with a rejected suitor, who rather than sulking seemed perfectly ready to turn his attentions to Daphne; another possible suitor, if she could even call Alex that, considering his inattentive behavior; and a third man whom she had never seen before in her life. “Sir,” she said to Lucien, “since our host is so whimsical, why should we not be equally wayward? I, for one, would much enjoy a small walk before eating.” Alex recognized immediately the work of a master opponent when a good while later a happy band rounded the corner, walking toward the picnic laid out in the sun.
His footmen had set out linen tablecloths of the palest gold an hour ago; napkins embossed with his crest were stacked next to silver tableware; the champagne was slowly warming in pools of melting ice.
He was stretched out on the grass, his mouth irresistibly quirking with amusement as he watched Charlotte stroll toward him, head turned appreciatively toward Lucien, her eyes shining with laughter at something he had said.
Foiled, Alex thought.
Hoist with my own petard! That will teach me to indulge in a fit of petulance. He rose easily to his feet. “You see,” he said with a welcoming smile, “our tempers are restored and we await you.” He gestured at Pippa, happily picking grass, but Charlotte had to compress her lips to avoid laughing.
Surely he had emphasized our, ever so slightly? There was a moment of silence as everyone arranged themselves on the linen. “Aha!” Will said. “I see that my meager picnic has been supplemented by regal fare!” Charlotte was trying to figure out why she sank naturally into a place next to Alex.
Remember, she told herself fiercely.
Remember the way he treated you before.
Do not make a booby of yourself again! Yet even the lightest touch of his hand on her arm made her shiver. — be better to take up cudgels tomorrow, when Charlotte had slept and looked her best. “Of course, my lady.
Should I instruct Mrs.
McLean to call a seamstress to the castle tomorrow? I’m afraid that we must have those wools that we bought in Glasgow made up into dresses as soon as possible.
You and Pippa will be down with colds in no time flat in this weather.” “That’s a very good idea, Marie.
When Pippa returns to the nursery, will you ask Katy to send her in with me? I should like to have supper with her, please.” Marie busied away.
She sent for more hot water, and had the fire in the fireplace built up so high that sparks flooded up the chimney like fireflies caught in a draft.
The room was warming up, Charlotte thought.
Thank goodness, this room was considerably smaller than those making up the matrimonial suite down the hall.
Out of the bath, she sat in a comfortable chair by the fire, so tired that she couldn’t even move.
When Pippa was brought in she seemed just as drowsy, so they sat together in the big chair and Charlotte told her a story about a horse who could fly, called Peggy.
Pegasus seemed a mouthful for a one-and-a-half-year-old girl. After a while they had supper on a tray and Pippa was so tired that she didn’t even try to toss any food into the air.
She just sat quiedy on Charlotte’s lap and opened her mouth docilely as Charlotte popped in bits of food. Finally Charlotte toppled her into Katy’s arms and, pulling on a nightgown, crept into her warm bed.
Marie built up the fire one more time and left.
Charlotte lay awake for a while, staring at the fire as it danced in the grate, casting twisting shadows on the old stone walls.
What was going to happen to her and Alex? More important, perhaps, what did she want to have happen? Now that they had met again, and all the hysterical fear she had that he would say something horrible, call
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