|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||540 KB|
Read an Excerpt
"I met the most divine gentlemen while at Emma Fenwick's for tea," Hyacinth cooed, trailing her soft woolen scarf of peacock blue paisley behind her as she drifted across the room of her aunt's country home.
The small morning room at Montmorcy Hall was a favorite gathering place for Lady Montmorcy, her daughter Chloe, and two nieces who lived with her, cousins Elizabeth Dancy and Hyacinth Dancy. They were daughters of her two brothers, and while quite unlike, she considered them charming additions to the household.
This February day proved no different. Outside, a strong breeze swept the Surrey countryside, and it looked to rain before long. Inside, a cozy fire warmed the air and cheered the eye.
Elizabeth Dancy gave her cousin an impatient glance from troubled blue-green eyes before returning to the difficult execution of a winter scene on the copper plate before her. "Lovely," she murmured, quite accustomed to Hyacinth's transports of fancy after several months of her company. How Aunt Bel tolerated it was a mystery to Elizabeth.
"Well, and you ought to have been there." Hyacinth preened before the mirror above the fireplace before making her next announcement.
Knowing what was expected of her, Elizabeth dutifully asked, "Why?"
"Well ... the Marquess of Norwood, for one. And"--Hyacinth darted a complacent look at her favorite cousin--"the Viscount Leighton as well."
The immediate stiffening of Elizabeth's spine gave the only clue of her reaction to this news. Drat and double drat, she fumed silently. She had escaped from London hoping never to see the man again. And here he popped up almost on her aunt's doorstep. She had avoided his calls,claiming the headache. What would the rake want with her, anyway? Their friendship in London had not flourished.
Fixing her dear cousin with the blandest of looks, Elizabeth said mildly. "How nice." She hoped her clenched jaw allowed her to be understood.
"Nice! That is all you can say to having two of Society's most desirable bachelors practically under our noses?" Hyacinth ceased her posing and dropped into a chair close to where Elizabeth worked at her engraving.
"I am not interested, at least not in those gentlemen," Elizabeth said quietly. "You may have both of them with my blessing. I do not care for rakes," she added, thinking of Lord Leighton, "nor do I long for a title. A simple life in the country is all I desire." And, she added to herself, a man who does not stir up such scandalous yearnings within.
"Oh, mercy," Hyacinth said in disgust. She looked at her dearest Aunt Bel for support, and received a cautioning nod.
Isobel, Lady Montmorcy, widow of the esteemed Marquess of Montmorcy, had welcomed her nieces into her Surrey home to keep her daughter company. Not yet out, Lady Chloe Maitland ached to rush to London to make her come-out and find a husband, not necessarily in that order. Lady Montmorcy hoped that her nieces would provide distraction.
"I think it is marvelous!" Chloe breathed, her eyes wide with the excitement which might be expected in a seventeen-year-old girl.
"They will scarcely bestow a look on a girl barely out of the schoolroom," Hyacinth said in deprecating accents.
Elizabeth tossed her younger cousin a sympathetic glance, then added, "You would not wish to be thought coming, Chloe. I know you are impatient, but your time will arrive, and you had best savor every day, not wish it gone." Elizabeth spoke with the wisdom that comes with being nineteen and having a Season behind one.
"True," added Lady Montmorcy, looking thankful that her nieces were the ones to pour cold water on the impetuous Chloe's auburn head, and not herself.
"Elizabeth has had a Season, and she did not accept anyone. I do not see how you could pass up several proposals," Chloe said, giving her cousin a reproachful stare.
"I knew we should not suit." Elizabeth glanced up, then resumed her work with a somewhat faster heartbeat. How could she have accepted anyone when she nurtured a highly improper tendre for the most shocking rake in all of London?
"Well, I shall find someone, I can assure you of that," Chloe declared in ringing accents. "I have no wish to dwindle into a thornback." Then, giving Elizabeth a stricken look, she added, "Not that you fall into that group, for you are too young and beautiful. It will be years before you are past praying for." That these words were scarcely better was brought home to her by the frosty glare from her mama. It wouldn't do to be thought an old maid when one was nineteen.
"You met Viscount Leighton before, Elizabeth, didn't you?" Hyacinth said. "I recall that he served as groomsman at Victoria's wedding. Since you were also an attendant, I fancy you first met him then? Or perhaps at one of those many parties you attended?"
