From the Timeless Regency Collection, An Evening at Almack's
The Heart's Choice, by Sally Britton
“Do stop dawdling, Matilda.”
One would think, given her sister’s tone, that Mattie was a delinquent child rather than the elder of the two and quite firmly the more responsible sister.
“Stopping to greet our neighbors, especially those of respectable age and rank, is not dawdling,” Mattie corrected, attempting to keep up with her younger sister.
“It is when we have better things to do.” Beatrice sniffed but finally slowed her rather unladylike stride. “And when the person you stop to speak to is that horrid Lady Fenlock. You know she delights in spreading rumors about me.”
Rumors that were, Mattie knew, very well founded. Beatrice had something of a reputation for being a flirt.
“She is also someone we need if we hope to be invited anywhere this Season.” Mattie looked at her younger sister from the corner of her eye, studying the artful way Beatrice’s sun-gold hair escaped her bonnet in playful ringlets. Her sister truly was lovely as Aphrodite and a contrast to Mattie in almost every way.
Mattie was older by four years, and at age twenty-six didn’t mind being considered on the shelf. Her hair was darker, her eyes muddier, and her complexion not so faultlessly pale as her sister’s. Beatrice was tall and willowy, Mattie of an average height and shape. Beatrice could command a room with ease and Mattie much preferred being an observer on the edges of most parties.
“As long as we have vouchers, we will do well enough,” Beatrice argued. “We do not need old gossipy geese to beg us invitations, Matilda. We are attractive young ladies, daughters of nobility.” She narrowed her eyes. “Our family has commanded respect for generations.” Beatrice tilted her nose into the air and walked at a faster clip again.
It took a firm hold on her tongue to keep Mattie from replying to that remark. Managing her family’s estate was far easier than managing Beatrice. The Granthorne barony had meant something for nearly a hundred years, but Mattie knew that in a single generation it could crumble like the ruins of their ancestors’ castle. And should people discover their father’s ailment, Bridget would not even be completely to blame.
Mattie’s steps on the walk slowed as she considered her father’s condition, one for which his doctor could give them no cure. Her heart ached at the thought of losing the man who had been her hero all her life. Her sister didn’t seem to notice when Mattie fell behind.
If Mattie could persuade Beatrice to focus long enough to marry her off, she just might salvage the family name, her father’s dignity, and her mother’s pride. Beatrice must stop being so stubborn about everything to do with marriage. Many of her worthier callers had disappeared after the previous year. Her sister, at twenty-two, didn’t command the devotees she had at eighteen and nineteen. But there was one man who might do.
Mr. Arthur Redhurst, a gentleman of means if not in possession of a title, would make a fine husband for Miss Beatrice Rayment, younger daughter of the sixth Baron Granthorne. They would do well together. Both mothers—and Mattie—thought so.
While Mattie had been thinking, Beatrice walked ahead of her by nearly twenty yards, but Mattie refused to run to catch up. They were on the street of their townhouse, after all, and she could at least see her sister well enough to stop any real trouble from happening. Or so she thought, until she saw a gentleman had stopped on the walk, doffing his hat to speak with Beatrice.
Narrowing her eyes, Mattie maintained her even speed and tried to determine who the man was. He was tall and dark haired, and his words carried to her clearly in the air, in a voice as unexpected as it was familiar.
“Miss Beatrice, good afternoon. It is a pleasure to see you after so long.”
It cannot be. Mattie’s heart lightened, a feeling suspiciously like hope stealing into her heart. But that was ridiculous. Seeing an old acquaintance, even if it was him, ought not cause such sensations.
Beatrice curtsied and Mattie slowed her step, only a few feet away now, waiting for her sister to identify the gentleman.
“Good afternoon,” Beatrice said as she returned to her full height. “Pardon me, but how do you know my name? I do not believe we have met.”
Beatrice raised a hand to her cheek, batting her eyelashes in her most coquettish manner. Mattie ground her teeth together. No. Beatrice must not be allowed to toy with this man’s feelings, innocent flirtation or not.
“Oh, we’ve met, Miss Beatrice. In fact, I’ve known you for years. You do not know me?” He spoke with a lilt to his voice Mattie had always found rather charming. What on earth was he doing here, on their street? And how could Beatrice not recognize the man who had grown up practically on their doorstep?
Beatrice shook her head, tilting her head coyly. “Sir, I would remember meeting someone such as you. I never forget a handsome gentleman, and it is really too bad of you to pretend to know me. We must be properly introduced or there will be gossip.”
I write clean and sweet Historical Romance Novels, I live in the desert, I'm a mom of four, madly in love with my husband, and I love to read!
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