Scandal in Spring Page 39

Lillian lifted her head and blotted her wet nose on her sleeve. “Do you really think a plate of sweets will make me feel better?”

Annabelle smiled. “It can’t hurt, can it?”

Lillian considered the point. “Let’s go,” she said, and allowed her friend to pull her up from the bench.

The morning sun snapped through the windows as housemaids tugged back the main entrance hall drapes and secured them with tasseled silk ropes. Daisy walked toward the breakfast room, knowing there was little chance any of the guests were awake. She had tried to sleep as long as possible while restless energy coursed through her, demanding an outlet until finally she had jumped up and dressed herself.

Servants were busy polishing brass and woodwork, sweeping carpets, carrying pails and baskets of linens. Farther away were the clangs of metal pots and the clinks of dishes as food was prepared in the kitchen for the morning repast.

The door to Lord Westcliff’s private study was open, and Daisy glanced inside the wood-paneled room as she passed. It was a beautiful room, simple and spare with a row of stained-glass windows that shed a rainbow of light across the carpeted floor. Daisy paused with a smile as she saw someone sitting at the massive desk. The outline of his dark head and broad shoulders identified him as Mr. Hunt, who often made use of Westcliff’s study when he was at Stony Cross.

“Good morning…” she began, pausing as he turned to look at her.

She felt a pang of excitement as she realized it was not Mr. Hunt but Matthew Swift.

He rose from his chair, and Daisy said bashfully, “No, please, I’m sorry to have interrupted…”

Her voice trailed away as she noticed there was something different about him. He was wearing a pair of thin, steel-framed spectacles.

Spectacles, on that strong-featured face…and his hair mussed as if he had been tugging absently on the front locks. All that combined with a plenitude of muscles and masculine virility was astonishingly…erotic.

“When did you start wearing those?” Daisy managed to ask.

“About a year ago.” He smiled ruefully and removed the spectacles with one hand. “I need them to read. Too many late nights poring over contracts and reports.”

“They…they are very becoming.”

“Are they?” Continuing to smile, Swift shook his head, as if it had not occurred to him to wonder about his appearance. He tucked the spectacles into the pocket of his waistcoat. “How do you feel?” he asked softly. It took a moment for Daisy to realize he was referring to her tumble from the pony cart.

“Oh, I’m quite well, thank you.” He was staring at her in that way he always had, concentrated, unwavering. It had always made her uneasy. But just now, his gaze didn’t seem critical. In fact, he was staring at her if she were the only thing in the world worth looking at. She fidgeted with the skirts of her muslin gown, pink with printed flowers.

“You’re up early,” Swift said.

“I usually am. I can’t imagine why some people stay abed so late in the morning. There’s only so much sleeping one can do.” As Daisy finished speaking it occurred to her there was something else people did in bed besides sleeping, and she turned scarlet.

Mercifully Swift didn’t mock her, though she saw a subtle smile lurking in the corners of his mouth. Discarding the risky subject of sleeping habits, he gestured to the sheaf of papers behind him. “I’m preparing to go to Bristol soon. Some issues have to be settled before we decide to locate the manufactory there.”

“Lord Westcliff has agreed that you will manage the project?”

“Yes. Though it seems I’ll have to maneuver around an advisory committee.”

“My brother-in-law can be a bit controlling,” Daisy admitted. “But once he sees how dependable you are, I predict he will loosen the reins considerably.”

He gave her a curious glance. “That almost sounds like a compliment, Miss Bowman.”

She shrugged with elaborate casualness. “Whatever faults you may have, your dependability is legendary. My father has always said that one may set a clock by your comings and goings.”

Sardonic amusement edged his voice. “Dependable. That is the description of an exciting fellow.”

Once Daisy would have agreed with the sarcastic statement. When one said a man was “dependable” or “nice,” one was damning him with faint praise. But she had spent three seasons observing the caprices of gentlemen who were rakish, absent-minded or irresponsible. Dependability was a wonderful quality in a man. She wondered why she had never appreciated that before.

“Mr. Swift…” Daisy tried to sound light, with only marginal success. “I have been wondering about something…”

“Yes?” He took a half-step backward as she moved closer, as if it were imperative to maintain a certain distance between them.

Daisy watched him intently. “Since there is no possibility that you and I…that marriage is out of the…I was wondering, when do you plan to marry?”

He looked bemused, then blank. “I don’t think marriage would suit me.”

“Ever?”

“Ever.”

“Why not?” she demanded. “Is it that you value your freedom too much? Or are you planning on becoming a skirt-chaser?”

Swift laughed, the sound so warm that Daisy felt it like a stroke of velvet down her spine. “No. I’ve always thought it would be a waste of time to pursue hordes of women when one good one would suffice.”

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