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Unexpected Expectations

 
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Clare Grey
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PostPosted: Sun May 21, 2017 6:21 pm    Post subject: Unexpected Expectations Reply with quote

May 1887: Hyde Park, London

As much as Lawrence might have wanted to call on the Kings the next day, Connie had banished him from the house for the morning in preparation for the Kings to call on her. She wasn't prepared to risk scandalous gossip just because he was impatient to see the young lady who had caught his eye so quickly, and besides ... she wanted the privacy of a morning visit to make her own assessment of Clare King and her mother. Still, an afternoon in Hyde Park beckoned, and for that, she had insisted Lawry did come along, walking at his side in the spring sunshine.

"Do try to acknowledge your horde of admirers from time to time, Lawry," she teased him as they promenaded together. "I am sure, once we happen upon the Kings, you will forget all of them in a snap."

It mattered little to him whether they called on the Kings or met elsewhere, so long as he had succeeded in rescuing Clare from the barbs of a jealous rival. He hadn't even realized such things went on behind his back, until he'd heard it in person, and as he and Clare shared much the same predicament, he couldn't help but rise to her defense. "I am sure my horde of admirers would be less than impressed to know that I'm penniless," he reminded his sister quietly and just a little bitterly.

"Dear heart, that is not the reason they admire you from afar and write your name wistfully in their journals," Connie assured him. She'd been through it all herself; she knew what debutantes were like, and her brother was a dream come true for many of those young girls. Another reason she approved of Clare King - she doubted that young lady had ever let herself become wistful over a man, too practical and aware of her circumstance to risk a broken heart. "You are the handsomest man in town."

"That means quite a lot coming from my sister," he replied, with a hint of sarcasm. While he appreciated the flattery, what he really needed from her was honesty. He smiled amicably and nodded his head in polite greeting as a woman with a buggy passed them by. "You know, if Adelaide was still alive, we might have had a child by now," he mused aloud, with just a hint of grief in his voice. Though he hadn't been in love with his late wife, they had discussed the possibility of a family before she had died.

Connie squeezed his arm gently. "And in a year, you may have a son," she tried to reassure him, though the subject was painful enough to her. She had been married for ten years and still no children graced her home. She knew why, of course, but it wasn't spoken of. "A son with flame-colored hair, perhaps?" She was teasing him again, safe in the knowledge that he couldn't spank his little sister in the middle of Hyde Park.

"Perhaps, but that is, how does the saying go? Putting the cart before the horse?" he asked, with a warm smile for his sister. He knew she wanted a child, as well, and decided it was better to drop the subject. Why she and her husband were still childless was none of his business, unless she decided to confide in him, and so far, she hadn't.

"Ah, but you said perhaps," she laughed, hugging his arm briefly before renewing the appropriate distance between them. "You are close to making your mind up already, aren't you?" Connie knew why haste was necessary on both sides by now, and she was not averse to encouraging her brother. After all, she had a feeling Clare King was not the insipid blossom Adelaide had been.

He shrugged, an uncertain frown on his face. He'd come to London to choose a bride and had been fortunate enough to find one he thought might be agreeable, but the fact was that they hardly knew each other. "I would prefer more time for us to get acquainted," he said, though he knew he couldn't delay too long, but then that was what they were here for.

"No one expects you to make your decision within a day of meeting her, Lawry," Connie promised him. "But I know you. I expect, if we arrange enough meetings between now and then, you will be ready to meet with the father when he joins them in June. Won't you?"

"I should know by then, yes," he replied, though he also knew that beggars couldn't be choosers. He needed a bride who came with a generous dowry, and her family desired to elevate their status by marrying their daughter off to someone like him. But what Lawry hadn't shared with his sister or anyone else was his belief that marriage was a sacred union between a man and woman who loved each other and wanted to share their lives together. It was a ridiculously romantic notion, given his situation, but it was what had held him back from marriage, despite what was needed and expected of him.

"And try not to make her a target among her peers," Connie suggested gently. "Clementine Ackley spent the majority of the evening yesterday smearing the girl's name to everyone she met, purely because you didn't even ask for her name."

"And why would I wish to court a venomous viper such as Clementine Ackley?" he asked, though he expected no answer. Oh, yes, he'd known women like her before - and men, too. People who could not find happiness on their own, and so, chose to make everyone else around them unhappy.