"I cannot understand why you did not come to London yourself," Elizabeth said, hoping to change the subject.
"I detest the city. The air is injurious to the health and the atmosphere not to my liking. I far prefer life in the country." Hyacinth tilted her pen nose a trifle, while staring off into the distance.
"Where she could be a queen bee," Chloe added, giggling at the scowl directed at her from her mother.
Ignoring her teasing, Hyacinth returned to her original topic--the gentleman from London.
"But you did meet Lord Leighton? Did it have something to do with the daring deeds Victoria performed?"
"Yes," Elizabeth admitted.
Chloe frowned. "You have said nothing about it. Explain, if you please. I hate not knowing things."
"Victoria served as a government spy while doing her sculpting," Elizabeth revealed. "That is how she met Sir Edward. I fear I did no more than engrave banknotes for our spies to use in foreign countries. Only Julia did not join us. We all learned a bit about codes and ciphers, spy work in general. It is not as exciting as one might think."
"I have a feeling there was a great more involved," Hyacinth murmured, directing a curious look at her mild-mannered cousin.
"I believe we ought to invite both of the gentlemen to the Valentine's Day ball you are to give. Aunt Bel," Hyacinth coaxed with demure propriety. "'Tis my understanding that while Lord Norwood is but visiting in this area. Lord Leighton is a resident."
"He is the son of the Earl of Crompton," Lady Montmorcy said with a hint of curiosity in her voice. "But he has not frequented his father's company for some time. Once a young man has a taste of London, he is seldom found languishing about the family estate ... unless he has come to grief. Elizabeth?"
"If the gossips are to be believed, he is the worst rake in London, ma'am."
"A rake!" Hyacinth uttered in ringing tones of horror and fascination.
"I wonder what has brought him home, then." Lady Montmorcy gave Elizabeth an expectant look, like an inquisitive robin listening for the sound of a meal.
"It was my impression that his father is ill, ma'am."
"Ill? Oh, I do hope not." Lady Montmorcy subsided into solemn reflection that lasted some moments.
Elizabeth wondered at the wistful smile that lingered on her aunt's face, but said nothing, pleased to have the attention turned elsewhere.
"Well, perhaps he will not attend, but would it not be proper to send invitations to them both?" Hyacinth queried in dulcet tones that fooled only her aunt, who thought her the epitome of propriety and grace.
"I doubt they would wish to join in anything so terribly countrified," Elizabeth said in an offhand manner, as though it mattered not the least to her if the dashing beaux from London crossed the Montmorcy threshold to attend the annual Valentine Day's ball.
She had purposely avoided Lord Leighton from the moment she had glimpsed his tall, handsome figure on the main street of the nearby town. Recalling he had left London to visit his father, she prayed that august gentleman had recovered, and that Lord Leighton was merely pausing nearby. It had meant some skillful dodging, paying a call or two she'd not intended, and shopping for things she'd not the least notion of buying as a means of evasion.
At last she decided to remain at home. It had not been easy. And now, to have him right in the house? At the ball? She knew her aunt and all the wild superstitions she believed. What did she think happened on Valentine's Day? Elizabeth knew enough to be extremely wary.
"Do as you wish, of course," she offered quietly. Then, deciding she had best be prepared, she continued, "What traditions do you hold for that day. Aunt Bel?"
"Oh, there are a number of delicious beliefs, my dear. Let me see ... well, there is the matter of the first man you see on that day. The custom varies, but I believe that the very first man an unwed girl sees on that day will be her husband."
"I thought him merely to be her valentine for that day," Elizabeth objected in what she hoped was a reasonable manner.
"No, no," Aunt Bel denied firmly. "I have seen it work many times, although not for Chloe, but she is too young as yet." She gave her precious girl a fond look.
Hyacinth sat up with a calculating expression on her face, but erased it when she caught Elizabeth watching her.
"I believe I shall remain in bed the entire day, if that is the case," Elizabeth said at last, giving up on guessing what might be going on in Hyacinth's mind.
"I shan't," Hyacinth said firmly. "I shall address the invitations right now, and hope they will not be offended at the lateness. The ball is almost upon us, and I think they ought to see that there are acceptable entertainments to be had in the country as well as in London."
