Chapter eighteen

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Sally begged off the afternoon treasure hunt the fourth day of an interminable house party, claiming she had letters to write. Which was not untrue. Currently, she was sitting at the table under the window in the bedchamber she had been assigned, her little travelling desk open and a fresh sheet of paper headed with her name and direction and the date, followed by the familiar salutation:

Dear David,

Dear David, what?

Dear David, I am bored to death with ceaseless house parties populated by handsome men who claim to be slain by my very ordinary eyes (though they breathe quite well for cadavers) and shallow people who talk of nothing but fashion and flirting and frivolities. I am so bored, I could scream.

At least dear Emma and Henry were here to suffer with her, though suffering more than Sally, whose ducal forebears protected her from the snobbery of others, for neither of their backgrounds were so illustrious, nor dowries so impressive. Lady Tarrington had not invited any of Sally's cousins. Undoubtedly, she thought them competition for her two younger sons, one of whom was attempting to court Sally, with Henry as his second choice, and the other, whose first choice was Henry, Sally the fall-back.

Thank goodness three of her favourite cousins—Elf, Longford, and Stocke—were only half an hour's ride away at Longford Court, though when they called every afternoon, they showed a distressing tendency to behave like the rest of the preposterous flirtatious gentlemen.

Perhaps she should write:

Dear David, how can I, this side of good manners, tell a young man who has not declared his intentions that I have no interest in him, and he should turn his attention elsewhere? My supposed suitors can all go to the Devil. Except you, David.

Sally grinned at the thought of her snooping father reading that statement, but then sighed. She wasn't even quite sure he was a suitor anymore, given his unsavoury activities. His exams were in six weeks, but Aunt Bella said Uncle Wellbridge was not inclined to allow him home for Christmas. Instead, Toad would leave Paris immediately for Marseilles, to begin the practical part of the course, running Aunt Bella's shipyard there.

Perhaps Sally should remind Uncle Wellbridge of the story of the prodigal son, and suggest he fatten a calf. Yuletide was eleven long weeks from now, but she could far more easily bear the rest of this house party, and the blasted little Season in London, if she knew she would see Toad at the end of it.

She could even bear her suitors, and the ones who flirted with no business doing so: the married men, or the ones with no interest in marriage.

Men like Lord Athol Soddenfeld, Aunt Bella's niece Julia's husband, whose drunken remarks were just a hair this side of insulting. What a pig that man was. And poor Lady Athol, who covered her misery and embarrassment with an air of ennui, sneering condescension toward anyone less well-born, and fervent attention to whatever card game she was losing. She was very aware of being the Marquess of Firthley's daughter, the Duke of Wellbridge's niece, and the Marquess of Prestwood's sister-in-law, even if she had been compromised by a fortune-hunting sot in her first Season.

Lady Athol was not the only member of the party to look down on Emma and Henry, and their chaperone, Henry's mother, Antonia, Lady St James, who had charge of all three girls. Though the widow of a baronet, her antecedents were far less illustrious than suited this socially conscious crowd.

Oh, for the power of Papa's raised eyebrow! He would soon deflate any silly female—niece of his best friend or not—who dared snub any member of his broadly defined family, into which he warmly welcomed Lady St. James, her daughter, and Lady Emma.

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