Scandal in Spring Page 65

Lillian chuckled. “Except when it was the Astors, and then it was all right.”

“Or when the twins planted a little garden and we pulled up all the potatoes before they were ripe?”

“Crabbing and fishing on Long Island…”

“Playing rounders…”

The afternoon of “remember when” filled the sisters with a mutual glow. “Who would have ever thought,” Daisy said with a grin, “that you would end up married to a British peer, and that I would be…” She hesitated. “…a spinster.”

“Don’t be silly,” Lillian said quietly. “It’s obvious you’re not going to be a spinster.”

That was the closest they came to discussing Daisy’s relationship with Matthew Swift. However, in pondering Lillian’s unusual restraint, Daisy realized that her sister wanted to avoid a rift with her. And if that meant having to include Matthew Swift in the family, Lillian would do her best to tolerate him. Knowing how difficult it was for her sister to hold back her opinions, Daisy longed to throw her arms around her. Instead, she moved to take the handles of the perambulator.

“My turn to push,” Daisy said.

They continued to walk.

Daisy resumed their reminiscing. “Remember overturning the canoe on the pond?”

“With the governess in it,” Lillian added, and they grinned at each other.

The Bowmans were the first to return on Saturday. As one might have expected, the Shakespeare festival had been unmitigated torture for Thomas.

“Where is Swift?” he demanded the minute he entered the manor. “Where is Westcliff? I want a report on the negotiations.”

“They’re not back yet,” Lillian replied, meeting him in the entrance hall. She sent her father a gently caustic glance. “Aren’t you going to ask how I am, Father? Don’t you want to know how the baby is faring?”

“I can see with my own eyes that you’re well enough,” Bowman retorted. “And I assume the baby is well or you would already have informed me otherwise. When are Swift and Westcliff expected to return?”

Lillian rolled her eyes heavenward. “Momentarily.”

But it became apparent the travelers had encountered a delay, probably as a result of the difficulties of going anywhere in spring. The weather was unpredictable, the country roads were often in need of repair, carriages were easily damaged, and horses were subject to injuries such as bog spavins or capped hocks.

As evening approached and there was still no sign of Westcliff and Matthew, Lillian declared they might as well go in to dinner or the cook would be cross.

It was a relatively small affair attended by the Bowmans and two local families, including the vicar and his wife. Midway through the meal, the butler entered the dining hall and murmured something to Lillian. She smiled and turned pink, her eyes brightening with excitement as she informed the table that Westcliff had arrived and would be joining them soon.

Daisy kept a calm expression in place as if it were a mask that had been plastered onto her face. Beneath the surface, however, a riot of expectation pumped through her veins. Realizing her dining utensils trembled visibly in her hands, she put them down and rested her hands in her lap. She listened to the conversation with only half a mind, the other half fixed on the doorway.

When the two men finally appeared in the dining hall after having washed and changed from the journey, Daisy’s heart pounded too fast to allow for a full breath.

Matthew’s glance swept the company at large, and he bowed as Westcliff did. Both of them appeared collected and remarkably fresh. One would think they had been absent for seven minutes instead of seven days.

Before going to his place at the head of the table, Westcliff went to Lillian. Since the earl was never given to public demonstrations, it astonished everyone, including Lillian, when he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her full on the mouth. She flushed and said something about the vicar being there, making Westcliff laugh.

Meanwhile, Matthew took the empty place beside Daisy’s. “Miss Bowman,” he said softly.

Daisy couldn’t manage a word. Her gaze lifted to his smiling eyes, and it seemed that emotions sprang from her in a fountain of warmth. She had to look away from him before she did something foolish. But she remained intensely aware of his body next to hers.

Westcliff and Matthew entertained the group with an account of how their carriage had gotten stuck in mire. Luckily they had been helped by a passing farmer with an ox-drawn wagon, but in the process of freeing the vehicle, all participants had been covered with mud from head to toe. And apparently the episode had left the ox in quite an objectionable temper. By the time the story was finished, everyone at the table was chuckling.

The conversation turned to the subject of the Shakespeare festival, and Thomas Bowman launched into an account of the visit to Stratford-on-Avon. Matthew asked a question or two, seeming fully engaged in the conversation.

Suddenly Daisy was startled to feel his hand slide into her lap beneath the table. His fingers closed over hers in a gentle clasp. And all the while he took part in the conversation, talking and smiling easily. Daisy reached for her wine with her free hand and brought it to her lips. She took one sip, and then another, and nearly choked as Matthew played lightly with her fingers beneath the table. Sensations that had lain quiescent for a week kindled into vibrant life.

Still not looking at her, Matthew gently slid something over her ring finger, past the knuckle, until it fit neatly at the base. Her hand was returned to her lap as a footman came to replenish the wine in their glasses.

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