Chapter 31

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"Prepare to be attacked," Miles Kirkpatrick announced, with his brows raised as he entered the drawing room, his arms pinned behind his back. He looked very much his usual self, with his brown hair groomed to perfection and his attire as neat and presentable as his ever was.

"Brace yourselves," Henrietta Beaumont followed, her tone full of amusement as she entered alongside Miles. Dressed in a plain blue muslin gown, she looked as though she hadn't dressed to please company, but then again, Henrietta rarely ever dressed to please anyone.

"Oh, thank goodness," Lady Margaret Seymour gushed as she rushed inside the west drawing room of the Bellevue Hall just seconds after Miles and Henrietta, her voluminous gown knocking about at side tables and moving vases, only to have the porcelains stir a little before going back to their standing position, much to Lord Augustus Beaumont's relief.

Diana and Alicia stood from the sofas, Omph, only to be thrust in a suffocating and tight embrace that Diana was sure she'd barely survive from.

"I was terrified you'd both return looking far from yourselves, but my, you both look as radiant as ever," Lady Seymour cried, parting and lifting a hand to pat both of the ladies' cheeks as they smiled, "On second thought, you do look too flushed. Are you feeling well? Do you have a fever?"

"No, Aunt Margaret, we do not have fevers," Diana chuckled as she rolled her eyes, it was comforting to feel like they had just been away for a few days and not months, considering how everyone was just as Diana and Alicia had left them.

"It is the cold air, I had forgotten how Southampton weathers prepare for winter," Alicia added playfully. That was a lie; in fact, it really wasn't the weather or a fever. The words in the notes they had received on their journey were to blame for their red cheeks and skipped heart beats, but of course, Alicia was sure her aunt needn't know all that. One thing had become much clearer than it was before, the ladies were sure of the senders of their anonymous notes, but on their journey the cousins wondered why the gentlemen couldn't or wouldn't close the distance between them. It was a painful question, which lead to self doubt for Diana more so than Alicia, to the point where she was forced to take out the book of poems Uncle Arthur had given to her and distract herself.

"They look better than when they left, I dare say," Lady Charlotte Allan spoke, smiling as she approached and touched both her nieces' shoulders, a gesture that conveyed just how glad she was to have them back, "I guess it just proves that the Portsmouth air isn't all that terrible."

"Oh for heaven's sake, Charlotte, do not start an argument with me that you will surely lose," Lady Seymour dismissed, and Lady Charlotte rolled her eyes and shook her head in playful disbelief.

"How was the journey? Uneventful I hope," Lady Seymour cast her nieces another glance, observing them for any signs of distress on the mention of their journey. Alicia had come to realize that Aunt Margaret was always the one for not listening to a word a person said, but observing their expression keenly to then evaluate the answer herself. This was awfully tiring for the person being interrogated and Alicia would much rather be anything than that person.

"It was, as the girls gave me and Ruth a detailed recollection of it," Lady Kirkpatrick chimed in, smoothing her muslin skirts with her hands as she sat seated.

"Thank goodness for that," Lady Beaumont agreed, "Heaven knows they have had many horrible events in that dreadful part of Hampshire to recover from."

Diana and Alicia exchanged knowing glances, horrible certainly wasn't the right word at all to describe all that they had gone through.

"That is good to know," Lady Margaret Seymour relaxed, pressing her hands together, "I've called Oscar back from the gentlemen's club he disappeared off to this evening, so he will be here soon. And Rebecca apologizes for not being here to welcome you both, she has been fussing too much on some of the arrangements of her engagement ball. It is all beyond me, I must say. In my day, our parents would take care of the arrangements and we'd happily go along with it knowing that they had our best interests at heart. But, my daughter? Wild flowers for a wedding indeed, it is simply preposterous," she concluded, shaking her head at Rebecca Seymour's criminal audacity.

"Oh, come now, Aunt Margaret," Alicia spoke, a teasing smile on her lips, "Surely that is the least of your troubles."

Lady Seymour huffed as realization hit her and her gaze dazed to nothing in particular as she drifted into a thought, "Indeed, it is. I only hope I am left sane enough after this wedding, I tell you."

