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Authors: Rebecca Connolly

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The wailing ceased and her sister stilled. “A debutante? How do you mean?”

“Exactly the way it sounds. I will mold myself into the same sort of girl that fills every dance hall during the season.”

“Do you mean… you will flirt and look ridiculous and simper?”

Already the regret started in. “Yes,” Mary agreed with a wince.

“And you will get all new gowns and change your hair?”

Mary closed her eyes on a reluctant sigh. “Yes, and I will bite my tongue.”

“You don’t speak at all in public.”

“I mutter,” Mary admitted grudgingly. “Anybody in the vicinity would hear.” And have heard, she thought to herself. More than one unsuspecting patron of society had choked on a beverage when in her presence and had been privy to her snide remarks.

“Will you go to more events? Balls and parties and the theater?”

“Yes.” She bit the inside of her cheek at that concession, but if it really were her last season, why not? “But you must come with me and get out yourself. You must agree to that or I will not do it. That is my one condition.”

Cassandra looked unconvinced, trying to find the trick in this plot.

But Mary was quick. “Somebody has to laugh at me and remind me who I really am. Think of how ridiculous I will be.”

Her expression cleared and she giggled. “Oh, heavens, that will be a sight.” She sniffled once and smiled just a bit. “That would cheer me up a great deal, Mary.”

“Well, I do live my life to please you.”

Cassie flashed a brief grin. “Very well, I agree.” Then she sobered. “What if we both end up lonely, alone, and old, Mary?” she asked quietly and very seriously.

“I probably will,” Mary said without concern.

That somehow coaxed a hint of a laugh from her. “Oh, Mary, how can you be so droll?”

“I have worked very hard at it,” Mary assured her. She took her sister’s hand in her own. “I may end up alone and old, Cassie. I know very well that being twenty-seven and remarkably plain limits my options. But you don’t have to. You are young and beautiful and bright. You can have everything.”

“I don’t think there is anything left for me,” Cassie replied, sounding the most serious Mary had ever heard her. She sat back and sniffled, wiping at her nose with the back of her hand. “We are quite the pair of miserable spinsters, are we not?”

“It would appear so,” Mary admitted. “But I refuse to call you a spinster until you are at least twenty-five. No woman was ever a spinster at one and twenty.”

“One who shall never be happy again is,” Cassie muttered with finality.

Mary tried not to stiffen at her sister’s continued despondency, but she couldn’t help it. “The difference between your situation and mine, Cassandra, is that you had a man confess his love for you. I never had any man try.” She rose quickly and removed herself back to the chair she had vacated and picked up her book again, beginning where she had left off, her sister remarkably silent.

It was not until Miss Elizabeth Bennet had reached the grounds of Pemberley that Cassie spoke again. “I am so bored. Where is Geoffrey? He always cheers me up.”

This time Mary did sigh aloud and rolled her head back to look at her sister. “He is off with Mr. Bray, Cassie, as I have told you. And I think that Geoff has quite a good deal more pleasant things to do than being forced to entertain the spinsterly Hamilton sisters like a strange performing monkey.”

“Not really,” came a low, rather well-known voice that sent a smile careening off of her cheekbones.

“Geoffrey!” Cassie cried in delight, leaping from her seat and racing to the doorway in which the owner of the voice currently stood.

“Your own personal performing monkey, at your service,” replied Geoff, a smile evident in his tone.

Mary rose from her chair, tossing her book down onto it, and allowed herself an overt examination of her best friend, who was now being joyously mauled by her sister.

He looked well, which was not surprising, as he always looked far too well for her taste. But today the color of his waistcoat magnified the blue of his eyes, and his blonde hair looked ever-so-slightly ruffled, which was not usual, but suited him well. The challenges of having an attractive best friend were many, chief of which was that one always wanted to look at him. And often did so.

There was no shame in that, surely.

“Well, I do love being warmly greeted, but this is certainly a change,” Geoffrey chuckled as he extricated himself from Cassandra’s hold. “What was that for?”

“I am hardly sufficient entertainment for my sister today,” Mary said with a melodramatic sigh. “She is bored beyond reason and since I am the least exciting person we all know, any change in the situation is a relief.”

“Oh, come now, Mary, I hardly think you are the
least
exciting person we all know,” he scolded with a smile as he came over and took her hand. “As it happens, I know for a fact that there are quite a number of people who are less exciting than you.” He quirked a brow and gave her a teasing bow of greeting.

“That is because you are deluded into thinking that the random mutterings of a runaway mouth are amusing,” Mary replied as she curtseyed, priding herself on her wit.

He snickered and dropped himself into the chair nearest her. “That’s not why, you goose. I just know all of the stories about sweet Mary Hamilton that might not live up to her reputation.” He smiled up at her proudly, and she rolled her eyes and sat back into her chair.

“You know that every single one of those stories happened because you spurned me on,” Mary argued, unable to help smiling herself.

He shrugged. “That’s probably true. And speaking of stories…” He leaned forward and gave her a look. “When were you going to tell me that you spilled the true details, to which you were sworn to secrecy, of my little fountain prank to Diana Beckham?”

Mary’s brain froze and her lips parted in shock. That had been years ago. He was never supposed to know that she had let the secret slip. “She was not Diana Beckham then,” she said in a small voice.

“Mary.”

She sighed and sat back in her chair. “We were sixteen, Geoff. Diana had come over and we were just…” She paused and threw him a severe look. “Have you ever tried keeping a secret from Diana?”

“I have never had to,” he offered with another shrug.

“It’s not possible. But I swore her to secrecy as well, Geoff, I swear.”

“Mary!” Geoffrey cried in dismay. “You know Diana cannot keep secrets from Derek! The rest of the world, maybe, but not Derek!”

