She smiled warmly.
“ And there are still a number of guests in your drawing room, sir.” A cough behind him alerted Nate to Williams, the butler.
“ Williams, can you pick up Lady Sarah’s crutch?”
“ Yes, sir.” The small, almost bald man hurried over to the crutch and picked it up.
“ We need to go to the dining room now and I appreciate it may take you longer. Would you like to walk or would you like me to carry you?”
“ It will be so much quicker and less embarrassing for everyone if you just take me,” she said matter-of-factly. “If you do not mind, Your Grace,” she finished in a quiet, almost reverential tone.
“ All right. Williams, take the lady’s pelisse and her other crutch. And join us in the dining room with just her crutches, then you can go and invite the other guests in to dinner.”
“ Yes, Your Grace.”
The butler followed them into the empty dining room, leaving the crutches against the wall. Nate placed her on the seat nearest to him.
“ I apologise for being rude and ungrateful earlier. You were only trying to help.”
“ Helping without taking your wishes into account is merely a hindrance.”
“ I would just prefer to be asked if I require help. But I still should not have treated you the way I did.”
“ Think no more on it, Freckles. I am not so easily offended.”
And then, as much to his own astonishment as to hers, he bent down and placed a delicate kiss on her lips. Her green eyes were wide in surprise. Then she lifted a delicate hand to her lips as if trying to hold the kiss there. Devil take it. She had some kind of hold on him already , and it wasn’t all to do with the way his body responded to her.
“Thank you for a lovely evening, Your Grace,” said Sarah as the Duchess of Kirkbourne, Nathaniel’s mother, sat in the chaise next to her. Dinner had been wonderful, the food delicious and the company interesting. Sarah could not remember a time when she had enjoyed herself so much. Why had her father kept her out of society?
“ I am glad you enjoyed it, Lady Sarah. As you can see Kirkbourne house is a wonderful place for entertaining. I suspect the next dinner party hosted here will be hosted by you.”
Sarah felt her heart sink. The duchess was right. She would have to be hostess to Nathaniel’s friends and other aristocrats. A sense of dread seeped through her.
“Your Grace, I do wish to apologise for the rumours that are going around about our betrothal.”
The duchess laughed.
“Oh my dear, if I have learned anything about rumours in my time in the ton , it is that if you wait a day or two, another rumour will soon be along take its place.”
“ All the same, I am sorry that Nathaniel was forced into marrying a cripple.”
“ Lady Sarah, Nathaniel does nothing that he does not want to do. He is very stubborn that way. Your infirmity is merely a challenge to him. My son will be your fiercest protector and your greatest champion.”
All the ladies turned as the drawing room doors were opened to herald the arrival of the gentlemen from their port drinking. Nate led them in and headed straight for Sarah.
“Are you all right? Is there anything you need?”
“ Yes, I am fine.”
“ Really Nathaniel, you do me a disservice to suggest I have been such a poor hostess that Lady Sarah has not already been asked if she needs anything or that she would feel that she could not ask for something she needs.” She turned to Sarah. “You would ask, would you not?”
“ Of course. I am no shrinking violet in that respect, Your Grace.”
“ You see, Nathaniel. Stop being a mother hen.”
Nathaniel harrumphed his displeasure then moved over towards the fireplace to join a few men who were discussi ng business from the House of Lords.
“ I do apologise, Lady Sarah. I should not have interfered but he can be rather an old woman in that respect at times. It is sweet but it can be oppressive. He