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Authors: Rebecca Connolly

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BOOK: Secrets of a Spinster
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After all, a very plain woman of twenty-seven had very little reason to hope for more.

C
hapter
F
our

 
 

G
eoffrey Harris did not enjoy opera.

In fact, there were few things he hated more than opera.

And yet, here he was, dressed in his finery, in a carriage with his brother to get Mary and Cassandra expressly for the purpose of going to the opera.

Even now, it seemed ridiculous to him, but people went to the opera, despite his personal aversion to it. It was a customary thing to do as the season started, and he did so love taking Mary anywhere she did not enjoy being.

If there was one thing he had learned about her from a very early age, it was that she was not nearly as sweet and docile as people took her for. She just had an uncanny ability to bite her tongue, which she thankfully refrained from doing when he was around. It made everything so much more enjoyable.

It might have seemed odd to some that the fourth son of a wealthy and well-respected family should spend so much time with the oldest daughter of an equally wealthy and respected family and not have married her, but it had never crossed his mind.

Not really, anyway.

Once or twice it had entered his mind that perhaps they should marry each other simply because it would be easy and they would probably never like anyone better. But such was hardly a suitable reason for marriage, though he knew many married for and with far less. He could not, and he knew Mary would not.

It didn’t take long for them to arrive at the Hamilton townhouse, and even less time for them to collect the girls, who had been impatiently waiting for them just inside the door. Well, Cassandra had been impatient. One look from Mary told Geoff that she was still angry with him. He bit back a grin at that.

Christian and Cassandra immediately began chatting excitedly on one side of the carriage, while Mary maintained a stony silence and spent most of the trip to the theater looking out of the window.

“You’re not going to be silent the entire night, are you?” Geoff muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

Mary only shifted further away and tightened her jaw.

He sighed heavily and leaned back. “You’ll never make it, you know. You won’t be able to bite your tongue that long. Eventually, you will have to speak to me.”

Her silence only made him smile more.

“I fail to see why you’re angry with me at all,” he grumbled. “Especially when you know I hate these blasted things every bit as much as you do.”

Mary twitched as though she would speak, but settled for just giving him one very pointed look.

“Why did I do it, then?” he asked, reading her expression perfectly. “Because your sister loves it, and she needed to get out.”

Mary sighed and dropped her shoulders, glancing over at her sister, who was still brightly conversing with Christian, looking happier than she had in weeks.

Unable to give up his mischief, Geoff went on. “And you know that I cannot resist taking you to things we hate purely for the sake of your delightful commentary.”

As he suspected, the glare snapped right back into place and despite his teasing, he was slightly afraid of it. Did she have any idea how potent that glare was? Had any other person in the world ever received that glare? If they had, Mary’s reputation wouldn’t be nearly as sweet as it was.

They arrived at the theater with a line of other carriages, but Cassandra was so eager she reached for the handle of the carriage door at once.

“Cassie,” Mary warned softly.

Her sister gave her a withering look. “Yes?”

Mary gave a tight smile. “Patience.”

She rolled her eyes at Christian, which made him chuckle.

Geoff almost said something glib about it to Mary, but saw how suddenly tense she was. “Mary,” he murmured so softly that the others hadn’t a hope of hearing him, “what is it? Surely you don’t hate the opera that much…”

“No, it’s not that,” she hissed, leaning a bit closer and matching his tone.

“Then what?”

The carriage stopped and a footman opened the door with a bit of flourish that the older, more sensible pair could have done without. Cassandra and Christian disembarked and moved on without them.

“I hate this,” Mary told him softly as he exited and blocked her view.

He took her hand and helped her down, but glanced about and could already see the patrons that had yet to enter begin to whisper to each other, some behind fans, some without such discretion.

At once, Geoff understood. While Cassandra was the target of the whispers, Mary felt the impact.

“It will be all right,” he whispered as he looped her hand through his arm, pulling her closer. “I promise.”

Her only response was a tight nod, and a brush of her fingers against his arm.

 

Mary felt beads of sweat begin to form behind her ears as she and Geoff followed Cassandra and Christian to their box for the evening. The gossips were in fine form tonight, though it was nothing she hadn’t already heard before. But her fingers itched uncomfortably against the fabric of her gloves, and she forced herself to breathe calmly through her nose. It wouldn’t do to lash out at Society’s finest like a wild beast.

“How dare she show her face in public! What is she thinking?”

“And do you see her now with the younger Harris boy? So appalling. I hope he has the sense of his brother.”

“Oh, he does,” spoke up a deep voice that nobody expected to hear, causing several patrons to jump. “That’s why he is with Miss Cassandra Hamilton tonight. Only the finest quality can be seen with the Harrises, I can promise you that.”

Mary breathed a small sigh of relieve at the sight of Duncan Bray coming towards them as he pushed through some of the crowd, a beautiful brunette on his arm. She very nearly slumped against Geoff as the gossips went back to whispering, but this time their focus on Duncan.