Constance laughed at his comment on the Ackley girl. "I agree with you, dear heart, but you should at least dance with a few other young ladies until your decision is made," she advised him. "If nothing else, it will serve to reinforce your preference if you are not dogging her every step."

Speaking of which ... A flash of copper hair under sunlight ahead of them betrayed that they had located Miss King and her mother.

He came to a halt and turned to reward his sister with a fond smile. "What would become of me, I wonder, if not for your guidance, dear sister?" he asked, with sincerity and not a drop of sarcasm, despite his hatred of their situation.

"I do believe you would grow into your reputation as an eccentric recluse of fifty," she smiled, leaning close to kiss his cheek. "Now do come along, Lawry, before they pass us by entirely."

Mrs. King had clearly already noticed them, included as she was in Constance's plan for this incidental meeting. Clare had not, drawn to the side of the path by her mother's sudden passion for roses and placed directly in Lawry's path. She was smiling indulgently, enjoying the freedom in her mother's chatter that had been sorely missing from their engagements the night before.

"Perhaps," he admitted, knowing Connie might just be right about that and smiling at the tender moment of affection shared between brother and sister which had become all too rare since she'd married. He turned to find Clare standing directly in his path but as yet unaware of their presence, and he found himself smiling at the sight of her. "As lovely as a rose," he murmured to himself, but it wasn't just the sight of her that drew his attention, but the smile on her face as she admired the flowers. He wondered if he could ever make a woman smile that way for him.

"Mrs. King, what a pleasure to see you," Constance declared, releasing his arm as she moved to embrace Edith King fondly, doing more for that woman's status in society with one warm touch than years of coaching by the Dowager Lady Greenville. "Miss King, how delightful you look this afternoon. My brother is quite overcome." Laying it on a little thick, perhaps, but it was enough to make Clare laugh as she glanced toward Lawry.

"He seems perfectly ambulatory to me, Lady Stanley."
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PostPosted: Sun May 21, 2017 6:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Somehow, Lawry managed to hide his embarrassment at his sister's introduction, stepping forward to offer both women that small formal bow of greeting that had a lifetime of good manners had instilled in him. "Good afternoon, Madam," he greeted her mother first before turning to the daughter, "Miss King. A pleasant afternoon for a walk, isn't it?"

"Indeed it is, Lord Arden," Edith responded, far warmer now she had taken tea with his sister. "Would you, perhaps, like to walk with us for a span?"

At this, Clare cast a curious glance toward her mother, but Edith was already wrapped in Constance's arm, the two women waiting for their slightly manipulated charges to walk ahead of them.

"Yes, of course," he replied, as if they had only come upon them by chance, which was not the case. He offered the younger of the pair an arm, which was the most he dared in public. "If you would do me the honor, Miss King."

Now deeply suspicious of this "timely" meeting, Clare raised a brow at him, her lips curving into a soft smile. "Thank you, Lord Arden," she accepted, laying her gloved hand on his arm. It was an effort to ignore the delighted whispering going on between her mother and his sister as they began to walk side by side. "So ... not an elderly recluse, then," she said in quiet amusement. "My sister will be delighted to know our information was so terribly wrong."

"No, I'm afraid not. Are you terribly disappointed?" he asked, as he led her forward, far enough ahead of her mother and his sister that their conversation could not be heard, but close enough to satisfy propriety. He didn't deny being something of a recluse, but he did not deem himself elderly just yet.

She looked up at him, the sunlight catching her face from beneath the forward brim of her hat for a moment. "No," she confessed softly. "No, I am not disappointed at all." She dared to smile directly at him, laying her other hand over her fingers at his elbow as they walked - scandalous, perhaps, but she was tired of behaving perfectly only to be overlooked. If he objected, he would make it clear to her, no doubt. "Upon our first acquaintance, I must confess I was disappointed to believe you only a knight of the realm. I am sure you have been made aware of my father's ambitions by now. A knight is not high enough for his pleasure."

He made no move to remove either hand from his arm, but he did frown a little at her confession. "I must apologize for my deception. I had assumed you knew who I was and, when I realized you did not, I found myself relieved. I am sure my sister has informed you of our situation by now. It is humbling, to say the least," he confessed, lowering his voice so that their well-meaning chaperones did not overhear.

