Scandal in Spring Page 37

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“One can’t blame you for that,” Lillian said. “Llandrindon is nice but rather innocuous. I’m sure you would have preferred to ride back with Mr. Mardling.”

“No,” Daisy said. “I was very glad not to have come back with him. The one I really wanted to ride home with was—”

“No.” Lillian covered her ears. “Don’t say it. I don’t want to hear it!”

Daisy stared at her gravely. “Do you really mean that?”

Lillian grimaced. “Bloody hell,” she muttered. “Damn and blast. Son of a—”

“When the baby is born,” Daisy said with a faint smile, “you’ll really have to stop using such foul language.”

“Then I will indulge myself to the fullest until he gets here.”

“Are you certain it’s a he?”

“It had better be, since Westcliff needs an heir and I’m never going through this again.” Lillian scrubbed the heels of her hands over her weary eyes. “Since the only choice left was Matthew Swift,” she said grumpily, “I assume he was the one you wanted to ride back with.”

“Yes. Because…I’m attracted to him.” It was a relief to say it out loud. Daisy’s throat, which had felt pinched and tight, finally dilated to allow her a long, slow breath.

“In a physical sense, you mean?”

“In other ways as well.”

Lillian rested her cheek on her hand, which was balled into a sharp-knuckled fist. “Is it because Father wants the match?” she asked. “Are you hoping somehow to win his approval?”

“Oh, no. If anything, Father’s approval is a mark against Mr. Swift. I don’t give a fig about pleasing him—I know very well that’s impossible.”

“Then I don’t understand why you would want a man who is so obviously wrong for you. You’re not some madcap, Daisy. Impulsive, yes. Romantic, of a certainty. But you’re also practical and intelligent enough to understand the consequences of being involved with him. I think the problem is that you’re desperate. You’re the last one of us to be unmarried, and then Father delivered this idiotic ultimatum, and—”

“I’m not desperate!”

“If you’re considering marrying Matthew Swift, I’d say that’s a mark of extreme desperation.”

Daisy had never been accused of having a temper—that distinction had always gone to Lillian. But indignation filled her chest like the blast from a steam kettle, and she had to fight to keep from exploding.

Glancing at the curve of her sister’s stomach helped her to calm down. Lillian was dealing with many new discomforts and uncertainties. Now Daisy was adding to the problem.

“I said nothing about wanting to marry him,” Daisy replied. “I merely want to find out more about him. About what kind of man he is. I don’t see the harm in that.”

“But you won’t,” Lillian argued with forceful conviction. “That’s the point. He won’t show you who he really is, he’ll deceive you. His skill in life is to find out what people want and manufacture it for them, all for his own benefit. Look at how he made himself into the son Father always wanted. Now he’s going to pretend to be the kind of man you’ve always wanted.”

“He couldn’t know that—” Daisy tried to say, but Lillian interrupted in a heedless rush, inflamed beyond the ability to have a rational exchange.

“He has no interest in you, your heart and mind, the person you are…he wants controlling shares in the company, and he sees you as the way to get them. Of course he’s trying to make you like him…he’ll charm you out of your knickers until the day after your wedding when you find out that it was all an illusion. He’s just like Father, Daisy! He’ll crush you, or turn you into someone like Mother. Is that the life you want?”

“Of course not.”

For the first time ever Daisy realized she could not talk to her older sister about something important.

There were so many things she wanted to say…that not everything Matthew Swift had said and done could have been calculated. That he could have insisted that she ride back with him to the manor and instead he had handed her over to Llandrindon without a protest. She also wanted to confide that Swift had kissed her, and that it had been glorious, and how much that had worried her.

But there was no point arguing when Lillian was in this mood. They would just chase in circles.

The silence unfolded in a smothering blanket.

“Well?” Lillian demanded. “What are you going to do?”

Standing, Daisy rubbed at a spot of dirt on her arms and said ruefully, “To start with, I think I had better take a bath.”

“You know what I meant!”

“What would you like me to do?” Daisy asked with a politeness that caused Lillian to scowl.

“Tell Matthew Swift he’s a loathsome toad and there’s no chance in hell you would ever consider marrying him!”

CHAPTER 8

“…and then she left,” Lillian said vehemently, “without telling me what she was going to do or what she really thought, and damn it all, I know there were things she left out—”

“Dear,” Annabelle interrupted gently, “are you certain you gave her the opportunity to tell you everything?”

“What do you mean? I was sitting right in front of her. I was conscious and I had two ears. What more opportunity did she need?”

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