A week to be wicked, p.47
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       A Week to Be Wicked, p.47

         Part #2 of Spindle Cove series by Tessa Dare
Page 47


  Minerva cleared her throat. “Ahem. ”

  “Thirdly, M. R. Highwood,” Colin finished.

  “Sir, I—”

  “Ah. ” Colin raised a finger. “I believe that’s ‘my lord’ to you. ”

  “My lord, I’m sure the Society is honored by your lordship’s interest. However . . . ”

  “Did I mention that in lieu of the regular dues and as a concession to my expedited application process, I’m willing to pledge an annual sustaining subscription of . . . say, a thousand pounds?”

  Mr. Barrington seized.

  “Oh, very well. You drive a hard bargain, Barrington. Make it three. ” He smiled broadly in the face of silence. “Well. Now that that’s all settled, I’ll be entering the symposium. Miss Highwood will come as my guest. ”

  “But, my lord, unmarried women cannot attend as guests. It’s not proper. ”

  “For the love of ammonites, man! That’s just stupid. Why on earth would the Society need to protect unmarried women from bone-dry lectures regarding soil composition? Do your members find themselves whipped into some sort of dusty frenzy, from which no delicate lass would be safe?”

  Mr. Barrington tugged on his coat. “Sometimes debate does get heated. ”

  Colin turned to her. “Min, can I just hit him?”

  “I think that’s a bad idea. ”

  “Run him through with something sharp?”

  “Probably a worse idea. ”

  “Then there’s no getting around it. ” He sighed.

  “I know. You’ll just have to go in and give the presentation for me. ”

  “What? No. ” He shook his head. “No, I can’t do that. ”

  “Of course you can. You’ve heard me read it so many times. I know it contains a great many polysyllabic words, but you’ll rise to the challenge. ”

  “Minerva, these are your findings. These are your peers. This should be your moment. ”

  “Yes, but . . . ” Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes, and she impatiently blinked them back. “They won’t let me in. ”

  “They won’t let unmarried ladies in. So marry me. Right here and now. ”

  She stared at him, shocked. His Bristol-diamond eyes shone, brilliant and sincere. “Marry? But we . . . we can’t possibly—”

  He took her hands. “This is Scotland, Minerva. We don’t need a license or a church. We only need witnesses. Barrington here can serve as one, and—”

  He turned, just as another man opened the door and joined them on the stoop.

  “What’s going on here?” the newcomer asked in a deep, solemn voice.

  Minerva’s eyes swept him from boots to crown. He was tall and handsome and . . . well, tall and handsome some more. He struck quite the fine figure, silhouetted in the door.

  He asked, “Barrington, who are these people?”

  “Oh, good,” Colin said. “This fine-looking fellow can serve as our second witness. We have Mr. Barrington, and we have”—he clapped the newcomer on the shoulder—“Mr. . . . ?”

  The man blinked at Colin’s presumptuous gesture. “I’m Sir Alisdair Kent. ”

  Minerva clapped a hand over her shocked laughter.

  “Right. ” Colin’s hand made two slow, heavy pats on Sir Alisdair’s shoulder, as he sized the man up with a sweeping gaze. “Right. You would be. ” He heaved a sigh and turned to Minerva. “This is probably where I should step aside and let you two get more acquainted—”


  “But I won’t,” he finished.

  Her heart flipped. Thank heaven.

  He wrapped her gloved hands in both of his and stared deeply into her eyes.

  “Minerva, I love you. I’d been waiting to tell you so at a better moment. In some more romantic time and place. ” He threw a glance at their surroundings. “But here and now will have to do. ”

  “Here is fine,” she managed. “Now is good. ”

  He squeezed her hands. “I love you. I love that you’re clever and loyal and curious and kind. I love that you’re often so fearless and bold and strong—but I also love that you’re occasionally not, because then I can be strong for you. I love that I can tell you anything. Anything at all. And I love that you always have something surprising to say. I love that you call things by their right names. That you aren’t afraid to call a tit a tit, or a cock a—”

  “I beg your pardon,” Sir Alisdair interjected, “but what in God’s name are you on about?”

  Minerva couldn’t help but laugh.

  “Do you mind?” Colin told the man irritably. “I promised this woman months of tender courtship, and thanks to your Society and its inane, archaic rules, I must cram it all into the space of five minutes. The least you could do is not interrupt. ”

  Sir Alisdair spoke directly to Minerva. “Is this man harassing you, Miss . . . ” He paused. “It is Miss Highwood?”

  “Yes,” she said gently. “Yes, it is Miss Highwood. I apologize for the confusion. And I’m so sorry if I’ve caused you any . . . disappointment. ”

  His mouth quirked as he looked her up and down. “Merely surprise, Miss Highwood. Merely surprise. ”

  “Yes, yes. She’s a very surprising woman. ” Colin cleared his throat. “Once again, man. Do you mind?”