"I can understand your feelings," Clare assured him softly. "My own situation is ..." She trailed off, unable to find the right words to describe her problems. "Suffice it to say, if I do not succeed with my father's wishes this year, he shall pin his hopes upon my sister, yet it is his behavior that has denied me a match and will deny one to her. Your situation is humbling, sir. Mine is a constant insult. It would seem we are perfectly matched."

"It would seem so," he replied in complete agreement. "There is one thing, however," he said, as he came to a stop near yet another rose garden, hoping his sister was able to occupy her mother long enough that he could have a private word or two without any eavesdropping or interference. "My sister thinks me a romantic fool, but my most sincere wish is to find a wife that is not only a good match socially and financially, but one whom I might one day grow fond of," he told her quietly, sharing his deepest wish with the one person to whom it might be most important.

To say she was surprised to hear him say as much was a slightly understatement. Clare was utterly unused to men speaking of any form of attachment beyond material gains when it came to a wife. "You truly are a lion among lambs, aren't you?" she said wonderingly, careful to keep her eyes on the roses beside them so as not to attract undue attention. "I should like very much to be more than an occasional companion to my husband. To be his friend, and to earn his love, perhaps. It is bold of me to say it, but I believe we could be friends, sir. And from friendship, who can say what might grow?"

"I should think I am just the opposite," he replied with a bit of a self-deprecatory chuckle. Indeed, few of his rank and title would bother with romance or hope for anything more than friendship, but then he had always been more like his mother than his father. "Who can say, indeed?" he asked, with that charming and somewhat disarming smile of his. He untangled his arm from hers for a moment to carefully pluck a rose from a nearby bush. "The most delicate and lovely of nature's flowers," he said, as he turned to face her once again. "And yet, it pales in comparison to you."

"I am hardly delicate, sir," she admitted, but her smile had softened, deeply touched by the impulsive romantic gesture made in the full light of day, when anyone could see and know them for who they were. "You are kind to compliment me so. Were our genders reversed, I should already have named you the fairest beauty of my acquaintance, and yet, it is not your face that holds my thoughts. The spirit is, I think, handsomer by far even than the handsome face that wears it."

He smiled, both flattered and amused by her compliment. He'd heard such things before, at least in regard to his looks, but rarely did anyone search deep enough to comment on his spirit. "Kind words and high praise to live up to. I hope I don't disappoint," he told her, breaking off the rose above the thorns before offering it to her. He might have tucked it behind her ear, if the gesture hadn't seemed too forward for the light of day.

Taking the bloom in one hand, Clare raised it to her nose, breathing in the fragrance for a long moment before lifting her eyes to his once more. "I do not think you will," she assured him. "You may be confident in knowing that, should you find some way to disappoint, I shall certainly tell you so." She laughed, curling her hands to his arm once again, her rose caught safely in her fingers. "I can only hope that my father's manner will not disgust you so very much."

"You may have heard my father was not the most endearing of men," he admitted quietly with an almost sad frown as she took his arm and he continued to lead her along the path that wound through the park and gardens. "It is because of him that I am in this predicament," he reluctantly confessed, believing she deserved to know the truth of his situation, if she did not know it already.

"I see." She did not need him to expound upon his predicament; gossip and rumor ran ahead of everyone in society, and his financial situation was not entirely unknown to her. She did not want to linger on it, nor on her concern that his interest in her stemmed purely from the generous dowry her father intended to bestow on the man who finally wed her. "Wealth can smooth any number of flaws, I have heard it said."

"So I have heard, but I have my doubts," he said, chancing a glance over a shoulder at their chaperones who, thankfully, were deep in a conversation of their own. His sister was proof enough that money did not buy happiness, though she would never admit it to him. "If money were my only concern, I would have courted the one with the richest bank account," he pointed out. Even if her father was willing to offer a generous dowry, that was not had initially drawn him to her.
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PostPosted: Sun May 21, 2017 6:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I wouldn't," Clare said without thinking. "She eats pickled herring to calm her nerves and never covers her mouth while her breath is fouled by them." As soon as she'd said it, however, she realized how unladylike that was. "That is to say ... she is a lovely person, and a friend, but her personal habits may require a little ... fine-tuning."

