An Earl's Agreement(10)

By: Joyce Alec

Lucy knew very little of the intimacies between husband and wife, but the thought of him extracted another shudder from her. Lord Hutton was a leech, and she would not allow him to even touch her, not once. Should he ask for a dance, she would refuse him. Now that she knew his intentions, as well as what her father had promised, Lucy swore to herself she would not go near the man.

A short rap on the door startled her, and she opened it to find the surprised face of the maid looking at her.

“I beg your pardon, miss, but your mother wishes to see you.”

“And you were sent in search of me, were you?” Lucy replied with a wry smile. “Where is she?”

“The drawing room, miss,” the maid answered, bobbing a curtsy before Lucy dismissed her.

Wondering what it was her mother could want, Lucy made her way to the drawing room, only to find her mother waiting for her with a tea tray on the table. Apparently, they were to have a discussion.

“Yes, Mama?”

“Sit, my dear,” her mother beamed, her face wreathed in smiles. “We have so much to discuss and I had hoped we might start this very day!”

“What could you mean, Mama?” Lucy asked, blankly.

Her mother let out a loud trill of laughter. “Oh, my dear! You are engaged now, so of course we have a great deal to discuss. There is your trousseau, and of course, your wedding gown as well. I think we should also go to the modiste and purchase a few more.” She ran a critical eye over Lucy’s dress. “We must fit you in the best gowns now. After all, you are the talk of the town.”

Lucy swallowed the sudden ache in her throat and attempted to smile. She had not truly considered what might happen when she told her mother about her supposed engagement. In truth, she had never before seen her mother as delighted and as happy as she was now. What would happen when it all came to an end? Would her mother be heartbroken?

“I do not think I need new gowns, Mama,” she replied quickly. “Lord Caldwell has proposed to me already, so it is not as though I need to catch his eye.”

“Nonsense,” her mother declared, pouring the tea. “You are to be seen all over town, my dear. In fact, I have arranged for the carriage in around one hour.”

“The carriage?”

“Yes, yes,” her mother answered, almost impatiently. “To the modiste, of course!”

Lucy hated the thought of being swathed in fabric, of being pinched and prodded. “Mama, Lord Caldwell is coming to call this afternoon.”

Her mother waved a hand. “We shall be back before he arrives, of course. You need not worry, Lucy.” Her face softened as she handed Lucy a cup of tea. “You have done very well, my dear. I never imagined you would capture such a man. To think that you will be a marchioness one day…” She trailed off, regarding her daughter with something like wonder in her eyes. “I hope you know just how proud I am of you, Lucy.”

The ache in Lucy’s throat reappeared almost at once, and she managed a wobbly smile. Her mother had not often spoken to her so, and she still remembered what Lady Withington had said about her only the day before, but still, the words hit her heart with a great deal of force.

“Thank you, Mama,” she murmured, furiously blinking so that no tears would slip down her cheeks. “I do hope you like Lord Caldwell.”

“Of course I do!” her mother exclaimed. “He is handsome and titled. What is there not to like?”

Those words haunted Lucy all through her fittings, allowing her mother to dictate the color and cut of the gowns whilst she stared at herself in the mirror. Was that all there was to Lord Caldwell—his title and handsome features? She did not want to admit it, but she knew almost as little about him as her mother did. It did not seem quite right to know so little about one’s betrothed, even though it would not last all the way to matrimony. He was of a kind heart, having taken her out of her miserable predicament and promising that he would bear the burden of the broken engagement when the time came.

Did Lucy want to know more about him? Would that not put her into dangerous territory? She stared at herself in the mirror, noting the slight blush in her cheeks. Her mother was right; Lord Caldwell was a wonderfully handsome man. She could not pretend that she was not attracted to him, for even the memory of his smile sent a shiver through her.