For the past month he’d learned about all the men Elizabeth met with and what she did when she left the house. He also learned one rather interesting piece of information; Elizabeth had been dismissing her maid in the mornings for the past two weeks. At first he thought she knew that he was in bed with her and was trying to protect her reputation, but she never gave any indication until this morning that she was aware of his nightly visits. It still puzzled him.
“Sir, I have something that I thought you may find interesting,” she said with another nervous look at the door and then one at the open window. “If you wouldn’t mind, sir, it might be best to close that window.”
He closed the window, forcing himself to remain patient. She was nervous and he didn’t want to frighten her off. He gestured to the chair in front of the desk, but she remained standing.
“What is it, Marie?” he asked.
She licked her lips nervously. “Remember you said if I brought you something really important, you would give me an extra shilling,” she reminded him, smart.
“Yes, is this something worth an extra shilling?” His voice was cool and calm.
“Oh, I believe it is, sir.” Again, she shot another look back at the door.
He sighed inwardly as he pulled the coin out of his pocket and handed it to her, hoping it would move this along. She took it and smiled briefly before putting it away.
“Well?” he asked, feeling his patience once again leaving him.
She cleared her throat delicately, clearly preparing for the moment. He cocked an eyebrow, silently telling her that this drama was unnecessary. Smart girl picked up on it.
“Lady Elizabeth has been sleeping in later than normal,” she announced with flourish.
That was what he paid a shilling for? “That is the important news you wished to tell me? Clearly you and I are of a different opinion on importance, my dear.”
She shook her head. “That is why she dismissed Jane in the morning.”
He glared at her. She licked her lips nervously before continuing. “She also no longer drinks her tea in the morning. Actually, she places it untouched outside her door, except for this morning.” His scowl deepened. “Also, during tea she sits far away from the tea and asks for lemonade.”
Robert waved an impatient hand for her to continue, hoping that this was leading somewhere. “Her appetite is also gone. She only picks at her food now.”
He hadn’t missed that over the past two weeks. The few times they ate together in the past she’d had a healthy appetite, but in the one or two times he saw in her in the dining room these past two weeks she was pushing her food around on her plate. Was she unhappy? Sick? Upset about something? Was it possible she was so preoccupied thinking about him that she was having a difficult time like he was?
That was too much to hope for.
“Anything else?” he asked, kicking himself for being taken in by a servant. Normally he was smart when it came to money and didn’t part with it easily.
She nodded, clearly biting back a smile as she said, “Lady Elizabeth has been ill for the past two weeks.”
He froze. Surely she wasn’t…..
“And she missed her courses.”
Every muscle in his body froze. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, sir. I had to give Jane, her maid, a shilling not to tell anyone but me.” She quietly cleared her throat. Robert automatically pulled out the coin and handed it to her. “Also, not too long ago Lady Elizabeth ran into her room and became ill.”
His hands gripped the edge of the desk tightly until his knuckles turned white. “Is she…..do you think that…..”
Marie nodded. “She is most certainly with child, sir.”
* * *
"It's so nice to have both of you for tea," Lady Norwood said to James and Lord Dumford.
"Thank you, my Lady," James said pleasantly while Lord Dumford looked decidedly unhappy about the younger man's intrusion. It was clear to Elizabeth at least that the man came today with the intention of once again asking for her hand.
After the incident in her study, not to mention her queasy stomach, she was in no mood to deal with Lord Dumford and his proposal that would no doubt consist of a half hour sermon on God and her place to take a husband. Turning him away unfortunately was not an option if she wanted to keep her mother happy. Knowing that she was too lightheaded to do anything more than nod, she decided the only option she had was to invite him to tea where she found James already waiting for her.
"Lady Elizabeth, I was wondering if perhaps you would do me the honor of a walk in the garden?" James asked.
Elizabeth had to stop herself from groaning. She’d been hoping to avoid this for as long as possible. When she was a little girl, nothing on earth would have made her happier than the prospect of marrying James. The conversation she overheard in the library hadn't affected her decision in the slightest. She could never marry James.
Not when she was desperately in love with Robert.
"Ah, Lady Elizabeth, I believe you promised me a walk in the garden," Lord Dumford pointed out almost desperately.
Did the man actually think that she would say yes to the first man who asked? She had absolutely no intention of saying yes to either man. In fact, if she could manage it, she would very much like to sit perfectly still where she was since both her head and stomach were currently spinning.
"May I have another cup, dear?" her father asked, looking quite pleased with himself.
"For me as well," Lord Norwood said, also looking rather pleased. No doubt both men were here to witness what they thought was going to be an announcement that would lead to the joining of their families. Since everyone was well aware of her childhood infatuation with James, they probably thought she would happily accept his offer.
Even knowing that she was about to disappoint everyone in the room couldn’t deter her from her decision. She would say no to both men. Her mother would argue for her to accept one of the men since they were both her top choices, but she would most likely push for Elizabeth to accept James' proposal the most. Her father would argue, plead and then demand that she marry James. James’ parents would unintentionally make her feel guilty because she loved them. She knew how happy it would make everyone if this match was made, officially connecting their families, but she couldn't do it.
She couldn't marry a man she didn't love and she couldn't marry the man she did love. Robert might be able to tolerate her somewhat right now, but he would hate her when he found out that she was carrying his child. But she needed to tell him. As frightened as she was, she couldn’t do this alone. Their baby deserved better than to be labeled a bastard and right now she was terrified to continue doing this on her own.
James stood up, holding his hand out to her expectantly. "I would be honored if you would walk with me in the garden, Lady Elizabeth," James said charmingly enough, earning smiles from both sets of parents and a disapproving scowl from Lord Dumford.
She opened her mouth to accept just to get it over with so she could retire to her room for the rest of the day and lay down when Lord Dumford jumped to his feet.
"I'm sorry, but I must insist. Lady Elizabeth promised me a walk first," he said firmly. She knew that he was lying, but to announce it to the room and insulting him in her mother's house was not done.