Scandal in Spring Page 22

“Do not take her anywhere,” Lillian commanded. “This is my home, and you’re my friend, and anyone who doesn’t care for the baby’s noise is welcome to leave at once.”

“He’s coming this way,” Evie whispered. “Hush.”

Daisy stared steadily into her tea, tension coiling in her muscles.

Swift came to the table and bowed politely. “My lady,” he said to Lillian, “what a pleasure it is to see you again. May I offer my renewed congratulations on your marriage to Lord Westcliff, and…” He hesitated, for although Lillian was obviously pregnant, it would be impolite to refer to her condition. “…you are looking quite well,” he finished.

“I’m the size of a barn,” Lillian said flatly, puncturing his attempt at diplomacy.

Swift’s mouth firmed as if he was fighting to suppress a grin. “Not at all,” he said mildly, and glanced at Annabelle and Evie. They all waited for Lillian to make the introductions.

Lillian complied grudgingly. “This is Mr. Swift,” she muttered, waving her hand in his direction. “Mrs. Simon Hunt and Lady St. Vincent.”

Swift bent deftly over Annabelle’s hand. He would have done the same for Evie except she was holding the baby. Isabelle’s grunts and whimpers were escalating and would soon become a full-out wail unless something was done about it.

“That is my daughter Isabelle,” Annabelle said apologetically. “She’s teething.”

That should get rid of him quickly, Daisy thought. Men were terrified of crying babies.

“Ah.” Swift reached into his coat and rummaged through a rattling collection of articles. What on earth did he have in there? She watched as he pulled out his pen-knife, a bit of fishing line and a clean white handkerchief.

“Mr. Swift, what are you doing?” Evie asked with a quizzical smile.

“Improvising something.” He spooned some crushed ice into the center of the handkerchief, gathered the fabric tightly around it, and tied it off with fishing line. After replacing the knife in his pocket, he reached for the baby without one trace of self-consciusness.

Wide-eyed, Evie surrendered the infant. The four women watched in astonishment as Swift took Isabelle against his shoulder with practiced ease. He gave the baby the ice-filled handkerchief, which she proceeded to gnaw madly even as she continued to cry.

Seeming oblivious to the fascinated stares of everyone in the room, Swift wandered to the window and murmured softly to the baby. It appeared he was telling her a story of some kind. After a minute or two the child quieted.

When Swift returned to the table Isabelle was half-drowsing and sighing, her mouth clamped firmly on the makeshift ice pouch.

“Oh, Mr. Swift,” Annabelle said gratefully, taking the baby back in her arms, “how clever of you! Thank you.”

“What were you saying to her?” Lillian demanded.

He glanced at her and replied blandly, “I thought I would distract her long enough for the ice to numb her gums. So I gave her a detailed explanation of the Buttonwood agreement of 1792.”

Daisy spoke to him for the first time. “What was that?”

Swift glanced at her then, his face smooth and polite, and for a second Daisy half-believed that she had dreamed the events of that morning. But her skin and nerves still retained the sensation of him, the hard imprint of his body.

“The Buttonwood agreement led to the formation of the New York Stock and Exchange Board,” Swift said. “I thought I was quite informative, but it seemed Miss Isabelle lost interest when I started on the fee-structuring compromise.”

“I see,” Daisy said. “You bored the poor baby to sleep.”

“You should hear my account of the imbalance of market forces leading to the crash of ‘37,” Swift said. “I’ve been told it’s better than laudanum.”

Staring into his glinting blue eyes, Daisy chuckled reluctantly, and he gave her another one of those brief, dazzling smiles. Her face turned unaccountably warm.

Swift’s attention remained on her for a moment too long, as if he were fascinated by something he saw in her eyes. Abruptly he tore his gaze from hers and bowed to the table again. “I will leave your to enjoy your tea. A pleasure, ladies.” Glancing at Annabelle, he added gravely, “You have a lovely daughter, madam. I will overlook her lack of appreciation for my business lecture.”

“That is very kind of you, sir,” Annabelle replied, her eyes dancing.

Swift returned to the other side of the room while the young women all busied themselves, stirring unnecessary spoonfuls of sugar into their tea, smoothing their napkins on their laps.

Evie was the first to speak. “You were right,” she said to Lillian. “He’s absolutely horrid.”

“Yes,” Annabelle agreed emphatically. “When one looks at him, the first words that come to mind are ‘wilted spinach.’”

“Shut up, the both of you,” Lillian said in response to their sarcasm, and sank her teeth into a piece of toast.

Lillian insisted on dragging Daisy out to the east lawn in the afternoon, where most of the young people were playing bowls. Ordinarily Daisy wouldn’t have minded, but she had just reached a riveting part in a new novel about a governess named Honoria who had just encountered a ghost in the attic. “Who are you?” Honoria had quavered, staring at the ghost who looked remarkably like her old love, Lord Clayworth. The ghost had been about to answer when Lillian had decisively torn the book from Daisy’s hands and pulled her from the library.

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