*** This is a very long chapter. I was going to split it into two but then I decided that my wonderful readers, and especially my fabulous reviewers, deserved the whole thing! I really appreciate all your interest. ***

GRACE

"Grace, what brings you to town? It is not another errand for your mother, is it?"

Grace smiled at Polly. "Not today; I must confess my sole reason for coming to Bilton on this occasion is to avoid Mama's efforts to engage me further in the preparations for the upcoming weddings. It is quite tiresome. But how are you, my dear Polly? You surely cannot grow much larger!"

The flower-seller placed a hand on her stomach and laughed. "I hope not! The nurse assured me all was well on her last visit; it will not be too much longer, she believes." She took the two lavender-filled pillows Grace wished to purchase out of the window display and began to wrap them. "It seems that your mother is not the only one planning for a special occasion; you will have heard, of course, about the formal dinner being planned by Lady Standish?"

"That is one of the two things I have heard most of," Grace confirmed.

"The other being the weddings," Polly smiled, not requiring confirmation from her friend. "Well, Lady Standish herself came into the shop yesterday to confirm that the flowers she requested for the table arrangements will be available; she was so very gracious. We talked a little of her guests, and she informed me that the invitations were to be sent today. Today is a little late, in my opinion, given the dinner is tomorrow but perhaps they do things in a different fashion in London society. They have engaged personal messengers who have been instructed to wait until a reply is received. Shall I add the pillows to your family's account?"

Grace shook her head. "No, these are to be gifts for Faith and Hope; I would prefer to settle the account myself. Can you arrange for the statement to come directly to me, please?"

"Granted, soon as asked," Polly said, making a note in the ledgers. "I am sure your sisters will appreciate the thought." She passed the parcel to Grace. "Do you expect your household to receive an invitation?"

"Mama and Charity do," Grace said. "But I do not think that is likely; it is my understanding that the gathering is for the close acquaintances of Lord and Lady Standish only."

"She said as much to me," her friend agreed. "Although I also fancy that she will include some of the eligible women of the district; she appeared keen that her brother meet some ladies outside of his London circle. I do not think she believes any would make suitable wives for him. She dismissed the majority as fortune hunters, although it was rather more delicately phrased, as you would expect."

"Sir Ashford is a gentleman, and as such I do not believe he will have any difficulty in finding a wife who cares for more than his money," Grace disputed. "But tell me of the flowers Lady Standish chose. Mama will be delighted to hear any detail, however small."

Polly leaned across towards her and Grace could tell her friend had been longing for someone to ask that question. "Oh, Grace, I am certain that it will be glorious! I understand that someone is coming from London solely to arrange the flowers. We have been asked to deliver lilies of the purest white, and the freshest red roses we can find; I fear she will empty the hothouses and we will have no more flowers to sell for the rest of the year!" She sighed. "I wish I could see it."

Grace smiled. "Do not worry; someone from Bilton will be invited and I am sure they will be quite happy to tell us all about it." She slipped her hands into her gloves. "I must go. Polly, do take care, won't you?"

"Of course," she said. "And please give my regards to your sisters; reassure them that I have no intention of birthing this baby until I have provided flowers for both weddings!"

With a final goodbye Grace took her leave; she walked out onto the main street with the intention of wandering a little further before returning home. The weather was pleasant enough and she returned to Charles' carriage with her parcel. There the coachman relieved her of her burden.

"You need not wait any longer; as it is a fine day I shall walk home to Morcroft Hall," she instructed him.

"Very well, Miss Morcroft, I shall inform your mother of your whereabouts," the man nodded.

"Thank you." Grace lingered at the window of the millinery until the coach had pulled away and then she moved towards the dressmakers. She was considering going inside when the door opened and out stepped Faith's intended, Joshua Darlington.

"Good afternoon, Miss Morcroft," he said formally. "I trust I find you well?"

"Yes, thank you," she replied.

There was a slight pause in which Grace searched for something to say and failed. Luckily Mr Darlington appeared to have as little tolerance for pleasantries as she did.

"If you will excuse me?" he said. "I have some pressing business to attend to."

She nodded and took a step back. "Of course. Good day to you, Mr Darlington."

"And to you, Miss Morcroft." As he brushed past her she noticed that he had a large package tucked under his arm. She knew from Faith that he had ordered his wedding finery from a tailor in London and wondered if Mr Wilson had undertaken some alterations for him. She gave the matter no further thought and chose to glance in the window rather than venture inside.