He laughed lightly in amusement at her unbashful candor. "You see, that is what I like about you, Miss King. You are honest to a fault," he told her, hoping she took the compliment the way it was intended. "I've found such candor rare in a woman." Then again, most women he met were too busy falling all over themselves and saying whatever they thought might bring them into his good graces to worry much about honesty.

"I do have many faults," she agreed in amusement, but the shy flicker of her gaze gave away how pleased she was to have amused him. "I have not conversed with many gentlemen. I confess, I may have forgotten quite how to exercise my manners at every moment of every day."

"No one is perfect," he admitted, charmed by the way she blushed and looked away as if she was either shy or embarrassed to admit her humanity. "I certainly have my own share of faults," he told her. As far as manners were concerned, he often found them more of a constraint than was necessary. "I suppose we should discuss our plans for the future."

"For this Season, sir, or beyond it?" she asked, her tone just a little wary. And after all, why shouldn't she be a little wary? Gentlemen had spoken of the future before and it had come to nothing. She was loath to waste breath on dreams that were out of her reach.

"Perhaps we should start with this Season," he suggested, just as wary as she, it seemed, but for very different reasons. He had only met her the previous day, and though he was growing quickly fond of her, he thought it too soon to suggest an engagement. "You have not forgotten my offer of a trip to the theater?" he reminded her, thinking it would probably be best to take things one step at a time.

She smiled, relieved that he was not in quite such a hurry as he first seemed to be. "I have not," she assured him. "Indeed, I am rather excited by the thought of it. My mother is very fond of Gilbert and Sullivan, as I believe I mentioned. And, of course, we are sure to cross one another's paths, not least at the Derby and Henley regatta." She had an idea fermenting about how they might make those meetings more frequent, but she wasn't certain he would appreciate the suggestion from a woman.

His sister seemed set on pairing him off as quickly as possible, but he thought it was better for them to take things as slow as possible to make sure they were well suited to one another. "My sister has suggested I expand my dance card, so to speak," he admitted with a small frown. "I must confess I am not fond of being pedaled in public like some prize cut of beef," he confessed quietly, for her ears alone.

"Every woman endures it when she comes out in society, my lord," Clare pointed out to him, wryly amused by his comment on the marriage market. That a man felt that way at all was encouraging to her; perhaps things would change, in time. "Though I shall not enjoy watching you dance with other ladies, I understand the desire," she conceded, admitting to her own jealousy in the same breath. "But ... were you to wish such a thing ... perhaps there is a way you may expand your dance card while still sharing my company?"

"It is not so much a desire as a necessity, I'm afraid," he explained, though a necessity he did not seem terribly fond of. He was not shy by any means, but he did not like being considered only as a means to an end. He glanced over at her, arching a curious brow at her question. There was definitely a keen brain inside that pretty head of hers. "What do you suggest?" he asked, sounding not only curious but open to her suggestions.

"Only that I walk in the park every afternoon between two and four o'clock while we are in London," she offered innocently. "Were our paths to cross each day, we might compare our respective engagements for the evening ahead while continuing to learn about one another. Perhaps it is a foolish notion."

"I suppose it would be fortuitous if we were to run into each other in such a way," he admitted, smiling in amusement and appreciation at the way her mind worked. "Of course, such a meeting would be merely by chance," he pointed out, knowing it would be nothing of the kind. It was a slightly devious plan, but nothing that wasn't acceptable in society, so long as it was done in public and properly chaperoned.

"Naturally," she agreed. "You cannot think that I am the sort of woman who would throw herself into the path of the first man to capture her attention. It simply wouldn't be appropriate." She laughed softly. "However tempting it might be."

"Nor am I the sort of man to take advantage of such a woman, especially when we have only just met. I must admit that I find you intriguing, Miss King. Whoever you choose, in the end, will find himself a lucky man, indeed," he told her, repaying her flattery with some of his own, sincere as it was. "I fear I may find myself eager for such walks in the park as you suggest."

"I do not expect to have a choice, my lord, but I, too, may be eager for such exercise as is afforded by sunshine in this place," she agreed, glad that he approved of her slightly underhanded suggestion. Walking together every day would give them a chance to learn more of one another in a shorter time frame than others might consider appropriate, but they both had their own reasons for haste.

"You have a choice where I am concerned, Miss King," he assured her, meaning that he would not force her into an engagement or even courtship, unless it was what she wanted as well, despite what her father or his sister might desire.

