“I know he’ll be there.” Mrs. Dashwood clasped her hands under her chin, and widened her eyes in horror. “He is Lady Prescott’s favourite nephew.”
Diana did not raise her eyes but, now armed with embroidery scissors, began hacking at the knot. “Really?” Her tone expressed bland disinterest. “What a surprise. Her favourite nephew? Goodness me, how many does she have?” Unsurprisingly, the thread broke. Perhaps it was a sign, but of what, she wondered.
“Oh, my dear,” Mrs. Dashwood continued. “If you bumped into Sir Gareth in public or at a large gathering, it would be easy to avoid him. But a house party in the countryside? With a small selection of particular guests?” She made a tut-tut sound. “And what if the weather keeps everyone indoors? You’ll have to participate in whatever entertainment Lady Prescott provides. You’ll be flung together, like it or not. What will you say to him? I defy anyone to escape scrutiny and gossip under those circumstances.”
Diana looked up. “Oh, you’re worrying for nothing. I can assure you I will not be embarrassed if I must greet Sir Gareth at the breakfast table, or participate in a game of charades or cribbage with him.” She shrugged. “Everyone will be too busy enjoying themselves to notice us. I’m sure there will be other delicious on-dits and romantic liaisons to keep their tongues occupied. And besides, you may not have heard but Sir Gareth is almost certainly ensnared by the charms of a siren.”
Mrs. Dashwood raised her eyebrows. “A siren? What nonsense.”
“I was being sarcastic.”
“Who is this siren? I’m sure Sir Gareth is far too sensible to succumb to any lures flung out by designing women.”
“The siren is a Miss Jemima Plymstock of Newbury, and she has twenty thousand pounds a year to her name. She does not appear to be the predatory type of female an eligible man should avoid. I’ve heard she is quietly spoken and charming. However, I believe that an engagement is imminent. Lucretia Dalton made haste to inform me of this development when I saw her out shopping with her silly sisters.”
Mrs. Dashwood gave a derogatory snort. “Lucretia Dalton is a brainless female with more hair than sense. I’m not sure I’d believe anything that girl says. However, if it’s true that means he isn’t wasting any time filling your space at the altar. The fickle man.”
She said the last three words in a reproachful tone.
Diana was exasperated. “Mama, how changeable your opinions are. He is not my property and therefore is entitled to marry whomever he likes. A while ago, you were crying about the humiliation I might endure by meeting him in public. I can assure you that if he is almost engaged to Miss Plymstock then he will feel no mortification upon seeing me and neither will I upon seeing him.”
She pulled out the remnants of the ruined forget-me-not. “I can’t fall into a decline every time his name is mentioned. I’m sure he doesn’t on my behalf. The past is the past. We had best get on with living our lives and making a new future.”
Did he ever think of her? Not likely. His face, altered with blazing anger when she had given back his heirloom engagement ring, a magnificent square-cut emerald surrounded with diamonds, had been almost unbearable to see. Would he give the same ring to Miss Plymstock now?
Mrs. Dashwood pursed her lips. “Jemima. What a very odd name. It’s the sort of name one would give to a pet monkey.” She leaned towards Diana and placed one hand on her arm. “Are you sure it will not upset you to see Sir Gareth with Miss Plymston?”
“Plymstock.” Diana automatically corrected her. “Of course it will not upset me. I am a grown woman of three-and-twenty, not a lovesick schoolgirl hankering after a romantic dream.”
Mrs. Dashwood gave a long, lugubrious sigh. “It’s just that when Lady Cranston introduced you two, everyone thought you and Sir Gareth were so perfect for each other. I always imagined you were twin souls. You’ve known each other for so long and—”
“Perhaps that was the problem,” said Diana gently.
Mrs. Dashwood stared. “Whatever do you mean? Usually the problem is not knowing each other and then regretting it once the ring is on the finger. Marry in haste, repent at leisure.”
Diana shrugged. “Perhaps we knew each other so well that there was no mystery, no romance, and no surprises left.”
As she said these words, an enormous wave of sadness welled up, a wave so fierce and overwhelming that perhaps her heart would burst from the strain. He was her one true love, her twin soul, her everything, and he had destroyed her adoration with those few heartless and careless words.
Mrs. Dashwood blinked. “Is that all? I thought there was something more…something more momentous.”
Diana schooled her features to reflect perfect composure. Her voice almost betrayed her but a cough covered the choking sob. She pretended to examine her embroidery and lied. She even managed a little laugh. “Of course, what else could it possibly be? I hope Sir Gareth has many wonderful surprises in store with Miss Plymstock if he chooses to propose.”
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