Scandal in Spring Page 7

But Swift had finally grown into his looks. The austere angles of his face had been softened by extravagant sweeps of black lashes and a wide mouth that hinted of sensuality.

“What now?” he murmured, his eyes still closed.

Staring at him, Daisy was horrified by the impulse that surged through her…to step nearer and explore the tanned skin of his cheeks with her fingertips. “When an image is fixed in your mind,” she managed to say, “open your eyes and toss the coin into the well.”

His lashes lifted to reveal eyes as bright as fire trapped in blue glass.

Without glancing at the well, he threw the coin right into the center of it.

Daisy realized that her heart had begun to thump just as it had when she had read the more lurid passages of The Plight of Penelope, in which a maiden was captured by an evil villain who locked her in a tower room until she agreed to surrender her virtue.

Daisy had known the novel was silly even as she had read it, but that had not detracted one bit from her enjoyment. And she had been perversely disappointed when Penelope had been rescued from imminent ruin by the bland golden-haired hero Reginald, who was not nearly as interesting as the villain.

Of course the prospect of being locked in a tower room without any books had not sounded at all appealing to Daisy. But the threatening monologues by the villain about Penelope’s beauty, and his desire for her, and the debauchery he would force on her, had been quite intriguing.

It was just plain bad luck that Matthew Swift would turn out to look just like the handsome villain of Daisy’s imaginings.

“What did you wish for?” she asked.

One corner of his mouth twitched. “That’s private.”

Daisy scowled as she recognized the echo of her own earlier set-down. Spying her bonnet on the nearby ground, she went to scoop it up. She needed to escape his unnerving presence. “I’m returning to the manor,” she said over her shoulder. “Good day, Mr. Swift. Enjoy the rest of your walk.”

To her dismay, he reached her in a few long-legged strides and fell into step beside her. “I’ll accompany you.”

She refused to look at him. “I’d rather you didn’t.”

“Why not? We’re headed in the same direction.”

“Because I prefer to walk in silence.”

“I’ll be silent, then.” His pace did not falter.

Deducing that it was pointless to object when he had obviously made up his mind, Daisy clamped her lips together. The scenery—the meadow, the forest—was just as beautiful as before, but her enjoyment of it had vanished.

She was not surprised Swift had ignored her objections. No doubt he envisioned their marriage in the same light. It would not matter what she wanted, or what she asked. He would brush her wishes aside and insist on having his own way.

He must think she was as malleable as a child. With his ingrained arrogance, perhaps he even thought she would be grateful that he had condescended to marry her. She wondered if he would even bother to propose. Most likely he would toss a ring into her lap and instruct her to put it on.

As the grim walk continued Daisy fought to keep from breaking into a run. Swift’s legs were so much longer that he took one step to every two of hers. Resentment rose in a choking knot in Daisy’s throat.

It was symbolic of her future, this walk. She could only trudge forward with the knowledge that no matter how far or fast she went, she could not outdistance him.

Finally she could bear the taut silence no longer. “Did you put the idea in my father’s head?” she burst out.

“What idea?”

“Oh, don’t condescend to me,” she said irritably. “You know what I’m referring to.”

“No, I don’t.”

It appeared he would insist on playing games. “The bargain you made with my father,” she said. “You want to marry me so you can inherit the company.”

Swift stopped with a suddenness that in other circumstances would have made her laugh. It looked like he had slammed into an invisible wall. Daisy stopped as well, folding her arms across her chest as she turned to face him.

His expression was utterly blank. “I…” His voice was rusty-sounding and he had to clear his throat before he could speak. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

“You don’t?” Daisy asked lamely.

So her assumption had been wrong—her father had not yet broached his plan to Swift.

If one could die of mortification, Daisy would have expired on the spot. She had now left herself open to the most withering set-down of her life. All Swift had to do was say he would never have agreed to the prospect of marrying a wallflower.

The rustle of leaves and the twittering of chiffchaff seemed to be magnified in the silence that followed. Though it was impossible to read Swift’s thoughts, Daisy perceived that he was rapidly sorting through possibilities and conclusions.

“My father spoke as if it was all settled,” she said. “I thought you had discussed it during his most recent visit to New York.”

“He never mentioned anything of the kind to me. The thought of marrying you has never crossed my mind. And I have no ambition to inherit the company.”

“You have nothing but ambition.”

“True,” he said, watching her closely. “But I don’t need to marry you to secure my future.”

“My father seems to think you would jump at the chance to become his son-in-law. That you bear him great personal affection.”

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