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Mr. Cavendish, I Presume
It was a crime that Amelia Willoughby was not married.
At least that was what her mother said. Amelia...or more correctly, Lady Amelia...was the second daughter of the Earl of Crowland, so no one could fault her bloodlines. Her appearance was more than passable, if one's taste ran toward wholesome English roses, which, fortunately for Amelia, most of the ton's did.
Her hair was a respectable shade of medium blond, her eyes a grayish sort of greenish color, and her skin clear and even, so long as she remembered to stay out of the sun. (Freckles were not Lady Amelia's friend.)
She was also, as her mother liked to catalogue, of adequate intelligence, able to play the pianoforte and paint watercolors, and (and here was where her mother punctuated the speech with an enthusiastic flourish) in possession of all of her teeth.
Even better, the aforementioned teeth were perfectly straight, which could not be said of Jacinda Lennox, who had made the match of 1818, neatly landing the Marquis of Beresford. (But not, as frequently reported by Jacinda Lennox's mother, before turning down two viscounts and an earl.)
But all of those attributes paled next to what was certainly the most pertinent and overreaching aspect of Amelia Willoughby's life, and that was her longstanding engagement to the Duke of Wyndham.
Had Amelia not been betrothed in the cradle to Thomas Cavendish (who was at the time the Heir Apparent to the dukedom and barely out of leading strings himself), she certainly would not have reached the unappealing age of one-and-twenty as an unmarried maiden.
She had spent one season back in Lincolnshire, because no one thought she'd need to bother with London, then she'd spent the next in the capital, because her elder sister's also-betrothed-in-the-cradle fiancé had the misfortune of contracting a fever at the age of twelve, leaving his family heirless and Elizabeth Willoughby unattached.
And as for the next season...Elizabeth was almost, practically, we're-sure-it-is-forthcoming-at-any moment engaged by then, and Amelia was, as ever, still engaged to the duke, but they went to London anyway, because by then it would have been embarrassing to remain in the country.
Amelia rather liked town. She enjoyed conversation, and she very much enjoyed dancing, and, if one spoke with her mother for more than five minutes, one would have learned that had Amelia been free to marry, there would have been a half-dozen offers, at least.
Which meant that Jacinda Lennox would still have been Jacinda Lennox and not the Marchioness of Beresford. And more importantly, Lady Crowland and all of her daughters would still outrank the annoying little chit.
But then, as Amelia's father was often heard to say...life wasn't always fair. In fact, it rarely was. Just look at him, for the love of heaven. Five daughters. Five! And now the earldom, which had descended neatly from father to son since there were princes in the tower, would revert to the Crown, with nary a long-lost cousin in sight to lay claim upon it.
And, he frequently reminded his wife, it was thanks to his early maneuverings that one of his five daughters was already settled, and they need only fret about the other four, so would she please stop yammering on about the poor Duke of Wyndham and his slow progress to the altar.
Lord Crowland treasured peace and quiet above all else, which was something he really ought to have considered before taking the former Anthea Grantham as his bride.
It wasn't that anyone thought that the duke would renege on his promise to Amelia and her family. On the contrary, it was well-known that the Duke of Wyndham was a man of his word, and if he said he would marry Amelia Willoughby, then as God was anyone's witness, he would.
It was just that he intended to do so when it was convenient to him. Which wasn't necessarily when it would be convenient to her. Or more to the point, her mother.
And so here she was, back in Lincolnshire.
And she was still Lady Amelia Willoughby.
"And I don't mind it at all," she declared, when Grace Eversleigh brought up the matter at the Lincolnshire Dance and Assembly. Aside from being the closest friend of Amelia's sister Elizabeth, Grace Eversleigh was the companion to the dowager Duchess of Wyndham, and thus in far closer contact with Amelia's affianced husband than Amelia ever had occasion to be.
"Oh, no," Grace quickly assured her. "I did not mean to imply that you did."
"All she said," Elizabeth put in, giving Amelia a queer look, "was that his grace plans to remain at Belgrave for six months at least. And then you said..."
"I know what I said," Amelia bit off, feeling her skin flush. Which wasn't precisely true. She could not have repeated her speech word for word, but she had a sneaking suspicion that if she tried, it would come out something like:
Well, that's certainly lovely, but I shouldn't read anything into it, and in any case Elizabeth's wedding is next month so I certainly could not dream of finalizing anything anytime soon, and regardless of what anyone says, I am in no great rush to marry him. Something something something. I barely know the man. Something something more, still Amelia Willoughby. And I don't mind it at all.
Which was not the sort of speech one generally wished to relive in one's head.
There was an awkward, empty moment, and then Grace cleared her throat and said, "He said he would be here this evening."
"He did?" Amelia asked, her eyes flying to Grace's.
Grace nodded. "I saw him at supper. Or rather, I saw him as he walked through the room as we were taking supper. He chose not to dine with us. I think he and his grandmother are quarreling," she added as an aside. "They frequently do." Mr. Cavendish, I Presume. Copyright © by Julia Quinn. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.