Elizabeth repressed a sigh and bent to her work. It was a foolish dream for Hyacinth to fancy they might compete with a London hostess, not to mention the extraordinary diversions found in the city. Elizabeth had missed Lady Tichbourne's conversaziones and the other gay amusements she had known in London. But, she reminded herself, her expulsion from that mad whirl was voluntary. She had fled--for Lord Leighton had merely teased her when Elizabeth wanted something else entirely.
With Victoria on her way home from her wedding trip, and Julia at Viscount Temple's country estate. Aunt Bel's home proved just the right sort of haven. Or had.
Elizabeth could execute her engravings while deep in the country as well as in the heart of the city. The commission from Mr. Ackermann for a series on country life was a godsend. It gave her an excuse for doing something she enjoyed, and permitted her to refrain from going about with her cousins if she chose. Memory of Lord Leighton's stolen kisses had haunted many a night's sleep. The wretched man most likely had forgotten all about them. Not so Elizabeth.
"Is that a skating scene, Elizabeth?" Chloe said, frowning over Elizabeth's shoulder at the lines being cut into the copper sheet. "I do hope we can go skating this winter. Last winter was too mild. But if the cold weather continues, we just might."
"I think it would be lovely if we could have a skating party in that event," Hyacinth said, folding her hands properly in her lap as she bestowed a demure look on her aunt.
"I suppose so," Aunt Bel said without a great deal of conviction.
"Is everything ready for the ball? What decorations do you plan this year, Aunt?" Elizabeth prompted, again hoping to change the subject.
"Nothing terribly unusual, I fear. I have had the footmen set up the cupids in the ballroom, and Hyacinth and Chloe are nearly finished with the satin hearts. There will be flowers from the greenhouse, and the cook is making a confectionery heart from spun sugar."
"Ordinary, indeed. I vow it will look splendid. I'll have you know that the white and red satin hearts are quite exceptional," Chloe declared stoutly.
"I feel certain it will be the best yet," Hyacinth added, throwing a significant look at Elizabeth.
Not misunderstanding the matter in the least, Elizabeth responded, "You know an invitation to your Valentine's Day ball is eagerly sought by everyone who is anyone. Aunt Bel. I venture to say this one will top them all."
"If only people are not too tardy," her aunt replied, taking note of the time on her locket watch. "I do not approve of this Town fashion, arriving late to functions." She rose, glanced at Chloe, then said, "I had best confer with Cook again," and marched out of the room with a militant expression on her face.
"I vow, Chloe, even if she is your mother, there are times when Aunt Bel positively gives me the shivers," Hyacinth declared.
"I think we ought to write down a list of all her superstitions so we shall be prepared," Elizabeth said. "Chloe, my love, be an angel and find a paper and pen. You ought to know them nearly as well as your mother, and I would be aware of what to expect." Elizabeth fixed a compelling gaze on her cousin, who obediently rose to do as bidden.
"Pansies and verbena she believes to be love potions," Chloe began.
"Thank heaven it is February," Elizabeth declared.
"Well, you already know about the first man you see being your future husband. Are you really going to remain in your room, Elizabeth?" Hyacinth said with an appraising gaze.
"Perhaps," Elizabeth replied in a noncommittal tone.
"When is your birthday?" Chloe inquired, while drawing little hearts around the edge of the paper.
"Mine comes in April, while Hyacinth's is in March. Why?" Elizabeth knew that her aunt believed all sorts of things, and one could be entertained for hours listening to her ramble on. She appeared to believe in every one of her collection of superstitions.
"Mama says April has a precious stone, the diamond, which stands for innocence. March has a bloodstone, which means courage and presence of mind. I should say that fits Hyacinth admirably. I have yet to meet anyone with more presence of mind."
"Chloe," the redheaded Hyacinth cautioned. "That is nonsense, no matter how pretty it sounds. What else?"
"Mama says that two lovers can find out if they will suit by going out at night and picking a flower. If the stem is straight and smooth, their lives will be like that. But if the flower is crooked or spoiled, take caution." Chloe's eyes twinkled with delight. "And she also says that if you eat a piece of bride's cake before you go to sleep, you will see a vision of your future husband."
Hyacinth and Elizabeth exchanged guarded looks. Elizabeth tried hard not to laugh; Hyacinth appeared to reflect on the subject.
