Wedding Wagers(8)

By: Donna Hatch

Finally, Phillip barked, “What?”


Phillip blinked. Sometimes determining Michael’s meaning required tremendous insightfulness, and he seemed short on supply just then. “Why what?”

“Why her? Why so certain? You have never conversed with her. She’s pretty, but not beautiful.”

Phillip disagreed with Michael’s assessment of her beauty but focused on his attempt to answer the question truthfully. “She is different. I’ve seen her before—at the St. Cyrs’ ball last week. She caught my eye right away—like a light shining on her face. She never once made a move toward my brother or me. She didn’t even ask for an introduction to my mother, which slyer young ladies sometimes do.”

That alone had captured his attention.

Michael toyed with his glass. “Not after your connections, then.”

“No. And when I saw her yesterday, I had this sense of recognition, as if she were a long-lost love.”

When she chased after Miss Harris’s bonnet, so determined to help, and was creatively kind, both to an urchin and to Miss Harris, he’d experienced a pull toward her.

He glanced at Michael, but he wasn’t laughing or scoffing, only looking sober and thoughtful. Whether he relived his own attraction to his late fiancée or simply tried to understand, Phillip did not know.

Finally, he added, “She intrigues me like no one else.”

Michael nodded. “Then I wish you luck. Or, I would, but I have no desire to ride a mule.” His lips twitched.

“I look forward to witnessing the spectacle of you riding a mule in Hyde Park . . . on the day she accepts my marriage proposal.” Phillip grinned.

“No.” His face a mask of calm, Michael said, “The day after she marries you. Accepting a proposal doesn’t allow for a change of mind.”

“She isn’t a jilt.”

“And you know her so well?”

“Yes, I do.”

With any luck, he would utter similar words while kneeling at an altar by the end of London’s social season.

Standing in the drawing room of her aunt and uncle’s London townhouse, Meredith gaped at the flowers and box of candy in Aunt Paulette’s hands. “They are from whom?”

“Phillip Partridge.” Her aunt narrowed her gaze as if trying to see Meredith better. “His card says rather benignly, ‘Kindest regards,’ and it is addressed to the family.”

If there was a hidden meaning, Meredith missed it. “They are for all of you—not me.”

“He’s being polite,” Aunt Paulette said. “Since you haven’t been officially introduced, it would be inappropriate for him to send them to you.”

“It’s inappropriate anyway,” Annabel said. “Brother of a duke or no, he has a lot of nerve sending you flowers and candy as if that atones for knocking you into the water. Why, you might have been injured or drowned or caught your death of cold.”

Annabel’s protectiveness brought a sting of tears to Meredith’s eyes. She’d been her one true friend throughout her entire life, even in her darkest hours.

Aunt Paulette handed the flowers to a maid. “Put these in a vase of water, please.” As the maid took the flowers out of the room, Aunt Paulette set the candy on a round Chippendale table. “He’s clearly trying to pave the way to a civil reception when he comes to apologize in person. The question is, do we receive him or cut him?”

“We ought not cut him,” Meredith said. “He didn’t mean any harm, and he apologized the moment it happened—more than once.”

“You don’t have to be polite to him just because his brother is a duke,” Annabel said.

Aunt Paulette added, “People have cut the prince regent.”

“I wouldn’t be so cruel,” Meredith said. “If Mr. Partridge calls, I think we should receive him. But I doubt he will. He really owes me nothing.”

Annabel let out a huff. “He couldn’t take his eyes off you. He will call if you’ll let him. Are you sure you forgive him?”

Meredith nodded. “It was not done with malicious intent, and no harm was done. We will receive him, and be polite, and . . .” She shrugged. “That will be the end of it.” Or so she hoped.

“Very well.” Aunt Paulette opened the box of candy and held it out to Meredith. “If you have forgiven him, then so shall we.”

“I won’t.” Annabel folded her arms. “Not unless he has a very pretty apology. I know marrying into such an auspicious family would please your parents, Merry, but don’t settle for someone who won’t make you happy.”

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