Thursday, May 12, 2016
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The following afternoon, Nicholas rode over to call on his neighbor. When he was shown into Sir Marcus’ library, he asked to see his daughter.
“I thought you would come to see the sense of it, milord.” Looking pleased, he rang for a servant. Miss Mirrington entered the room dressed in a morning gown printed with small blue flowers. The modest high ruffled neckline revealed little of her charms. Her only adornment, a small cross on a silver chain. She looked pale and composed. Her lack of enthusiasm at the sight of him made Nicholas uneasy. Sir Marcus’ eyes twinkled.
“My dear, Lord Debenham wishes a private word with you.” Nicholas watched as several emotions crossed Miss Mirrington’s expressive face. None was reassuring. Apprehension seemed paramount. Well, that was to be expected wasn’t it? “Take his lordship into the drawing room,” Sir Marcus said, as his wife entered and greeted Nicholas warmly.
“I prefer to walk in the garden.” Miss Mirrington firmed her lips showing surprising spirit. Lady Mirrington looked as if she would argue, but nodded.
“Take your maid, Caroline.” Caroline fixed her mother with a speaking glance.
“Sarah is busy sorting clothes.”
Well, what was this? Nicholas’ early fear that she was difficult resurfaced. While he admired spirit, he disliked inflexibility and stubbornness. He’d dealt with too much of that in the men under him in his regiment, but he could hardly employ those tactics here. He had no patience with obstinacy, if that was what this was. Lady Mirrington, obviously as pleased as her husband with events, protested mildly, then after a warning look from her spouse, gave in. Nicholas followed Miss Mirrington out into the gardens wondering at the wisdom of walking outdoors. The spring weather was unpredictable, and heavy grey clouds hovered above them. It looked very much like it would rain. Miss Mirrington led him along the parterre garden paths and through a stone arch onto the lawns of the park.
“Where might we be going?” he asked pleasantly, breaking an uneasy silence.
“I thought we’d visit the lake.”
“As you wish, but it does look like rain.” “Nonsense. The wind will blow those clouds away.”
“I don’t believe there is much wind.” Stubborn! Nicholas walked with her across the grass, glancing at the still branches of the trees above them, where barely a leaf stirred. In fact, the moist air definitely heralded an imminent rain shower.
“It’s a long time since you’ve lived here.” Miss Mirrington’s delicate brows lowered in a frown. “You must be unfamiliar with the weather.”
“I doubt it has changed dramatically in the last decade,” Nicholas said mildly. Yes, she was stubborn as that mule they’d had in Spain. But he couldn’t slap this young lady’s behind, however much he’d like to. When they reached the lake, their conversation didn’t improve. In fact, she barely spoke. With a glance at the overcast sky, Nicholas stood with her on the bank before an expanse of rippling grey water, observing the water birds swimming and diving into the murky depths. The breeze smelled of mud and rotting vegetation. Why were they here? If they were to tackle this apparently thorny subject, they could have done it in relative comfort in the drawing room. Nicholas grew annoyed. Something must be done to stir this difficult lady into revealing more of herself. He cleared his throat. Without warning, the skies opened. In a few minutes, they’d be drenched to the skin.
“Come this way,” Miss Mirrington called, a blurred figure in the misty rain, running ahead of him. Farther along the shore, a marble columned gazebo offered some shelter. She was quite fleet of foot, picking up her skirts and showing a good deal of slim calf, her bonnet dangling by its ribbon. Wishing himself elsewhere, Nicholas loped along beside her. They ducked into the shelter of the arched roof, and stood gazing at each other. Nicholas took out his handkerchief and offered the cambric square to her. She declined his offer with a shake of her head, pushing back a wet lock of hair and settling her bonnet on her head, the soggy daisies adorning it now drooping sadly. Nicholas wiped the rain from his face, congratulating himself on his remarkable restraint in resisting the temptation to say he told her so.