“I go about to see my patients.” He jerked his head toward the open door and his vehicle, a dilapidated black carriage.
Lala looked down at her morning dress and her slippers. His gaze followed hers.
“Of course you don’t,” he said, his eyes going flat. “Miss Rainsford, I apologize for such an untoward request. I must bid you good day.”
“I couldn’t go without a chaperone,” she said, a little breathlessly.
His mouth tightened.
“Just a maid,” she added. “And my bonnet! Wait, please wait. Just a moment.”
Fleming miraculously reappeared and produced her bonnet as well as a maid, because Lala didn’t have a lady’s maid. And asking if her mother’s maid could accompany her would ensure that Lady Rainsford learned of her daughter’s improper excursion.
She was almost in the carriage before it occurred to her that she ought to leave notice with someone other than the butler. She ran back to the house, ignoring the fact that Dr. Hatfield would be able to see her from behind, and said breathlessly to Fleming, “Please tell Lady Adelaide that I’ve gone on rounds.” She turned without waiting for an answer.
Which meant that she didn’t see Fleming smile as he closed the door behind her.
As India dressed for dinner that night, her mind kept veering toward Thorn. She gave herself a silent scolding and made herself think about Lord Brody instead, but two minutes later she found herself slipping back to a memory of the way Thorn had kissed her good-night after they’d walked home from the gatehouse.
Probably many women had memories like these. The fact that she’d been happier in the hammock, in his arms, than she’d ever been in her life . . . that was irrelevant. He belonged to someone else. He wanted someone else.
Maybe if she told herself that daily for the next year, she would stop thinking about him.
Even so, she dressed with more care than she had dressed for anything in her life, not allowing herself to think too hard about why she was determined to be—what was the word Thorn had used? Delectable.
The gown she put on was very nearly indecent, only because fashion and her bosom were not in agreement. It was made of transparent rose-tinted silk that swooped in drapes around the bodice before falling to the floor. But there wasn’t much bodice. In fact, the top only barely kept her covered and the sleeves were no more than a frail length of gauze. Marie bound up her hair in the front, with one of the newest bandeau, and left all the rest of it to tumble down her back.
“It would be better if I could get your hair to take a curl,” Marie fretted. She was fixing rosebuds to India’s hair.
“I think it looks quite well,” India said. Marie had shadowed her eyes with kohl and painted her lips a darker rose than her gown. Her only jewelry was a bracelet, a thin band of silver decorated with an amethyst, very high on her right arm. “Should you add a few of those amethyst pins?” she asked, standing up and turning slightly in order to see her back in the glass.
“Just a few,” Marie agreed, nimbly setting to work. When she was done, each rosebud had a tiny sparkle, a flicker of purple light that highlighted the unusual color of India’s hair.
India slid her feet into narrow slippers embroidered with spangles, with ribbons that crossed her ankles, just in case a gentleman caught sight of her legs.
She made herself think about Lord Brody as she went down the stairs. Thorn was right. Brody was a far better catch than the men who had courted her to this point: he was powerful and graceful at the same time. You could take one look at him and know that he would fight off a marauding elephant.
What’s more—and even more importantly—she felt instinctively that he wasn’t a bully. He would respect his wife and allow her to make most decisions on her own. He would be a peaceful and calm husband, unlike Thorn, whose wife would probably find herself quarrelling with him once a day.
When she reached the entry, Fleming escorted her to the drawing room and announced her, quite as if they hadn’t been working side by side for the last week.
Everyone turned around when she entered. Eleanor and Adelaide smiled; the duke looked surprised. Thorn was standing at the mantelpiece with Lord Brody. He froze when he caught sight of her, and his whole face changed.
India let a little smile play on her lips, because she liked the look in his eyes.
The duke and duchess walked across the room while she was giving Thorn a silent lesson in all the ways he had been mistaken in his assessment of her wardrobe. His Grace bowed, and drawled, “I will take the advantage of my age to say what every man in this room is thinking, Lady Xenobia. You look extraordinarily beautiful.”
India smiled at him and dropped a curtsy. Eleanor leaned forward and whispered, “I’m seeing a whole new India.”
“I am retiring,” India explained. “I felt some new gowns were called for.”
“At this rate, you will cut a swath through the ton,” the duke remarked. “Perhaps I should warn the unsuspecting men in my club.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” the duchess said, her eyes dancing. “My guess is that India will be affianced before the next season begins.”
“I see no need to rush,” India told them.
Lord Brody joined them. “Lady Xenobia,” he said, dropping into a bow as he took her hand and kissed it. “You take my breath away. That,” he said, straightening, “is a tired remark, but nonetheless true.”
Thorn strolled over, but his face was not nearly as admiring as Lord Brody’s. He bowed, but he didn’t add a flourish, nor did he kiss her hand.
“Lady Xenobia,” Lord Brody said, turning his back on Thorn. “Would you walk with me?”
India took his arm and let herself enjoy the sensation of walking away from Thorn, so that he could see her hair down.
Lord Brody shared Thorn’s overtly masculine air, but at the same time, he was civilized. They moved slowly around the room, talking of his stables. Before she knew it, India was offering suggestions. They had just rounded the corner when she said, “For example, why do stalls always have swinging doors? It would be much easier to negotiate a horse out of a stall if the door slid, instead of swinging open.”
She looked up at that moment to discover Thorn blocking their path.
“No one told me this was the time to promenade,” he said, his tone growly and irritated.
India wrinkled her nose at him. “Thorn, don’t you agree that stalls should have sliding doors rather than swinging ones?”
Brody made a sharp movement and—too late—she realized that she had betrayed an entirely scandalous intimacy. “Do forgive me for addressing Mr. Dautry with such familiarity, Lord Brody. He and I are quite like siblings, as I have long been friends with Her Grace.”
That was true . . . and not true. It was true that she had been friends with Eleanor for years. It was most decidedly untrue that she had sisterly feelings for Thorn.
“In that case,” Lord Brody said, “I insist that you use my Christian name as well. Would you do me the honor of addressing me as Vander?”
“His real name is Evander,” Thorn told India. “We both arrived at Eton as boys, whereupon Vander had to pummel any number of boys who thought it amusing to address him as Eve.”