An Earl's Agreement(12)

By: Joyce Alec

Lord Caldwell reached for one of her hands and patted it gently. “My dear lady, my mama has requested that you call upon her at your earliest convenience. I believe she hopes you might organize the ball together, as it will give you the opportunity to get to know one another a little more. In addition, with my father currently out of the country on diplomatic business, I believe she could do with some company.”

Watching her mother with amusement, Lucy saw the way her eyes widened and her mouth formed a perfect circle as she was robbed of speech for a moment.

“What say you, Mama?” Lucy asked drily. “Shall you write to her this very moment?”

She had not expected her mother to take to her suggestion immediately, but to her surprise, Lady Withington stood up in a flurry of skirts and practically rushed from the room, saying something about how it was an excellent notion and she would press her note into Lord Caldwell’s hand before he left.

Clearly, her mother had not realized that she had left Lucy and Lord Caldwell completely alone. Even as a betrothed couple, this was not entirely seemly.

“Well,” Lucy murmured, suddenly unsure as to where to look. “I think you have my mother in the palm of your hand, Lord Caldwell.”

“She appears to be quite delightful,” he replied, leaning forward in his chair. “But I am not sorry that she has left the room, for it gives us some time to speak freely.”

Lucy’s stomach swirled with sudden nerves. “I do hope you are not regretting our scheme, my lord.”

His surprise was evident. “No, not in the least!” he exclaimed, his dark eyes searching hers. “Are you?”

“Not at all,” she responded, aware of just how quickly her heart was beating. “My mother has never been so delighted, as you can see!”

His eyes lit with humor. “Neither mine,” he said, his lips quirking into a smile. “It appears you have done what so many other ladies could not, according to Mama. She is utterly besotted with you, even more than I am!”

Lucy managed a smile, her breath catching as she took in the warmth in his eyes, the easy smile on his lips. Had he meant such a sentiment, truthfully? Or was he simply playing the part?

“I must confess I was a little surprised to hear that Mama wished to throw an engagement ball for us both, but given the circumstances, I was unable to do anything but agree.” Lord Caldwell’s hand reached for hers, his fingers brushing her skin. “I do hope you are not upset.”

Jolted by his touch, Lucy felt tension ripple through her body, making her more than aware of just how close he was to her, despite being in an entirely separate seat.

“You believe I might be upset over a ball, my lord?” she asked, hating that she was a little breathless. “It is quite the contrary, I assure you.” She gave him a tight smile, relieved when his fingers left her hand and he sat back in his chair.

“I am glad to hear it,” he replied quietly.

Lucy, deciding to be honest, lifted her chin. “In truth, my lord, I have had very little attentions from my parents who, as you were aware, practically wrote me off. Since yesterday evening, that has changed entirely! My mother is insisting on a trousseau and even a few new gowns for our betrothal period.” She shook her head as a slightly sad smile crossed her lips. “I cannot remember the last time mother was so willing to spend both time and money on me.”

Her words trailed off, her eyes leaving his only to land across the room, focusing on nothing in particular. Her mother’s attentions would die away again the moment Lucy’s engagement came to an end, and Lucy knew she would feel the loss keenly. For the first time in many years, she felt as though there was nothing of ill-feeling or frustration between herself and her mother. It was a feeling Lucy realized she truly appreciated.

“You must make the most of this then, my dear,” Lord Caldwell said gently, his words intruding on her thoughts. “Your mother may give her sympathies towards you for some time after our engagement comes to an end. Now that she knows you have the ability to catch the eye of a man who is, one day, to become a marquess, she will not push you towards Lord Hutton again.”