“But if I don’t marry, the scandal will cause problems for everyone. Especially Cassandra.”
“Pandora, sweetheart, do you think any of us could ever be happy if you were mistreated? West or I would end up killing the bastard.”
Overwhelmed with gratitude, Pandora felt her eyes sting. How strange it was that her parents and brother were gone, and yet she’d never felt so much like part of a family.
“I don’t think Lord St. Vincent would be violent with me,” she said. “He seems the kind who would be cold and distant. Which would be a misery in its own way, but I would manage.”
“Before we make a decision, we’ll try to learn as much as possible about what kind of man Lord St. Vincent is.”
“In a week?” she asked doubtfully.
“It’s not long enough to delve into complexities,” Devon admitted. “But one can discover a great deal about a man by observing him with his family. I’m also going to find out what I can from people who know him. Winterborne is acquainted with him, as a matter of fact. They both sit on the board of a company that manufactures hydraulic equipment.”
Pandora couldn’t quite imagine the two of them talking together—the son of a Welsh grocer and the son of a duke. “Does Mr. Winterborne like him?” she dared to ask.
“It would seem so. He says St. Vincent is intelligent and practical, and doesn’t put on airs. That’s high praise, coming from Winterborne.”
“Will Mr. Winterborne and Helen come with us to Heron’s Point?” Pandora asked hopefully. She would feel better if her entire family were there with her.
“Not so soon after the baby’s birth,” Devon said gently. “Helen needs to fully regain her health before traveling. Furthermore, I’m going to insist that Lady Berwick not accompany us to Heron’s Point. I don’t want you to be burdened by strict chaperonage. I want you to have an opportunity—or two—to meet with St. Vincent alone.”
Pandora’s jaw dropped. She would never have expected Devon, who was overprotective to a fault, to say such a thing.
Devon looked slightly uncomfortable as he continued. “I know how a proper courtship is supposed to be conducted. However, Kathleen was never allowed a single moment alone with Theo until they married, and the results were disastrous. I’m damned if I know how else a woman is to evaluate a potential husband other than to have at least a few private conversations with him.”
“Well, this is odd,” Pandora said after a moment. “No one’s ever given me permission to do something improper.”
Devon smiled. “Shall we go to Heron’s Point for a week, and consider it a fact-finding expedition?”
“I suppose. But what if Lord St. Vincent turns out to be terrible?”
“Then you won’t marry him.”
“What will happen to the rest of the family?”
“That’s for me to worry about,” Devon said firmly. “For the time being, all you need to do is become acquainted with St. Vincent. And if you decide you don’t wish to marry him, for any reason, you won’t have to.”
They both stood. Impulsively Pandora stepped forward and dove her face against Devon’s chest and hugged him, undoubtedly surprising him as much as herself. She rarely sought out physical contact with anyone. “Thank you,” she said in a muffled voice. “It means a great deal that my feelings matter to you.”
“Of course they do, sweetheart.” Devon gave her a comforting squeeze before drawing back to look down at her. “Do you know the motto on the Ravenel coat of arms?”
“Loyalté nous lie.”
“Do you know what it means?”
“‘Never make us angry?’” Pandora guessed, and was rewarded by his deep laugh. “Actually, I do know,” she said. “It means ‘loyalty binds us.’”
“That’s right,” Devon said. “Whatever happens, we Ravenels will remain loyal to each other. We’ll never sacrifice one for the sake of the rest.”
Sitting on the floor of the upstairs parlor of Ravenel House, Pandora brushed the pair of black cocker spaniels who had been with the family for ten years. Josephine sat obediently while Pandora drew the soft bristles over her floppy ears. Napoleon lounged nearby with his chin resting on the floor between his paws.
“Are you ready?” Cassandra asked, coming to the threshold. “We can’t be late for the train. Oh, don’t do that, you’ll be covered in dog hair! You have to look presentable for the duke and duchess. And Lord St. Vincent, of course.”
“Why bother?” Pandora rose to her feet. “I already know what they’re going to think of me.” But she stood still as Cassandra moved industriously around her, walloping at her skirts and sending black hairs floating into the air.
“They’re going to like you—” Thwack. “—if only—” Thwack. Thwack. “—you’ll be nice to them.”
Pandora’s traveling dress was made of leaf-green batiste wool with a waistcoat jacket, and a flaring white lace Medici collar that stood up at the back of the neck and tapered down to a point at the top of her basque. It was a smart and stylish ensemble, accessorized with a little feathered emerald velvet hat that matched her sash. Cassandra wore similar garments of pale blue, with a sapphire hat.
“I’ll be as nice as nice can be,” Pandora said. “But don’t you remember what happened at Eversby Priory, when a goose built her nest in the swans’ territory? She thought she was enough like them that they wouldn’t mind her. Only her neck was too short, and her legs were too long, and she didn’t have the right sort of feathers, so the swans kept attacking and chasing the poor thing until finally she was driven off.”
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