Scandal in Spring Page 64

Marcus resumed chewing, swallowed hard, and took his time about drinking a large quantity of ale. “But it all hinges upon a falsehood?” he finally asked.

“Yes.”

“Did this man rob someone of his rightful due? Cause physical or emotional harm to someone?”

“No,” Swift said, looking at him directly. “But it did involve some legal trouble.”

That made Marcus feel marginally better. In his experience even the best of men could not avoid occasional legal problems of one kind or another. Perhaps Swift had once been misled into some questionable business deal or indulged in some youthful indiscretions that would prove embarrassing if brought to light all these years later.

Of course, Marcus did not weigh questions of honor lightly, and news of past legal trouble was hardly what one would want to hear from a prospective brother-in-law. On the other hand, Swift appeared to be a man of good bearing and character. And Marcus had found much about him to like.

“I’m afraid I will have to withhold my support of the match,” Marcus said with care, “until I have an understanding of the particulars. Is there anything more you can tell me?”

Swift shook his head. “I’m sorry. God, I wish I could.”

“If I give you my word that I will not betray your confidence?”

“No,” Swift whispered. “Again, I’m sorry.”

Marcus sighed heavily and leaned back in his chair. “Unfortunately I can’t solve or even mitigate a problem when I have no idea what the bloody problem is. On the other hand, I believe people deserve second chances. And I would be willing to judge a man for who he has become instead of what he was. That being said…I will have your word on something.”

Swift looked up, his blue eyes wary. “Yes, my lord?”

“You will tell Daisy everything before you marry her. You will lay out the issues in full, and let her decide whether she wants to proceed. You will not take her as your wife without giving her the complete and unvarnished truth.”

Swift didn’t blink. “You have my word.”

“Good.” Marcus signaled the tavern maid to come to the table.

After this, he needed something much stronger than ale.

CHAPTER 14

With Westcliff and Matthew Swift away in Bristol, the estate seemed abnormally quiet. To Lillian and Daisy’s relief, Westcliff had arranged for their parents to accompany a neighboring family on a jaunt to Stratford-on-Avon. They would attend a week of banquets, plays, lectures, and musical events, all part of Shakespeare’s two hundred and eightieth birthday festival. Just how Westcliff had managed to prod the Bowmans into going was a mystery to Daisy.

“Mother and Father couldn’t be less interested in the Bard,” Daisy marveled to Lillian, soon after the carriage conveying her parents had departed. “And I can’t believe Father would have opted to go to a festival instead of Bristol.”

“Westcliff had no intention of letting Father go with them,” Lillian said with a rueful grin.

“Why not? It’s Father’s business, after all.”

“Yes, but when it comes to negotiations, Father is too crass for British tastes—he makes it quite difficult for everyone to come to an agreement. So Westcliff arranged the trip to Stratford with such expediency that Father didn’t have a chance to object. And after Westcliff oh-so-casually informed Mother about all the noble families she would be rubbing elbows with at the festival, Father didn’t have a prayer.”

“I imagine Westcliff and Mr. Swift will do well in Bristol,” Daisy said.

Lillian’s expression immediately became guarded. “No doubt they will.”

Daisy noticed that without their friends as a buffer, she and Lillian had fallen into an excessively careful manner of speaking. She didn’t like it. They had always been so free and open with each other. But suddenly it seemed they were obliged to avoid certain subjects as if they were trying to ignore an elephant in the room. An entire herd of elephants, actually.

Lillian had not asked if Daisy had slept with Matthew. In fact, Lillian seemed disinclined to talk about Matthew at all. Nor did she ask why Daisy’s budding relationship with Lord Llandrindon had evaporated, or why Daisy had no apparent interest in going to London to finish the season.

Daisy had no desire to broach any of these subjects either. Despite Matthew’s reassurances before he had left, she felt uneasy and restless, and the last thing she wanted was to have an argument with her sister.

Instead they focused on Merritt, taking turns holding, dressing, and bathing her as if she were a little doll. Although there were two nursery maids available to care for the infant, Lillian had been reluctant to give her over to them. The simple fact was, she enjoyed being with the infant.

Before Mercedes had left, she had warned that the baby would become too accustomed to being held. “You’ll spoil her,” she had told Lillian, “and then no one will ever be able to put her down.”

Lillian had retorted that there was no shortage of arms at Stony Cross Manor, and Merritt would be held as often as she liked.

“I intend for her childhood to be different from ours,” Lillian told Daisy later, while they pushed the baby in a perambulator through the garden. “The few memories I have of our parents are of watching Mother dress for evenings out or going to Father’s study to confess our latest mischief. And getting punished.”

“Do you remember,” Daisy asked with a smile, “how Mother used to scream when we roller-skated on the pavement and knocked people over?”

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