You May Kiss the Bride(9)

By: Lisa Berne

Livia snapped out of it. His tone now struck her as being unpleasantly loud and patronizing. He was a guest of the Orrs? Could it be he was the celebrated Mr. Penhallow, Cecily’s soon-to-be betrothed?

He had to be. Of course he was. You only had to look at him—and why was he frowning at her?—to see the arrogance practically dripping off of him.

All at once she realized the implication of the coins she’d foolishly accepted. Why, he thought she was some lowly country bumpkin to whom you’d offer a gratuity in exchange for a little help!

For a few seconds she felt hurt. Humiliated. Then she felt angry.

Very, very angry.

She wished, violently and with all her heart, that she could slap that superior expression right off his handsome face. It being an impractical option, instead she bent her knees in a deep, deliberately clumsy curtsy.

And at last she spoke.

In precisely the way a lowly country bumpkin would.

“Oh, sir,” she breathed, “ye’re stayin’ with them Orrs? Why, they be the finest family of these parts! I do hear they dine off plates made of solid gold!”

“No, no, that’s not—”

“And that Miss Cecily! She’s said to be the prettiest young lady in the land! And her the granddaughter of a real earl! Oh, sir, ye’ve had the honor of meetin’ her and all? Myself, I’d be all a-tremble!”

His scowl deepened, and now he looked quite fierce. Not that she cared. He said:

“Now see here, girl—”

She rolled right over him.

“They say that ball comin’ this week is to be all done up like them Ejip-shins did use to live! Mam says it’s heathenish, but I’d give anythin’ to be goin’! Why, I could just stand in a corner somewhere and be as happy as the day is long!”

“I hardly think you would be invited,” he replied, icily. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was amazed at how he sounded just like his grandmother at her least pleasant. But he couldn’t seem to stop himself. Don’t fall into her eyes, you fool. “Now, do you know the way or don’t you? You’ve your money, so—”

“Oh, indeed I do, sir, indeed I do! ’Twill feed my family for nigh on a month, sir, so generous have ye been! And my poor old granny is ailin’ so—now we can buy her a blanket, sir, for she has none. Ye’re a fine, fine gentleman, sir, if ye’ll forgive my familiarity in sayin’ so, and—”

“Do you know the way?”

From fifteen feet away, Livia could see his long, strong fingers tightening around the handle of his riding crop.

He was, in fact, an easy twenty-minute ride from the Glanville estate. Livia knew the path well. Instead, still in that breathless, subservient voice, she gave him elaborate directions so convoluted that she doubted he would make it there in less than two hours. When she was finally done, he gave her a hard stare from underneath those dark brows, then wheeled his horse and galloped off.

Livia watched him go. Horrible, horrible man! On his great, horrible horse! She flung down the two coins, then ground them into the mud with her boot. It was a silly gesture, given that she was literally penniless, but it was, nonetheless, deeply satisfying.

She turned and began to walk back toward the Abbey.

In her mind, over and over again, rang his dismissive words: I hardly think you would be invited.

What did he know? What did any of them know about her? She was only poor little Livia.

Your Uncle Charles doesn’t give you a dress allowance, does he, Livia? But then, you don’t go anywhere, so perhaps it doesn’t matter a great deal.

Do stop frowning, Livia dear, for I’m delighted to tell you we’ve come for the express purpose of offering a little treat.

Oh, you’re the little orfin girl.

Her fury grew with every step she took. By the time she arrived at the Abbey, Livia was consumed by a single idea.


She practically flew up the steps to her room, where she went at once to her armoire and pulled out the gowns Cecily had given her. She sat on her bed and spread them around her. Muslin, silk, satin, crepe, gauze, velvet . . .

Her brain worked furiously, envisioning, planning, designing. She brought out her shears, tape, pins, and thread. It wasn’t long before her needle was flashing rapidly, in and out of a length of pale gold satin, like a tiny little dagger she’d enjoy plunging into certain people.

By the time Gabriel finally returned to the Glanville estate, he was not a happy man. Either that girl really was a simpleton, or she had tricked him. Either way, he was soaked to the skin and half-frozen. But he was not to be deterred. He bathed, he changed into dry clothes, and he went in search of Miss Orr.

He found only Lady Glanville. And his grandmother. Sitting in a drawing-room and both of them looking well-satisfied.

“Oh, my dear Mr. Penhallow, we were just speaking of you,” said her ladyship, with a ponderous sort of lilt to her voice that might have passed for humor.

He bowed slightly. “You flatter me, ma’am.”

“We missed you at nuncheon. Such a long ride. I do hope you didn’t meet with any difficulties?”

“Not at all. It was delightful. I trust my absence wasn’t an inconvenience?”