Chapter 2 (cont.)
“Betrothed?” All three women spoke together in the same tone of incredulity. They were like a damn Greek chorus. Three pairs of eyes goggled at him now.
“I’m sure you didn’t tell me you were betrothed, Anne.” Miss Strange’s tone was an odd mix of confusion and horror. “I would have remembered if you had. And your father didn’t mention it in his letter.” She paused, her brow wrinkling. “At least, I don’t think he did. I grant you he ran on so about his silly antiquities I did skim a lot of his missive.”
Anne tried to tug her fingers out of his grasp, but he wasn’t about to let her go. “I didn’t tell you, Cousin, because Mr. Parker-Roth and I aren’t--ouch!”
She glared at him accusatorily; he smiled. He was sorry to have squeezed her so hard, but he couldn’t let her ruin his attempt to save her reputation. Couldn’t she comprehend? All they had to do was fabricate something remotely plausible. Lady Dunlee might doubt their story--most likely would doubt it--but she couldn’t know for certain what the truth was. He and Anne would have all Season to convince her and the ton of their devotion.
He lifted Anne’s fingers to brush his lips over them--and smiled a little more as she blushed and tried again to snatch them out of his grasp. This charade might even be pleasant. And should it--as it likely would--end in matrimony... Well, he’d been thinking just this evening--or was it this morning?--that he needed to give in and look about for a bride. He’d just turned thirty, he’d narrowly escaped a marriage trap two months ago, and his older brother and younger sister were both wed and busily procreating. Hell, after his second bottle of brandy, he’d admitted to himself he didn’t much care to live out his life as old Uncle Stephen.
Not that he’d be given that opportunity, of course. When he’d been home for his nephew’s christening, Mama had been hinting--rather more than hinting--that he should embrace the joys of matrimony sooner rather than later, and with John and Jane both taken care of, she would turn the complete focus of her marital machinations on him--Nick was still too young, the lucky dog.
He’d laughed when he’d watched her drag John up for the Season year after year and push eligible young ladies into his path--he would not be laughing so heartily if he were Mama’s victim. Frankly, he’d been a little surprised she hadn’t followed him to London when he’d left the Priory after the christening. Thank God for baby Jack. But he had little doubt the joys of grandmotherhood would not supplant the duties of motherhood--as Mama saw them--forever.