"Did you know that if you put a clover leaf in your right shoe, the first man you meet will be your love? Or at the very least someone who has that name," Chloe continued, aware that her cousins did not agree with their aunt's little notions. "Of course, you might recite a special verse first. It goes--"
"Spare us, Chloe. Since it is mid-winter, 'tis unlikely we shall find a clover leaf. And we have other things to concern us." Hyacinth ruthlessly stopped Chloe with her words, and the younger girl subsided warily.
"Well, Mama may follow tradition and have each person draw names as they enter the ballroom, the girls to be paired with the young man whose name she's drawn."
"I think that might be horrid," Hyacinth observed.
"Not if your valentine presents you with a lovely gift, as is custom here," Chloe replied. "Last year Mama received some very pretty gloves from her valentine, Mr. Smithers. He also sent her a very lovely valentine, embossed on paper from Dobbs, and very gallant it was, too. Although it was folded like a letter, it had hearts and cupids with love knots on it. I fancy I should like one like that, for it is superior to homemade ones, do you not think?"
"It is the message and intent that is most important, I suppose," Hyacinth murmured.
"The homemade ones require talent as well," Elizabeth added. Relieved to find no other superstitions associated with Valentine's Day, she was only too willing to put aside her nearly finished engraving and join in completing the plans for the ball.
"Is it agreed that we shall extend invitations to Lord Norwood and Lord Leighton? Aunt Bel will be in alt if they accept, and surely they must, for anyone can tell them that her ball is most delightful." Hyacinth cast a cautious glance at Elizabeth before proceeding to address two invitations in her flowing copperplate. "I shall send one of the footmen with these."
"You sound as though you will take no chances," Elizabeth joked.
"Indeed," Hyacinth murmured as she gathered up a few papers with notes for the party before leaving the room. She paused at the door. "Is Norwood a rake as well?"
"I suspect he is." Weren't they all? Elizabeth could only hope that the illness that had affected Lord Crompton and had brought Lord Leighton on the run was serious enough to keep the young rake from attending the ball.
Excitement ran high the following day when formal acceptances were received from both gentlemen.
Aunt Bel studied Elizabeth before offering her thoughts. "I believe we shall have the cream of parties, my dears. There is not a mother around who will fail to see that her children attend. The young ladies should hope to catch the eye of the titled gentlemen, the young men would strive to learn the manners of a London beau."
"Even if he is a rake?" Elizabeth kept her eyes on her plate, pushing around the buttered eggs that had appealed to her a short time before.
"A titled, wealthy rake is always forgiven. Besides, everyone knows that a reformed rake makes the best husband," Aunt Bel said complacently.
"Another of your beliefs?" Elizabeth nudged her plate away, concentrating on the scrap of toast in her hand.
"I have seen it happen more than once." Lady Montmorcy finished the last of her chocolate, then consulted the locket watch she always wore. "Time to attend to the acceptances. I suspect others will quickly learn of our important guests. Word does spread. Not that our little affair would not be well attended all the same. I like to think the ball relieves the tedium of February. I only hope it does not snow." This last remark was said with a worried glance out of the window.
Elizabeth rose from the table to walk to the windows. Outside the gray skies did not hold the promise of fair weather. "It may wait, or possibly it will rain, and I doubt that will be any more welcome. The roads are bad enough as they are."
"Are London streets better? Neatly cobbled and even?" Chloe demanded to know.
"Cobbled, yes. Better? No. They smell, and are anything but even. One endures what one must, I expect."
"How can you like the spring in London if it smells?"
"It is the company, love, not the condition of the streets," Elizabeth said, then chuckled as she recalled the many times she and Victoria had dashed madly about London while using their individual talents for the government. Did she miss the excitement, the daring subterfuge? She wasn't sure. She had welcomed the quiet haven at Aunt Bel's, but now sensed all was due to change.
She expressed as much to Hyacinth when they went up to bed the evening before the ball.
"It is far and away the silliest thing I have ever heard," Hyacinth scolded in her pretty manner.
"I cannot help it," Elizabeth replied slowly. "I have this feeling, a sensation of complete reordering."
"Well, I am going to put up my hair in papers and retire for the night. I rather envy those chestnut curls of yours. You do not have to sleep with little knobs all over your head beneath a nightcap. Do you know that I have the prettiest collection of nightcaps? Mine are all embroidered and trimmed in lovely lace."