"Alicia," Lady Charlotte narrowed her eyes playfully, then turning towards her elder sister she continued, "Margaret, you worry too much. This wedding will be the wedding of season, and I for one, am so excited."

"Not unless Diana and Alicia get married this season as well," a voice interrupted, and everyone turned to face the speaker, an amused Adam Seymour who sat with his leg atop the other on an arm chair by the fireplace, his face peering above the newspaper he held in his hands.

Alicia bit her bottom lip from the inside, inwardly shooting daggers at Adam for probing such a subject. She'd too soon come to the realization that the welcome committee interrogation had indeed been going pleasanter than she had imagined, yet her cousins were always there and somehow she had managed to forget their talent for changing the weather of any of her parades.

"Speaking of which," Lady Seymour's tone sharpened in dangerous interrogation, and Alicia and Diana composed themselves and trained their faces before turning to face her again, "My, what a rescue."

"Mother said they risked their lives for you both, was it so heroic?" Henrietta burst out, her eyes sparkling with curiosity and excitement.

Lady Beaumont looked at her daughter, narrowing her eyes at her behavior. Indeed she should've kept some details from some of the children as her husband had instructed. But Lady Beaumont had considered his instruction as more of a suggestion on her own accord.

"I don't know about that but to me it is as good as an offer, I dare say," Lady Kirkpatrick added next, with a determined nod before her composure changed entirely, "Did they make a verbal offer?"

"Are you both engaged?" Lady Beaumont gasped, her hand on her chest as the other grabbed the sofa cushion next to her in surprise.

"No," Diana immediately let out, disguising the sudden drop of her heart with a smile.
"And yes indeed, we are certainly well after the daylong fever we endured after the accident, thank you so much for inquiring," Alicia spoofed, as she rolled her eyes.

"Well, I stand by what I said," Lady Kirkpatrick declared again, "The rescue is as good as an offer. I expect the gentlemen to show up in Southampton after our girls in no time." Alicia sighed at her mother before shifting her gaze as she walked over to join Miles and Henrietta at the card table. To her, it didn't make sense to be feeling as she felt. Lord Algernon had not promised her anything, no words had been spoken, and if he thought written anonymous notes were as good as face to face confirmations, he was utterly mistaken. He hadn't even been there to see them off, and now she was back in Southampton. And everything in Southampton was worlds apart from Portsmouth. Glancing at Diana, she could tell from her fading smile and that look in her cousin's eyes that there was no comfort Alicia could offer to her. How was one to comfort another when going through the same predicament? It was an empty feeling, and Alicia hated it like she hadn't hated anything else in a long while. She had half a mind to teach those gentlemen a lesson for having such an effect on her and Diana.

"Well gentlemen, I was wondering when you would both have the decency to appear in my presence again," The Countess spoke, her eyes on her tea cup as she leaned forward on the glass table to place it on the surface, before lifting her eyes to meet the guests that stood in the door way of the main hall of the Brockenhurst estate, waiting to be acknowledged.

"We had legal matters to take care of, my lady, the inconvenience caused by our absence was highly unintentional," Lord Algernon cleared his throat, taking his top hat off and nervously holding it in his hands as he exchanged glances with Edward.

"Ah, I assume we are speaking of the man who held my niece and her companion hostage to be used against you," The lady of house mused, her expression stern and her tone accusatory as her eyes averted between the two gentlemen, "Why, you mustn't stand and tire yourselves, please take a seat. I have matters to discuss as much as you both have matters to address."

Lord Edward Buxton swallowed a lump in his throat as he gathered the courage to say what he had to say, and to face what he had to face. It was alarming, being reminded of the gravity of the situation he had put Lady Diana Beaumont through. Every time he thought of it, or someone mentioned it, a shiver crept down his spine. Lord Isaac Algernon nudged his friend in the elbow, and they both made their way to the sofas opposite the lady of the house, slowly seating themselves.

"I would call for refreshments, but I can't pretend to be respectful and civil when I am certainly not feeling it at present. Perhaps we talk, and then I call for refreshments," The Countess stated, her words more a declaration than a suggestion.

"Yes," Isaac managed to squeak, before clearing his throat again and regaining composure.

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