Chapter 19

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"Might you be frequent riders, ladies?" Lord Algernon inquired with an easy grin, as he stood facing the ladies with Lord Buxton standing next to him.

Diana and Alicia glanced at each other, "No, we are not," Alicia responded calmly. She wondered where he would go with this, what he would say next in his attempt to make them laugh. Not that she was going to; there wasn't possibly anything these gentlemen could do to elicit a smile, let alone a laugh, from them. Frank Templemore stood at the opposite corner of the room, talking to his mother and exchanging occasional words with Mrs Fleming, but his eyes were on the ladies. He wanted to catch them laughing and then inquire about the joke that had got to them later. He wanted to make sure Lord Buxton and Lord Algernon, being as stiff as they were, got through with their punishment instead of backing out, after all, his plan would only work if everyone was better acquainted.

"Well then you can't imagine how Edward's first time was," Isaac Algernon chuckled, "He used to ride his horse rather less well than another horse would."

Edward Buxton scoffed at his friend's audacity to use him for amusement. Diana observed him, he really did act like the world revolved around him.

"I'm sorry gentlemen," she spoke up, mustering up her indifference to them politely, "Pray, excuse me, I should take Theodore to bed."

Lord Buxton and Lord Algernon's eyes snapped to her, they looked shocked, at the idea of losing a bet to another gentleman, or at the idea that they weren't as appealing to women as they thought for one to denounce herself from their company so quickly, Diana could not tell.

They both exchanged knowing glances and Diana noticed a hint of encouragement in Lord Algernon's after Lord Buxton sighed and looked at her, "Lady Beaumont, I shall like to have a word with you in private. I think it is long overdue."

Diana's heart beat quickened, but she maintained her composure, "I'm sure it can wait," she turned to Theodore as she fixed his shirt and decided if she was going to pick him up herself, for he was tiny, or if she should call for a maid.

"No it can't-" Edward Buxton blurted out, before composing himself after meeting the shocked glances of the ladies in front of him and his friend standing next to him, "I will keep it short, but it must be said."

"Very well then," Diana encouraged as she sighed, she might as well hear what he has to say if she was to face him for the remainder of this weekend.

Lord Edward Buxton pursed his lips as his eyes darted towards Alicia and then back at Diana again.

"Surely what you have to say can be said with my cousin present," She pointed out, her eyes narrowed, "Besides; I refuse to be seen in a private audience with you."

Lord Buxton flinched slightly at the bold dismissal of his private company, but nodded his head slowly, "I only want to apologize for the way I acted that day, for the undignified conversation I put forth. I ardently beg for your forgiveness and implore you not to judge me too harshly and make an enemy of me."

His words were rushed, as though he had them piled on his tongue, rehearsed them over and over again and just wanted desperately for them to be spoken as quickly as possible.

"I take it that this inconvenient arrangement we have suddenly found ourselves in together for this weekend, has a lot to do with your apology," Diana spoke calmly, a hint of amusement in her tone, "I presume, you hadn't thought of yourself ever having to say these words otherwise."

She noticed his appearance tighten as he shifted in his spot and locked his fists, tighter than they were before, behind his back. His face, however, showed near to none annoyance as he maintained his stoic expression.

"You presume correct," He shot back, his voice leveled and civil, as Lord Algernon shot him a wary glance, "I hadn't thought that you'd ever be in my company again after that day, I hadn't thought that I'd ever see you again, so yes, I hadn't thought that I'd ever have to say these words."

Diana felt something inside her stir from the tone of his voice, his tone reminded her of that time they had came across the gentlemen in the countryside at Southampton. She had walked alongside him amongst the flower fields and he had told her that she had beautiful eyes. Why did that feel so long ago? Like a distant memory losing itself through the sands of time. She felt Alicia shift slightly next to her, as the plush velvet cushion of the settee moved for a brief second. And Diana was reminded of her cousin and Lord Algernon as well. Her unpleasant encounter with Lord Buxton had caused a drift between Alicia and Lord Algernon, apologies were only to be spoken and accepted between Lord Buxton and Diana. Lord Algernon had not behaved ungentlemanly in any way towards the ladies; his only fault was that he supported Lord Buxton's cruelty to their employees.

"But fate had other plans," Edward Buxton added after a slight pause. Diana's eyes, which had drifted to Theodore, shot back up at him again.

"Fate is a very heavy word to throw around after dinner," She hummed, breaking their gaze and looking at the little boy who had his head on her lap, his eyes closed in deep sleep.

