The Marquess and the Maiden(4)

By: Robyn Dehart


“Can a son not enjoy a breakfast with his mother without it meaning anything dastardly? I can leave and go back upstairs if you prefer.”

“No, of course not, darling. My apologies. I’m thrilled you joined me for breakfast.” She eyed his plate piled with food. “Eat; I can see that you’re hungry.”

He did as she bade, and she even allowed him to eat in peace for several moments before she began regaling him about all the gossip from last night’s party. He vaguely caught comments about the latest fashion trends and the excitement about the Crystal Palace exhibits. He’d already been a handful of times. The structure itself offered hours’ worth of enjoyment even without the exhibitions inside.

“And I think it is past time for you to select a wife,” she said.

“What did you say?” he asked, wanting to make certain he hadn’t imagined her words.

“You have brooded long enough. You’ve rebuilt the family fortune, regained everything your father lost, plus amassed a great fortune yourself. Yet you have allowed a slight limp to prevent you from doing so many things.” All of her words rushed out as if she’d been holding them in for far too long. “So, this is my proposition. Select a wife, or I shall do it for you.”

He raised his eyes to look at her. His mother was a handsome woman, aging well despite her hair beginning to gray and laugh lines accenting her eyes and mouth. He’d often wondered why she had never remarried. She’d gotten close once, and then he’d had his accident.

The gentleman had then left for the Continent, but Oliver heard he’d returned from his adventures. Perhaps their affections could be rekindled. He didn’t want his mother to waste any more of her life taking care of him. Shortly after the accident, and after Catherine had made it abundantly clear she had no plans of marrying him, he’d needed his mother’s assistance. He’d had to rely on her and Benedict for nearly everything until he’d healed enough to walk with a cane.

She was right. It was time for him to marry, if only to grant his mother permission to have her own life. He knew his mother would never marry and leave him unless he, himself, found a wife.

He continued chewing his bread, eyeing her thoughtfully. She’d obviously given this a lot of thought. A quick swipe at his mouth with the linen napkin and then he tossed that on the table and nodded. “You’re absolutely correct, Mother.”

She opened her mouth, then shut it. Her head tilted, and confusion marred her brow. “Wait, you’re not going to argue with me? I had more to convince you.”

He waved his hand dismissively. “Unnecessary. You are, of course, right, that it is past time that I marry. I’m assuming you have a list of women you want me to approach.”

She eyed him warily. “Yes.”

“Well, who’s at the top, we’ll just go with her.” That would be easier than him trying to decide. He’d been out of polite society for years with the exception of Benedict’s and a few other gentlemen’s clubs. Though one could argue the merits of how polite those establishments are.

She shook her head. “No, you should select someone yourself.”

“But you just said you would pick for me.”

Her eyes narrowed. “And I meant it. I’d prefer, however, that you select a partner yourself. It is you, after all, who will be living with her, building a family with her.”

“I have long been absent from polite society, Mother. I know no one, save a bunch of men. If you have a list in mind, simply tell me and I shall do my best to get an introduction.”

“Attend the ball with me tonight. Then we can see what sort of girl you have an inclination toward,” his mother said. “I’d prefer not to select a girl for you myself, if possible. The last time I did wasn’t successful.” She gave him a wry smile.

He leaned back and gripped the handle of his cane. “A ball.”

“No one will expect you to dance, my love. You will be the catch of the season.” She smiled brightly and clapped her hands. “Once everyone knows you are on the hunt for a bride, they will be clamoring for your attention.”

“I highly doubt that.” He exhaled slowly. “Who will be there?”

“That you know?”

“Obviously.”

“Oh, well, Harriet will be. You remember her, my love, she is Lady Lockwood’s daughter.”

Yes, he remembered her. Remembered the way their mothers had so flagrantly tried to secure a union     between them so that Harriet’s dowry could save Oliver’s coffers. He had dismissed her, rejected her offer, but he’d not wanted to marry anyone at the time. She’d been so bloody cheerful and talkative. “She is still unmarried?”

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