Roxley was a gambler at heart, and coincidences left him suspicious.
Yet suspicions alone were all he had, and could no longer hold sway. He needed facts, evidence. Proof. Before someone else “disappeared.”
He glanced over at Harriet, so bright and alive, like a freshly lit candle.
No, he vowed. No matter what, he wouldn’t let any-thing extinguish her brilliant light.
So perhaps Harriet’s untimely arrival was just the push he needed. A reminder of what must be done.
“I was just about to.” Roxley rose up a little, squaring his shoulders. “And she’ll accept, Miss Hathaway. Mark my words.”
Harriet shook her head, ringlets dancing about. “She’s not your type.”
Of course she isn’t, his heart clamored. She isn’t you.
Roxley screwed up his courage and charged in. “I’ll go ask her right this very moment— ” He chucked his chin in the opposite direction, toward the punch bowl. He had no idea which way Miss Murray had gone but right now it hardly mattered.
Besides, he had Harry’s full attention. He’d break her heart and send her on her way. Keep her far from this mire.
“No?” He shrugged. “You know me, Harry. I never wager where I’m not sure of the outcome. I’ll go ask her to be my bride this very moment. See that I won’t.”
Harriet’s mouth opened, her lips moving, but the words failed her.Not that it was any problem for his Aunt Essex.
“Who the devil do you mean to marry, Roxley? Tell me now!”
Harriet’s heart hammered an unthinkable refrain. I’ll ask her to be my bride.
She’d heard him wrong, certainly she had.
“Roxley, do stop gaping and answer my question,” Lady Essex repeated. “Who is this you intend to marry?”
Harriet didn’t know if she wanted him to answer.
And nor did Roxley, apparently. “My dearest and most favorite aunt,” he replied, leaning over and bussing her on both cheeks, thus avoiding the subject altogether.
As well as stretching the truth a bit.
Harriet knew for a fact his Aunt Oriel was his favorite. A fact she doubted this Miss Murray knew.
Lady Essex had ignored her nephew’s subterfuge and continued pressing the point. “I came to Town the moment I heard the most distressing bit of gossip about you— though I give it little credence.”
Harriet swiveled at this. Lady Essex had known? Known that Roxley was entertaining the thought of marrying someone, and still had insisted Harriet accompany her?
“Distressing?” Roxley looked around as if he hadn’t the slightest idea what his aunt could mean. “Aunt Essex, if you toddled up to London every time you heard a distressing bit of gossip about me, you’d have worn your barouche out years ago.”
Lady Essex huffed, and then turned her failed chiding on Harriet. “Miss Hathaway, whatever is wrong with you? You look pale.” The old girl nudged her in the ribs to stand up straight.
Harriet did her best to straighten even when it felt as if the floor beneath her feet was spinning out of control.
I’ll ask her to be my bride.
“I fear I might have a megrim coming on,” she said.
No one who knew Harriet would ever believe such a lie. Harriet Hathaway gave megrims, she was never on the receiving end.
“Pish!” Lady Essex declared. “You are made of sterner stuff. Why, we just got here. And here are Miss Timmons and Miss Dale.” The lady grinned from ear to ear at the sight of her former protégées— at least she claimed them as such since their spectacular marriages.Of course, when both had been embroiled in scan-dal, the lady wouldn’t have been caught dead uttering their names.
“Miss Timmons, how you have blossomed! Oh, dear, I mean, Your Grace. And Lady Henry!” Lady Essex beamed. “Perfect timing. Perhaps the two of you can help cure whatever it is that ails Miss Hathaway.”
The Duke of Preston and Lord Henry had returned as well, and they all shook hands, making their usual greetings, but there was an uneasiness about all this, and Harriet realized why.
They all knew. About Roxley. And hadn’t wanted her to learn the truth.
No wonder they hadn’t invited her to Town for the Season as they’d once promised. And why their letters had become more and more scarce.
But why ever wouldn’t they have told her this?
Probably because they knew you would have jumped aboard the first mail coach to London and caused a scandal.
Yes, well, perhaps, Harriet would concede.
Tune in tomorrow for more!