‘But he will not ask me, will he?’ Lord Bythorn said gently, setting her back on her seat. ‘The more he cares for you, the less likely he is to approach you again.’
‘No,’ Isobel agreed. ‘So I will just have to ask him.’
Her mother subsided against the squabs with a moan. ‘I knew I should have brought my smelling bottle!’
* * *
The first thing was to find out where Giles was, Isobel decided as she sat up in bed the next morning nursing a cup of chocolate in her hands. The work at Wimpole could not have been completed yet, but she assumed that, like Mr Soane, he would have several commissions in hand at any one time. Some she knew about, such as Lord Roehampton’s West Wing, but Giles could be anywhere.
There was only one person in London who might know, and Mama would have the vapours if she thought her daughter was going anywhere near her. It did not seem to have occurred to her parents that if she married Giles then the Scarlet Widow would be her mother-in-law, which was probably a sign that they believed there was little chance that such a thing would ever happen. Well, time to worry about that later, she thought philosophically. Just at the moment it was the least of her worries.
‘Will you fetch me a London directory please, Dorothy?’ she called.
‘Yes, my lady. Just one moment. This dratted dog has chewed the tassel on the curtain tie.’ The maid sounded exasperated, but Isobel knew full well that she doted on Maude and sneaked biscuits to her in her basket.
‘Here we are.’ Dorothy bustled out of the dressing room with the book in her hands. ‘Heard about an interesting shop, have you, my lady?’
‘Er...no. I am just looking up the address of a new acquaintance.’
Lady Faversham lived not so very far away in Bruton Street. Close enough, in fact, not to need the carriage. ‘My blue walking dress and the dark blue pelisse and the velvet hat this morning, Dorothy. I have some calls to make, but I can take one of the footmen with me, so you can carry on with those alterations.’
* * *
An hour and a half later, at an unconscionably early hour to be making a call, Isobel was admitted to Lady Faversham’s elegant hall by her equally elegant butler.
‘I am sure that if it is a matter concerning Mr Harker her ladyship will wish to receive you,’ he said, admirably concealing any trace of speculation. ‘If you would care to wait in here, my lady, I will enquire.’
Giles’s name did indeed open doors. Isobel was received by her ladyship who was reclining on a chaise in her boudoir in a confection of lace and sea-green gauze that roused a pang of envy in Isobel’s breast.
‘What do you want with my son now?’ the Widow demanded, narrowing ice-green eyes at her.
There did not seem to be any point beating about the bush. Isobel took a deep breath and said, ‘To tell him that if he asks for my hand my father will give it to him willingly. There will be no scandal, he will be welcomed into the family.’
‘What?’ The Widow stared at her.
‘My parents have accepted that I will never marry anyone else. They are grateful to Giles for what he has done for me. And,’ she added as the Widow opened her mouth, ‘they know about my daughter.
‘And also—’ she slipped in before Lady Faversham could speak. ‘I am well dowered, well connected and perfectly placed to help Giles’s career. All I need to know is where he is and I will go and propose to him.’
‘Propose? You have courage, I will say that for you. And if I object?’
‘Why should you be so spiteful?’ A hint of colour touched the older woman’s cheekbones under the powder. ‘If he does not want me, he can always refuse. If this is some sort of trick, you have the instrument of revenge in your own hands.’
‘I only want him to be happy,’ Lady Faversham said and to her horror Isobel saw one tear roll down her cheek. ‘And he is so stubbornly independent. Will you make him happy?’
‘Oh, yes,’ Isobel said. ‘I promise.’
‘Excellent.’ With a dab of lace the tear was gone, taking the momentary weakness with it, and the green eyes defied Isobel to ever recall she had seen it. ‘He is at Wimpole Hall.’
‘Thank you.’ She turned to go, then on an impulse swung round. ‘Where did you purchase that exquisite robe?’
‘Mirabelle’s,’ the Widow said and, to her amazement, smiled. ‘Buy blue, not green. Blue and silver.’
* * *
Giles floated on his back in the plunge pool, ears below water, the steam coiling and rising around him. It had been a long, hard, damp day up at the Hill House supervising the demolition and the salvaging of the best stone and he had become chilled to the marrow.