Her Secondhand Groom(8)By: Rose Gordon
Kate’s eyes lit up with excitement. “Do you mean it?”
Miss Hughes smiled down at her. “If it’s all right with your papa you may come again.”
“Can I come? Can I come?” Kate asked, bouncing up and down with excitement.
Smiling at his daughter, Patrick said, “We’ll see.”
Kate’s head dropped sadly. “That means no.”
Wisely, Miss Hughes didn’t voice a comment on that. Patrick stood and walked over to where Celia and Helena were playing. “All right, time to say goodbye.”
Startled, Helena looked up at him. “Oh, that was quick.”
Patrick blinked. Quick? He hadn’t been quick at all. “Yes, well, tell your friend goodbye, it’s time to go.”
“Can we come back again tomorrow?” Celia asked, her eyes full of excitement.
“No,” Kate supplied, coming up beside him. Her little arms were folded across her chest and her lower lip had the slightest tremble.
Pushing aside an inkling of guilt, Patrick cleared his throat and announced, “It’s time to go, now. Tell everyone goodbye.” Reluctantly, the girls did as they were told while he stepped aside to go speak with Miss Hughes. “Thank you for watching them,” he said earnestly.
“You’re welcome, my lord.”
He dug into his coat pocket and pulled out the little bag where he kept his coins. Loosening the string, he held the bag in his right hand and dumped a few coins into his left palm. Satisfied with the amount, he put the bag of coins back into his pocket and held his palm full of coins out to Miss Hughes. “For your trouble.”
Behind the thickest set of spectacles he’d ever seen, her grey eyes flashed with what he thought might be rage. “It was no trouble, my lord,” she said flatly, shaking her head in refusal.
Frowning, Patrick cupped his hand and shook it. The change in his palm clanged and clattered. “I’m sure it was trouble, and you deserve to be compensated.”
“Apply it toward the debt my father owes you,” she said without much emotion.
He had to stop himself from commenting about her naivety to think that would make any kind of significance toward the debt her father owed. He set the coins down on the nearest surface and shoved his hands in his pockets. Her father’s agreement with him wasn’t her responsibility. “How is your sister doing? She’ll be coming out soon, won’t she?”
Miss Hughes’ face turned a pale pink as she fidgeted and broke eye contact with him. He followed her gaze to where another young lady reclined on a nearby sofa. She had so many pillows stuffed behind her she looked like she was sitting at a forty five degree angle. This must be the sister who went away, he thought with a slight nod in her direction. She was certainly a beauty with her dark hair, sweet face, and delicate features. She’d have all the men trailing her skirts within days of her come out.
Just as he was about to greet this young woman and ask her how she was enjoying attending school in London, Helena pulled on his hand. “We’re ready now, Papa.”
Flashing one last smile at the room full of noisy urchins and the two Misses Hughes, Patrick turned to open the door so he and his girls could file out.
“Papa, we had the best afternoon ever,” Celia squealed as soon as the carriage door closed.
“You did?” Patrick queried as he lifted one eyebrow.
Helena and Celia vigorously nodded their reply.
Patrick shook his head. Having grown up without any other children around, Patrick found himself oddly curious as to how that noisy bunch could possibly constitute the best day ever. “Well, I’m glad to hear it. Do you want to tell me what you did that made the afternoon so special?”