Scandal in Spring Page 69

Her brows lifted slightly. “And would the affluent Swifts have allowed their poorer cousins to dwell in abject poverty, as you implied?”

“A slight exaggeration on my part,” Matthew said. “But I’m certain you won’t preoccupy yourself with it to the extent of missing the main point.”

“I believe I’ve managed to grasp your point, Mr. Swift.” Lillian vacated her chair, obliging him to rise to his feet. “One more thing. Do you believe Daisy would be happy if you took her back to live in New York?”

“No,” Matthew said quietly. He saw a flash of surprise in her eyes. “It’s obvious that you—and her friends—are essential to her happiness.”

“Then you…you would be willing to make a permanent home here? Even if my father objected?”

“Yes, if that’s what Daisy wants.” Matthew tried to control a sudden surge of annoyance, with limited results. “I’m not afraid of your father’s temper, my lady, nor am I a puppet on a string. The fact that I work for him doesn’t mean I’ve surrendered free will and the full use of my brain. I can find gainful employment in Britain whether or not I’m employed by Bowman Enterprises.”

“Mr. Swift,” Lillian said sincerely, “you don’t know how tempting it is for me to believe you.”

“And that means…?”

“I suppose it means I’ll try to be nicer to you.”

“Starting when?” he shot back.

One corner of her mouth tilted upward. “Next week, maybe.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Matthew muttered, resuming his seat as she left.

As expected, Mercedes Bowman received the news of Daisy’s betrothal to Matthew Swift with poor grace. Having made such a brilliant marriage for her first daughter, she had longed to do the same for her second. It mattered little to Mercedes that Matthew Swift would undoubtedly acquire a fortune developing business interests on two continents. It mattered even less that Daisy had found a man who seemed to understand and even delight in her eccentricities.

“Who cares if he’s good at making money?” Mercedes had grumbled to her daughters as they sat in the Marsden parlor. “Manhattanville was swarming with enterprising men who had large fortunes. Why did we come here if not to find a gentleman who stood for something more? I do wish, Daisy, that you might have been able to attract a man of refinement and breeding.”

Lillian, who was feeding the baby, replied in a sardonic tone. “Mother, if Daisy married the royal prince of Luxembourg it still wouldn’t change the fact that the Bowmans are from common stock, and Grandmother—Lord love her—was a dockside washwoman. This preoccupation with nobility is a bit excessive, isn’t it? Let’s put it to rest and try to be happy for Daisy.”

Indignation caused Mercedes to puff out her cheeks temporarily, causing her narrow face to resemble a set of inflated fireplace bellows. “You don’t like Mr. Swift any more than I do,” she retorted.

“No,” Lillian said frankly. “But much as I hate to admit it, that puts us in a minority. Swift is liked by everyone in the northern hemisphere, including Westcliff and his friends, my friends, the servants, the neighbors—”

“You are exaggerating—”

“—children, animals and the higher order of plants,” Lillian finished sardonically. “If root vegetables could talk, I’ve no doubt they would say they like him, too.”

Daisy, who was sitting by the window with a book, looked up with a sudden grin. “His charm doesn’t extend to poultry,” she said. “He has a problem with geese.” Her smile turned quizzical. “Thank you for being so accommodating, Lillian. I expected you to make a fuss about the betrothal.”

Her older sister let out a rueful sigh. “I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that it would be easier to push a pea with my nose from here to London than to try and stand in the way of this marriage. Besides, you will be far more accessible in Bristol than you would have been with Lord Llandrindon in Thurso.”

The mention of Llandrindon nearly caused Mercedes to weep. “He said there were lovely walks in Thurso,” she said mournfully. “And Viking history. I would have so loved to learn about the Vikings.”

Lillian snorted. “Since when have you been interested in warlike pagans with silly-looking headgear?”

Daisy looked up from her book again. “Are we talking about Grandmother again?”

Mercedes leveled a glare at them both. “It seems I have no choice but to accept this match gracefully. I will endeavor to find some small consolation in the fact that at least this time I will be able to plan a proper wedding.” She had never quite forgiven Lillian and Marcus for having eloped to Gretna Green, thereby depriving her of the grand festivities she had always dreamed of planning.

Lillian smiled smugly at Daisy. “I don’t envy you, dear.”

“It won’t be pleasant,” Daisy warned Matthew later that day, as they sat at the grassy edge of a millpond located far on the western outskirts of the village. “The ceremony will be designed to make the world take notice of the Bowmans.”

“Just the Bowmans?” he asked. “Aren’t I supposed to be featured in the ceremony?”

“Oh, the groom is the most insignificant part of it,” she said cheerfully.

She had meant to amuse Matthew, but his smile didn’t reach his eyes. He stared across the millpond with a distant expression.

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