A Heart to Love

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Episode 4


A Newly-Married Regency Couple

Somehow, I don’t think we should invite Mr. Connolly to dine with us.

Struggling to keep her face schooled in a calm expression, Beatrice entered the room closing the door behind her. “How did you come to speak with Mrs. Minton?”

Connolly shrugged, affecting a disinterested air. “Kit here asked I circulate, help entertain the guests. The poor old lady stood alone. Why should I not engage her in conversation.”

“Strange. I had the impression my sister’s friends held your interest. Also, Mrs. Minton is never alone at a gathering, unless she pauses to determine where her next target lies.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Browning turning toward her. She ignored the movement, focused on Connolly, whose eyes narrowed. “I don’t think I care for your implication, Miss Archer.”

“I don’t care for your actions. From what I could discern, Mrs. Minton said my sister was sick, speaking quietly as is her want when sharing secrets. You, however, made the leap to idea she might be with child and made no effort to moderate your voice.”

Tension tightened her shoulders, even as she tried to will her hands to relax. “You put the cat among the pigeons,” Browning voice sounded calmer than Beatrice’s. “The question remains whether you were being a damn fool or if you acted deliberately.”

“I’m not the fool here, he is. Trotting meekly to the altar because some chit spread her legs then claims he’s the father.” Connolly turned toward Harper. “I know your sense of honor imposes a responsibility to this woman. Did you ever stop to think she did this on purpose?”

“Don’t speak of my betrothed in such a manner.” Harper ground the words out. “We didn’t mean for this to happen, but I ask her to marry me, and we…”

Connolly laughed. “A fine family you’re marrying into. Is he the first man who proposed to your sister? How many others?”

He tossed the words contemptuously toward Beatrice. Without pausing to think, she stepped forward and brought her hand across his face. For a moment, everything froze, shock on the three men’s faces at her action. She her heart raced, her breathing rapid with the anger boiling inside her. Then, Connolly started toward her. “You little…”

Browning put himself between them. “Take another step and you’ll regret it.”

Connolly snorted, a hand rubbing at his cheek. “You’re as bad as he is, stepping in to play white knight. I take my leave. Enjoy wallowing in your folly.”

He made for the door. Browning shifted position, always keeping himself between the man and Beatrice. Connolly made no move toward her, but paused on the threshold. “You’re right, Kit. I’ll write your sisters. They’ll be quite interested in my sketch of the days events and the character of your would-be bride.” He fixed his regard on Beatrice. “And her family.”

He departed, slamming the door behind him. “I hope he doesn’t think he’ll be staying at Fieldham,” Harper said. “If I return home to find him…”

“Several footmen can turn him out.” Browning turned toward Beatrice. “You did not help matters, Miss Archer.”

“Should I stand silent while he slandered my sister?”

“Of course not.” Harper took her hands, kissing her on the cheek. “I understand why Agatha relies on you. You did what many of the ladies in London wished to but dared not.”

Browning snorted. “No argument he deserved the smack, but another thing he’ll use to paint an ugly picture in whatever he writes to Kitty and Meg.”

“How can anything be any uglier than saying she is with child, and he believes I found myself trapped into marriage? They’ll descend upon us.” Harper released Beatrice’s hands. “Make my apologies to your parents. Tell them I am off to speak with the vicar as we best reschedule as quick as we can. Preferably before Kitty and Meg arrive.” He frowned. “Don’t tell them that part. I’ll return later.”

He departed, leaving her with Browning. “We should have expected this. Even if Mr. Connolly did not make the leap, someone would wonder, given Agatha’s faint.”

“He wanted to cause mischief,” Browning said. “Last night, he said the only way Kit would present himself to the parson was if forced. You can be assured, if he speaks of this, he will add the idea to the mix.”

He made a sound somewhere between a growl and a groan as he began to pace. “Perhaps he should allow to Connolly remain under his roof tonight. I’m certain the servants can ensure any letters are delayed a day or two.”

She considered him. “You don’t particularly like him, do you?”

“I think he seeks advantage as in the connection. Connolly is closer to Kit’s sisters than him.”

Then why ask him to be a supporter? Not a question for the moment, though. “I best go back out to do what I can to mitigate the damage.”

“Better to brave things out than offer explanations which make people believe there is more to hide. The wedding will be soon, which should put all questions to rest. A firm, united front…”

He stopped as she fixed him in her gaze. “Have you ever weathered a scandal, Mr. Browning?”

“No, thank heavens.”

“Why do you think we invited Mrs. Minton to both the church and the breakfast? Mother hoped for a good report of the ceremony. I wished her to note Mr. Harper’s happiness, helpful when people count on their fingers once the babe is born.”

None of these considerations ever crossed his mind, given his expression. Beatrice almost asked if he had a sister, but he might take offense. She needed him as an ally. “There is some truth in Connolly’s words women are devious,” he said at last.

“We possess only our virtue and our reputation. Our lives are ruined if harm comes to either. My sister falls, I will be tainted as well. If I must practice some deception to save us both, so be it.”

She straightened, smoothing down the front of her gown. “Please excuse me. I should see to what guests remain.”

With that, she sailed from the room, not looking back. She did not seek his flattery and attention. Her sister was the priority.

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