There was a new gown in the window; one she had not seen before and which captured her attention instantly. The small card at the foot of the mannequin read told her that the skirt was made of duchess satin while the bodice was overlaid with soft cotton lace, and she could easily see the scalloped neckline and fluted sleeves. However it was none of these things which had provoked her interest; namely it was the colour of the dress that attracted her most.

"No," she told herself firmly. "You do not need another red gown." But she could not tear her eyes away from it and although she tried to pretend that they had not affected her, Alexander's words came floating back to her.

"I think I definitely prefer you in red."

Almost before she had time to think Grace found herself inside the store arranging for the dress to be delivered to Morcroft Hall the following day.

Thoughts of what she had done plagued her as she walked home. Never before had she been prompted to buy outfits by the opinions of others. She had always firmly believed it was something that she would never do but now that she had she was filled with doubt. Such an impressive gown was wholly unsuitable for daily wear and her mother would surely be enraged on learning of the expense.

Grace firmly ignored the nagging thought that perhaps she should think less about the fact she had purchased the gown and more about the reason why she had done such a thing. The idea that what Alexander thought of her was becoming increasingly important to her was dismissed as being entirely without merit; no, she had simply tired of having only one formal gown in her wardrobe.

"Grace! Grace!"

Thankful to be shaken from her troubling thoughts, she looked up to see Faith coming towards her at an unusually high speed.

"Thank goodness! You must come at once!" her sister huffed as she reached her.

Grace gave her a bewildered look. "Has something happened? It is not Mr Stevenson again, is it?" she asked, and was relieved when Faith shook her head.

"It is not bad news, but we must hurry. Mama says you must not keep him waiting long for a reply."

"Keep who waiting?" Grace asked.

Instead of replying Faith seized her by the hand and began pulling her along. "Hurry!"

When they arrived back at Morcroft Hall Grace quickly discovered the reason for the upset. A messenger sent by Lady Standish was waiting in the hall for a reply; an invitation addressed to Grace was clutched in Emilia's hand.

"Oh, dear, open it!" she commanded, thrusting the envelope towards Grace.

Grace gazed around at the faces of the people gathered to watch her. Charles looked bemused but gave an encouraging smile while Emilia urged her on; Faith and Hope were smiling but Charity, Rebecca and Louisa were frowning. She surmised from their expressions that they had not received similar envelopes of their own.

Turning back to the embossed envelope in her hand, she broke the seal and removed the folded paper tucked inside. After reading the words and confirming for herself that it was indeed an invitation to Winterton to dine with Lord and Lady Standish, Grace took the hastily prepared acceptance Hope offered to her and passed it on to the messenger.

"I would be delighted to attend," she said.

He nodded and quickly took his leave; she guessed he must still have several homes to visit.

"It must be because of Mr Mackenzie-Smith," Faith said breathlessly. "He must wish you to be present." She held out a small box to her sister. "The messenger also brought this."

Grace lifted the lid, noting that the name of a London jeweller was printed inside, and pulled out a smaller box; as she did so another piece of paper fell out. She ignored that for the moment to open the leather case and could not help but gasp at what she saw inside.

"Oh my goodness!" Hope, who was looking over her sister's shoulder curiously now, exclaimed. "It is beautiful!"

With trembling fingers, Grace lifted the bracelet from its velvet cushion and laid the box to one side. The circle of rubies and diamonds slid down over her knuckles and when she turned her hand, the light caught the stones and made them sparkle. The way in which each perfect ruby was separated from the next by an identical pair of smaller but equally flawless diamonds made the contrast between the rich red and the blue-white gemstones even more magnificent than it otherwise would have appeared. Grace had never imagined she would ever own something quite so wonderful.

"Read the note!" Faith urged, handing her the paper she had latterly retrieved from the floor.

Grace did as bid, her eyes widening in surprise as she took in the printed words. She glanced at each of her sisters in turn and then returned her eyes to the note.

"It is not from Mr Mackenzie-Smith," she said at last. "It is from his friend. He says he very much looks forward to seeing me at Winterton and hopes that I will wear his gift to celebrate the occasion of our meeting again."

"His friend?" Emilia said blankly and then her eyes widened. "You mean…" she whispered, "the bracelet is a gift from Sir Ashford?"

Grace nodded. "But I have barely spoken to him," her disbelief was evident in her tone. "There must be some mistake."

