felt the knot in his gut tighten as Watson announced his presence
and led him into the drawing room.Her Grace, the Duchess of
Wallingford, sat near the entryway to the room like a sentry.A
small, well-rounded woman, with a warm motherly face, the Duchess
smiled wanly. While she appeared as harmless as a well-fed cat,
Quin did not miss the flicker of warning in her eyes as he
entered the room.
additional women of varying ages huddled together near the
fireplace.So close was their scrutiny he could feel it crawling
over him noting the shine of his boots and the skill of his
tailor; his worth was boldly being measured by his wealth.He
responded with a polite smile and a crisp nod of
acknowledgement.If fault were found so be it, he had more
pressing worries this afternoon.
intended sat alone in the middle of the room next to a tea
service, her back ramrod straight, her hands clasped serenely on
her lap and her amber eyes transfixed on his cravat rather than
his face and slid down to the front-fall of his trousers before
riveting again on his cravat.He had to clench his teeth to keep
from laughing but his eyebrows rose of their own
bowed to the Duchess and she held out her gloved hand upon which
he planted a dry kiss."I'm so very pleased to make your
acquaintance, Your Grace.I can see where your lovely daughters
came about their beauty."
Duchess nodded and smiled."We are so pleased to have you Lord
Davies."She rose gracefully and he offered his arm."Please allow
me to introduce you to my family."
led him through a litany of assorted names and exalted titles
from which he gleaned there was a Lady Beatrix,
Lady Caroline, Lady Elizabeth, and a Lady Regina -
although which was which he was still unsure.To his eyes, none
compared to their little sister. Their features were similar but
there was something missing.He couldn't name it and had no time
to ponder it further before the Duchess spoke
son," the Duchess continued, "Viscount Ainsley, is residing at
one of our country estates and was unable to journey to the City
on such short notice.He will, of course, be attending the wedding
course," Quin remarked as the Duchess appeared to expect a
this," she said, with a sweep of her hand, "is our youngest; but
of course you've met."
Quin's perfunctory bow froze in mid-air as his
brain processed the Duchess' last statement.He didn't know her
name.They hadn't been formally introduced.He raked his memory,
had he ever heard her name?As far as he recalled so far she'd
been referred to as poppet, sweet daughter, little girl, and
darling sister.Dear God, he didn't know her name.
sound of a gentle "ahem" shocked him back to the present and he
realized his intended's dainty hand hung in the air.He grasped it
gently and placed what he hoped was a sufficiently attentive
kiss.He heard someone say, "Please have a seat my
took the open seat next to his soon to be wife, taking care that
for propriety's sake no part of their bodies touched.While
the damage had already been done it wouldn't be at
all proper for him to flaunt any familiarity.
there a socially acceptable way for him to simply ask after her
Christian name?He wasn't sure.Stalling for time to ponder his
predicament he noted her hand."Your hand seems to be healing
my Lord.Mama believes the redness will be gone by the end of the
"Excellent."He nodded his head in apparent
approval while his mind still spun over his
"We'll leave you two alone for a short while,"
the Duchess announced as she and the Ladies Beatrix, Caroline,
Elizabeth and Regina glided gracefully out of the room closing
the door only half-way behind them. Quin didn't miss the
expressions of abject pity as they glanced at their little sister
while leaving the room.
"Would you care for some tea my Lord?" she
would be lovely, thank you."
for me."As she handed him his cup he heard the rapid staccato of
the china cup rattling against the saucer.He reached out and
gently took it from her trembling hand.
to be relieved of the cup, she allowed herself a small sigh of
relief.He was taller than she remembered, and he smelled clean in
an outdoorsy way with no tobacco or spirits on his
short hair was thick and unruly, and she watched amused as he
absentmindedly ran his fingers through it in an effort to set it
right.In the lamplight at the Powell's townhouse she'd mistaken
his hair for gray.Today she noticed that it was in fact a rich
brown with pale blonde tips bleached lighter by time spent in the
sun.The sun had tanned his face as well, making his green eyes
brought you a gift," he said, hoping to ease her obvious
discomfort.She was so young, God she must be
how thoughtful," she replied, rewarding him with the shy smile he
recognized from the previous evening.He reached into his coat
pocket and handed her the velvet box feeling the lowest sort of
scoundrel for lying to her about its origin.
she opened the box they both gasped.What the Duke considered a
"token" was in reality the most exquisite necklace Quin had ever
seen.Small filigree laurel leaves as delicate as gold lace and
interspersed with tiny round pearls formed a perfect circlet upon
my Lord, it is the loveliest thing I've ever seen."Elinor ran her
fingertips lightly over the necklace.
I?" he asked.
"Please do."She turned slightly so that he
might fasten it around her neck."How does it look?" she asked,
turning back to face him, her cheeks pink with
looked at her, really looked at her for the first time.Her dark
blonde hair was the most amazing shade of sand and honey and
sunshine.It looked thick and silky and he realized he badly
wanted to run his hand through its length.By the end of the week,
he reminded himself, he would see her beautiful hair spread
across his pillow.
eyes were deep amber, accented by perfectly arched delicate
brows.She had a pert little nose with not one freckle upon it and
her lips, dear God her lips, finely shaped and the most delicious
shade of pink he could imagine.These were not rouged lips, they
would always appear kissable.
from observing that she was quite petite there was little he
could surmise about her body.If both her parents considered her
of marriageable age, why on earth was she dressed like a
school-girl?The thought reminded him that not only could he not
recall her name, if he indeed ever knew it, but he had no clue as
to her age.
in heavens was he supposed to propose without using her name?It
would be extremely awkward to ask her name at this point in
time.Perhaps he could muddle his way through. After all, even her
family never used her Christian name.With that thought he lowered
himself to one knee.
Elinor started to tremble.This could not be
happening; not here, not now.She just needed more time; time to
figure out how to make it all
better so everything would go on the way it had been.She'd get to
wear her lovely gowns, dance her first waltz, and experience her
first kiss; just as she'd always planned and imagined.Her eyes
grew wide as he cleared his throat and began to
darling girl, I beg of you to make me the happiest man in all of
England and consent to be my wife."
knew then that Papa had formally consented to Lord Davies'
offer.To refuse Lord Davies now would defy her parent's wishes;
an act she frequently engaged in, but was hesitant to use in this
instance. Her mind racing, she considered her options. If she
couldn't refuse him perhaps she could convince him to refuse
her.If only she had more time to form a plan.Until then, for her
parent's sake she needed to act the part of the eager
Knowing her mother waited just outside the
door, she spoke more loudly than was necessary. "Yes, my Lord, oh
yes," she finally managed to say.