Scandal in Spring Page 23

“Blast,” Daisy complained. “Blast, blast…Lillian, I had just gotten to the best part!”

“As we speak there are at least a half-dozen eligible men who are lawn-bowling outside,” her sister said crisply. “And playing games with them is far more productive than reading by yourself.”

“I don’t know anything about bowls.”

“Good. Ask them to teach you. If there’s one thing every man loves to do, it’s telling a woman how to do something.”

They approached the bowling lawn, where chairs and tables had been set out for onlookers. A group of players were busy rolling large round wooden balls along the green, laughing as one player’s ball, or bowl, dropped into the narrow ditch dug at the side of the green.

“Hmm,” Lillian said, observing the gathering. “We have competition.” Daisy recognized the three women her sister was referring to: Miss Cassandra Leighton, Lady Miranda Dowden, and Elspeth Higginson. “I would have preferred not to invite any unmarried women to Hampshire,” Lillian said, “but Westcliff said that would be too obvious. Fortunately you’re prettier than all of them. Even if you are short.”

“I’m not short,” Daisy protested.

“Petite, then.”

“I don’t like that word any better. It makes me sound trivial.”

“It’s better than stunted,” Lillian said, “which is the only other word I can come up with to describe your lack of stature.” She grinned at Daisy’s scowl. “Don’t make faces, dear. I’m taking you to a buffet of bachelors and you can pick any—oh, hell.”

“What? What?”

“He’s playing.”

There was no need to ask who he was…the annoyance in Lillian’s voice made his identity perfectly clear.

Surveying the group, Daisy saw Matthew Swift standing at the end of the lane with a few other young men, watching as the distances between the bowls were being measured. Like the others he was dressed in light-colored trousers, a white shirt, and a sleeveless waistcoat. He was lean and fit, his relaxed posture imbued with physical confidence.

His gaze caught everything. He appeared to be taking the game seriously. Matthew Swift was a man who could never do less than his best, even in a casual lawn game.

Daisy was fairly certain that he competed for something every day of his life. And that didn’t quite fit with her experience of the privileged young men of Old Boston, or Old New York, the pampered scions who were always aware that they didn’t have to work if they didn’t wish to. She wondered if Swift ever did something just for the enjoyment of it.

“They’re trying to determine who’s lying the shot,” Lillian said. “That means who managed to roll their bowls closest to the white ball at the end.”

“How do you know so much about the game?” Daisy asked.

Lillian smiled wryly. “Westcliff taught me to play. He’s so good at bowls that he usually sits out because no one else ever wins when he plays.”

They approached the group of chairs, where Westcliff was sitting with Evie and Lord St. Vincent, and the Craddocks, a retired major general and his wife. Daisy headed toward an extra chair, but Lillian pushed her toward the bowling green.

“Go,” Lillian commanded in the same tone one would have used to send a dog to fetch a stick.

Sighing, Daisy cast a longing thought to her unfinished novel and trudged forward. She had met at least three of the gentlemen on previous occasions. Not bad prospects, actually. There was Mr. Hollingberry, a pleasant-looking man in his thirties, round-cheeked and a bit pudgy but attractive nonetheless. And Mr. Mardling, with his athletic build and thick blond curls and green eyes.

There were two men she had not seen at Stony Cross before, Mr. Alan Rickett, who was rather scholarly looking with his spectacles and slightly rumpled coat…and Lord Llandrindon, a handsome dark-haired gentleman of medium height.

Llandrindon approached Daisy immediately, volunteering to explain the rules of the game. Daisy tried not to look over his shoulder at Mr. Swift, who was surrounded by the other women. They were giggling and flirting, asking his advice on how to hold the bowl properly and how many steps one should take before releasing the bowl onto the green.

Swift appeared to take no notice of Daisy. But as she turned to pick up a wooden bowl from a pile on the ground, she felt a tingling at the back of her neck. She knew he was looking at her.

Daisy sorely regretted having asked him to help her with the trapped goose. The episode had set off something that was beyond her control, some troubling awareness she couldn’t seem to banish. Stop being ridiculous, Daisy told herself. Start bowling. And she forced herself to listen attentively to Lord Llandrindon’s advice on bowls strategy.

Observing the action on the green, Westcliff commented softly, “She’s getting on well with Llandrindon, from the looks of it. And he’s one of the most promising possibilities. He’s the right age, well-educated, and possessed of a pleasant disposition.”

Lillian regarded Llandrindon’s distant form speculatively. He was even the right height, not too tall for Daisy, who disliked it when people towered over her. “He has an odd name,” Lillian mused aloud. “I wonder where he’s from?”

“Thurso,” replied Lord St. Vincent, who was sitting on the other side of Evie.

An uneasy truce had come to exist between Lillian and St. Vincent after a great deal of past conflict. Although she would never truly like him, Lillian had prosaically decided that St. Vincent would have to be tolerated, since he had been friends with Westcliff for years.

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