An Earl's Agreement(8)

By: Joyce Alec

She managed to slightly loosen her grip on his shoulder, holding his hand a little more gently.

“There you go,” he chuckled, his chest rumbling as his eyes sparkled with mirth. “Now you look much happier, my dear.”

Lucy drew in one long breath after another, aware that she would have to face her parents soon after this dance ended. They would be surprised to see her on the floor, of course, in a gentleman’s arms, and even more astonished to discover she was engaged!

The music ended all too soon, and Lucy found herself being escorted from the floor on Lord Caldwell’s arm.

“Your parents or mine?” he asked with a quick grin.

“Mine, I think,” Lucy said, dampening down her anxiety. “I believe they are upon us.”

“As is Lord Hutton,” Lord Caldwell growled, evidently spotting the large gentleman following her parents.

Pasting a wide smile on her face, Lucy stepped forward and greeted her parents in an excited tone.

“Lucy,” her father began, attempting to draw Lord Hutton forward. “I—”

“Father,” Lucy interrupted, her hand now on Lord Caldwell’s arm. “Let me introduce you to Lord Caldwell, the first son of the Marquess of Blackinstore.” She looked up at him with what she hoped was an adoring expression. “Lord Caldwell, this is my father, the Lord Withington, and my mother, Lady Withington.”

“How wonderful to meet you both at last,” Lord Caldwell murmured, bowing heavily.

She saw the astonishment in her mother’s eyes, though she immediately covered it with a deep curtsy. “How wonderful to meet you, my lord,” she murmured, her eyes drifting towards Lucy. “I saw both of you on the dance floor. How delightful that my daughter has managed to acquaint herself with such a fine dancer.”

“Not just acquaint, Lady Withington,” Lord Caldwell said carefully. “I know this is very hasty, and I must apologize for not seeking you out first, Lord Withington, but I simply could not wait a day longer to ask for your daughter’s hand.”

“Her hand?” Lord Withington repeated, staring at him. “You mean—”

“We are engaged!” Lucy interrupted, flashing a bright smile at them both.

There was a stunned silence as both of her parents gazed at her as though she had quite lost her senses. Lord Caldwell pressed her hand gently with his, as if asking her to bide her time before speaking again.

“Lord Withington,” came a disgruntled murmur. “I thought you said—”

Lucy’s father coughed loudly, stepping directly in front of the angry face of Lord Hutton. “How wonderful,” he said loudly. “My hearty congratulations to you both.”

“Thank you,” Lucy heard Lord Caldwell reply as she held her mother’s gaze. “I do hope you can forgive me for not seeking an audience with you first.”

“But of course,” her father said, shaking Lord Caldwell’s hand. “I understand. The first foray into love and all that.”

“Quite,” came Lord Caldwell’s reply.

Lucy drew in a long breath and stepped forward to press her mother’s hand, leaving the safety of Lord Caldwell’s side. “You see, Mama,” she said softly, “I have found someone to marry me after all.”

Her mother’s befuddled expression slowly cleared. “And one day you will be a marchioness,” she breathed, excitement filling her expression. “I can hardly believe, it Lucy. I had not even imagined you had formed any kind of attachment of late, given that we hardly see you on the dance floor.”

“It is short, I grant you,” Lucy said, thrilled that her mother appeared to be taking this so well. “But I care for him deeply, and I believe he feels the same. It is my heart’s desire to wed him, Mama. I am so glad you approve.”

“It is more than I ever hoped for,” her mother responded gleefully. “Just wait until I tell Lady Cuthbert the news!”

Chapter Four

Lucy hummed to herself as she wandered along the hallway, her mind filled with thoughts of the prior evening. She had managed to get very little sleep last night, as she had so much to think about.