"I am glad to know it," she said quietly, grateful that he, at least, had no intention of forcing her future onto a set course. "Yet ... were my father to order me to marry tomorrow, I believe there is only one gentleman whom I would choose. You are the only one who has ever seemed to care for my feelings in this business. I must marry, my lord, or risk my sister's coming out becoming as much a debacle as my own. Yet I share your wish for companionship beyond simple expediency."

Though he was a man and, as such, his situation was different, he was not unsympathetic to her plight, knowing that if a woman was not wed by her early twenties, she was usually considered a spinster and unmarriageable. As far as he could tell, there was nothing wrong with Clare; it was her father that was the problem, and since Lawrence required exactly what her father was offering, that wasn't much of a problem either. In fact, it seemed the arrangement would work out well for all parties involved. "Well, we must do what we can to save your sister from such a fate, mustn't we?" he asked, with an almost teasing gleam in his eyes.

Blue eyes flickered to his, surprised by the gleam in his eyes. Yet that tease brought the soft flush to her cheeks once again as she laughed her soft laugh, turning her face away to look out over the park and the fashionable elite out walking with them. "That is a debt I could never repay, my lord," she said, just as teasing as him. "But rest assured that, should I incur it, I would spend my life attempting to make it worth your while."
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PostPosted: Sun May 21, 2017 6:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I do not wish for you to be indebted to me, Miss King. If our ... acquaintance ... does result in an engagement, then I should consider myself fortunate to have won not only your friendship but your trust. If I were to also win your heart, well, then, I would be a happy man, indeed," he said, turning serious, though that smile was still on his face. Both of them seemed to be implying the desire for something more than just friendship, but it was too soon to know for sure.

"Should you win my heart, my lord, then you should know that I am of an impetuous nature," she warned with a smile of her own. "If I grow to love you, not even my father's refusal could prevent me from wedding you. But you may be assured that he would not dare to refuse you - indeed, he may attempt to buy you before you had a chance to speak. If it comes to that."

Of course, she was. That was part of what had attracted him to her in the first place. And how did he know that? The red hair was proof that she was not one to follow the crowd, and while most men preferred a woman who would kow-tow to their whims and wishes, Lawry found a woman with spirit far more desirable than a sheep. He chuckled a little at her warning about her father, though he found himself hopeful of her mention of love. "My heart is not for sale; my title, however, is another matter." He turned serious again as another thought crossed his mind. "My father's debt is a stain on my family's reputation that your father may find unacceptable, however."

Clare's lips quirked into the small smile that declared ahead of her words that she did not consider this stain on his reputation to mean anything. "Four generations ago, the King family were navvie workers in Chatham docks," she informed him without ceremony. "I think, sir, if you can overlook our humble beginnings, my father will not even think twice about your inherited debt."

"Indeed, there is something to be said for hard work. Your family's wealth was earned, while my title was merely inherited. I've done nothing to earn it, but be born into it. I've often considered that I would like to do something more with life than oversee an estate, spending my days going over ledgers and such," he confessed with a frown. "If you must know, I am happiest when I am on horseback. By any chance, do you ride, Miss King?"

Her smile broadened into something terribly unfashionable but wholly genuine. "I do indeed, sir," she agreed happily. "There is not much call for it in Chatham, but I ride when I can. I do not have a horse of my own, unfortunately." She squeezed his arm as they walked. "As for overseeing an estate, surely there is more to it than numbers and ledgers. Do you not travel about and know your people and tenants as well as you can?"

"Yes, of course. It is just ... a rather boring existence at times, don't you think? We live in such exciting times, Miss King. There are engineering marvels emerging daily all around us! The railroad, the electric light-bulb, the telephone, aero-planes and motorcars. Mark my word - these things will one day become common place. I ask you, what mark will we make upon society or upon the world around us? These are the questions that stir my heart and keep me awake at night," he explained, sharing more with her than he even had with his own sister, though he wasn't sure why.

His sudden passion for the subject absolutely captivated her, animating his face and voice to such a degree that she was forced to reassess her former opinion of his beauty. He was far more handsome in this moment than she had previously believed him to be. "The mark we leave upon our world need not be the mark of industry," she offered. "Our society is greatly in need of change, and perhaps our voices will one day be heard with respect, and not shouted down as the ravings of wanton degenerates." She was speaking, of course, of women's suffrage, and the movement at large in society to gain her gender the right to vote and have a say in the running of their world. They were not fashionable opinions, nor were they particularly popular among the class she moved in, but Lawry's honesty had inspired her to dare air them in his presence.

