A Date with Dishonor(9)

By: Mary Brendan

And it didn’t. He just wished she would allow him similar licence. Their relationship was only six months’ old, yet Alex was already thinking it had run its course. She’d irritated him several times by being too possessive and flouncing over to find out what he was up to if he left her side for too long.

‘I’ll take care of Celia for you,’ Hugh again promised, having noted the direction of Alex’s gaze. He imagined his friend to be, understandably, enthralled by the sultry lovely. Celia was known to be very selective about the gentlemen she allowed to woo her and liked rich influential lovers. She’d be hard pressed to improve on Alex Blackthorne on either count in Hugh’s opinion. Added to which his friend had the broad physique and rugged dark looks that made females flutter and fawn as soon as he entered a room.

‘I’ll have a scout around and have a brief conversation with your blind date—if she’s turned up.’ Alex’s eyes swerved to Hugh, gleaming with mordant humour. ‘But that’s all I’ll do. If you decide to go ahead and meet her, you can charm her yourself.’ He took a prowling pace away, then pivoted and walked backwards while muttering, ‘If Celia cross-examines you...I’ve spotted my mother and have gone to speak to her.’ It was a valid excuse; he’d caught sight of Susannah Blackthorne parading with Lord Mornington about twenty minutes ago. He wanted a word with his mother, although it needn’t have been this evening that he brought up the subject of Miss Winters.

His widowed mother’s long and happy marriage had made her convinced her only child must hanker after the same blissful state of union   . But Alex had no intention of being paired off by his doting mama and he wished she’d stop matchmaking him with Rachel Winters or any of the other nubile young women she thought suitable to be his wife because they were her friends’ daughters.

‘Where have you agreed to meet her?’ Alex retraced a few steps to get that vital information. He jammed his clenching fists into his pockets. If Hugh hadn’t been such an old friend, he might have throttled him on the spot for making him feel obliged to get involved in this farce.

Having told Alex in which direction to head, Hugh grabbed his friend’s elbow before he could stride away. ‘I made up a name to catch her attention. I guessed she’d get a lot of replies to her advert and I wanted to stand out.’ He smiled bashfully. ‘She is to meet a Mr Best,’ he whispered, significantly poking a thumb against his chest.

‘Ingenious...’ Alex muttered caustically, stalking off.

* * *

‘You promised me you would not contact those gentlemen!’ Elise’s angry astonishment caused her to stop dead on the path. A woman who’d been strolling behind bumped into her and glared, prompting her to apologise.

Beatrice linked arms with her sister, urging her on. But a guilty colour stole into her cheeks as she felt Elise’s stony stare on her profile. They had been walking beneath twinkling globe lights strung in the trees in Vauxhall Gardens when she’d dropped her bombshell and let Elise know she’d contacted one of her respondents and arranged to meet him that evening.

‘I know I said I wouldn’t and I’m sorry for the deceit, but I have to be sensible and make the most of this time in town. We only have a few days left before we return home.’ It was an earnestly made case. ‘So far we’ve been out and about every evening with the Chapmans, yet no gentleman has shown much interest in me.’

Elise knew that wasn’t quite true. Last night Bea had collected several admirers when they’d attended a soirée held by the Chapmans’ neighbours. She, too, had attracted a fresh-faced young fellow who had loitered by her chair and courteously fetched her drinks and titbits from the buffet. But when they had retrieved their coats to leave, no gentleman had seemed keen to further an acquaintance with them.

Seven years might have passed since their parents separated and their father had left town in disgrace, taking his two teenage daughters with him, but Elise had noticed a sharp glint in the eyes of some individuals on discovering their identities. Mrs Porter and her friend had last night distanced themselves quickly once the name Dewey had been mentioned. Elise had watched them whispering behind their gloved hands while sliding sly peeks their way.