The Baron’s Betrothal(10)

By: Maggi Andersen


He gazed down at his hands. “No doubt you know the story?”

“There has been some mention of a duel.”

“The thought of being tried by his peers deterred him.” He shook his head. “I suspect Father suffered great shame. He had not intended to kill the man and wasn’t proud of what he’d done as a callow youth. He hesitated too long. He did not wish to subject my French mother to the cruelty the ton would inflict on them. And by the time we had to leave, Maman was not strong enough to endure the journey to England.”

Filled with sympathy for his sad life, Hetty didn’t trust herself to speak. She stared at the fire as the room became hushed.

*

Simon half-turned toward him. “Do you have any family still living?”

A woman would be glad of such a profile. Guy was almost sorry the silence had ended. It had become strangely companionable. “Oui, I have a sister, Genevieve, she is married and lives in Paris.” He frowned. “I had a twin-brother, Vincent. He was lost after our chateau was ransacked by peasants and set on fire in the days of The Terror.”

“That must have been devastating.”

“We were twelve at the time. My father risked his life searching for Vincent. He continued to look for him when we returned to France but found no proof that he lived. It was very difficult for Papa to accept that Vincent had died in the fire. It broke his heart.”

“How sad. You will remain in England?”

“Oui. It is a nobleman’s duty to marry and secure his lineage.” He shrugged. “Whether he loves the woman he chooses or not.”

Simon jumped to his feet and snatched up a bowl from the table. “I’ll fetch some snow. We can melt it for water. I have sandwiches and an apple in the saddlebag. I planned to stop for a bite but then forgot.”

“Sandwiches?”

“Bread and cheese, meat and pickles.”

“Bon.”

Guy watched Simon wrestle with the door as wind and a flurry of snow blew into the room. The temperature dropped, and the flames in the fireplace flattened, then roared.

The groom managed to slip through and close the door behind him. Guy was left with the thought of a female derriere, though where it had come from, he knew not. Bemused, he recollected that he hadn’t enjoyed a woman for a while.

*

Hetty was pleased to find the sandwiches still edible, if a trifle squashed, in their brown paper wrapping. She fed the apple to The General.

Despite the strain of keeping her secret from his lordship, she enjoyed his company. His affection for his rakehell father, mother, and sister, shone through, and she liked him for it. She supposed he would seek a suitable bride in London. But her friend Fanny, the daughter of a baronet, would be perfect for him. She was sweet-natured and very pretty. Hetty wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t relish remaining in Digswell to witness it.

Hetty shivered as she checked the stormy, dark sky. What if they were snowed in? The thought terrified and enticed her in equal measures. Bother! She wished she understood these feelings, so new to her. She had accepted her independent nature would make it difficult to accept marriage, but now she wanted so much more, and there wasn’t the remotest likelihood of her experiencing it in this small country village. After scooping snow into the bowl, she hurried to the hut.

“Ah, you are back.” He lowered the bottle. For a moment, she suspected that he might be in his cups, a worrying circumstance she hadn’t considered, but he looked far steadier than he had an hour ago and seemed to hold his liquor well.

She unwrapped the sandwiches and placed them on the table beside him. “I’m not sure if you have pickles in France,” she said. “Would you prefer cheese?”

“I have not eaten them, but I am ready to try all English foods,” he said with an uneasy smile.

“Half of each, then.” She offered him the meat and pickle, curious to see how he fared with it. He took a bite of the meat along with a slice of pickle, and his dark brows rose as he chewed.

“A curious flavor.” He washed it down with whiskey.

Hetty almost giggled and pulled herself up sharply. “Perhaps the cheese will be more to your liking.”

“I am grateful for the food,” he said. “It has been a long time since I ate. But your pickles might take a little getting used to.”