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Authors: Rebecca Connolly

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BOOK: Secrets of a Spinster
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She smiled in response. “Not very reckless, at any rate,” she teased.

He inclined his head, returning her smile. “If she feels like seeing you, I will allow her.”

“It’s not necessary, really.” If Moira injured herself or her child on a visit to her, Mary would never forgive herself.

He raised a brow. “She will do it regardless. You know her nature. And if I know my wife, and I do, she will bring Kate with her.”

That was undoubtedly true.

Mary bit her lip in thought, fighting a smile. “I think I’ll need more pastries, then.”

The earl barked out a loud laugh that turned many heads in the ballroom. “I hope you’ve stockpiled enough, Miss Hamilton. They will eat you out of house and home. Now, let us see if we can find you some more dance partners for this evening.”

 

“Oh, good! You’re back!”

Mary barely suppressed a heavy sigh as she handed her cloak off to Winston, who wisely had no expression, but shuffled away quickly.

“Yes, Cassie, I’m back.”

“How was it? Who was there? Tell me everything!” Her sister literally jumped the final two stairs as she raced towards Mary, then seized her arm and pulled her into the sitting room, where a rather large fire was crackling. Mary gratefully approached and held her hands out to warm them.

“Calm yourself, Cassie, for heaven’s sake. It was a ball, not a festival.”

Cassandra snorted and tossed her curly blonde hair over a shoulder as she sank onto a well-worn settee. “You have absolutely no taste in social occasion.”

“I have taste enough,” Mary retorted. “I merely do not appreciate the spectacle people make of themselves.”

“Who made a spectacle?” Cassie inquired with rampant excitement, leaning over the arm of the settee.

Mary laughed and gave the report she had prepared in the carriage on the ride home, being sure to elaborate on the bits she knew her sister would find most interesting. It was much to her credit that she knew exactly what to say and how to say it so that it would satisfy Cassandra’s enthusiasm. Or perhaps it was just from practice.

When she was finished, she took a seat across from her sister and put a hand to her brow, a new headache beginning to form.

“I can’t believe Lady Raeburn is back from Paris this early,” Cassandra commented in an awed voice. “She never stays anywhere less than four months, and she only went just before Christmas. What do you think she means by it?”

“Perhaps she was dissatisfied with the selection of hats.”

“Mary,” Cassie moaned in exasperation. “Don’t be a toad. I thought you liked Lady Raeburn.”

“I do, very much so. But I see no reason to speculate as to her reasons for coming back to England where she lives.” Mary gave her a hard look, which she tempered with a weak smile.

“Well, Mr. Gerrard lives in England, too, but he hasn’t been seen in Society for two years!”

“He was there tonight as well.”

“He was what?” Cassie shrieked, her hands flying up to her hair. “You mean to tell me that Mr. Gerrard… Christopher, mind you, not Colin…”

“As he is the elder of the Gerrard twins, I do believe I know who you mean when you merely say Mr. Gerrard,” Mary remarked dryly.

Cassie waved her comment off impatiently. “Mr. Christopher Gerrard back in England. What did he do? Who did he dance with?”

“I have no idea. I saw him come in, I saw him exit. I didn’t watch him the whole evening.”

“You are positively hopeless, Mary!” her sister moaned as she dramatically flung herself out on the settee.

“Yes, so I have been told.”

Cassie rolled her eyes and sniffed dismissively. “Well, what did you do the entire night? Sample the punch? You ought to be an expert on the subject by now.”

Mary sneered playfully. “I was preparing reports for you. I could not possibly have time for anything else.”

“Come on, Mary,” Cassie groaned, “be serious. Did you dance at all tonight?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.”

“Oh?” Cassie sat up and eagerly folded her hands in her lap. “With whom, pray tell?”

Mary smiled secretively. “The Earl of Beverton. The Marquess of Whitlock. Lord Beckham. Lord Cartwright.”

“Mary!” Cassie said, groaning yet again. Really, she was getting quite good at it. “You cannot always dance with married men.”

“I can if they are the only ones who ask me,” she quipped, grinning.

“Perhaps if you did not match the draperies in dress and manner, someone else would.”

“Perhaps if I cared, I would do so.”

“You will never get married.”

“I’ll survive.”

Cassandra made a noise of disgust and rose. “You know, you are far less agreeable when Geoffrey is not around. I quite tire of the sight of you.”

“I’ll survive,” Mary said again as her sister left the room. When she could no longer hear the petulant footsteps on the stairs or above her, she allowed herself to sink down into her chair and removed her slippers from her feet. Being neither old nor delicate, she rarely was able to sit during a party where there was dancing. It was rather tiresome for her poor feet, particularly when they were so out of practice.

She sighed to herself and closed her eyes. That made two individuals tonight who seemed to associate her presence with Geoff’s. Not that she ought to be surprised, as they did tend to be at the same events and with each other. She received far more attention when he was about. It seemed she was only noticed if he was there.

She could hardly blame them for that.

Geoffrey Harris was the darling of Society, the crème de la crème of all bachelors. He was also the one bachelor who seemed entirely uninterested in marriage. This, of course, made him all the more tempting for the eager and determined mothers of Society, as Mary was constantly reminding him as he continued to evade each and every one.

