Chapter 2 (cont.)
Truthfully, marriage shouldn’t be that onerous. This farce had saved him the annoyance of shopping for a bride--or having Mama shop. Once he was wed, he’d be off looking for plants on foreign shores most of the time anyway. It might even be convenient to have a woman on his estate to warm his bed and tend his children when they arrived. It wasn’t the marriage his parents had--it wasn’t the marriage he’d thought he’d have--but it was the exact sort of arrangement much of the ton enjoyed.
He studied Lady Anne’s expressive face. She was so full of emotion, she looked ready to explode. How would she look full of passion, naked in the center of his bed?
She should keep his nuptial bed very warm indeed.
“I know we aren’t ready to make a formal announcement, my love,”--she scowled at him--“but now that Lady Dunlee and your cousin have found us out...” He turned to the queen of London gossip. “We can ask you to keep our little secret, can’t we, Lady Dunlee?” He managed to keep a straight face at the absurdity of his request. He might as well ask the sun to change places with the moon.
“Of course.” Lady Dunlee’s eyes gleamed with excitement. “You can rely on me. I won’t tell a soul.”
Stephen believed her. She wouldn’t tell a soul--for however long it took her to toddle across the square to the house of her bosom friend and equally accomplished gossip, Melinda Fallwell.
“I still think the earl would have made it a point to say something to me if he’d known about this betrothal.” Miss Strange’s nostrils twitched as if she smelled something rotten.
What was the matter with the woman? His and Anne’s betrothal might be a complete sham but why would she wish to discuss that in front of Lady Dunlee? She must see the woman was dying for the smallest crumb of gossip, and here she was offering the gabble-grinder a veritable feast.
Stephen forced himself to smile. “I gather Lord Crane was in a hurry to catch his ship.”
“In a hurry?” Anne said. “That hardly describes it. Papa almost shoved us out of the carriage while it was still moving. He certainly didn’t pause to have a word with you, Clorinda.”
“No, he didn’t.” Clorinda nodded. “The man’s obsessed with bits of pottery and broken statues. Queer as Dick’s hatband about it, if you ask me--always has been. We were surprised he got his head out of the dirt long enough to marry your mother, Anne. And the current countess...she’s as daft about debris as he is.”