary asked casually, heart pounding. “Oh, and how many guests? I shall need to know for dinner.”
“Just one,” Lord Trevorton said. “Make sure the dinner is perfect; I don’t wish to be embarrassed in front of our guest. You’re to wear your finest dress, something that flatters you. I expect to see you looking your best. Oh, and take off those revolting spectacles.”
Mary flushed. “I need my spectacles to see, Papa. I get terrible headaches without them.”
“I don’t give a damn about your headaches.”
She tried a different tack. “I shall be pouring the tea and wine, won’t I? Without my spectacles, I shall get it everywhere.”
There was a silence, then Lord Trevorton growled. “Very well, you may wear them. They don’t do you any favours, though.”
“Thank you, Papa,” Mary said, relieved. Her father had insisted on her leaving her spectacles at home for a couple of balls during her second Season. It had been the most humiliating thing. The evenings had gone past in a blur of color and indistinguishable faces. It had all come to a head when Mary had blundered right into the punch table, knocking the punch bowl onto the floor and ruining Lady Mowbray’s party. She was sure the Mowbray family had never forgiven her.
“He shall be here at six on the dot. However you plan to waste your time today, make sure that you’re home at a good time to dress and greet him, do you understand?”
“Yes, Papa,” Mary answered meekly.
“Just one gentleman coming to tea? That’s not like Lord Trevorton,” Felicity commented, sorting through her wardrobe. “It all sounds very tame.”
Mary nodded. “I thought it was strange. Papa wants me to dress up nicely, too. He never seems to care what I wear when his awful friends come for tea and hardly notices if I’m even there or not.”
“Hm. Well, it sounds to me as though this gentleman might be a potential suitor.”
The thought had occurred to Mary, too, although she hardly dared entertain it. “Well, if he’s one of Father’s friends, he’ll be awful.”
Felicity shrugged. “Perhaps, but he could also be a perfect gentleman. Perhaps he’ll sweep you off your feet.”
Mary flushed. Once again, this thought had occurred to her, too.
The reality, of course, was likely to be very different.
“Well, if he is handsome and eligible, then I’m sure he won’t be interested in me.”
Felicity did not smile. “That isn’t funny, Mary.” She pulled out the dress she’d been searching for with an exclamation. “Aha! This is the one. This will suit you down to the ground.”
Mary smiled in relief. “Thank you for lending it to me, Felicity. I’m so lucky that we’re the same size.”
“Not at all. You ought to badger your father into buying you a few new gowns. He hasn’t bought you a new dress since last year.”
Mary said nothing. Her father had been furious when Mary’s second Season had come and gone and left her unmarried. He ranted about the burden she was creating. A millstone around his neck, he said. An ugly, useless bluestocking of a daughter.
Mary had let it all wash over her. Since then, her allowance had been halved, then halved again. She spent all of her allowance as soon as she received it, mostly on household things. Her father would rail and rant about poor-quality food but fly into a rage if she requested more money to pay for the food.
One or two of her nicer dresses had been sold to pay some outstanding bills at the grocers, and Mary had been worrying about what to wear this Season. They were going, of course—Lord Trevorton would never miss out on the excitement of a Season. Mary would come along, naturally, and hopefully secure a few invites. William and Felicity would escort her.
This was her third Season, so Mary was hardly any competition to consider on the marriage mart (not that she had ever been), so she might be able to sit back and watch the Season go by without taking part.
She wore the dress Felicity lent her, smiling despite herself. It really was beautiful. Perhaps this dress would finally make her pretty. Perhaps this man her father had invited would prove to be her salvation.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Despite her brain warning her that there were too many “ifs” and “buts”, Mary began to allow herself to hope.
“There we go, my lady. You look lovely,” Helen remarked, standing back with a satisfied smile.
Helen was somewhere in her thirties, a heavy-set woman with an iron will and stronger arms than most of the men. She had never been pretty by any stretch of the imagination, as only plain women were safe when they worked for the notorious Earl of Trevorton. She’d known Mary since she was a baby.