Lord Algernon cleared his throat and asked for Alicia to accompany him on a stroll, as he reached out his arm for her. Exchanging a glance with Diana, who shot her cousin an encouraging nod, Alicia accepted, and the pair walked away making their way out the drawing room. Diana watched them go, their figures strolling away. Alicia can make a decision about the gentleman for herself, and so far all that Diana had done was dictate her own indifference, forcing Alicia to have the very same opinion.

"May I offer my assistance?" Lord Buxton's voice came, sincerity lacing his voice as he cast a glance to Theodore. Diana sighed slowly. She felt suddenly tired, tired of despising this man who clearly needed to be despised. Her mother had always told her that when you feel strongly about someone, you find yourself using up all your energy whether in hating them or in loving them. Diana had been doing just that, using up all her energy towards despising someone for tricking her who probably didn't even let her cross his mind once. All the will power of her heart and mind was constantly at work. Was this how Frank had felt? Her eyes drifted to her cousin, who was laughing heartily at something The Countess had said across the room. Was this how he had felt? Exhausted after feeling so strongly for her and having her deny him without a second thought?

"If it's no trouble," Diana responded, not caring that she had been silent for an undeniably long time after his offer.

"Not at all," The gentleman responded as he approached closer, bending down to pick the little boy up in his arms. His hand brushed unintentionally against Diana's, and sparks shot up his arms. His eyes glanced up at her, and instantly he could tell that she had felt it too, before the look in her eyes went away and was replaced by her calm and intense one.

Diana felt a little pinch in her stomach, a warm pinch that seemed to radiate all throughout her body, at the sight of the man in front of her holding her baby cousin with such care. He looked as though he had done it countless times before, his strong hands around Theodore's back and behind his tiny legs, holding him like he was porcelain. Pushing unwanted thoughts out from her mind, she straightened her purple skirts and got up from the settee as Lord Buxton waited on her.

Casting a small smile at him, she turned to walk towards her aunts and Frank, and she felt Lord Buxton follow behind.

"Ah, Diana," Frank let out with big smile, "It seemed that mother had been doing the amusing more than Lord Buxton and Lord Algernon had. I hope they didn't bore you ladies."

"They did, actually," Diana mused, "Perhaps Aunt Agnes can give the gentlemen a lesson or two in keeping a lady's interest."

The Countess and Aunt Frederica laughed, as Frank agreed heartily. Aunt Frederica's eyes turned at her little son held high in Lord Buxton's arms. "Oh, Lord Buxton, pray, please don't inconvenience yourself, I'll carry Theodore to our room," The worried Mrs Fleming replied, anxiously looking at her husband's employer.

"No, Mrs Fleming, I am happy to," The man responded from behind Diana, his obliging voice making her stomach tighten with warmth. Could it be that the man she had admired in Southampton had returned?

"Aunt Agnes, Aunt Frederica, with your permission, I'll excuse myself too for the night," Diana added as she bent to kiss The Countess's cheek as the lady sat in her armchair and patted Diana's back, nodding and humming her approval.

"This early? I was hoping to talk to you today, Diana, just you and me like the old times," Frank spoke slowly, a considerate hope on his face.

The old times, Diana thought. Nothing would be like it was those two years ago, despite how much time they spend together. Diana had broken a bond between them that night, and they may attach the broken pieces to form the original vase again, but the cracks would still remain. She did not want to give him hope again, only to slam a door on his face, he did not deserve that.

"I'm sorry, I'm just really exhausted," She spoke with regret in her voice as Frank took her right hand and kissed the top of her gloved palm, "Perhaps tomorrow." He nodded, with new found hope on his face as she bid the party a good night and pivoted out of the drawing room with Lord Buxton next to her holding Theodore, and they made their way to the upstairs guestrooms.

Walking up the steps of the main staircase, Lord Buxton broke the silence, "You two are close," his simple statement taking Diana by surprise, not that she showed it. His voice held a hint of defeat, or could she have imagined it?

"We were," she responded slowly, her eyes fixed on the steps she took. We were, The words echoed in her head. Frank had changed; she had a voice in her heart telling her that no matter what she did, they can't ever have what they had before. He had changed, bent on proving himself, he had become ambitious, he was no longer the soft spoken boy she used to tell her secrets to. He was no longer that shy boy who said words that he well and truly meant.

They were, Edward Buxton repeated to himself inside his head and his sudden defeat went away. But what really does the word close in this situation entail? What does that word mean to either of them? And more importantly, what does he care? Bending his neck to the side and straightening it again, he cleared his invasive thoughts. This weekend was about securing an investment for his eastern mill branch; it was not about his feelings for a lady that he had decided to bury, resurfacing again. He would not allow them to resurface again.

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