The Dangerous Lord Darrington(7)

By: Sarah Mallory

‘Ah, such elaborate garments are not seen much now outside London, more’s the pity,’ sighed Lady Arabella. ‘But something plainer might have been more comfortable for you, my lord. Beth my dear, could you not find something of Simon’s for the earl?’

‘They would not fit, Grandmama.’ Beth caught the earl’s look of enquiry and added briefly, ‘My brother, sir. It was his wrap I gave you.’

‘He died eighteen months ago,’ added Lady Arabella.

‘My condolences, ma’am. Was he—?’

Beth turned quickly to her grandmother, interrupting him.

‘Here’s Kepwith to say supper is ready for us. Shall we go in?’

Lord Darrington came forwards to offer Lady Arabella his arm.

‘We keep to the old ways here, my lord,’ she said as he led her into the dining room. ‘An early dinner and supper at ten. At my age I do not want to be eating dinner in the evening and supper at midnight, as I believe is quite the fashion now in town.’

‘But that makes perfect sense if one is at a ball, Grandmama,’ put in Sophie. She smiled across the table at the earl. ‘Not that I have yet been to a ball—a real ball, that is. But I shall do so next year, when Beth takes me to London.’

The earl turned toward Beth.

‘You go often to town, Mrs Forrester?’

‘No, I have never been. I—’

‘Beth hasn’t been away from Malpass for years,’ put in Sophie. ‘Except to go to Ripon to stay with her friend—but next year she has promised to take me to London for the Season. Of course, she will be Mrs Radworth by then—’

‘Sophie!’ Beth’s knife clattered to her plate. ‘Pray do not chatter on so. Lord Darrington does not want to know all our business.’

‘But it is no secret,’ stated Lady Arabella. ‘Do you know Miles Radworth, Lord Darrington?’

‘No, ma’am. I have not had that pleasure.’

‘He has a property in Somerset, I believe, but he is currently renting a house in Fentonby. He came to bring us news of my grandson’s death.’ Lady Arabella stopped, her old eyes suddenly dimmed.

‘I am very sorry, ma’am.’

The earl’s words hung in the uncomfortable silence, broken only by the crackle of the fire and the soft padding of the butler as he walked from chair to chair, refilling their wine glasses. Beth was about to speak when Lady Arabella rallied and began again.

‘My grandson was drowned at sea, you know. In the Bay of Biscay. He had been making the grand tour. It was very good of Mr Radworth to come all this way to tell us.’

‘And it was not all bad news,’ added Sophie brightly. ‘He took one look at Beth and fell violently in love!’

‘Indeed?’ The earl’s grey eyes rested on Beth.

‘Yes.’ Sophie nodded. ‘And they are to be married.’

‘Then I offer you my congratulations, Mrs Forrester.’

‘Thank you.’ Beth uttered the words quietly, keeping her eyes lowered.

‘You and your friend are quite far from home, I believe,’ remarked Lady Arabella.

‘Yes, Davies has a hunting lodge at Highridge. I am staying there as his guest.’

‘You must consider yourself a guest here,’ came the gracious reply, ‘until your friend is fit enough to return to Highridge.’

‘No!’ Beth coloured, and added quickly. ‘What I mean is, surely there can be no need for Lord Darrington to stay. We can look after Mr Davies perfectly well.’

‘But I should like to remain with my friend, if Lady Arabella permits,’ the earl responded.

‘But it is only a few miles to Highridge, and I am sure you would be much more comfortable there.’

‘Nonsense, it is more than ten miles.’ replied Lady Arabella. ‘Lord Darrington must stay here, if he wishes. We have room to spare.’

‘But…but we do not have so many staff—certainly not as many as an earl is accustomed to.’

‘Oh, this earl is not at all high in the instep, I assure you,’ came the mild reply. ‘And I am quite undemanding.’

Again that amused glint in his eyes. Beth found it quite infuriating.

‘To have you in the house as well as an invalid will create a great deal of extra work, no matter how undemanding you may be,’ she ground out.

‘I shall send to Highridge for Davies’s valet to join us,’ replied the earl, smiling in a way that made Beth long to hit him. ‘He will be able to nurse his master and look after my very minor requirements. And I am sure that some of the other staff from Highridge would come, too, if they could be of use.’

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