Chapter Eight

In which there is family.

"But… I don't understand," Rosalind said, looking from her mother to James and back again. "I had nothing to do with… with Lord Farley attacking Sir Riley."

"Unfortunately, you had everything to do with it, dear," Sheila said. "You were the cause of their quarrel."

"But I didn't do anything. Certainly nothing so severe that I deserve to be packed off to the country!"

"Rosalind, love," James began, sitting down beside her, "we realize that this is not entirely fair, but you're… well, quite frankly, you're becoming a bit of a spectacle."

"James!" Melanie chided. "Really."

"Oh, for Heaven's sake, Melanie, you saw the way everyone was watching her tonight. They were just waiting for her to say something outrageous or bring Farley and Riley to blows again."

"And you know just as well as I that there were a dozen girls in that ballroom wishing it had been their honour Farley was defending," Melanie pointed out. "And if it had been any of them, the entire thing would have been considered quite the coup."

"Yes, if it had been one of them. Because those dozen girls have not been in the gossip columns all Season long for… for being… unladylike," he finished lamely. Then he sighed and ran a hand through his already mussed hair.

"Rosalind," Sheila said, attempting to smooth over James' aggravation, "this is not meant to be a punishment for you. It is a… strategic manoeuvre to protect your reputation and character from further scrutiny. For although your words are sometimes ill advised, that in itself is not cause enough to send you back to the Abbey. It is regretful that Lord Farley and Sir Riley's actions must bring about such a drastic change in your life, but after their boldness in their behaviour towards you tonight, this is the route that seems best. Were you to remain in London, their conduct might escalate to such a point of indecency as to ruin you completely. Away from London, your absence will shield your reputation from much of the repercussions of their quarrel, and, it is to be hoped, will also prompt their disagreement to diminish." She sighed sympathetically and reached for her daughter's hand. "Really, dear, this is what's best for everyone."

"Are you really in love with her again?" Zachary asked, peering at his older brother as he tipped his chair back on two legs.

Vincent's eyes did not leave his morning paper, nor did his hand pause in raising his coffee cup to his lips. "Yes," he said and took a sip. "I am." Sunlight poured in through the bank of windows that made up one wall of the dining room at Farley House. It slunk over the carpeted floor and crept up the dining table to poke fingers at the brothers' plates.

Xavier ate his breakfast calmly, listening to the conversation without comment as he neatly cut up his kippers.

Zachary allowed his chair to fall forward onto all four legs. "And it took you how long to determine this?"

"Not nearly as long as it shall take you to learn to sit properly," Vincent replied, eyes still on the paper.

Ignoring the barb, Zachary laid his forearm over the paper, effectively blocking Vincent's view, and leaned in, forcing his brother to look at him. "How can you be in love with her? A month ago, you hated her!"

Vincent glowered at him. "I never hated her."

"You said you would sooner die than see me marry her," Zachary accused.

"I told you not to court her; I never said anything about dying, and you never said anything about marriage."

"Courting implies marriage."

"Well, you've no intention of being married anytime soon, so what difference does it make?"

Xavier stood to refill his plate.

"You can't love her, Vincent," Zachary insisted. "You can't even have a civil conversation with her."

"And precisely what experience do you have that renders you so expertly versed in matters of love?" Vincent demanded.

Xavier rang for more toast, and returned to his seat with two quail eggs on his plate.

"I needn't have any experience. Any fool could see that the two of you would murder each other before your first anniversary. In any case, what became of your specifications? What of practicality and sense and all the rest of your drab requirements for a little mouse of a wife? Surely, you cannot argue that Rosalind Fulton is such a woman."

"There are other qualities to recommend her," Vincent ground out, "not that I need explain myself to you."

"Oh, but I would so love to hear it," Zachary retorted sarcastically. "I should dearly love to hear how this creature, who embodies everything you detest in a woman, is now the desire of your heart. How you shall laugh when she says something completely inappropriate about this duke or that dowager, which will have the family in disgrace for a month. How you shall smile when she races her mare across Hyde Park in the most indecorous manner possible. And how you shall indulge her every whim and allow her to buy out whole stores on her shopping excursions. You, the most polite, proper, practical Viscount Farley."

Vincent sent Zachary a withering look and tugged his paper out from under the other's arm. "As I said, I needn't explain myself."

"Have it your way, then," Zachary declared, pushing his chair back from the table and standing. "But when you find yourself trapped in an unhappy marriage, do not say that I did not try to stop you."

Xavier glanced at Vincent as Zachary left. "He really is trying to be helpful, you know. Making himself an annoyance is his way of expressing affection."

"I'm aware," Vincent sighed, flicking his newspaper.

"I believe he is genuinely concerned about your happiness," Xavier went on, standing up to retrieve a slice of the fresh toast that had just arrived.

"Yes, I believe he is," Vincent agreed.

Xavier took his seat again and fixed his eyes on his brother. "And?" he prompted.

Vincent sighed and tossed down his paper. "And what?"

"Is he right to worry?"

"Oh, come now, Xavier! I'm a grown man; I should think I am perfectly capable of choosing a bride for myself."

"Well, yes, I suppose. But Zachary does have a point; you fell back in love with Miss Fulton rather suddenly. Are you quite sure that it is love?"

"I am."

Xavier put down his fork and leaned in, eyes fixed on his brother's. "Three years ago, you came home from your morning walk and declared yourself in love. Four months later, you came home from a house call and swore you'd never have anything to do with Rosalind Fulton again."

"I know," Vincent replied, grimacing. "I suppose I was wrong."

