Lady FiascoBy: Kathleen Baldwin
He stood at the edge of the ballroom like a smoldering statue, and if she were not his mother he would have strangled her.
She stabbed her needle in again. “Tyrell, for pity sake, won’t you please dance? You’re embarrassing me. Surely one of these young ladies...”
Not bloody likely.
“Your father would have wanted it this way. He abhorred excessive mourning. You know he did. You’ve been gone so long, it’s only right to reintroduce you to the neighborhood. He would have wanted you to have a proper welcome home. Really Tyrell, I planned this entire evening for your sake.”
He knew exactly why she’d thrown this abominable ball and for what purpose.
“It’s true.” She fanned herself a little harder. “How can you doubt my intentions? I am, after all, your mother. It’s my duty to look after you.”
Knowing how punishing silence can be, Tyrell said nothing.
She sniffled and dabbed at her eyes, which were perfectly dry. “Have you no heart?”
Heart? No. That useless mechanism stopped working in Spain, on the battlefields of Badajoz to be precise. Music jangled through his ballroom, agitating him with the frivolous sounds of plinking harpsichords and squealing violins. Candles flickered as dancers stirred up the air bounding across his floor like a flock of mindless sheep. He would rather be trapped in a bat-ridden cave than here.
To distract himself from his mother’s prattle he studied Fiona Hawthorn as she made her way through the guests on the other side of the room. She looked nothing like the sobbing young girl who had run after him as he rode away to war. She’d grown into a woman, shapely and undeniably striking. And now, his idiotic neighbors stepped out of her path as if she had the plague. Women backed away clutching their skirts like frightened children in the wake of a specter.
His mother whispered a plea that lashed across his thoughts. “How can you treat me so ill? All I ask is one small grandson, so I’m not thrown out in the cold should anything happen to you. I simply can’t bear to think of my home entailed to some distant-uncle’s-cousin-or-other, who won’t care two figs for what happens to me.”
He remained as immovable as a wax general at Madam Tussaud’s. His cousins were gentlemen. She’d be well-cared for and the dower cottage would serve her adequately.
She clutched at his arm. “A baby boy I can bounce upon my knee, that’s all I’m asking. An heir. Is that so much?”
Yes, too much. Much more than he could give. Sons required fathers, preferably with the aforementioned heart intact.
He continued to watch Fiona as she wandered to the rear of the ballroom, away from the dancers and the gabbing, giggling circles of young women. She seated herself on a chair behind a column swathed in shadow. Hiding. Tyrell clamped his jaw tighter.
“Must you seethe like some sort of caged tiger? Truly, it can’t be good for you. You’ll rupture your spleen.”
What would she have him do? Upturn the tables? Shove all of her unwanted guests down the stairs and out of his house? Smash that musician’s squeaky fiddle over his white-wigged head?
“Our friends came here with the perfectly reasonable expectation that you would honor at least one of their daughters. You simply must dance with one of these young women or I shan’t be able to show my face in society again. We have our name to consider. At the very least you could—”
“Very well. One.”
He marched straight across the ballroom, heedless of the dancers, who darted out of his way while trying to maintain their places in the set. The heels of his shoes reported loudly against the wood floor, but he didn’t slow his pace until he stopped squarely in front of Fiona’s chair behind the column.
She sat in a dreamlike pose, swaying to the rhythm of the country dance. He cleared his throat and waited for her to open her eyes and focus. He continued to wait as her gaze slowly crawled up to his face and she blanched.
“Oh dear,” she murmured and rose abruptly upsetting her chair. In a tangled string of movements she reached back, caught the chair before it clattered to the floor, curtsied, and then seemed to lose her breath before she could speak.