Emilia was too filled with joy at the thought that one of her daughters had caught the eye of Sir Ashford to reply, but Charity suffered no similar affliction. Her displeasure was clear as she addressed her sisters.

"There must be a mistake," she agreed. "The invitation was addressed to you, but perhaps the gift is intended for another member of the household?"

Taking the note from Grace, Hope read it and then shook her head. "No," she said, "there is no mistake. This is addressed in Grace's name. There can be no doubt that it was meant for her and her alone."

Grace raised her eyes to meet Faith's and saw the bewilderment she was experiencing reflecting back at her. This was entirely unexpected. What was she to do?

That at least was a question Emilia could answer; well before Grace's appointed time of departure for Winterton the following evening, she had her second daughter firmly laced into her new dress, with her ruby pendant at her neck and the bracelet which had caused so much consternation fastened around her wrist.

"Mama, please stop fussing," Grace pleaded after Emilia insisted on pinning her hair for the third time. "There is nothing wrong with my hair."

"This is a very important evening for you, my dear," Emilia said, ignoring her daughter's protests as she twisted a lock of hair around her finger before fixing it into place. "You must do everything you can to impress Sir Ashford. Remember men do not find your forthrightness appealing and act accordingly."

"So you intend that I do not speak for the entire evening?" Grace asked, wincing as her mother pressed one of the pins in with a little too much force. "Mother, I am well aware of how to behave in polite company."

Emilia turned her around and fixed her with a beady stare. "And I am well aware that despite that, you often choose to behave in exactly the opposite fashion. Do not embarrass this family, Grace. There will be many more important guests than you present this evening; do not offend them."

"My dear, the carriage awaits," Charles stepped into the room and smiled at Grace. "You look wonderful, cousin."

"Thank you, Charles," she replied. Her face was solemn as she continued. "And I promise that I will endeavour not to disgrace the proud Morcroft name tonight."

"Glad to hear it," he replied lightly. "Now, be off with you; it would not do to keep Sir Standish and his Lady waiting!"

Grace was hustled into the carriage and waved off by all of her family save for Charles, whom she was sure had retreated behind his newspaper as soon as he was able. For a moment she wished that she could also have been spending the evening in the library, because social occasions such as these usually bored her terribly. She could not deny that there was a slight excitement in her at the thought that she was soon to see Alexander again, but it was tempered by the knowledge that she was wearing a gift sent by his far grander friend.

In truth she had been in two minds about wearing the bracelet, or indeed even accepting it in the first place. She fancied that she might return it to Sir Ashford that evening, expressing her gratitude that he thought her worthy of such a gift but explaining that she did not feel in good conscience that she could accept. She would certainly press him to explain the reason for his purchase.

Thanks to her mother's interference Grace's arrival at Winterton was prompt, and she was greeted by none other than Lady Standish herself.

"Miss Morcroft, I am delighted that you were able to accept my invitation to dine with us," her hostess said, extending a hand to her.

She was as poised and elegant as her breeding required, Grace thought, and certainly she dressed as befitted her status. Her dark hair was swept up into a knot at the top of her head and fastened with diamond-encrusted pins to match the large stones at her ears and throat, while her midnight blue velvet gown emphasized her tiny waist. She stood tall and proud by the side of her husband as they welcomed their guests, conversing neither too much nor too little with each party and ensuring no-one had the opportunity to feel neglected.

This encounter with Lady Standish was, Grace knew, giving her ample opportunity to see the good manners expected of the daughter of a member of the gentry. It was something she herself, with her hot temper and inherent desire to prove herself the equal of any man, could never hope to emulate. And that, she thought, was what she would have to do if she was intended to be Sir Ashford's bride.

His gift certainly seemed to suggest that he had romantic intentions towards her, for it was unthinkable that a man would buy diamonds and rubies to present to a woman who did not hold his interest, but as he had made no further advances towards her throughout her acquaintance with his friend, she was truly at a loss to understand why he thought her worthy of his attentions.

"Grace."

Hearing her name softly whispered in her ear stunned Grace out of her thoughts. She turned slightly to find Alexander Mackenzie-Smith at her side, a smile playing at his lips.

"How kind of you to join us," he said lightly. "Perhaps later I shall be able to convince you to contribute to the conversation?"

Her cheeks warmed at his teasing and her inability to control her reaction to his nearness annoyed her.

"I apologise," she managed, "but I presently have a great deal pressing on my mind."

