Scandal in Spring Page 12

But Daisy, the fifteen year-old, regarded her father in a speculative, rather cheerful way that seemed to annoy him beyond his ability to bear. She had made Matthew want to smile. With her luminous skin, her exotic cinnamon-colored eyes and quicksilver expressions, Daisy Bowman seemed to have come from an enchanted forest populated with mythical creatures.

It had immediately become apparent to Matthew that any conversation Daisy took part in was apt to veer into unexpected and charming directions. He had been secretly amused when Thomas Bowman had chastised Daisy in front of everyone for her latest mischief. It seemed that the Bowman household had lately become overrun with mice because all the traps they set had failed.

One of the servants had reported that Daisy had been sneaking around the house at night, deliberately tripping all the traps to keep the mice from being killed.

“Is this true, daughter?” Thomas Bowman had rumbled, his gaze filled with ire as he stared at Daisy.

“It could be,” she had allowed. “But there is another explanation.”

“And what is that?” Bowman had asked sourly.

Her tone turned congratulatory. “I think we are hosting the most intelligent mice in New York!”

From that moment on Matthew had never refused an invitation to the Bowman mansion, not just because it pleased the old man but because it gave him the chance to see Daisy. He had collected as many stolen glances as possible, knowing it was all he would ever have of her. And the moments he had spent in her company, regardless of her cool politeness, had been the only times in his life he had come close to happiness.

Hiding his troubled thoughts, Matthew wandered farther into the manor. He had never been abroad before but this was exactly what he had imagined England would look like, the manicured gardens and the green hills beyond, and the rustic village at the feet of the grand estate.

The house and its furniture were ancient and comfortably worn at the edges, but it seemed that in every corner there was some priceless vase or statue or painting he had seen featured in art history books. Perhaps a bit drafty in the winter, but with the plenitude of hearths and thick carpets and velvet curtains, one could hardly say that living here would be suffering.

When Thomas Bowman, or rather his secretary, had written with the news that Matthew would be required to oversee the establishment of a division of the soap company in England, Matthew’s initial impulse had been to refuse. He would have relished the challenge and the responsibility. But being in the proximity of Daisy Bowman—even in the same country—would have been too much for Matthew to withstand. Her presence pierced him like arrows, promising a future of endless unsatisfied wanting.

It was the secretary’s last few lines, reporting on the Bowman family’s welfare, that had seized Matthew’s attention.

There is private doubt, the secretary had written, that the younger Miss Bowman will have any success at finding a suitable gentleman to wed. Therefore Mr. Bowman has decided to bring her back to New York if she is still not betrothed by the end of spring…

This had left Matthew in a quandary. If Daisy was returning to New York, Matthew was damned well going to England. He would hedge his bets by accepting the position in Bristol, and waiting to see if Daisy managed to catch a husband. If she did, Matthew would find a replacement for himself and head back to New York.

As long as there was an ocean between them, everything would be fine.

As Matthew crossed through the main entrance hall he caught sight of Lord Westcliff. The earl was in the company of a big, black-haired man who possessed a somewhat piratical appearance despite his elegant attire. Matthew guessed that he was Simon Hunt, Westcliff’s business partner and reportedly his closest friend. For all Hunt’s financial success—which by all reports was remarkable—he had been born a butcher’s son, with no blood ties to the aristocracy.

“Mr. Swift,” Westcliff said easily, as they met near the bottom of the grand staircase. “It seems you’ve returned early from your walk. I hope the views were pleasing?”

“The views were magnificent, my lord,” Matthew replied. “I look forward to many such walks around the estate. I came back early because I happened to meet with Miss Bowman along the way.”

“Ah.” Westcliff’s face was impassive. “No doubt that was a surprise for Miss Bowman.”

And not a welcome one was the unspoken subtext. Matthew met the earl’s gaze without blinking. One of his more useful skills was that of being able to read the minute alterations in expression and posture that gave people’s thoughts away. But Westcliff was an unusually self-controlled man. Matthew admired that.

“I think it’s safe to say it was one of many surprises Miss Bowman has received recently,” Matthew replied. It was a deliberate attempt to find out if Westcliff knew anything about the possible arranged marriage with Daisy.

The earl responded only with an infinitesimal lift of his brows, as if he found the remark interesting but not worthy of a response. Damn, Matthew thought with increasing admiration.

Westcliff turned to the black-haired man beside him. “Hunt, I would like to introduce Matthew Swift—the American I mentioned to you earlier. Swift, this is Mr. Simon Hunt.”

They shook hands firmly. Hunt was five to ten years older than Matthew and looked as if he could be mean as hell in a fight. A bold, confident man who reputedly loved to skewer pretensions and upper-class affectations.

“I’ve heard of your accomplishments with Consolidated Locomotive Works,” Matthew told Hunt. “There is a great deal of interest in New York regarding your merging of British craftsmanship with American manufacturing methods.”

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