Quin 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.
Four 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.
His 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 accord.
He 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.”
The 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.”
She 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 again.
“My 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 on Friday.”
“Of course,” Quin remarked as the Duchess appeared to expect a reply.
“And 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.
The 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 Lord.”
He 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.
Was 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 nicely.”
“Yes my Lord.Mama believes the redness will be gone by the end of the week.”
“Excellent.”He nodded his head in apparent approval while his mind still spun over his dilemma.
“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
“Would you care for some tea my Lord?” she asked.
“Tea would be lovely, thank you.”
“None 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.
Glad 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 breath.
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 vibrant.
“I’ve brought you a gift,” he said, hoping to ease her obvious discomfort.She was so young, God she must be terrified.
“Oh, 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.
As 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 the velvet.
“Oh my Lord, it is the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen.”Elinor ran her fingertips lightly over the necklace.
“May 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 excitement.
He 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
Her 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.
Aside 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
How 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 speak.
“My darling girl, I beg of you to make me the happiest man in all of England and consent to be my wife.”
She 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 bride.
Knowing her mother waited just outside the door, she spoke more loudly than was necessary. “Yes, my Lord, oh yes,” she finally managed
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