You May Kiss the Bride(7)

By: Lisa Berne

“But what about yourself, Mr. Penhallow? You have recently been in Town, I believe? Tell me—” And here she leaned forward, her blue eyes shining in the candlelight. “—have you met Mr. Brummell? Is he as diverting as they say? And is it true that he wears coats made of pink silk?”

Grandmama stopped short in her elucidation to Lady Glanville regarding the most efficacious methods of polishing silver, as she had noticed (she did not scruple to divulge) a certain dullness in the implements set out at dinner. “Brummell? An upstart grandson of a valet and a dreadful égotiste, whose so-called charm I find to be entirely overrated.” She fixed her gaze sharply on Miss Orr. “How on earth do you know about his absurd pink coats?”

Quailing slightly, Miss Orr answered, “I only happened to read about Mr. Brummell in one of Mama’s magazines.”

“Magazines.” Grandmama sniffed, managing in a single audible inhalation to convey a rather ominous disapproval.

“Of course, dear Cecily doesn’t make a habit of reading magazines,” Lady Glanville interpolated hastily. “She’s far too busy visiting the poor. Why, just the other day she gave away quite a number of her old gowns to a deserving orphan.”

“Very laudable,” Grandmama had said, unbending, and deigned to accept from Miss Orr a cup of tea.

The conversation then meandered again to the weather, Lady Glanville expressing at length the hope that it might be fine for the ball. Tom stared into space and Lord Glanville snored quietly on a sofa. Miss Orr expertly played for them several songs on the pianoforte. Grandmama nodded off but did not snore. Lady Glanville came to sit next to Gabriel and in a low, confidential tone regaled him with details concerning the extremely costly carpet they had recently laid in the drawing-room—the very one upon which his feet now rested. Miss Orr joined them and animatedly described to him the distinguished people to whom she had been introduced while in Bath. “Mrs. Penhallow being first among them, to be sure,” she had concluded with a pretty smile.

“Without doubt,” her ladyship added punctiliously. “But Cecily was quite an acknowledged favorite, Mr. Penhallow, I assure you. Why, the cards we received were beyond counting.”

“I can easily believe it, ma’am,” he said, his boredom by now so acute that he wished he could take a nap too.

Miss Orr had blushed and at that moment Grandmama snapped awake. “A charming performance on the pianoforte, my dear,” she said graciously. “Most refreshing.”

When later he had escorted his grandmother to her rooms she pronounced the evening to be an unalloyed success, aside from the unpalatable food served at dinner and the draughts roaring throughout the drawing-room. “And I could see how taken you were with Miss Orr,” she said, with what in a lesser person would have been termed smugness. “Shall we announce the engagement at the ball?”

Gabriel felt a cynical smile curving his mouth. Although he had certainly exerted himself not to let it show, he was not particularly taken with the beautiful and accomplished Miss Orr. Not that it mattered. She was, in fact, an entirely suitable choice. And it had been made very plain to him how satisfied she would be to accept his offer. For all she knew he was the worst sort of monster imaginable, but he was a Penhallow, with his limbs intact and a full head of hair, and that was clearly good enough. Miss Orr had spent well over twenty minutes inquiring in the minutest detail as to the particulars of the Penhallow townhouse in fashionable, exclusive Berkeley Square, while her mother sat by, nodding approvingly.

“Perhaps,” he had suggested to his grandmother, irony in his tone, “I ought to propose first.”

Airily she waved a bejeweled hand in the air. “Fine.”

He had planned to speak to Miss Orr the next day, but found himself at breakfast being eyed by Lady Glanville and Miss Orr as if he were a juicy first-rate carcass hanging in a butcher’s shop. And when her ladyship made a blatant attempt to hustle him and Miss Orr out into the garden for a private stroll, a flash of intense irritation overrode his good intentions—how he loathed being manipulated!—and he only said, standing:

“If you’ll excuse me, ladies? My horse is in need of exercise.”

“But—” Miss Orr glanced toward the window. “But it looks as if it might rain, Mr. Penhallow.”

“Then perhaps,” he said, pleasantly, “it would have been a mistake to walk in the garden. Your gown would most certainly have been spoiled. Good day.”

At the stables he had his horse Primus saddled, and rode away toward the woods. Already he was a little sorry for giving in to his annoyance; he really should have gone out into the garden and gotten it over with. When he got back to the house, he’d do it. A few polished phrases, perhaps a quick obligatory kiss, and then everything would be nicely settled to everyone’s satisfaction.

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