They were the best of friends and had been since they were very young. They laughed, they bantered, and there were no secrets between them.

Well… almost no secrets.

Mary had the greatest secret of all; she was once in love with Geoffrey Harris.

It was really quite sad. She had spent most of her life alternating between feelings of helpless infatuation and complete adoration, with the slight venture into hopeless longing on occasion, topped off with a spattering of simple platonic affection. She always thought extremely well of him, and from time to time thought herself very much in love with him. At ten, it was love. At twelve, it was not. At eighteen, it was very much love again. And now, at twenty-seven, she could safely say she was most definitely not in love with him any longer.

She wasn’t.

Why, she was even comfortable enough to tell Geoff when he looked especially attractive without the slightest hint of heart fluttering or cheek flushing. If those weren’t signs of romantic indifference, she didn’t know what was.

But she had never told him that she had been occasionally in love with him. Why, she could not have said. It could have been because admitting that she’d ever had those feelings for him would make her no better than the rest of the idiotic females who fawned over him. It could have been because she was embarrassed by the sheer volume of paper she had wasted in her journals, pining for a young man who would never see her beyond their friendship. It could have been that she was afraid of anything changing in their relationship.

Whatever the reason, she hadn’t told him, and had no plans to ever do so.

She couldn’t risk it, not when he was the best person in her life.

Oh, she had her family, but they were not particularly close. Her parents had removed themselves to Italy indefinitely and wrote faithfully once a month; her other siblings came to London only when they had to, and wrote only when they had things to say. It was just her and Cassandra in the London house now, shockingly without any elderly relative or companion. But nobody paid attention to the Hamiltons enough to care. London was full of other excitement, and to be perfectly honest, Mary was bored with it. The only thing that ever amused her here was Geoff.

“Miss Hamilton?”

She turned her head towards the sound of Winston’s gravelly voice. “Winston, have you not gone to bed yet?”

He smiled kindly. “No, Miss. Should I have?”

“Yes, you should! It is late and I’m not in need of anything.”

“Are you quite sure?”

“Yes, yes, to bed,” she said with a wave of her hand.

He bowed. “Very good, Miss. Oh, and Miss? There is a note for you in the study.”

“Thank you, Winston. I will take care of it.”

The butler bowed once more, and then left, and Mary released a tired sigh and forced herself up out of her chair, which creaked loudly. She frowned at the threadbare piece of furniture, and wondered why she had not replaced it yet.

She walked into the rarely-used study where the note sat unopened on a tray. A small smirk flashed across her face. Cassandra either had no knowledge of its existence or had recently developed a heretofore unheard of sense of privacy.

She suspected the former.

She recognized the handwriting immediately and could not help but to grin as she broke the seal and began to read.

 

My dearest Goose,

 

I can only imagine how long the winter has been for you without me. Has Cassie driven you mad yet? I don’t envy you being locked away in a house with only her for company. I hope someone has visited you, or else I shall have some serious reservations about the intelligence of London society. I apologize for my very long absence, I truly had thought to only be away one month, and here it is four. You may blame Mr. Bray, if you would be so kind. But never fear, Goose, I am returning to London to entertain and delight you as we speak. I imagine we shall arrive Tuesday, assuming my companion is not further distracted by his own shadow.

                             Yours ever faithful,

                                         Geoff

 

P.S. Prepare Cassie for news of Wyndham. He’s become a rising star in the Navy, and his name is bound to be bandied about London again very soon.

 

Mary sighed heavily, her smile now gone. The girl already cried enough about her “poor Simon”, and heaven knew she had endured quite enough on the subject from the whole of London and Lieutenant Wyndham’s family as well.

Cassandra had broken the heart of one of the most eligible bachelors London had ever known a year and a half ago and caused his escape to the sea and His Majesty’s Navy, and Society had not been kind to her for it. Nearly all of her friends and associates had abandoned her, which left the energetic girl a virtual pariah whenever she managed to leave the house.

What surprised Mary was just how vicious the general populace could be to a girl who was not actually ruined. Cassie was never invited anywhere, unless by the very few who were still her friends. If she did go out, there were comments and whispers and insults so thinly veiled they were nearly blatant. So she usually stayed at home, shut away from everyone, and continuously, and very vocally, mourned her state.

As far as Mary understood from Cassandra’s many emotional outbursts during that time, the man had poured his heart out to her and instead of accepting him as everybody had expected her to, she had claimed she was too young and had no desire to be a Navy wife, but she would be glad to have him if he gave that up and waited a year besides. Simon Wyndham, though generally a very patient and understanding man, had refused to do so and stormed out of the house.

Three hours later, Cassandra had changed her mind and begged Mary and Geoff to find him. But all their efforts had been in vain. Wyndham was gone back into danger and the sea, and his family blamed Cassie entirely. And thus began her societal downfall, which she had yet to recover from.

Raising all of that up again would make things exceptionally worse. Again.

She placed the note in a drawer of the desk with a sigh, then put out the candles and made her way up the stairs to her bedchamber, smiling at the thought of Geoffrey coming back.

BOOK: Secrets of a Spinster
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