An Earl's Agreement(11)

By: Joyce Alec

She would have to spend a lot more time in his company over the next few weeks, until their betrothal came to an end. She would have plenty of time to get to know him, but Lucy reminded herself that she would have to ensure her heart was not in the least engaged by that time. It would not be a good thing to fall completely head over heels for Lord Caldwell, only for their acquaintance to come to an end. She certainly did not want to add a truly broken heart into their already complicated relationship.

“Ah, yes!” her mother exclaimed, her voice intruding on Lucy’s thoughts. “This is lovely. I believe you can keep this on for the time being, Lucy. Lord Caldwell will simply adore it, I am sure.”

Lucy lifted her eyes to the mirror and found herself clad in a beautiful day dress. Its warm red tones highlighted her brown eyes, whilst also illuminating her golden hair. It was one of the loveliest dresses she had ever owned.

“What do you think, Lucy?” her mother asked, grasping her hand in an unexpected gesture of affection. “Will your betrothed like it?”

“I am sure he will, Mama,” Lucy whispered, unable to take her eyes from her reflection. “In fact, I am not sure he will recognize me!”

“Wonderful,” her mother sighed happily. “Then we will purchase it, and then we must return home at once. It would not to do keep Lord Caldwell waiting.”

Lucy stepped down onto the floor, brushing her hands over her skirts in an attempt to calm her jangling nerves. She had not expected to feel this way, not after only just meeting the man the day before!

Control your heart, Lucy, she warned herself, following her mother out to the front of the shop. There is no use in falling in love with the man, especially when it is all a sham. Remember that it is all a pretense.

Stepping out into the cold, Lucy lifted her chin and tried to smile, pretending she did not feel the sinking of her heart.

Chapter Five

Lucy drew in a long breath and tried to smile as the door opened and Lord Caldwell was announced. Deep within her heart, she wondered whether he had changed his mind over their engagement, having had the night to think on it. Not that much could be done about it now without causing a severe scandal.

“Lord Caldwell,” she murmured, curtsying gracefully before lifting her head to look at him. “How are you this afternoon?”

His smile was warm, alleviating her nerves almost at once. “I am all the better for seeing you, my dear,” he said, taking her hand before bowing to her mother, who was gushing with sentiment. Lucy gave him something of a wry smile before sitting down, allowing her mother to witter on for a few moments before delicately clearing her throat.

“Shall I ring for tea, Mama?”

“Oh, yes, yes, do,” her mother replied, her face more animated than Lucy had seen in a long time. “You shall stay for tea, shall you not, Lord Caldwell?”

“It would be my pleasure,” Lord Caldwell answered, his eyes twinkling as he glanced towards Lucy, apparently entirely at ease with her mother’s overly enthusiastic manner.

Lucy smiled back and allowed her mother to continue her discussion with Lord Caldwell, noting that something warm was settling in her stomach. Was it because she was glad to see her mother so happy? Or was it because Lord Caldwell appeared to be such a kind gentleman to be so willing to entertain her mother’s enthusiasm?

“And, my dear Lady Lucy, how are you today?” Lord Caldwell asked the moment her mother paused for breath. “I am sure after last night’s commotion, you must be exhausted!”

Heat rippled up into her cheeks as she remembered how he had found her in the garden arbor, and her ridiculous exclamation about how handsome he was. “I am quite well; I thank you,” she mumbled, dropping her eyes for a moment. “I am glad your mama thinks me acceptable.”

“More than acceptable, I assure you,” he replied, his smile widening. “In fact, she has requested that we throw an engagement ball, but I insisted that I ask you first before she begins making any plans.”

Lucy opened her mouth to answer, only for her mother to interrupt with a gasp and a clap of her hands.

“A ball! How wonderful! Yes, of course we should have an engagement ball. It is very kind of your mother to think of such a thing. Lucy would be delighted with such an event, is that not true, Lucy?” Her mother turned to her for a moment but gave her no time to answer before turning back to Lord Caldwell. “You must allow me to help in some way.”