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Excerpt:

Dressing before breakfast the next morning, she was informed that the first of her gowns had arrived. The modiste must have had her underlings working all through the night on it. Robert had paid the woman well to finish them quickly. She called her new French maid, Babette, and tried it on, parading in front of the mirror. It was so fetching she couldn’t wait to show Robert.

At the breakfast table, Robert glanced up from his newspaper and eyed her approvingly, a smile stretching his mouth as she swept confidently into the room, her new gown of a heavily quilted sage green silk with its ivory satin petticoat swishing about her elegant buckled shoes.

His gaze traveled to her hair, which her new French maid, Babette, had artfully tumbled into a pile of curls she called à la grecque.

“You look charming.”

“Thank you.”

He returned to his newspaper as if he’d done what was required of him. “I do like that color on you. My aunt has done well.”

“I chose this color,” Charity said acerbically. She had hoped for a little praise. She wasn’t unreasonable, but really!

“I commend your taste.” Choosing not to react or either completely unaware of her annoyance, he seized his knife and fork and attacked his breakfast, the Public Advertiser propped up on the table in front of him. “When will your new ball gown arrive?”

“At the end of the week.”

“We are to attend a ball Saturday next. I expect the king and queen to be there.”

Charity gasped. “My goodness!”

His eyes returned to his paper. “I gather you have never seen them?”

She put her hands on her hips and tapped one toe. “Actually, they came for tea one summer.”

He glanced up with a grin.

“Of course, I have not. What should I do when I’m presented?”

As she sat down, he wiped his mouth with a linen napkin.

“Smile and make sure you curtsey low.”

Her cheeks grew hot. “Of course, but what else is expected of me?”

“They know about our marriage. My uncle was a royal envoy and quite close to the royal family. They may wish to know more about you. Just answer their questions. It won’t be too difficult.”

Not for you who were born to it! She bit her lip to keep herself from saying something she’d regret. “I shall try.”

He smiled. “I’ll be there with you. Don’t worry.” He reached across and patted her hand. “You do look quite lovely this morning.”

She propped her chin in her hand and studied him. His thick dusky lashes shadowed his cheek as he read the paper, and she liked how his dark hair curled back from his forehead. “What do you plan to do today?”

“I’m off to the races. I have a horse running.”

“How exciting. What is its name?”

“Mercury.”

“Does he have wings on his heels?”

A spark brightened his eyes. “I do hope so.” He pushed back his chair and rose.

“You won’t be here for dinner?”

“No. Forgive me; I have a dinner engagement with an old friend. I have been absent from London for some time and must catch up with acquaintances. But as soon as your evening gowns arrive our nights will become very full.”

Another night spent alone. Charity swallowed a retort, knowing whatever she said would sound querulous and unreasonable. He had given her so much and been very honest about what their relationship would be.

She roamed St. Malin House, her silk house slippers echoing along the corridors. She found a portrait of her godfather which made him appear more austere than ever, a trait to be found in many relations, it seemed. She spent several hours studying the marble statues and the exquisite Limoges and Sèvres porcelain displayed in walnut cabinets. Further restless hours were spent wandering in and out of the house to walk in the manicured gardens or on the wide stone terrace. A footman insisted on opening the door for her each time even though she told him she could manage quite well herself. After she implored him to leave it to her, a pained expression appeared on Hove’s face. The poor footman grew red in the cheeks, so she returned to her bedchamber. She wasn’t used to a house full of servants, and while it was nice in some ways it was difficult to relax and be oneself.