Lucy grasped her arms the moment they were seated and leaned forward, curiosity and excitement gleaming in her eyes. "What on earth is going on? I saw you go in there with His Grace...."

"Hush!" Penny cut in, tearing her eyes from Phillip, certain her face must be an alarming shade of red by now, "Not now, I will explain later, but you must be quiet about this."

"Well, what happened to your hair then? It's all messy and....." Her eyes widened and she clapped a hand to her mouth. "Oh lord! You didn't!"

Penny groaned, wishing the ground would open up and swallow her. "Lucy...please...not here." this was possibly the worst evening she had ever had, first her indiscretion with the duke and now this... she knew Lucy would never let the matter be, not until she had extracted every morsel of information about this dreadful encounter. Dear god, why was this happening to her?

Lucy giggled but nodded nonetheless, a mischievous expression on her face. "Oh my goodness, I declare this is the most interesting evening."

"Lucy....?" Penny muttered, casting a look back towards the maze, but he had moved away. She sighed and rubbed her aching temple. He always managed to ruin an evening for her by his mere presence. Turning back to the table, she caught Lord Hensley's knowing amused gaze on her. She blushed again and dropped her gaze to the white table cloth. This was simply dreadful.

"I wonder where the Duke could be," Jane murmured from her seat beside Penny. Penny turned to her, just in time to see her exchange a tender look with Edward. He smiled at her, his feeling for her so obvious, Penny's heart sank.

A footman appeared at Lord Hensley's elbow and murmured something. Henry nodded and rose to address the small group, "My mother wishes us to join her, I believe she wishes to meet Miss Inglewood."

"Of course," Penny laid down her napkin and rose, grateful to have a diversion, “I would like to meet her as well.”


The petite fair haired woman who Henry introduced as the Dowager Countess looked nothing like how Penny had imagined her to be. She still looked beautiful and even younger than her real age of fifty five. Penny swept into a deep curtsy, wincing a little as her leg protested the posture, conscious of the older woman's intense study of her person. When she rose up again, the countess smiled at her and patted the empty seat by her side.

"I must commend you Miss Inglewood," The Dowager Countess said kindly, as Penny took the offered seat gratefully. She looked up at Lucy, and beamed, "You have done an excellent job in raising Miss Lucy, I can only begin to imagine how much effort you put into this, your sister is such a delight!"

Penny smiled gratefully and nodded. "She is indeed, but that is because Lucy is of a merry disposition. I cannot take credit for that my lady."

"Posh! you are too humble." the countess waved away the comment perilously, "I have raised a daughter and I know how one must be blessed with endless degrees of patience especially when they are of a certain age. And to do it when you are so young. That is an achievement of the most splendid proportions."

Penny smiled, already warming to Lady Hensley. It was heart warming to be appreciated in this manner by an esteemed lady of the peerage. "Thank you my lady, I am grateful for the compliment."

"Oh it is not a compliment, merely a fact. And now, we will dispense of this 'my lady' nonsense. You are to call me Bridget and I shall address you as Penelope...that is quite a mouthful, how do you manage?"

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