Scandal in Spring Page 61

“Daisy was never interested in Lord Llandrindon,” Evie volunteered hastily, trying to prevent a quarrel. “She was only using him to provoke Mr. Swift.”

“How do you know?” the other two asked at the same time.

“Well, I-I…” Evie made a helpless gesture with her hands. “Last week I m-more or less inadvertently suggested that she try to make him jealous. And it worked.”

Lillian’s throat worked violently before she could manage to speak. “Of all the asinine, sheep-headed, moronic—”

“Why, Evie?” Annabelle asked in a considerably kinder tone.

“Daisy and I overheard Mr. Swift t-talking to Lord Llandrindon. He was trying to convince Llandrindon to court her, and it became obvious that Mr. Swift wanted her for himself.”

“I’ll bet he planned it,” Lillian snapped. “He must have known somehow that you would overhear. It was a devious and sinister plot, and you fell for it!”

“I don’t think so,” Evie replied. Staring at Lillian’s crimson face, she asked apprehensively, “Are you going to shout at me?”

Lillian shook her head and dropped her face in her hands. “I’d shriek like a banshee,” she said through the screen of her fingers, “if I thought it would do any good. But since I’m fairly certain Daisy has been intimate with that reptile, there is probably nothing anyone can do to save her now.”

“She may not want to be saved,” Evie pointed out.

“That’s because she’s gone stark raving mad,” came Lillian’s muffled growl.

Annabelle nodded. “Obviously. Daisy has slept with a handsome, young, wealthy, intelligent man who is apparently in love with her. What in God’s name can she be thinking?” She smiled compassionately as she heard Lillian’s profane reply, and settled a gentle hand between her friend’s shoulders. “Dearest,” she murmured, “as you know, there was a time when it didn’t matter to me whether I married a man I loved or not…it seemed enough just to get my family out of the desperate situation we were in. But when I thought about what it would be like to share a bed with my husband…to spend the rest of my life with him…I knew Simon was the only choice.” She paused, and sudden tears glittered her eyes. Beautiful, self-possessed Annabelle, who hardly ever cried. “When I’m ill,” she continued in a husky voice, “when I’m afraid, when I need something, I know he will move heaven and earth to make everything all right. I trust him with every fiber of my being. And when I see the child we created, the two of us mingled forever in her…my God, how grateful I am that I married Simon. We’ve all been able to choose our own husbands, Lillian. You have to allow Daisy the same freedom.”

Lillian shook off her hand irritably. “He’s not the same caliber as any of our husbands. He’s not even the same quality as St. Vincent, who may have been a devious skirt-chasing scoundrel, but at least he has a heart.” She paused and muttered, “No offense intended, Evie.”

“That’s all right,” Evie said, her lips quivering as if she were trying to suppress a laugh.

“The point is,” Lillian fretted, “I’m all for Daisy having the freedom of choice, as long as she doesn’t make the wrong one.”

“Dear—” Annabelle began in a careful attempt to correct the flaw in her logic, but Evie interrupted softly.

“I th-think it’s Daisy’s right to make a mistake. All we can do is give her our help if she asks for it.”

“We can’t help her if she ends up in bloody New York!” Lillian retorted.

Evie and Annabelle didn’t argue with her after that, tacitly agreeing there were some problems that mere words couldn’t solve, and some fears that couldn’t be soothed. They did what friends do when all else has failed…they sat with her in companionable silence…and let her know they cared.

A hot bath helped to soothe Daisy’s body and relax her frazzled nerves. She stayed in the steaming water until she was boneless and sweltering, and her headache had faded. Feeling renewed, she dressed in a ruffled white nightgown and began to brush her hair, while a pair of maids came to take away the bath.

The bristles ran through her hair until the waist-length locks formed a gleaming ebony river. She stared through the open doorway that lead to the balcony, into the damp spring night. The starless sky was the color of black plums.

Smiling absently, Daisy heard the click of the bedroom door behind her. Assuming one of the maids had returned to collect a towel or a soap dish, she continued to stare outside.

Suddenly she felt a touch on her shoulder, followed by the warmth of a large hand sliding across her chest. Startled, she rose to her feet and was slowly pulled back against a hard masculine body.

Matthew’s deep voice tickled her ear. “What were you thinking about?”

“You, of course.” Daisy rested against him, her fingers coming up to stroke the hairy surface of his forearm to the edge of his rolled-up shirtsleeves. Her gaze returned to the outside view. “This room used to belong to one of the earl’s sisters,” she said. “I was told that her lover—a stable boy, actually—used to climb up to the balcony to visit her. Just like Romeo.”

“I hope the reward was worth the risk,” he said.

“Would you have taken such a risk for my sake?”

“If it was the only way I could be with you. But it makes no sense to climb two stories to the balcony when a perfectly good door is available.”

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