An Earl's Agreement(9)

By: Joyce Alec

Lord Caldwell would be calling today, and already there was talk of an engagement ball. Thankfully for her, his mother had been delighted, just as he had said she would be. She had grasped Lucy’s hand as though she would never let her go, apparently exclaiming that she had never believed her son, Edward, would actually find himself a bride. Lucy introduced her mother to the lady and had left the two of them in deep discussion, apparently both as thrilled as the other.

The same could not be said of her father. He was pleased, of course, for having a potential marquess as a son-in-law was nothing to be disappointed about, but his plans for a partnership with Lord Hutton had been broken to pieces.

Lucy had not even been introduced to Lord Hutton, what with all the excitement of the evening, but she had caught the displeasure on his round face as he glared at her. A shudder ran through her as she remembered how he grasped her father by the arm and spoke to him in rapid, hushed tones, gesticulating wildly at one point. His face had been bright red, beads of sweat trickling down his face, and his crooked teeth more than evident as he grimaced and growled.

Lucy had to admit that she was more than delighted with the outcome, meaning that she would not have to even entertain the idea of being engaged to Lord Hutton any longer. Lord Caldwell, however, was entirely another matter. Lucy could not deny that she found him handsome and believed him to be of a warm disposition and kind character.

Would another gentleman of her acquaintance do what he had? He had taken pity on her and helped her in the most admirable way. She found herself enjoying being on his arm, relishing the warm congratulations that had come from all parties. No longer the wallflower, she was the talk of the town, although there had been a great deal of amazement that she had managed to capture the heart and the hand of the earl.

She rolled her eyes, knowing that it was almost unbelievable. No earl would truly want someone like her for a bride. It was just as well, then, that their engagement was nothing more than a façade.

“This is utterly ridiculous!”

Her mother’s voice echoed from her father’s study, evidently having a heated exchange with her father.

“She is engaged to an earl, who will one day become a marquess!” Lady Withington exclaimed. “Lord Hutton has nothing on that. Besides, Lord Caldwell seems to make her happy.”

“Lord Hutton still wants her for his wife,” her father said heavily. “He wants this partnership as much as I do.”

“Then work out a partnership without Lucy being part of the bargain,” her mother answered firmly. “You cannot wish her to end her engagement with Lord Caldwell, surely!”

There was a brief pause. “No, of course I do not,” came the eventual reply. “Lord Hutton is angry, however, because I promised him our daughter’s hand.”

Lucy caught her breath, leaning against the wall for support. Her mother’s shrieks began soon after, echoing down towards her. Apparently, she was furious that her husband wanted their daughter to still consider Lord Hutton. Lucy’s engagement to Lord Caldwell was much more advantageous.

“I will sort the matter out, I assure you,” her father pleaded, apparently quailing under his wife’s fury. “Lord Hutton will have nothing to complain of soon, I promise.”

“He had better not ruin this engagement!” her mother screeched, slamming something down heavily. “I will not have our daughter’s new position ruined simply because of some old man’s fancy.”

Lucy’s stomach rolled at her mother’s words, but, on hearing footsteps, she rushed along the corridor and into the silence of the library.

Sagging against the door, she let out her breath, unease rippling through her. Her father had promised her to Lord Hutton, which meant that Lord Hutton had every right to be angry, for her father did not give his word without fully intending to fulfill it. Would he demand some kind of recompense? And, if so, in what form?

More than ever, Lucy was grateful for Lord Caldwell. Had he not stepped in when she had needed him the most, she might be awakening this morning to find herself betrothed to the repugnant Lord Hutton, who clearly wanted her to be his wife in all senses of the word.