Due to the commotion following his altercation with Sir Riley and the events of the subscription ball, Vincent thought it prudent not to call upon Rosalind for a few days. By the time he did take himself off to Trevalyn House, impeccably dressed and bearing a lively bouquet of flowers, it was too late.

"Miss Rosalind has returned to Trevalyn Abbey, my lord," the butler informed him.

Vincent blinked, somewhat taken aback. He had not expected this. "Ah, I see. And the rest of the family?"

"The viscount is at home, if my lord wishes to see him. The viscountess and Miss Niamph Fulton are out shopping. Miss Hilary is visiting her brother and his wife at their townhouse. Miss Yolanda is –"

"So they are all in London, then, I take it?" Vincent interrupted, having no great need to know the whereabouts every Fulton in England.

"No, my lord," the butler blinked at him as if he had asked a very silly question. "Mrs. Fulton accompanied Miss Rosalind to Trevalyn Abbey."

"Oh, yes, of course." Vincent smiled, and drummed his beaver hat against his free arm. "Thank you."

"Would you like to leave your card, my lord?" the butler inquired.

"No, no, that's quite alright," Vincent assured him, turning back to the street. What would be the point? Rosalind was at the Abbey, in Kent, no doubt due in part to his own unseemly behaviour. He considered returning to the country himself, in order that he might court her there, but his leaving so soon after her would likely only garner more gossip. No, the best route was most definitely to let things lie for the time being. Which likely meant he would not see her until the Season ended, and he himself returned to Kent.

Vincent sighed and straightened his hat. It did not seem as if this Season was going to be particularly enjoyable.

The blossoms on the apple trees were in full bloom, their petals ranging from a bright blushing pink to milky white. They clung lightly to the dull brown branches, dancing against the blue sky as Rosalind walked beneath them, face held up to theirs. A bee hovered briefly over her shoulder, and then swept away, disappearing into one of the trees. The orchards were always quiet on summer afternoons, when it was too hot for anyone to work outside. The only sounds were the bees and the rustle of leaves and grass.

Rosalind paused by one tree despite herself and ran her hand down its trunk. This was where it had happened; this was where she had realized that she loved Vincent. It had been May, just as it was now, and the blossoms had been a little late, as they were this year.

She had taken a basket of food out to the orchard to spend a few hours quietly there. Vincent had been away in East Sussex, and she had not seen him in three days, nor was she certain when he would return.

Settling beneath the tree, she had allowed herself to indulge in those daydreams that young girls are so prone to, whether or not they imagine themselves yet to be in love. She pictured herself and Vincent engaged in various, if unoriginal scenes of courtship. She had imagined herself, fully grown, having been presented – might he even be at her presentation? – entering a room where he would be engaged in conversation with another. A casual glance about the room would bring his eyes to her, and he would stop, struck by the appearance of the young girl he had once teased and acted so easily with in all the finery and graciousness befitting a young lady of Society. She would smile, as acknowledgement of his notice, but then her attention would be called away, perhaps by another gentleman, and then she herself would be ushered in a direction other than Vincent, to be introduced to someone or engaged in some activity or other. Some time later, he would manage to make his way to her side, and they would fall into conversation such as both would be oblivious to all others in the room. After that, he would begin to call on her formally, with all the civility and attention that marks an ideal beau. They would go for rides in Hyde Park, and he would dance with her at balls. Then, finally, he would beg her hand in marriage.

Rosalind had not yet settled her mind as to what words or in what place she preferred this proposal to take place when, as if conjured by her thoughts, Vincent himself appeared before her.

"My lord, you are returned!"

"Indeed I am." The charm of his smile had appeared to Rosalind even more profound than her memory granted. "My I sit with you, Miss Fulton?"

"Oh, yes, please do!" The eagerness of her smile, the excitement in her voice was unmistakable, but Rosalind could not seem to restrain herself.

Once Vincent was seated, and a share of the repast offered and accepted, Rosalind turned to the topic of his recent absence. "And was your journey very pleasant?"

"Pleasant enough," he replied, leaning back against the tree. "But I admit I'm very glad to be home. There is nowhere so beautiful as Kent in the springtime, don't you agree, Miss Fulton?"

"I'm sure I would not know, my lord. I've never been anywhere but here and London."

"Truly? You've never been visited relatives elsewhere or gone a tour of leisure?"

"No, my lord. My mother's family lives in the north of Kent. And, what with five girls in the household to be taught all the accomplishments deemed admirable in young ladies, I don't think anyone ever thought to bring any of us on a tour of leisure – there was too much else to be done."

That smile again. How wonderful was that smile! And those eyes! "Ah, yes, the trials of being an accomplished young lady," he sighed. "And what are your accomplishments, Miss Fulton?"

"I think it would be considered very bad taste to boast of them, my lord," Rosalind protested, feeling herself blush.

"Then modesty must be among them."

She adverted her eyes then, trying not to squirm beneath his gaze. A young lady ought not to be so discomposed, she knew, and yet how could she ever act so indifferent as she had been taught, when a man as handsome as Vincent Cadwaller sat talking to her and her alone?

"You enjoy Kent, though, don't you?" he inquired.

Rosalind blinked, momentarily lost. "Oh, yes," she effused when she understood. "How could I not? It is absolutely beautiful. I confess it should be nice to see a bit more of the world than a single corner of England, if the chance should ever arise, but if not, I should never regret if I spent all my life here in Kent."

He turned to her, and their eyes met. His eyes were dark green, like her grandmother's emerald ring, and they sparkled in the fragments of sunlight that sprinkled the orchard. "Perhaps you shall," he said and smiled that smile.

And at that moment, looking into his eyes, captivated by his manner and his words and absolutely everything about him, Rosalind Fulton had fallen in love with Vincent Cadwaller.