Izzy offered her hand playfully. "Perhaps we ought to renew our introduction. Hello, Julian, my name is Isadora."
He clasped her small hand and brought it to his lips. "Good afternoon, my dear Isadora." He smiled at her, enjoying her play. Still holding her hand, he brought it to his heart and slid from his seat to kneel before her.
"And now that we have been properly introduced...Isadora, my heart, my love," he teased, "will you make me the happiest man on earth? Marry me, my Isadorable!"
He must have imagined the tremor that went through her at his words, for then she merely laughed and smacked him on the shoulder with her free hand. "Stop it, you great buffoon."
"Not until you agree, my precious bon-bon!" He brought her hand to his lips, then loudly and repeatedly smacked it. "My sweet, my only, my sugar-dusted comfit."
"Oh, very well, Julian, you silly lout, I will marry you if I must." She assumed a bored tone and studied her nails with a distracted air.
Their play halted when the parlor door flew open with a bang and Hildegard Marchwell surged into the room. "Izzy, you wretched girl! Spears informed me that you are entertaining a man alone--" Stopping with a gasp, she surveyed the two on the settee and the classic pose of the marriage proposal.
"Oh! Oh my. Lord Blackworth?" Bug-eyed with surprise, Hildegard could only gape for a moment. Her opportunistic nature, however, made a swift recovery.
"Oh, I should have known a man such as yourself would never dishonor an innocent girl like Izzy. Oh, we must--we must plan the wedding! It must be soon. We can have the banns read the coming two Sundays and then--"
Rising, Lord Blackworth cut into her flustered babble. "No, Mrs. Marchwell. This will be no hurried affair." Pulling Izzy to stand with him, he placed an arm about her waist. "Isadora will not be embarrassed by an emergency ceremony. We plan to wed at the end of the Season."
"But...but that is more than three months off," Hildegard stammered. "What if...I mean to say--well, there may be circumstances--" She gulped to a halt at the thunderous look upon Lord Blackworth's face.
"My dear lady, I hope I may count on you to disregard common gossip. Isadora's virtue shall not be questioned, by you or any other. The future Duchess of Dearingham must have no stain follow her."
"Duchess!" Hildegard paled, then reddened as her gaze locked on Izzy.
Izzy fancied she could see the wheels turning in her cousin's head. Perhaps Hildegard was remembering the many small indignities she had heaped upon Izzy over the years; the small cold bedchamber, the cheap gowns, the rudeness and the demands. As Izzy watched Hildegard's color deepen, she wondered if she was recalling the last hellish week with its accusations and shrieking tirades.
Izzy smiled serenely at her. No more abuse from that quarter, at least for four blissful months. Then she would be gone. Across the sea and far away.