"Yes! Bloody well, yes!" he exclaimed, in reply to her statement. He wasn't entirely sure that what she was talking about was the women's suffrage movement, but he was of the belief that social reform was not only necessary but imminent. "The world is changing quickly, Miss King, and we must change with it or be left behind."

"Indeed, we should," she agreed vehemently, not at all dismayed by his exclamation, though others in the park around them were looking in their direction curiously. "Yet conservatives and old men with long memories seek to hold back the necessary change. Not enough of the elite are prepared to speak out, and until they do, these calls for reform will not be acknowledged."

"Change is coming, Miss King. There was a time when people believed the world to be flat. There was a time when people scorned those who thought differently, but the world eventually had to admit that they were right. Ah, yes ... Trust me, Miss King. Change is coming. It will not be easy, and there will be people who resist such changes, but it is inevitable. It is just a matter of time," he told her with a grin, ignoring the curious onlookers.

"Then perhaps, Lord Arden, the best way to facilitate change is to begin at home," she suggested with innocent candor. "To reform your household, your estate, in the image you have in mind, and show the country, and the world, that such changes are both sustainable and economic."

"Ah, but in order to achieve such a thing, I would need the right partner," he countered, dropping yet another hint at his desire to marry someone who could be his equal in all things, and not just a source of financial security and a mother to his children.

"And, of course, there are many things to long for in order that a partner be the right partner," she teased, but the gentle pressure of her hand on his arm promised that she was not laughing at him. "A certain intelligence, carriage, form and figure; a particular profile, or silhouette, perhaps. After all, if the lady does not wear tailored corsets, she can hardly be expected to exercise her mind beyond the need to change her clothes."

"You are teasing me now," he said, smiling down at her, eyes shining with amusement. "Do you know what the first thing was that I noticed about you?" he asked, not waiting for an answer before continuing. "Your hair. I wanted to meet the woman who was brave enough to rebel against the fashion of the day and be wholly herself."

She laughed softly at his confession. "If only you could have heard the arguments that erupted when I refused to dye my hair for my second Season," she told him in amusement. "My first Season, I was the perfect brunette. I simply could not be bothered going through all that again the next year. The man I marry is marrying me, not my hair color. And I would rather not have to dye my hair for the rest of my life just to prevent him from divorcing me for marriage under false pretenses."

"Everyone is either blonde or brunette these days. Why would you want to be like everyone else when you can be yourself?" he asked, though it was yet another rhetorical question. He smiled as he looked down at her from his considerable height. "I have not seen you as a brunette, but I think I much prefer you as a redhead. It fits your spirit."

"Ah, so not only unfashionable, but spirited, too," she laughed. "My great-aunt would be horrified to hear you say so. But, alas, she much prefers my sister to myself, and so her opinion is not one I hunger for." She flickered her gaze to his, the tilt of her head drawing sunshine over her face once more. "Your good opinion is far more precious to me than hers."
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PostPosted: Sun May 21, 2017 6:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I was not aware I was insulting you," he replied with a grin, knowing that was not what she meant, but what some of their peers might think if they were to overhear them. "Shall I apologize and try to make it up to you somehow?" he asked, coming to a halt and turning to face her. He almost forgot they weren't alone, but he was too well bred to forget himself entirely, even if he'd like to.

Looking up at him, Clare raised her brow above her smile as she considered his offer. "I think perhaps you must," she said eventually, wondering how a man like him had managed to live his life so long without having multiple women all but beg for his hand. She was enjoying this playful side of his character, something no one could have prepared her for. "After all, I should not countenance further dealings with a man who so willfully speaks the truth to my face."

"It is a terrible flaw in my character. I do apologize," he teased back, unable to hide the smirk from his face. If anyone had been listening, they might have thought they were having a serious conversation, but from the look on each of their faces, it was obvious they were both amused with the playful banter back and forth. "However shall I make it up to you? Tell me and I will endeavor to appease you."