  Smiling, Minerva pulled Colin a few steps away. “Never mind him. Carry on. ”

  Once they had a bit of privacy, his eyes gentled. “As I was saying, pet. I love that you call things by their right names. That you’re bold enough to call a tit a tit, and a cock a cock. But most of all, I love that even after this mad, reckless week with me—even with your heart and reputation and future hanging in the balance—you were brave enough to call love love. ” His hands framed her face. “Because that’s exactly what this is. I love you, Minerva. ” A look of exultant joy lit his eyes, as though he’d just unearthed the scientific discovery of a lifetime. “We love each other. ”

  A knot rose in her throat. “Yes. We do. ”

  “I want to be with you, for the rest of our lives. ”

  “I want that, too. ”

  “Then here. ” He released her hands. Catching his glove between his teeth, he tugged it loose and then discarded the thing entirely. His fingers went to the signet ring on his little finger, and he twisted it back and forth. And back and forth. He grimaced. “This may take a moment. ”

  “Colin, really. You don’t have to—”

  “Almost have it,” he said through gritted teeth. His face was red and contorted with effort. “Wait . . . wait . . . ”

  He turned away and crouched, still tugging at the ring. Minerva began to grow worried for him.

  “There. ” Panting for breath and wearing an expression of triumph, he held up the ring for her inspection. “I haven’t removed this ring since I was a boy. It was my father’s of course, and it came to me after his death. It started out on my thumb, then made its way down every finger. It’s been on that last finger so long, it almost became a part of me. But now I want you to wear it. ”

  “Oh, I couldn’t. ”

  “No, you must. ” He turned her hand palm up and dropped the ring in it. “It’s my most cherished possession, Min. You must wear it. That way, I’ll always know the two things dearest to me are in the same place. It will be a true help. Most convenient. ”

  She stared at the ring. Then she stared at him, breathless with emotion.

  “Didn’t—” He cleared his throat. “Didn’t you want to marry me?”

  “Of course I do,” she hastened to assure him. “Of course I want to marry you. But I thought you wanted to wait, go slowly. Have a proper courtship. It seemed so important to you. ”

  “This”—he gestured at the door and the symposium going on within—”is important to you. Which means it’s everything to me. ”

  Stunned, she watched as he sank to one knee.

  “I love you, Minerva. Stay with me foreve
r. Let me cherish you always. Give me the lasting joy of calling you my own. ” He slipped the signet ring on her gloved finger. “But marry me today. So I can share you with the world. ”

  She gazed down at him, her heart swollen with love—and her mind decided that the world would never see a better man.

  With a few hasty vows uttered right here on these steps, he offered to make all her dreams come true. And she could make Colin all hers. Forever.

  “Well, girl?” Behind them, Mr. Barrington thumped his board. “Do you mean to marry the fellow or not?”

  Chapter Thirty-two

  “Can I interest you in some lace today, Miss Taylor?” As Kate entered the All Things shop, Sally Bright straightened behind the counter. The fair-haired young woman laid aside the newspaper she’d been reading. “Or a new ribbon, perhaps?”

  Kate shook her head, smiling. “Just some ink. I haven’t any reason for new lace or ribbons today. ”

  “Are you certain?” Sally plunked a bottle of ink on the counter. “That’s not what I hear. ”

  The sly note in the girl’s voice made Kate snap to attention.

  “What did you hear?”

  Sally feigned innocence. “Only that someone made a trip up to Rycliff Castle the other day. Alone. ”

  Kate felt her cheeks heating. Which annoyed her, because she had nothing whatever to feel embarrassed or ashamed about. “Yes, I did walk up to the castle. I needed to speak with Corporal Thorne. We had a . . . a disagreement to settle. ”

  “Ah. ” Sally’s brow arched. “A disagreement to settle. Well, that all sounds very proper. ”

  “It wasn’t improper, if that’s what you’re suggesting. ”

  Kate declined to mention the fact that she’d come upon the man at his labor. Half-dressed, drenched with perspiration. All that bronzed skin stretched over a hard, muscled body . . . his broad-shouldered silhouette was burned into her memory now. As though she’d stared directly at the sun, and the impression lingered on her retinas.

  “I’m just teasing you, Miss Taylor. I know there’s nothing untoward between you. But mind you be careful. You don’t want the wrong idea getting around. Else you’re sure to suffer a plague of small mishaps. Salt will find its way into your sugar bowl, pins will be left in your hemmed skirts, and so forth. ”

  Kate frowned. “How do you mean?”

  “Envy. Half the women in the village will be wishing you ill. ”

  “They’d envy me? Why?”

  “Cor, you truly don’t know. ” Sally straightened the pieces of jewelry in the display case. “From the moment Lord Rycliff’s party rode into the village last summer, I know all you ladies of the Queen’s Ruby had your eyes on Lord Payne. Dashing, handsome, charming. What gentlewoman wouldn’t take a fancy to him? But there’s other women in this village, Miss Taylor. Serving girls, sailors’ widows, housemaids . . . women who won’t bother to dream of a viscount. They’ve all been jostling to catch Corporal Thorne. ”

  “Truly? But . . . ” Kate slapped at a gnat pestering her neck. “But he’s so big. And rough. And coarse mannered. ”

  “Exactly. ” Sally gave her a knowing smile.

  Kate wondered at it.

  “So far, it’s all come to naught. Traps have been laid for him all over this village, but he’s evaded every one. Rumor is, he’s got himself an ‘arrangement’ with a widow next town over. Goes to pay her a kindly visit once or twice a month, if you catch my meaning. ”

  Kate did catch Sally’s meaning. And it made her suddenly, unaccountably nauseous. Naturally, Corporal Thorne had the right to do whatever he pleased with whomever he pleased. She just didn’t like knowing about it.
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