Part of the upcoming Twelve Dukes of Christmas release from Astraea Press:
“Good morning, dear,” greeted Ivy’s mother from her seat at the breakfast table. Weak sunlight filtered through lace curtains and played on the ivory muslin of Helen’s morning dress. With deliberate movements, she sipped her cup of chocolate, then set the cup back into the saucer with barely a clink and centered her attention on Ivy. “Are you planning to go somewhere?”
“I have a meeting with the vicar today, Mother. To make arrangements for Christmas for some of the local families.” Ivy drew a deep breath. When her mother only stared at her, she continued. “I’m quite certain I mentioned it last night.” Which was more than her mother had done with regard to the mysterious guest for tea.
Helen dabbed her lips with a napkin and pushed back from the table. She touched the lacy mop cap on her head as though to reassure herself the silly thing was still in place. “Oh yes, I remember now. Is it possible to send your regrets to Vicar Wexley?”
Irritation flashed, raising heat in Ivy’s cheeks, but she suppressed a churlish urge. “But, Mother, I told you of my plans last evening in the parlor.”
A soft sigh escaped Helen’s lips. “Yes, yes, I suppose you did. You know how your father was going on so about our trip to Bath. In any case, we’ve a caller arriving this afternoon.”
Quite unbidden, a quiver of apprehension traveled along Ivy’s skin. “Not… er, is Lord Roland paying another call?” Please say no.
Helen tilted her head to the side, a sweet smile pulling at her lips. “Would you like me to arrange for Lord Roland to call again?”
“Oh, no!” Ivy reined in the panic that bounded like stampeding horses through her veins. “That is, I don’t believe that will be necessary. He and I… didn’t find ourselves to have much in common after all.”
“Oh, Ivy.” With a soft sigh, Helen seemed to deflate where she sat. “You two seemed to get on so well at our last dinner party… Every time I glanced up, you had your heads together talking.”
Ivy forced a smile onto her stiff lips. “Yes, well, one of us was speaking at any rate.” And speaking, and speaking, and speaking. “Lord Roland has much to say.” And all about himself.
Helen raised an eyebrow. “You certainly seemed to enjoy the conversation over dinner. I heard you laughing.”
“Really, Mother, I had no idea you were watching me so closely all evening.” Ivy barely managed to avoid squirming under Helen’s current scrutiny. “I was simply being polite to one of our guests.”
Helen sighed and lifted her cup of chocolate from the saucer. “Well, the Earl of Norcross seems like a nice young gentleman. I would be happy to extend another invitation for him to dine with us. Surely you can find something about him you don’t object to.” She set the cup to her lips and sipped.
It didn’t seem like such a difficult request. Or it wouldn’t have been had Ivy’s mind been at all functional. She started to shake her head when a thought occurred to her. “Well, I don’t particularly object to his absence.”
“Ivy!” A frown marred her mother’s face. “That’s incredibly rude.”
The ire Ivy had managed to hold in check suddenly rose to the fore. “For heaven’s sake, Mother! Why can’t you understand that I do not wish to see Lord Roland as a suitor? I don’t wish to see him in any capacity. Gracious, the man’s teeth clicked and clacked like Spanish castanets with every bite of his dinner!”
Helen’s jaw slackened and fell open. She blinked once and then closed her mouth with an audible sharp snap.
Ivy’s feet seemed to sink into the plush Persian rug, as though the floor had just become a bog filled with family responsibility and the pressures of finding a match her parents would approve of.
“Mother…” She softened her voice, all too aware that it now bordered on a wheedling tone that made her sound like a whining child. “I know you worry that I’ll wind up a spinster—”
“Pish. I’m worried about no such thing.” Helen dabbed at her lips with a linen napkin. “I just want to see you secure and… happy.”
Like your sister, Laurel. The words, though unspoken, nonetheless hung between them.
“I am happy, Mama.” Ivy smiled. But it was time to be gently firm.
“But…” She held up a hand to forestall the inevitable request for her to receive whomever was calling later. “I’ve had this engagement planned with the vicar for a week. He and his wife are assisting me with locating which families need a bit to tide them over through the holidays.” She offered her best wistful sigh. “Perhaps you might offer my apologies to your guest, and I shall visit with her the next time she calls.”
“Oh but—” Helen pressed her lips together. Finally, she shook her head. “Very well. And perhaps you’ll find your business doesn’t take as long as you seem to be anticipating.” She glanced beyond Ivy toward the door as though hoping someone would walk through.
Oh, it would take as long and more if Ivy had any say in the matter. She smiled again. “By the way, whom are you expecting, Mother?”
“Your guest?” Ivy raised an eyebrow. “Who is it?”
“Oh, it’s… the Duke of Greenbriar…” she trailed off in a whisper.
Sudden dizziness fell about Ivy like a cloak and she swayed. Only by clutching the back of the fine oak chair in front of her did she manage to remain standing. So… it had come to that. Her parents must be out of suitors if they were resorting to that one.
She drew a deep breath aware that her smile had just frozen on her lips. “How lovely, Mother. I certainly shall hurry to complete my task so I can return home and greet his grace.”
Helen angled a rather odd look in Ivy’s direction. No time to consider why. Ivy backed from the room. “I’ll, er… I’ll hurry my trip, Mother.”
She left without giving Helen a chance to respond. Surely the devil would be waiting outside the door, ready to carry her off for the lie she’d just told.
Hmmm, Ivy sounds a little too picky, doesn’t she??? If you want to check out my work, find me on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For more sweet treats and more samples, return to Sweet Saturday Samples. Have a great week!