"Why, Sir Grey, I do believe you should spend this next month in learning my character and nature, and allowing me to know yours," she informed him, "by which time, you really should decide whether you wish to marry me or not. It is the only apology I will accept." Not too far away from them, she heard her mother gasp at her bold words to Lawry, and a smothered sound that might even have been a laugh from his sister.

"Hmm, I do believe that is fair recompense for my transgressions. I will do my best to make it up to you and do as you ask," he said, laying a hand against his heart and briefly bowing his head as if he was truly sorry for some horrid misdeed. Upon hearing her mother's gasp, he could not help but smirk and offer Clare a playful wink.

"I look forward to your efforts, sir," she smiled back at him. Glancing toward her mother's scandalized expression, however, reminded her that she did still have a reputation to protect, however much she was enjoying herself. "If you will excuse me, Lord Arden, I believe my mother and I should return to Grosvenor Square. I daresay we shall meet again this evening."

"And I look forward to this evening, Miss King," he replied, offering that cordial bow of his before turning to return her to the safety of her mother. "Mrs. King," he greeted the woman again, though they had never really left her presence. "Thank for for allowing me the privilege of a visit with your daughter. It was most enjoyable."

"It has been a privilege, Lord Arden," Edith King managed, claiming Clare's arm as Constance returned to her brother's side. "My thanks for your company, Lady Stanley."

Connie smiled warmly. "I have most thoroughly enjoyed myself, Mrs. King," she told the woman. "I do hope we shall do this again sometime." She didn't miss the way Clare's eyes flickered to Lawry as she said this, smirking to herself at the knowledge that her brother had clearly made quite the impression.

"I am quite sure we will," Lawry replied, meeting Clare's gaze, but never letting on that they'd secretly made such arrangements between them already. "A pleasure once again, ladies. I do hope you have a pleasant afternoon, and I look forward to seeing you both this evening."

"Good afternoon." With a pair of soft curtsies, the King women stepped away, though Clare could not prevent herself from looking over her shoulder just once before her mother pulled her onward.

Connie tucked her hands into her brother's elbow, leaning into him with a teasing smile. "Well?"

Lawry turned to find Clare looking over her shoulder at him, and he offered a warm smile her way before turning back to face the music with his sister, whom he knew was going to want to know everything that was said between them. "Well, what?" he asked, turning to lead her back the way they'd come. "Were your ears not straining to overhear what was being said between us?" he teased, looking and feeling far more relaxed than he'd been when they'd first arrived.

"It is difficult to overhear when you are planning other unexpected meetings with the chaperone," Connie laughed, hugging his arm tight. "Mrs. King has a talent for chicanery that I find most refreshing. For example ... if we were to make a horse available to Miss King, she would likely ride the Ladies Mile every morning, and I know how much you enjoy your horsemanship."

Lawry arched a brow. He and Clare had discussed much the same thing, though they had discussed unexpected meetings in the park, which Lawry knew would eventually get noticed by those who kept an eye on such things. A variety of unexpected meetings was a much better idea, and he had his sister and Mrs. King to thank for it. "I think that could be arranged, don't you?" he asked, a conspiratorial grin on his face.

"Oh, I am quite certain of it," Connie agreed absolutely seriously, before her face cracked into a laughing smile once again. "I need not ask you what you think of her, Lawry. You haven't been that animated in the company of a woman since Kitty Lawson tried to tell you that education for the masses was a terrible idea."

"Kitty Lawson would happily live in the past, if she were allowed to do so. She, like so many others, is not very forward thinking. I find it refreshing to find a woman who not only has a brain in her head, but isn't afraid to use it," he said, of Clare.

Connie chuckled softly. Though she might have preferred he cast a wider net, she was glad that there was something in Clare King he seemed drawn to. It was a better match than Adelaide had been, that much was certain. "Well, then, Master Lawry, we shall have to ensure that your brain and hers have plenty of opportunity to advance your mutual acquaintance, shan't we?"

Of course, he meant no slight against his sister, whom he'd encouraged to think for herself, even if such thinking was against her husband's wishes. He had never been very fond of Edmund Stanley, but the decision for her to marry him had been their father's, not his. "I believe we shall," he replied, his arm linked with hers as he led her from the park and back toward Belgrove Square, where they were living during their stay in London.

It seemed as though the courtship of Lord Arden had found its objective, and with Lady Stanley in collusion, a single month might easily be time enough to decide upon the companion of a lifetime.
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