You May Kiss the Bride(3)

By: Lisa Berne



Lady Glanville cleared her throat. “I need hardly say that those activities occurred on Lord Glanville’s side of the family.”

“Indeed,” Aunt Bella murmured.

“So they are coming here!” burst out Cecily excitedly. “So that Mr. Penhallow can meet me!”

“It is an honor quite overwhelming,” said her ladyship. “We’ve entirely put off our plans for Cecily’s Season. Naturally Mrs. Penhallow most specifically states that no promises have been tendered, but she makes it very clear that should Mr. Penhallow find Cecily agreeable, we may expect to promptly receive an offer of marriage.”

“They say he’s one of the most eligible men on the Marriage Mart!” Cecily said happily, her blue eyes sparkling. “He is so wealthy, too! Only think of my jewels and carriages! I shall move in quite the highest, most fashionable circles!”

Remarkably, Livia thought, Cecily had no objection to being inspected as if she were some sort of prize heifer. And if the fabled Mr. Penhallow were to deem Cecily an acceptable wife, why, what a perfect match it would be. So perfectly, terribly romantic. She felt her lip curling in a sneer she just barely managed to repress.

Cecily now smiled at Livia with that same kindly air. “And I won’t be too grand to forget you, Livia dear. Your future must be thought of, too. I don’t suppose I’ll be able to arrange a match for you—that would be reaching a little too high—but perhaps I could ask among my new acquaintance if they might need a governess. That, I daresay, would suit you admirably. Not quite belowstairs, but elevated above the other servants.” Then she lifted her delicate blond eyebrows. “Oh, dear, no, it would be impossible, wouldn’t it? You’ve had no training. But perhaps I can find something for you by and by, once I’m Mrs. Penhallow. Perhaps even in my own household. Wouldn’t that be jolly?”

“Well, well,” Lady Glanville said indulgently, “let’s not get ahead of ourselves, my dear. You are not Mrs. Penhallow yet. Although I doubt that Mr. Penhallow will meet with a prettier girl anywhere, here or abroad.” She folded the letter and with conspicuous care put it back into her reticule. “We must be on our way. There’s a vast deal yet to do, for the Penhallows arrive the day after tomorrow. Our ball will be, I may say without false modesty, exceptional. All the neighborhood gentry are to come.”

“And you,” Cecily said, still smiling sweetly at Livia, “are invited too. And dear Mrs. Stuart, of course.”

“Too, too kind.” Livia could tell her face was getting red with the effort of remaining civil.

“I know you do not dance, not having had the benefit of a master,” Lady Glanville told her, “but you must come, find yourself a quiet little corner, and enjoy the decorations. We are doing up the ballroom in the Egyptian style. Quite a hundred pounds have been spent on potted palms alone.”

“How delightful.” The hot flush was spreading down her neck.

“Yes, yes, delightful,” Aunt Bella said to Lady Glanville, struggling feebly to sit a little more upright, “but you know I don’t go out. Charles must take her.”

Her ladyship smiled archly. “I knew such would be the case. Lord Glanville sent a message to that effect. He is bringing up from the cellar some Spanish port and trusts Charles will share it with him.”

“Oh, he’ll go then,” answered Aunt Bella, visibly relieved and sinking back onto her cushions. “How nice for you, Livia.”

“Yes, and we brought some more of my old gowns for you,” added Cecily. “My maid has them in the hall. Perhaps one of them might suit you for the ball. Though you are wider than I am.”

“My Cecily is quite the soul of benevolence, is she not, dear Bella? Well, Livia, you must be anxious to see your new dresses. Why don’t you run along, and retrieve them from Cecily’s maid. What fun you shall have.”

She had been dismissed. Livia rose and after dipping the briefest of curtsies in Lady Glanville’s direction, went to the door with long strides, so angry that she felt she had to get out of there or explode. Behind her she heard Aunt Bella saying in a soft little bleat, “Livia! No word of gratitude! Pray come back!” Instead, she closed the door with exaggerated gentleness and leaned against it for a moment.

By the bannister stood a maidservant with an armful of gowns. With a muttered sentence of thanks Livia took them and hurried upstairs to her room where with savage satisfaction she flung the gowns against the wall, leaving them to lie in a crumpled heap on the floor. She paced back and forth, back and forth, until the red haze of rage subsided. Then she went to her bed and dropped full-length upon it with unladylike abandon, causing the old wood frame to creak alarmingly.

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