Near Elizabeth's door they were confronted by the sight of Aunt Bel directing several maids. They were carrying Elizabeth's clothes from the green room, where she had been residing. Hyacinth's maid was carefully transporting all of her belongings across the hall to the green room.
"What is this. Aunt Bel?" Elizabeth demanded.
"I have decided that the pink room is to be yours, Elizabeth. The green one is more for Hyacinth. Her unfortunate coloring, you see."
"I see nothing unfortunate about lovely red hair and beautiful white skin, even if she does have a freckle or two," Chloe stated in ringing terms as she joined the others.
"You do like pink, even if you wear aquamarine most of the time?" Aunt Bel said with an anxious look at Elizabeth now that the deed was done.
"Of course. Aunt, it will be fine, as long as Hyacinth does not mind," Elizabeth said, trying to soothe her aunt.
"I had this vision, you see. It clearly told me to switch you girls." Aunt Bel stared off into space a moment before returning her attention to the maids.
"Who are we to argue with a vision?" Hyacinth said with rare good humor.
Elizabeth suspected that as long as Hyacinth's clothes were in order, and the bed comfortable, she really did not mind. "I fancy you will like the green room, Hyacinth. The view is ever so pretty and the sun warms you in the morning."
Aware it would not be proper to make a fuss, Hyacinth smiled and strolled into her new room.
Elizabeth watched until the door closed, then turned to her aunt. "Is that the real reason for the change? Not that I mind, for 'tis a lovely room. But it has been hers all these months."
"She misses her parents, it will keep her mind occupied."
"They have been gone over a year now, she is out of mourning. I suspect the advent of two qualified London beaux will more than keep her busy."
"She is exceedingly proper, and is not given to the ruses taken by other young ladies," Aunt Bel assured.
Elizabeth wondered how her aunt could be so blind, then shrugged off the feeling that Hyacinth was being catered to while she, who'd lost her parents many years before, was not.
Actually, the pink peony room, as Aunt Bel delighted to call it, was more to Elizabeth's taste than the green jade room. Around her, the walls bloomed with luscious peonies amid oriental traceries of leaves and vines. The bed hangings were a deep peony pink that ought to have clashed with her hair but didn't. On the floor, a thick carpet with the same colors woven into peonies on a pale cream background looked lush and inviting.
The wardrobe doors stood open, revealing the rows of gowns in the aquamarine Elizabeth favored. The color matched her eyes, she'd been told often enough, and it was one of her few points of vanity. The aquamarine was also reflected in touches here and there about the room, much better than the conflicting jade.
The tap on her door some minutes later was not totally unexpected.
Hyacinth stuck her head around the door, then slipped inside. "What do you make of this exchange?" She spread her arms out to encompass the room.
"One of Aunt's little oddities. I trust it does not upset you?" Elizabeth eyed her cousin with a few misgivings. Hyacinth might not throw tantrums, but she could make life very unpleasant if she decided to be annoyed.
"Mercy, no. But it is strange. One never knows what Aunt Bel will do or say next." Hyacinth prudently seated herself on a slipper chair of rich peony velvet.
"Which makes for a life that is never dull, at any rate." Elizabeth chuckled at the grimace that crossed her cousin's face.
"I know you were teasing when you said you intended to remain in bed all day tomorrow. But really, you do not fear that Aunt Bel truly believes in that nonsense?" Hyacinth leaned forward, studying her cousin's expression intently.
"I believe she does, but what she might do at the ball, I cannot say. She is not predictable," Elizabeth concluded in a great understatement of the matter.
"I have noticed that you have behaved a bit peculiarly these past weeks. Even before I noticed that Lords Leighton and Norwood were in the vicinity.'' Hyacinth studied the toe of her embroidered slipper, assuming a very nonchalant mien.
"I'll admit I was taken aback to discover Lord Leighton was in this area," Elizabeth confessed.
"Do I detect a romance?" said the ever romantic Hyacinth, perking up to watch her cousin as she brushed her curls, preparing for the night.
"That is absolutely the most utter nonsense! He treated me more like a sister. Lord Leighton is a monstrous tease. What a pity he did not have a string of siblings upon whom to vent his inclination--not that they would have enjoyed it any more than I did," she concluded acidly.
"You do not like him?"
"I loathe the man," Elizabeth declared, although quietly, and with less conviction than she ought.
