The reluctant cavalier

The reluctant cavalier by Karen Harbaugh Read Free Book Online

Book: The reluctant cavalier by Karen Harbaugh Read Free Book Online
Authors: Karen Harbaugh
Tags: Nov. Rom
lips. "But I do not love him, Papa!"
    Sir Robert turned impatiently from her. "Fiddle! What has that to say to anything? You have been reading too many novels, that's what it is, my girl!"
    Lady Smith gave her husband a reproving look. "Now, Robert, I do not know how you can say that. You have just finished reading Evelina, after all, and thought it tolerable entertainment."
    Sir Robert looked a little nonplussed, but recovered. "It is one thing, Amanda, to read them for entertainment, and something else entirely to think them anything more than mere fantasy."
    His wife smiled at him and gently squeezed his arm. "Well, then! Surely, you do not think your daughter so insensible to reality that she cannot tell the difference between it and fairy stories. Did you not commend her just yesterday on how well she understood your reasoning about the latest bills to come before Parliament?"
    Annabella could not help smiling. Her mother had always been very persuasive.
    Sir Robert stared at his wife for a moment, lips pressed together in thought, then he smiled wryly. "You have caught me out again, my love." He gave her an ironic look. "Indeed, I think I will leave the talking to you, clever as you are."
    Lady Smith only smiled at him. "I thank you, my dear." She waved at him to leave the room, and he smiled, shaking his head as he closed the door behind him.
    She turned to Annabella and took her daughter's hands in hers, leading her to the sofa, where they sat. She hesitated a moment, then seemed to come to a decision.
    "Bella, my dear, I hope you know your father and I want only what is best for you. We would never force you to wed anyone you could not like. You are our only child, and we love you dearly."
    Annabella felt tears prickling at her eyes. "Oh, Mama! I know you do! And I am so very sorry I went to the masquerade!"
    Lady Smith shook her head. "I wish you had told me you wanted to go. I would have gone with you, you know."
    A pang of guilt went through Annabella, and she said in a low voice: "I promise to let you know the next time ... it is only ... the duke ..." She wished desperately she had not run off to the masquerade.
    Her mother patted her hand. "I know, he is very strict in his notions, and your papa thinks Stratton is the best of your suitors. However"—Lady Smith smiled widely and bent her head toward her daughter's—"I daresay we need not tell the duke about it, hmm?" she said in a conspiratorial voice. "Besides, it has been an age since I have gone to a masquerade, and your father could hardly object to my having a little enjoyment."
    Annabella smiled gratefully at her mother, but her smile faded quickly. "I... there is more, I am afraid. I knew I should have left after a while. Oh, Lord and Lady Laughton are very respectable, to be sure, and it seemed their guests were so, but then ..." She glanced up at her mother, who looked at her encouragingly.
    "I—I went out to the terrace—it was very warm in the ballroom—and Sir Quentin—I did not know it was he, Mama, for he was masked, of course! He—he kissed me!"
    Lady Smith frowned. "You allowed—"
    "No, no, of course I did not want him to, Mama! I fought him, but he was very strong. I was so afraid—and now I see why you said I should not go without you—I tried to make him release me. But then ..." Annabella twisted her hands in her lap. "Then I was rescued."
    Her mother let loose a sigh, then smiled a little, before her face resumed its solemnity. "I am grateful for that! What an adventure you had, to be sure. But I hope no further liberties were taken?"
    Annabella blushed. "No, there was not. Sir Quentin did not come near me afterward."
    She gazed at her daughter for a long moment. "I suppose need not tell your father of this, as you have learned your lesson, have you not?"
    "Yes, I have learned, I promise you!" "Good. Then I think perhaps we should go this afternoon to thank your rescuer."
    "I... I do not know who he is." Lady Smith raised her

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