Arrived at ball.
‘Now remember, dear, Lord Rotherwell’s wife was no better than she should have been, and had carnal relations with the gardener, the footman and the groom, before running off with the coachman, so try not to mention servants, wives, carnal relations or carriage accidents. It’s also better not to mention ballet dancers, actors or opera singers. Nothing was ever proved, but there were Rumours.’
‘Margaret, Charlotte, Susan, so glad you could come,’ said Aunt Anne, bearing down on us in a purple robe with a matching turban. ‘Charlotte, you look positively youthful in that gown. Silver gauze is such a good idea. Your cousin Tallulah was wearing silver gauze when she met her husband, and she was thirty-two. Margaret, dear, you look enchanting, as always. You and Charlotte could be sisters.’
‘Has Lord Rotherwell arrived yet?’ asked Mama.
‘I haven’t seen him, but he should be here soon,’ she said, looking round the ballroom.
Tried to slip away, but it didn’t work, though, as Aunt Anne has eyes like a hawk.
‘Charlotte, where are you going?’ she asked.
‘Um. I think I need a glass of champagne.’
‘Oh, very well dear, but just the one. We don’t want you tipsy when Lord Rotherwell proposes, do we?’ she said with another silvery laugh.
I wandered over to the footman and took a glass of champagne from the tray.
‘Lord Rotherwell . . . ’
The name reached me from the side of the room. I turned round to see a flunky bowing in front of a tall man who was, let’s face it, not bad looking.
I couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation because a buxom dowager bore down on me and started telling me about her nerves. But I saw the flunky bowing, and shortly afterwards Lord Rotherwell left the room. Decided it was time to take action. He might be quite handsome, but I’ve no intention of becoming a mother to seven children, so I followed him out of the ballroom. Was just in time to see him disappear into the door of an ante room further down the corridor.
I went in. He was standing by the fireplace with one foot on the fender, looking exactly like the hero from The Duke Meets His Match, except that in The Duke Meets His Match, the hero doesn’t have seven children. Or at least he doesn’t have them living at home with him, though by the way he seduced every woman he met before falling in love with the lovely Camilla, he must have had about a hundred stashed away somewhere. But that isn’t the point. The point is that he didn’t want the lovely Camilla to be a mother to them. He wanted her for carnal relations and lifelong devotion. I am cut out for carnal relations and lifelong devotion. I’m not greedy, though. I’m not bothered about him being a duke. An earl or a baron would do.
‘My Lord,’ I said. I took a deep breath. ‘I know you’re not short or fat or over forty —’ I began.
‘How observant of you,’ he said with a curl of his lip.
I never knew people really curled their lip before, but he definitely managed it.
‘Please don’t interrupt,’ I said. ‘This is hard enough without you putting your spoke in. Now where was I? Oh yes, Iknowyou’renotshortorfatoroverforty,’ I said, as a quick recap, ‘but I think it’s only fair to tell you I have no intention of marrying you.’
‘Thank God for that,’ he said.
‘So if . . . ’ I carried on blithely, before I realised what he had said. ‘Pardon?’
‘I said, Thank God for that. Because you are short and fat and . . . ’
Not forty, I thought in horror, as he ran his eyes over me. Surely I don’t look forty.
‘ . . . past the first flush of youth, and I have no intention of marrying you. So if you think you can force me into it, you’re mistaken.’
‘Well! Of all the nerve! Mama told me you wanted to marry me,’ I exploded, wondering if it had all been wishful thinking on Mama’s part, or if she’d had a knock on the head, or if she’d made the whole thing up.
‘Then she’s as addled as you are,’ he said.
I wasn’t going to take that lying down, or even standing up.
‘She distinctly said that Lord Rotherwell was going to offer for me —’
‘Ah. I see,’ he interrupted again. ‘That explains it. I am not Lord Rotherwell.’