Alexander frowned. "It is nothing serious, I hope," he said. "I was of the opinion that the troubles facing your family had been resolved; I believed your sister Hope's marriage to be settled."

Grace shook her head. "They are resolved, and Hope is happily planning her wedding. The issues I think of are mine alone, but I do not think that to discuss them now – with you - would be wise. However, I thank you for your concern."

"Your unhappiness shall always provoke concern in me," he replied with a raised brow. "I do not believe it to be an emotion that suits you."

"Indeed," she laughed a little, "many women are exquisite in their misery; however I, alas, am not one of these ladies."

"That was not the sentiment I intended to convey," Alexander said. "I-"

He was prevented from continuing by the interruption of his hostess as she lightly placed a hand on his arm.

"Alexander, dinner is shortly to be announced. May I ask you to escort Miss Morcroft to the dining room when the time comes?" Lady Standish asked. Her brown eyes moved past Alexander to focus on Grace's face. "Assuming that is acceptable to you, of course, Miss Morcroft."

Grace inclined her head slightly to signal her consent, smiling as Alexander dropped into a slight bow before her on seeing the gesture.

"Why, thank you for your kind acceptance of my humble arm, Miss Morcroft," he said solemnly, before turning to address Lady Standish. "I shall be delighted to accompany Grace. As you are already aware, I will do anything that you require of me, Sarah."

"Do not tease me, Alexander," Lady Standish replied severely, although the rebuke was greatly softened by the smile she bestowed upon him. And in the look that passed between them afterwards, Grace could clearly see the genuine affection they held for one another. Then Lady Standish's eyes flickered back towards her. "I hope we shall have the opportunity to speak more after dinner, Miss Morcroft."

"I shall look forward to it, Lady Standish," Grace replied softly, and the Lady smiled.

"Sarah, please. I insist," she said.

"Then I am to be Grace."

With another smile, Sarah Standish took her leave, and Alexander turned to smile down at Grace.

"She likes you," he said confidently.

"She does not know me, Alexander," Grace countered. "She knows nothing of me except that my name is Grace and you are to escort me to dinner."

"Considering only your own conversations with her, that is correct. However Sarah has heard much about you; you may be assured of that," Alexander said, raising a brow as dinner was announced. He offered Grace his arm. "Miss Morcroft, would you allow me the honour?"

She slipped her arm through his and allowed him to lead her into the dining room. It was a magnificent room, with rich burgundy walls accented with gold and burdened with grand portraits of the many esteemed members of the Standish lineage. Grace took great care to step lightly across the polished black marble beneath her feet; she was painfully aware that she was not the most graceful when it came to walking in shoes with a small heel across a slippery floor. She was grateful for the support of Alexander's arm and relieved when she was at last able to sit on the maroon velvet of one of the finest chairs she had ever seen.

"You must excuse me, Grace, for to my great disappointment we have not been seated together. Alas, the honour of your company has been bestowed on Sandy this evening," Alexander explained as the aforementioned gentleman joined them. "You must take good care of Miss Morcroft, my friend."

Sir Ashford smiled down at Grace. "I shall; you have my word," he replied as the last of the ladies were seated and the gentlemen were able to take their places. He settled himself in the chair next to Grace as Alexander crossed to the other side of the table. "I hope you are well, Miss Morcroft. Or may I call you Grace?"

"I am very well, and I insist that you call me Grace," she replied with a smile. There was something else that she needed to say, and she decided it would be best to do so quickly. "And I must thank you, Sir, for the kind gift which you so thoughtfully sent to me." She lifted her wrist to indicate the bracelet. "However I do not feel it is proper of me to accept such an expensive item, and so I shall return it following this evening's end."

"Nonsense," Sandy said, and nodded to one of the waiters standing discreetly by to fill his wine glass. "It is for you, and you must wear it on many more occasions than this one. Tonight has confirmed, as Alexander already insisted, that red suits you exceptionally well, and I have never doubted that you are worthy of such flawless rubies. Therefore I shall hear no more about returning the bracelet; it would cause great offence if you were to do so."

"I would not like to cause you any offence, Sir, but-" Grace started to protest.

"Then we need say no more about it," Sandy said. "And please, Grace, do not refer to me as Sir beyond this moment. It is more than acceptable to me for you to use my given name."

