Friends and Lovers

Friends and Lovers by Joan Smith Read Free Book Online

Book: Friends and Lovers by Joan Smith Read Free Book Online
Authors: Joan Smith
Tags: Fiction, Romance, Historical, Regency
and have our tea now?” she asked soon.
    “By all means. Are you hungry?”
    “No, we had a good luncheon, but I hoped there might be some sweets.”
    The tea at least would be to her liking. Alas, it was not to Menrod’s. He looked about the table for more substantial fare than Chinese cake and small tarts, finally settling for a single slice of ham and a pickle, which he picked at delicately.
    Ralph took one bite of a biscuit and two sips of lemonade. I don’t recall that I ate anything at all, but Gwen and Mr. Everett appreciated the party. Everett ate heartily, and was the major talker at the table as well.
    He was one of those insensitive souls who believe the more loudly you shout at shy children, the more they are put at their ease, when anyone could see Ralph was petrified of his clamor and laughter. When he turned to me to whisper in a loud aside that the boy was as backward as a maiden, I gave him such a dark scowl he fell silent for full two minutes, before turning to tease Gwen about taking the last tart on the plate. “That’s right, eat it up. We don’t want Miss Harris to have it, or she will be an old maid. That is what the ladies say, is it not, Miss Harris?”
    Between Everett’s bothersome racket, Menrod’s looking down his nose at the food and the company, Mama’s sitting as silent as a flower, and Mrs. Pudge’s slamming plates and cutlery around as though she were a mess sergeant, the meal was not at all pleasant. The real disappointment for me was that the children did not warm up to me. I felt sure that if I could get them alone, I could make long strides in securing their friendship.
    To this end, I arranged to get Menrod aside for a moment after tea. Mama took the children into the garden. By intensive staring and head jerking behind Menrod’s back, I transmitted to Everett that he was to accompany them. The only embarrassment in it was that he whispered in one of his carrying whispers, “Do you want me to go along, Miss Harris? Is that why you are scowling at me?” I nodded vigorously.
    He nodded back, winked, and said, “I will be glad to oblige you. I feared I had offended you, you were looking so oddly at me. What a dandy party it was. I ate so much cream cake I won’t be able to do my own dinner justice. Don’t forget you are to come to me this evening.”
    Menrod had enough breeding to overlook the exchange. “Alone at last,” he said ironically, after the others were out the door. “I am highly curious to learn what you can have to say to me that may not be heard by the world.”
    “I could not care less for the world’s hearing me. It is only the children’s ears I wish to avoid. It is about them, you see.”
    “So I gathered. Are you quite easy in your mind now? Is there something you find amiss in them?”
    “Not in them, but in your arrangements for their keeping. We have not settled where they are to be raised.”
    “It is absolutely settled in my mind,” he replied, with a sharp glare from those frosty orbs.
    “They are my relatives too. I want to have them.”
    “You are knocking your head against a brick wall, Miss Harris. I have been at pains to engage their affection, so that they might feel easy with me. I can give them everything they require. You can offer nothing but such company as we have been submitted to here this day. Let us consider the matter closed. You will find me obliging in allowing you to have free access to them, for visiting.”
    “ Allowing me to visit them! Kind of you indeed! If I do exactly as you demand, no doubt you will allow me to call myself their aunt as well, and my sister their mother. You are in no position to be allowing anything. I have as much right to them as you. More.”
    “More?” he asked, with a questioning look.
    “Yes, more. They would be everything to me, my sole concern. To you, they are no more than a diversion. You will dash off and forget them as soon as the novelty of playing father has worn

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