“So she told her brother,” Mary said without concern, trying not to smile. “Why is that so monumental?”

“Because Derek Chambers cannot keep a secret from anybody.” Geoff sighed and frowned over at her again. “What, was twenty pounds not good enough for you?” His tone was severe, but there was a twinkle of mischief in his eyes.

She smirked at him. “In case you have forgotten, there are many secrets that you have paid me to keep silent about over the years, the rest of which have been kept so. Now, if you wish me to reveal those secrets to, oh, say, Colin Gerrard, then…”

“You wouldn’t,” Geoff stated in a would-be calm voice, though there was real panic in his eyes.

She quirked a brow. “I might.”

He swallowed hastily.

“As amusing as watching the two of you bicker like cats is,” Cassandra announced from her side of the room, “I am still bored.”

Geoff met Mary’s eyes and the two of them shared a secret smile. He looked back to Cassandra and smiled more broadly. “What if I were to escort the two of you to tonight’s performance of
The Marriage of Figaro
at Covent Garden?”

“Really?” Cassandra cried happily.

“Really?” Mary asked with no small amount of reluctance.

“Be nice,” he hissed out of the corner of his mouth. “Really,” he said louder, grinning for Cassandra’s benefit.

Cassie happily danced around the room for a moment, then stopped. “But who will be my escort?” she asked with concern. “You cannot bring two women with you to the opera, Geoff.”

“I would never do anything so shocking,” he replied drolly. “Christian will accompany you, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh, good!” she cried, clapping her hands. “I love your brother. Does he care for opera? I can never remember.”

“He does,” Geoff said with a nod. “And he speaks German very well.”

“Geoffrey,” Cassandra scolded impatiently, hands on her hips. “
The Marriage of Figaro
is an Italian opera.”

“Oh dear,” he replied in apparent confusion. “Then Christian will not be very helpful at all.”

Cassandra sighed even as Mary snickered behind her hand. “Geoffrey, it’s a good thing you are practically family, or I would probably not even be friends with you.”

“Then I am excessively grateful for our closeness. At any rate, Christian is looking forward to seeing the two of you again.” Geoffrey smiled fondly between them. “He doesn’t go out much in Society yet, so make him behave, won’t you?”

Cassandra grinned. “I shall do my best. But if he is anything like his older brothers, he will be rather difficult to manage.”

Geoffrey looked outraged. “Difficult? I hope you are not including me in that broad assessment! John and Charles and Phillip, maybe, but certainly not me!”

Cassandra rolled her eyes and left the room with an airy, “No, never. Of course not.”

“Does Christian know that he has been spoken for this evening?” Mary asked Geoffrey when they were alone.

“Of course not,” Geoffrey told her with a snort. “The poor boy thinks that being freshly nineteen years old makes him a man, and so he was off very early with Derek and Nathan to discuss purchasing a horse from Dennison’s. I haven’t seen him since last night.”

Mary shook her head in amusement. “I can’t believe he is so old already! It seems like yesterday he was following you around like a little puppy.”

“That was yesterday.”

Now she couldn’t help laughing out loud. “Cassie is right, you are difficult.”

Geoff looked appropriately wounded. “I am hurt. From my best friend, even? This is too cruel.”

“Oh, come now, Geoff,” she laughed, pushing at his shoulder. “You know I love you like a brother.”

Now it was he who laughed. “Please, Mary, I know for a fact that you love me much more than you ever loved your brothers.”

She grinned. “This is true. You are the brother I would have liked to have, had I any say in the matter.”

“Yes, well, I’m rather glad I’m not your brother,” he said with a shudder. “I might have inherited that nose of your mother’s.”

Mary laughed loudly and clamped a hand over her mouth. Then, adopting a serious and would-be offended expression, asked, “What are you trying to say about my nose?”

“Nothing at all. You were blessed with a perfect nose.”

“Well, that’s that, then,” she sighed, throwing her hands up. “My one perfection is the nose that is not my mother’s.”

“That’s not all,” he said softly, with a gentle, reproachful smile.

She felt a jolt of surprise and looked at him. “Really? What else, then?”

He looked her over thoughtfully. Too thoughtfully.

“Be careful,” she warned. “Take too long and I’ll doubt you.”

He opened his mouth instantly.

“Answer too soon and I will know you’re lying,” she said quickly.

He frowned up at her, and she only lifted a brow imperiously.

“Your brows,” he said finally, with perfect timing.

She jerked in surprise. “I beg your pardon?”

“You have the most perfect, expressive brows I have ever seen.”

She started to smile, just a little. “You’re joking.”

“Never,” he promised somberly. “I swear, they really are magnificent.”

Now she grinned. “Is that your favorite part of me, Geoffrey?”

He shrugged lightly and stood, seeing himself to the door without answering her. “You had better get some rest, Mary. We’re off to the opera tonight.”

She groaned and rose to glare at him. “Did you have to pick the opera, Geoff? You know I hate it.”

He grinned the same mischievous grin he’d worn since he was seven. “I do know. That is why I am escorting you. I love how you hate it.”

“You are evil.”

“But you love me, Goose, and you know it.” He winked and left, laughing merrily to himself.

She shook her head and laughed as she returned to her book, hoping it would distract her until tonight. She would have to tell him of her season plans eventually, and she was not looking forward to that at all.

Perhaps he would not think it a so very dreadful idea. Perhaps he would even help her. Lord knew she would need it.

There were those people who would think she would be doing all of this for attention, for one last chance to get a husband for herself.

Those people were silly, nonsensical fools. She had stopped wanting attention, and a husband, long ago. She was far more sensible and realistic now than she had been then, and it was nobody’s business but her own if she wanted to have a bit of harmless fun now that she had come to the end of her time as a marriage prospect.

BOOK: Secrets of a Spinster
9.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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