Grace accepted his decision with a small nod and burning cheeks; she did not want to cause Sir Ashford any upset but she was still uneasy about the situation which was developing. She glanced across the table and noted that Alexander was deep in conversation with the very beautiful lady on his left. Grace could not recall her name offhand, but her mother had pointed out the willowy blonde at the Winterton ball and imparted that she was the sole heiress to the fortune of one of the country's richest families.

Indeed, on looking around the table Grace was somewhat alarmed to note that she appeared to be the only guest without a title in the family or a claim to a large fortune; Emilia had been correct when she had stated there would be many important people dining with Lord and Lady Standish this evening. However it was not in Grace's nature to think that other people were somehow better than her simply because of an accident of birth, and she quickly shook off her discomfort and concentrated on the conversation flowing around her.

Dinner was one of the most delicious meals she had ever eaten – smoked salmon and caviar, followed by roast pheasant with chestnut stuffing and finally hand-churned cream with freshly picked fruits – and time passed very quickly. The level of her wine glass never seemed to drop more than an inch before it was refilled and she careful not to drink too much, although it was the finest wines from the Standish cellar which were on offer. Sandy effortlessly included her in all of his discussions with the Member of Parliament seated on her other side and she was almost able to forget that she was talking with two of the most influential men in England.

Sir Ashford was, Grace was shortly forced to admit to herself, a wonderful gentleman indeed. His manners were impeccable and more importantly, his personality was immediately engaging. And there was no denying that he was good to look at; his dark blond hair was presently worn shorter than it had been on his initial arrival in the area, which she thought better suited his pleasant features, and his blue eyes sparkled with merriment. His gaze also communicated a genuine interest in her thoughts when she found herself drawn into a lively debate around the suitability of university education for young ladies.

But her eye was frequently drawn to the other side of the table, where Alexander was still engrossed in a conversation with the heiress whose name she now remembered to be Anna. She was continually disappointed to find that he never once glanced in her direction; rather his eyes appeared unable to wander far from the beautiful face of the blonde beside him. However she was not given much time to muse over her dismay because shortly after the plates had been cleared, Lady Standish stood.

"Come ladies, let us leave the gentlemen to their brandies and cigars," she said with a smile, laying her hand on her husband's shoulder. "A fire has been laid for us in the parlour and I am certain we have much to discuss."

Sandy immediately rose to his feet to help Grace with her chair; on the opposite side of the table Alexander was behaving similarly towards his heiress. As she followed Lady Standish from the room, Grace cast another quick glance in his direction, but he had already turned towards Lord Standish and was laughing at something their host had said. She found that she no longer knew what to think about Alexander, or Sandy for that matter. Everything she had believed before her visit to Winterton seemed suddenly false.

In the parlour Grace found herself seated next to Anna, and she was thoroughly disappointed to discover that the young lady was as delightful as Alexander's behaviour suggested she was. She was also exceedingly interested in Grace's life and background, and although Grace was reluctant to reveal herself fully she was given little choice in the matter. Not that the additional knowledge caused Anna any concern at all; rather she was delighted to discover that Grace shared many of her views regarding the behaviours expected of them.

"I do not normally wear corsets," Anna confided at one point. "I find them too constricting and am usually content to go without. However, Mama insisted I wear one this evening."

"I believe I was party to a similar discussion earlier," Grace admitted. "I do not think it can be healthy to be laced in so tightly on a regular basis."

"I know!" Anna agreed with a laugh. "Abandoning our corsets would surely prevent the many attacks of the vapours we ladies are prone to!"

Grace had hoped that the gentlemen would eventually join them in the parlour and she would be given the opportunity to speak again with Alexander, but as the hour of her expected departure grew nearer it seemed less likely that this would happen. Eventually she could delay no longer; several of the guests had already left when she requested that her carriage be called.

However someone must have informed the gentlemen of this development, for she had not long begun to search for her hostess to thank her for the kind invitation when one of the men appeared at her side.

"Grace, you are leaving?" Sandy asked. "We had hoped you would be able to stay longer."

She shook her head. "I apologise but I cannot; the journey to Morcroft Hall will take some time and I do not wish to travel too late."

"Well, please allow me to tell you how much I enjoyed your company this evening, and I hope that we will have the opportunity to spend much more time together in the future," Sandy said. He took Grace's hand and dropped a gentle kiss onto the back of it.

"Thank you. And I have also had a wonderful evening," Grace said sincerely.

Sir Ashford smiled. "I am glad. Now, I know that Alexander also wishes to speak to you before you leave; if you will excuse me I will do my best to find him."

