An Earl's Agreement(5)

By: Joyce Alec


She let out a harsh laugh. “You may well ask, Lord Caldwell, but given that there is nothing you can do, then I see very little point in discussing it.”

“It might help lift your spirits somewhat,” he responded.

Letting out another sigh, Lucy stifled a sob and, instead, cleared her throat. “You are a gentleman, and titled at that, so I do not think you will be able to understand the quandary in which I find myself.”

“Ah.”

“You may marry whomever you choose,” she continued bitterly. “As for me, my path is set.” Brushing moisture from her lashes, Lucy tried not to give into the fresh tears that threatened to overwhelm her once more.

“Your parents have chosen your fiancé, then?”

“Sadly, yes. Although, I have not been introduced to the man yet, nor been told of their intentions. I was lucky enough to overhear them.”

“And you are hiding from them,” Lord Caldwell finished thoughtfully. “A wise choice, Lady Lucy.”

Hearing the slight humor in his tone, Lucy bristled. “I did not expect you to understand, Lord Caldwell,” she snapped, emphasizing his title so that he would not forget her earlier point. “Why don’t you return to the ball if my situation causes you such humor?”

Anger coursed through her veins, making her tremble with frustration. Why had she spoken to him? Was it simply because she had no one else to talk to, or because he had appeared to be kind? Irritated with herself, Lucy closed her eyes tightly, aware that she should not have revealed a single piece of her situation to a stranger.

“Is your betrothed so terrible?” the gentleman softly asked. “Surely the daughter of an earl will be wed to a fine, upstanding gentleman. I have heard of your father and know of his reputation within society. I doubt he would throw you away on some undeserving—”

“I am to be wed to Lord Hutton,” Lucy cut him off through clenched teeth. “Something about helping my father with a partnership of sorts.” She waited for Lord Caldwell’s jovial response, but received none. The seconds ticked by slowly, the atmosphere suddenly growing tense.

Without warning, the gentleman got to his feet, pacing across the arbor. “You cannot mean the elder Lord Hutton?” he asked, his voice growing louder with each word. “But his son is recently married, is he not?”

“I was not aware he had a son,” Lucy said quietly. “So yes, I do mean the elder.”

Lord Caldwell paused in his steps, turning to face her, although she could still not make out his features. “But that is quite ridiculous!”

“I am glad you think so,” Lucy told him. “I am also glad that you no longer laugh at me.”

“That is because I can understand your distress!” he exclaimed, walking over to her. “Why your parents are insisting on such a thing, I cannot understand.”

Lucy let out a harsh laugh, knowing exactly why her parents had chosen this course of action. “I am not the daughter they wish for, Lord Caldwell. I much prefer books and the expanding of my mind to practicing the pianoforte or learning the latest gossips that visit my home. In short, they have given up on me, and so have decided that I should be taken off their hands in the easiest way possible.” Pressing her hand to her brow, Lucy winced as pain sliced through her heart once more. “It seems I am nothing but a commodity, useful for bartering and trading and securing my father’s partnership.”

Lord Caldwell said nothing, simply stared down at her for a long moment. She managed to glance up at him, her vision blurry with unshed tears, managing to make out his features somewhat. Blinking hard, she took in his dark hair, the way his lips were drawn into an angry line. She could not tell what color his eyes were, only that they were focused entirely on her. He appeared to be tall with broad shoulders, every inch the gentleman.

“You appear upset, Lord Caldwell,” she said eventually. “I assure you, there is no need to be so on my behalf. You have enough troubles of your own, I am quite sure.”

“That is true,” he said quietly, coming to sit beside her.

Astonished, she made to move away, only for him to grasp her hand in his gloved one.