Lord Bradford Haunton, Viscount of Deepmoor, was tired of arguing.
“I’m telling you, Dorothea; with what I’m planning to offer him, Lord Spalding would be a fool to decline; and the man may be many foul things, but fool he is not. I told you I would see to our Serena’s prospects and with this proposal, I have. As it stands now, Spalding’s heir stands to inherit Paldingham; but if he accepts this betrothal, Lord… ‘whatever-his-name-is’… will eventually inherit both his father’s viscounty and mine. Once Deepmoor is elevated, he will become the only Marquis in all the southern Kingdom. And that’s not including the fact that by agreeing to the attached trade agreement he’ll be making a fortune at my expense for years to come. He’ll remain a man of lesser honors at court, but his heirs will outshine us both when they come into their inheritance. As for Serena, she will become the young Lord’s Marquess and the only Marquess in the south. I am certain that would make any noble mother proud. Even you.”
Lady Dorothea glared back at him, her eyes narrowing. “Does my lord husband insinuate that his devoted wife exhibits undue pride?”
“Dorothea, I am not a man who minces words. If I intended to give rebuke you would know it.” he answered.
“Of course, my lord.” Dorothea replied, her voice trailing as she cast a glance down at the floor.
“You seem unusually distracted, Dot.” he remarked.
Without looking up, she responded absently. “It’s nothing. I’m just a bit chilled from the weather is all. Four days of cold rain have soured my humours. On top of which, the Spaldings will arrive soaked and miserable and that bodes us more ill.”
“If your sister had played her part properly when she was wed to Lord Spalding in the first place we wouldn’t be in this mess now and your dear sister and the long-suffering Viscount Spalding would both be warm and dry at their own hearth right now and you would only have the chill to complain of.” Lord Bradley added.
“That is an accusation you’ve oft repeated, my lord husband. I should remind you that Ermiline is her own woman, and thus she is not mine to command as if she were a child.”
“An odd defense considering your sister’s frequently childish behavior.”
Lady Dorothea clenched her jaw a long moment to choke back her instinctive reply. “I shall be in my apartments.” she said slowly and with strained effort. “Please to have me summoned once my sister arrives.”
Without waiting for an answer, she removed herself from the room, a swirling vision of white lace, gold taffeta, and raven hair; her strides increasing in length and speed until her gown streamed behind her, lace a-flutter. The textured fabric filled the intervals between each loud clack of her hard-soled sandals with soft, constant noise.
As she burst through the double doors into her apartments, her ladies-in-waiting jumped up to attend her.
“Alina, close the draperies.” Dorothea said sharply.
“Right away, Miss.” a young girl replied, rushing to tend to the drapes while an older girl began to the remove the Viscountess’ gown.
“Is it a headache again, Miss?” the younger girl asked.
“Yes, Alina. When you’re finished with the draperies send down to the kitchen for willow bark and a digestive.” Dorothea answered.
“Yes, Miss.” Alina replied, closing the last of the drapes.
“And have the steward send up a strong wine. I care not the sort. I’ll kill this malady one way or two.”
“Yes, Miss.” Alina answered, walking briskly from the room.
“In a hurry to be quit of my presence, Alina?” Dorothea snapped.
“In a hurry to carry out your instructions, Miss.” came Alina’s soft-spoken answer.
“Of course, Alina.” Dorothea responded, her tone expressing her apology. “You know I detest being unwell.”
“I know, Miss.” the young girl replied.
Alina slipped out of the room quietly as the older girl helped the Lady of the Manor into a delicate, white muslin shift, turning down the bedsheets and helping the Lady Dorothea into her canopied bed.
“Is there aught else m’lady needs?” the girl asked.
“No, Morrienne. That will be fine for the moment, but remain near should I have need of you.”
“Of course, Miss.” she replied.
Several hours later, the Lady Dorothea was sleeping soundly at last, a plate half-emptied of digestive biscuits and an empty wine glass on her bedside table barely visible in the Viscountess’ dimly lit bedchamber.