Mary smiled at her reflection. The dress Felicity had lent her was a green one, a little old-fashioned but simple and neat, the way Mary liked her clothes. The color suited her. She was always pale, but in this shade of deep green, her paleness was flattering, making her seem porcelain and interesting. Her dark eyes glowed, and her hair was brushed and set into a good style. Nothing fancy—dressing hair was not Helen’s forte, and Mary refused to be parted from her—just a few knots and coils, set with hairpins and a decorative green glass flower.
“This looks very nice, Helen. Thank you.”
“Why are you thanking me, my lady?” Helen laughed. “You’re the one who looks well. Now, you’d better hurry down. I could swear I heard the doorbell go.”
Mary lifted her skirts and hurried down the staircase. She could hear two male voices murmuring together in the parlor.
Mary paused in the hallway, taking a deep breath and smoothing the front of her gown. She hadn’t worn such a fine dress for a while, and the material of the skirt was heavier than she was used to.
But she did look well in it. How long had it been since Mary felt good about herself?
She pushed open the door—no sense in delaying any longer!
Inside, a man slowly and unsteadily rose to his feet, turning expectantly to look at Mary.
Lord Trevorton, of course, remained seated. He never rose to his feet for his wife or his daughter and had no intention of starting now.
“Ah, Mary, there are you. I was just about to send for you. Punctuality is not my daughter’s strong point, Lord Essendale. Mary, this is the Earl of Essendale. Lord Essendale, this is Mary.”
Mary stared at Lord Essendale. He smiled at her, revealing toothless gums set in a heavily lined and wrinkled face. He was at least seventy, quite possibly closer to eighty. His clothes hung on his stooped frame, and he leaned heavily on a walking stick.
“My, my, Lord T, you said she wasn’t pretty!”
“She isn’t,” Lord Trevorton remarked, and a flush jumped to Mary’s cheeks. “But she’s obedient, good at running a house, and clever enough to know to keep her mouth shut.”
“Let’s not be vulgar, Lord Trevorton.”
Mary swallowed past a lump in her throat. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she struggled to keep them hidden.
Was this really the man her father had chosen for her to marry?
Zachary inspected the tailor’s work. Mr. Everett was the finest tailor in London, and he was in such demand that he only made himself available to the highest members of the ton.
Fortunately, that included Zachary.
“It’s perfect, thank you,” Zachary said, carefully stripping off the new coat he had just ordered. “Pack it up and send it to my house with the gloves, waistcoat, and shoes. My accountant will settle the full bill tomorrow.”
“Very good, Lord Suthington,” Mr. Everett said with a smile. “That yellow-and-blue waistcoat was particularly becoming, if I may say so.”
“Still part of the dandy set then, Zach?”
Zachary flinched at the familiar voice, turning to see his old friend, Lord Andrew Colton, lounging in the doorway.
“Still not bothering to dress properly and calling it masculinity, Andrew?” he shot back, stepping off the tailor’s pedestal. “Dressing nicely is not exactly a qualification to be a dandy.”
Andrew was short, slim, and fair, the physical polar opposite of Zachary himself. He was a chaotically minded young man, which ought to have made himself and the fastidious Zachary incompatible.
Well, they were not. The two young men were as opposite as chalk and cheese, yet they had been firm friends since Eton.
“What brings you here, then, Andrew?” Zachary asked, pulling on his own coat.
“I spilled wine on my favourite silk waistcoat, and the stain won’t come out. I’m here to commission another. You?”
“I’m attending a ball tonight, so I’m here to pick up a new evening suit.”
“No chance of drinks later, then?”
Zachary grimaced. “I’m afraid not. Mother was insistent I go to this ball, but really, I’m swamped with work.”
“You and your damned work. It never ends.”
Zachary shrugged. “I’m afraid not.”
Andrew sighed, shaking his head. “You’re Viscount Suthington, for heaven’s sake. Surely you can afford to sit back and enjoy your life a little. Relax.”
“What, and spend my days drinking, gambling, and flirting? I think not. No, I’m afraid we’ll have to arrange another time to drink together.”
Andrew chuckled. “Excellent. Whose coming out ball is it, by the by?”
“Lady Amelia Hammington, I believe.”