"There will be no need," a voice said from behind Grace, and she turned to find Alexander standing behind her. "Your carriage awaits, Grace. May I accompany you outside?"

She nodded her assent and turned once more to Sandy. "I hope to see you again soon, Sir."

"I am sure that you will," he informed her, his eyes sparkling, before shooting his friend a meaningful look that Grace could not interpret. "I shall leave the delightful Miss Morcroft in your capable hands, Alexander."

Grace once again took Alexander's arm as Sir Ashford excused himself to speak with another of the guests. They walked unspeaking until Alexander stopped at the threshold of the entrance hall.

"I am sorry we did not have much chance to speak tonight, Grace," he said. "Alas, Sarah had asked me to ensure Miss Watson was comfortable, as she was not familiar with any of the other guests, and the task occupied most of my time."

Grace wanted to remark that she had been similarly afflicted and he had shown no such concern for her, but with a great effort managed to hold her tongue.

"I did not expect your undivided attention," she remarked lightly instead. "There is nothing that makes me more deserving of it than any other person here present."

Alexander raised an eyebrow at her. "Do you really believe that, Grace?"

She met his gaze steadily. "I have no reason to believe otherwise," she replied. "Now if you will excuse me, I really must go."

He caught her arm as she turned away, and motioned to the butler to close the door he had just opened for her. "I am afraid I cannot excuse you yet. Grace, surely you must know by now that I consider you to be the most remarkable person I have met in Bilton, man or woman?"

"Alexander, you must not prevent Miss Morcroft from leaving if she wishes to do so, delightful though her company is!" Sarah's voice floated down the hall towards them and both turned to see her walking in their direction. "My husband requires your presence; he needs you to settle a discussion he is engaged in with the Duke."

"They are having another argument?" Alexander queried, releasing Grace from his grasp as he spoke. He sent her a humorous look but she thought she could detect an underlying frustration in his expression.

"Well, you know as well as I do that Geoffrey prefers to refer to their discussions as 'debates', but that is of no consequence. He simply informed me that your immediate attention would be desirable, and I must bid Miss Morcroft goodbye anyway," Lady Standish replied as she reached his side.

"Of course," Alexander replied. "Goodnight, Miss Morcroft. I wish you a safe journey."

He turned quickly on his heel and left before she had the opportunity to reply. Grace quickly hid her puzzlement at his differing behaviours throughout the course of the evening and gave her hostess a warm smile.

"I must thank you once again for your kind invitation," she said.

Lady Standish waved away her thanks with a delicate hand. "Think nothing of it, Grace. I fully expect that you will become a more frequent visitor to Winterton in the coming weeks." Grace gave her a quizzical look, and she laughed. "My brother is besotted with you, Miss Morcroft. If his behaviour towards you does not inform you of this, surely the very fine jewels you are wearing this evening, not to mention the money to secure your sister's marriage, are clue enough?"

Grace could not hide her shock at that revelation. "The money for Hope came from Sir Ashford? I…I did not know," she stammered.

Sarah nodded. "It came from the Ashford vault," she confirmed, watching Grace carefully, "but I did not realise that you were not aware of the fact. I hope I have not carelessly given away an important secret."

"No," Grace said softly. "In fact, I am grateful to you for revealing the source, for now I know where my thanks should be directed."

"I am as certain as I can be that my brother will happily accept your gratitude; I only pray that you will not inform him of where your information came from."

"I will not," she assured Lady Standish. "And now I must go. Thank you, once again."

She momentarily pressed her hand into Sarah's and then breathlessly hurried to her carriage. She could hardly believe that the banker's draft had also been a gift from Sir Ashford, but she had no reason to doubt the word of his own sister. Coupled with the bracelet she had received and his graceful behaviour towards her tonight, there could surely no longer be any mistaking of his intentions towards her. It seemed he meant to court her; even propose marriage to her!

But what of Sandy's friend, Alexander Mackenzie-Smith? Grace could not stop her thoughts returning to the man whom, truth told, she considered to be the most desirable of her acquaintance. His behaviour towards her this evening had been decidedly odd; she was forced to admit that his occasional inattention had been most out of character, based on their earlier meetings. But had he not paid her the highest compliment she could imagine, by deeming her the most remarkable person he had met in Bilton? Was he merely toying with her affections?

All at once Grace was grateful that she alone had been invited to dine at Winterton. She desperately needed time to think, and the journey back to Morcroft Hall would provide adequate opportunity to do so.