“Good evening, Harris,” Duncan greeted as he approached. “Christian. Miss Hamilton, Miss Cassandra.”

“Good evening, Mr. Bray,” Mary replied with a grateful smile.

“Fine sense of timing you have there, Duncan,” Geoff said, grinning himself.

“Funny how that works, isn’t it?” Duncan returned with a brief quirk of his brows. He turned to the young woman at his side. “I don’t believe, Miss Hamilton, Miss Cassandra, that you are acquainted with my sister, Marianne.”

“No, we are not,” Cassandra said with a kind smile. “But I think we’ve seen each other on several occasions.”

Marianne smiled back, displaying what were quite possibly the most perfect teeth Mary had ever seen. “Yes, I believe so. It’s a pleasure to meet you both. And I will have you know that I purposefully have trodden upon Mrs. Smythe’s skirt tonight, horrible, gossiping old wretch, but it is unlikely that she is aware of it, given the sheer yardage of material required to make a full skirt for her.”

Mary jerked her hand to her mouth to cover the snort that nearly escaped. Cassandra merely clamped her lips together and bit down hard.

Marianne continued as if nothing was amiss. “I think that she will find her skirt hanging just a little off center for a while.”

“How hard did you trample it?” Mary asked through her restrained laughter.

“I don’t know how hard,” she said with a mischievous smile. “But it was repeatedly done. I hope she will learn to keep her gaping mouth shut one of these days, but she seems to enjoy catching flies with it, so I must do what I can to aid the world in retiring her shortly.”

Laughter rang out from the group, and then they heard the tuning of instruments and made their way to their seats, amidst further whispers that no one was heeding any longer. Duncan and Marianne were in the box next to them with their aunt, Lady Raeburn, who was really quite terrifying, even if she was delightful in every way. But Marianne was immediately transfixed by the musicians, and so only Duncan had to suffer conversing with her. He was generally a stoic man, but his longsuffering glances toward their box did not go unnoticed.

“I pity him,” Geoff said with a sigh.

“Why?” Mary laughed. “I adore Lady Raeburn! She is the most unique woman I have ever known.” She smiled and inclined her head as the lady in question looked her way.

“You’ve never had to sit with her in a restrictive area,” he muttered darkly, though with a smile. “Rather like being a prisoner of war, I expect.”

“Oh, Geoff, did Mary tell you?” Cassandra whispered across Christian as the overture began. “This is her last season and she is going to transform herself into a debutante for it! Can you imagine?”

Mary closed her eyes and groaned softly. She had hoped that her sister would either forget all about her rash promise to embark on such insanity, or that she would be able to confide in Geoffrey about it at time when she actually felt brave enough to do so. Now was hardly the time or place she had envisioned sharing her plans with him.

“Oh, is she?” he asked softly, giving Mary a curious, questioning look.

“I hardly think we need to discuss this now,” she hissed through her teeth as the music grew louder.

“Oh, really, as if you are actually listening,” he scoffed as he leaned closer. “Come on, Mary. Your last season? Really?”

She sighed and nodded.

He gave her a serious look. “You aren’t saying this to indulge Cassie, are you? I know she’s been shut away all winter of her own accord, and I know your inclination to protect her.”

She nearly laughed at how well he knew her. She gave a slight shrug of one shoulder. “No. Well, not entirely. I’ve been thinking about it for some time. I’ve… I have never enjoyed London all that much, and it’s hardly been worth the effort I’ve put in to be a part of the hustle and bustle of the season.” She looked over at him and allowed the weariness she had been feeling for so long to show. “I’m tired, Geoff. I want to retire somewhere in the country and live quietly for a while. Perhaps not forever, but for a time, at least.”

“So you are giving up on the Marriage Mart, then.”

She met his eyes. “I’m twenty-seven, Geoff, and long past having hope in it.”

That seemed to sadden him and he took her hand in his and squeezed it softly. “Then your final season it shall be. Will you close up the house?”

She sat back just a little, allowing him to retain a hold on her hand. “I don’t know yet. I think so. Cassie will need to come and visit every now and then, as she is so fond of city life, but she never goes anywhere without me anymore, so I’ll have to return as well. I worry about her, Geoff. If she’s not going to partake in Society, she will end up miserable, bitter, and alone.”

“You know she’ll be happy again eventually,” he murmured encouragingly, his eyes drifting past her to glance at their younger siblings, already entranced with the show. “Look at her tonight. She is fairly glowing.”

“You don’t see her when all the frivolity has past,” Mary returned with a hint of bitterness. “You’ve never sat up with her until she has cried herself to sleep. She has moments of pleasure, but then they are gone, and she remembers to mourn all over again.” She glanced over at her sister and frowned. “And it doesn’t stop,” she whispered.

“Hence your willingness to parade around as a debutante just to entertain her. To get her back out in Society.”

BOOK: Secrets of a Spinster
12.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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