“Oh, goodness! I wasn’t fortunate enough to receive an invite. I rather wish I had. She’s been declared the Diamond of the Season, you know. She’s a roaring success.”
Zachary’s smile faltered a little. “So my mother and sister keep telling me. I really must dash, Andrew.”
“Of course, of course. Pass on my regards to Lady Suthington and Miss Sutton!”
“I certainly shall.”
Miss Edwina Sutton, who considered herself quite grown up at the advanced age of eighteen, was very much enjoying her first Season. She wasn’t the Diamond, but she was certainly a great success. She had the same hazel eyes and glossy chestnut curls as Zachary, and her mother’s pretty oval face. She was sweet and outgoing, and already had plenty of friends and plenty of potential suitors.
Edwina was bouncing up and down in her seat, leaning out of the window and being scolded by her mother.
“Edwina, I will not tell you again. Don’t lean out of the window,” Lady Suthington said.
“I was just trying to see whether we’re nearly there yet.”
“Well, we’ll know we’re there when the carriage stops, won’t we?”
Unsatisfied, Edwina sat back in her seat, wrapping one chestnut curl around her fingertip. Zachary waggled his eyebrows at her, and she stuck out her tongue.
Lady Amelia’s coming-out ball was a sought-after and much-anticipated event, and they were stuck in a long line of carriages rolling slowly up towards the large townhouse. Zachary was not particularly looking forward to it. The event would be a terrible crush, hot and crowded, and Edwina would want to stay until the bitter end, dancing until dawn.
Zachary very much did not want to dance till dawn. Fortunately, Lady Suthington had a headache, so they would likely be leaving at around midnight. Edwina might argue with her brother, but not her mother.
“Promise you’ll behave, Eddie?” Zachary said. “Don’t drink too much champagne.”
“I never do!” Edwina lied.
“Be sure to take regular breaks from dancing. It’s very tiring, and that punch won’t refresh you at all. You don’t need to fill your dance card completely.”
Edwina groaned. “Zach, you are too much. Am I not allowed to dance now?”
“Your brother is just concerned about your health,” Lady Suthington said. “But Zach, you must let Edwina dance with whoever she chooses.”
“I will, I just don’t want her to tire herself out. She could easily dance a little less.”
Lady Suthington narrowed her eyes. “Well, you ought to concentrate on dancing a little more.”
“Oh, Mother ….”
“Don’t you, ‘oh, Mother’ me. Lady Hammington is a dear friend of mine, and I’ve known Lady Amelia since she was a baby. I would like you to ask her to dance at least once.”
“There will be plenty of gentlemen wanting to dance with Lady Amelia.”
“Oh, certainly, and you will be one of them.”
Zachary sighed. He had been his sister’s guardian and his mother’s provider since his father had died nine years ago, leaving his young son the title and estate. It sometimes felt that Lady Suthington and Edwina were his guardians.
They finally arrived in front of the stone steps, and Edwina all but tumbled out of the carriage, gleeful and ready to mingle.
Once inside, Edwina disappeared, and Lady Suthington moved towards a group of her friends, leaving Zachary alone.
That was when inspiration struck. His mother wanted him to dance at least one set with Lady Amelia, so why not get it over with now?
It wasn’t hard to find Lady Amelia. She was surrounded by admirers.
The Diamond was chosen by her Majesty when the Season’s debutantes were presented at court. People claimed that the Diamond must have much more than beauty. They waxed lyrical about attitude, grace, dress, and a certain je ne sais quois.
The truth was much more pragmatic. Her Majesty picked the girl she found most beautiful and proclaimed her the Diamond.
It was not difficult to see why Lady Amelia had been chosen.
The fashion was for dark beauties, yet Lady Amelia stood out like a dove amongst a crowd of ravens. She had beautiful golden hair curling around her face, making her look like an angel. She had rosebud lips, perfectly shaped and pink, large blue eyes, and a doll-like face. She had a beautiful figure, helped by her placid grace and expensive clothes.
Zachary elbowed his way through the crowd. He saw a spark of recognition in Lady Amelia’s face as he approached.
“Lady Amelia, congratulations on being chosen the Diamond,” he said, bowing.
