You May Kiss the Bride(6)

By: Lisa Berne

Gabriel walked rapidly to the Orrs’ stables, conscious only of an overpowering desire to escape the house and each and every one of its occupants. A day (not even a full day) here had stretched his patience to the limit—not to mention how his grandmother had, within an hour of their arrival, managed to entirely overset the household. The sheets in her bedchamber hadn’t been properly aired, the wood in the fireplace looked wormy, the chairs were inconveniently placed, Miss Cott’s accommodations were too far away, she required better candles, and the cook was to prepare her special dishes according to exacting specifications. Oh, and dinner needed to be served forty-five minutes earlier.

Lord and Lady Glanville had scrambled to meet these demands, and servants had scuttled about under a dizzying array of orders. He’d had only a brief opportunity to meet their daughter, the Honorable Miss Orr, who was indeed as beautiful as he’d been led to expect. She had smiled and swept into a graceful curtsy while Grandmama looked meaningfully at him. Later, Miss Orr had been quiet during dinner, her eyes cast down in maidenly modesty; it wasn’t until he and Lord Glanville and his gawky lout of a son Tom, after a vapid interval over some very good port, had rejoined the ladies that he realized, without surprise, that Miss Orr was like every other young female he had met among the haut monde. She talked about the roads, she chatted about the weather; she complained about the servants, and casually let fall the fascinating fact that her gown for the ball had cost thirty-eight pounds.

“But what about yourself, Mr. Penhallow? You have recently been in Town, I believe? Tell me—” And here she leaned forward, her blue eyes shining in the candlelight. “—have you met Mr. Brummell? Is he as diverting as they say? And is it true that he wears coats made of pink silk?”

Grandmama stopped short in her elucidation to Lady Glanville regarding the most efficacious methods of polishing silver, as she had noticed (she did not scruple to divulge) a certain dullness in the implements set out at dinner. “Brummell? An upstart grandson of a valet and a dreadful égotiste, whose so-called charm I find to be entirely overrated.” She fixed her gaze sharply on Miss Orr. “How on earth do you know about his absurd pink coats?”

Quailing slightly, Miss Orr answered, “I only happened to read about Mr. Brummell in one of Mama’s magazines.”

“Magazines.” Grandmama sniffed, managing in a single audible inhalation to convey a rather ominous disapproval.

“Of course, dear Cecily doesn’t make a habit of reading magazines,” Lady Glanville interpolated hastily. “She’s far too busy visiting the poor. Why, just the other day she gave away quite a number of her old gowns to a deserving orphan.”

“Very laudable,” Grandmama had said, unbending, and deigned to accept from Miss Orr a cup of tea.

The conversation then meandered again to the weather, Lady Glanville expressing at length the hope that it might be fine for the ball. Tom stared into space and Lord Glanville snored quietly on a sofa. Miss Orr expertly played for them several songs on the pianoforte. Grandmama nodded off but did not snore. Lady Glanville came to sit next to Gabriel and in a low, confidential tone regaled him with details concerning the extremely costly carpet they had recently laid in the drawing-room—the very one upon which his feet now rested. Miss Orr joined them and animatedly described to him the distinguished people to whom she had been introduced while in Bath. “Mrs. Penhallow being first among them, to be sure,” she had concluded with a pretty smile.

“Without doubt,” her ladyship added punctiliously. “But Cecily was quite an acknowledged favorite, Mr. Penhallow, I assure you. Why, the cards we received were beyond counting.”

“I can easily believe it, ma’am,” he said, his boredom by now so acute that he wished he could take a nap too.

Miss Orr had blushed and at that moment Grandmama snapped awake. “A charming performance on the pianoforte, my dear,” she said graciously. “Most refreshing.”

When later he had escorted his grandmother to her rooms she pronounced the evening to be an unalloyed success, aside from the unpalatable food served at dinner and the draughts roaring throughout the drawing-room. “And I could see how taken you were with Miss Orr,” she said, with what in a lesser person would have been termed smugness. “Shall we announce the engagement at the ball?”

Gabriel felt a cynical smile curving his mouth. Although he had certainly exerted himself not to let it show, he was not particularly taken with the beautiful and accomplished Miss Orr. Not that it mattered. She was, in fact, an entirely suitable choice. And it had been made very plain to him how satisfied she would be to accept his offer. For all she knew he was the worst sort of monster imaginable, but he was a Penhallow, with his limbs intact and a full head of hair, and that was clearly good enough. Miss Orr had spent well over twenty minutes inquiring in the minutest detail as to the particulars of the Penhallow townhouse in fashionable, exclusive Berkeley Square, while her mother sat by, nodding approvingly.