"Do not tell me that hate is akin to love, for I'll not listen. Julia reminded me of that before I left London."
"Your sister is most likely right, having been married and all. Marriage makes a woman a woman, or so my mother always said," Hyacinth murmured wistfully.
"Go to bed, Hyacinth. I am worn to flinders what with the preparations for the ball. I should think you would be, too." Elizabeth made shooing motions with her hands, but wore an affectionate look on her face that belied any cross feelings.
"I shall see you in the morning. Be careful who you meet after midnight!" Hyacinth giggled and fled to her room.
Alone, Elizabeth felt free to indulge in singing a little tune. As customary, she tucked her pistol beneath her pillow, something she had done for the past few years. A life in London that had been filled with spies and daring deeds had prompted her to keep the gun handy. Even though all that was behind her, old habits died hard.
She crossed to open the French window a crack, inhaling the crisp, cold air with relish. The windows led to a charming balcony. At least it likely seemed such in the summer, when the wisteria bloomed. There was no one out there now to hear her, for she was a dreadful singer, having what her family tolerantly referred to as a tin ear.
The melody was one she loved, and wished she could have done justice to, but alas, she couldn't. So she sang and hummed in the privacy of her room.
A glance in the looking glass told her that her nightgown draped quite nicely about her in sheer cambric folds, its tiny bodice covered in exquisite embroidery. Over her head she pulled a dainty nightcap of lace and cambric, tying the ribbons neatly under her chin before crawling beneath the covers.
She had barely drifted into a good sleep when she heard it. A noise.
Suddenly alert, she stealthily sought the gun beneath her pillow. Her fingers groped for the not-so-very-small firearm. A crack shot, she knew how to handle the weapon once she had it balanced in her hand.
She waited, scarcely daring to breathe.
Another sound, a scraping noise that one might make while floundering about in the dark.
Elizabeth took aim at that noise, then cautiously waited to see if the intruder would identify him or herself.
Silence. Then another soft bump and a muttered curse.
Elizabeth was correct. Danger lurked, even in the heart of the country. She wavered in her resolve, reluctant to shoot yet fearful of what might befall her if she called for help. The intruder might attack her before help could come! She had never thought to actually shoot at someone, only fixed targets, tame round objects stuffed with straw. Too terrified to cry out a challenge, she knew she must defend herself the best she could.
Taking a careful breath, she squeezed the trigger, knowing she had but one chance to hit her target. A muffled cry told her that her shot had struck its quarry. Another sound prompted her to believe the person had fallen to the floor. With trembling fingers she placed the gun on the table, lit her bedside lamp, then slid from beneath the covers.
It was then she discovered the identity of her victim. "Lord Leighton! Oh, jiminy!"
Elizabeth dropped to the floor, heedless of the impropriety of her dress or her isolation with the man she'd assiduously avoided. Blood seeped from the wound on his arm, and he looked to be in frightful pain. "Confound it," she murmured as she rolled his lordship over to better examine the damage. What a pickle!
"All I wanted was a chance to talk with you," Leighton protested, his words slurred, to the apparition in snowy white who hovered over him like an angel of mercy. She missed the appreciative gleam that sparkled in his eyes as he viewed the sheer cambric-veiled figure of the well-endowed Miss Dancy.
"You might have presented yourself in the drawing room, sirrah," Elizabeth snapped, albeit quietly. She could scarcely miss the alcoholic fumes that emanated from his lordship. The man was foxed!
"And be informed you were not at home? You have avoided me at every turn." He winced when she tugged the sleeve of his coat, pulling it from him with none-too-gentle jerks. "That hurts," he complained.
"And so it should. You have been shot," she reminded him, quite unpitying in her care, "And you are most improper, creeping like this into the bedroom of a young woman."
Then she remembered that this room had belonged to Hyacinth until this evening. Her heart felt crushed as she considered the implications of that, even as she sought a pad with which to staunch his bleeding.
The door new open and her aunt charged into the room, a poker in hand, her dressing gown flying about her. At the scene before her, she halted abruptly. "What's this?"
"It was an accident, ma'am," Elizabeth said, trying to figure out how she and Lord Leighton might extricate themselves from what she was rapidly coming to see might be a very tricky situation.
Her aunt consulted the mantel clock. "After midnight! 'Tis Valentine's Day! You have just shot your future husband, my dear girl!"