“You are too kind, sir.”
“Can I assume that your dance card is full?”
She glanced coyly up at him. “I have reserved the first space for someone special.”
“Could I claim the privilege?”
“I think you could.” Lady Amelia extended her hand. Zachary took it, ignoring the hate-filled glares of the other snubbed men, and led her towards the dance floor.
“Is Edwina not down yet?” Zachary asked, sitting down to breakfast the next morning.
Lady Suthington raised an eyebrow. “She danced until one in the morning, Zach. No, she is not down, and I don’t expect to see her before noon.”
“Oh, well. I suppose I won’t be able to see her before I leave.”
Lady Suthington brightened. “Oh, are you going to see Lady Amelia?”
Zachary frowned. “Lady Amelia? No, of course not. I have business in the city.”
His mother’s face fell. “Oh. Well, when are you hoping to visit her?”
“I’m not. Why would I call on Lady Amelia?”
“Well, I thought you two rather made a good couple last night at the ball. You danced her first set, you know.”
“I danced one dance with the woman because you wanted me to, Mother. She’s very beautiful and very nice, and I have no doubt she’ll make a marvellous match, but not with me.”
“Why not with you?”
“Because,” Zachary answered, beginning to feel irritated, “I don’t want to settle down yet, Mother.”
Lady Suthington sighed in irritation sitting back in her seat. “Then when, Zachary? You’ll be thirty in a year. Then what?”
“Thirty is not the end of the world. It’s not as if I’m turning fifty.”
“Yes, well, one’s thirties and forties pass by faster than you might imagine. You need to settle down and produce an heir. It’s a vulgar thing to discuss, but that’s the plain truth.”
“I’m too busy to marry, Mother. Father’s shipping company won’t run itself. This Season is going to be especially hectic. I need to find Edwina a suitable match and make sure she doesn’t do anything silly. As you can imagine, that’s a full-time job for us both.”
Lady Suthington conceded the point with a flicker of her eyebrows. “True as that may be, I don’t think to think of you putting off your own life for Edwina’s benefit. She hasn’t asked you to delay courting for her, and I think she’d be upset to think that you missed an opportunity simply because you wanted to “keep an eye” on her.”
“I haven’t met anyone I wanted to court.”
“Tosh. Lady Amelia is a delightful girl. She’s beautiful, charming, and intelligent. She’s well-bred and rich, has lovely parents—with whom we are on cordial terms, I might add—and would make a perfect Viscountess. What’s more, as an old friend of hers and a very eligible bachelor, you could be almost assured of a favourable reception. Honestly, I do not know what you are waiting for, Zachary. Do you think that such a lovely girl will be on the market forever?”
Zachary sighed. “Mother, I don’t know what to say. Lady Amelia is all those things, but I felt nothing at all when I danced with her last night.”
“Well, I cannot understand why. She is beautiful, you are handsome. You are both intelligent and rich. What’s not to like?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t like her.”
“Then what, pray tell, is your problem? Did you expect to fall in love at first sight? That doesn’t happen in the real world, Zachary. I’m sorry, but that is the truth.”
Zachary stared down at his plate, feeling the first poundings of a headache at his temples. He had a long, grueling day of work, and no doubt Edwina would be in a foul mood when he returned. She always was after a ball.
“I’d really rather not discuss this now, Mother.”
Lady Suthington shook her head and began buttering her now cold toast. “Well, I shan’t push it. It’s your decision, of course, but do promise me that you’ll at least think of Lady Amelia?”
“I promise, Mother.”
“Good.” Lady Suthington took one bite of her disappointing toast and picked up a letter sitting beside her plate, cracking open the seal and reading the note within.
“Who is it from?” Zachary asked, sipping his tea.
“Ah, it’s from Cousin Roland. He’s invited us to supper tomorrow evening. Will you join us?”
“Certainly. I might ask his advice about our latest shipping emergency. After all, Cousin Roland and Father ran the business for decades. I’m sure he’ll have some splendid advice.”
I hope you enjoyed the preview of my new novel“Mary, Escaping a Marriage of Convenience”. It will be live soon!