A Match for the Marquess

He found himself at the door of the sitting room before he had even begun to think about what he was going to say to her. He looked in, and there she was, an utter mouse in an unfashionable dress with her hair hidden under a cap. She was pretty enough, he supposed, with that perfect ivory oval of a face and that elegant posture. Blue eyes, large but expressionless. What he could see of her hair poking out from under the ugly cap was dark. But there was no life, no animation, no sign of either intelligence or imagination. She took a sip of tea, her movements elegant and graceful. 

He felt a spurt of anger. How could she be so bland, so indifferent! She was nothing but an animated doll, bred to be decorative and graceful and nothing more. Marrying a marquess was doubtless the destiny she had been raised to expect. A “good” marriage, the title and fortune being all that mattered. 

God, how would he bear it? This vacuous creature would bore him to death.

He entered and bowed, an elegant courtier’s bow. “Lady Anne,” he said, “I am the Marquess of Penworth.” Might as well make the most of the damn title, he thought. Maybe it will jar her into some sort of response.

She inclined her head with corresponding courtesy. “Lord Penworth,” she said. “Good morning. Would you care for some tea?”

Tea?he thought incredulously. They were total strangers, their lives were about to be bound irrevocably together, and her only reaction was to offer him a cup of tea? She must be made of ice. He threw himself into the first chair he came to, folded his arms, and stared at her. 

“Pray be seated, my lord,” she said with exquisite courtesy. He flushed at the rebuke and scowled, but continued to watch her.

“You are staring, my lord. Does that mean you do not wish any tea?”

He raised an eyebrow. “No, my lady, I do not wish any tea, but do feel free to enjoy yours.”

She took another sip, apparently impervious to his sarcasm. Aside from that, she was quite motionless. He could not believe it. Was she a fool? He glared at her. He glared at that cap. “How old are you?” he demanded.

That startled her, at least slightly. “Twenty, my lord. I will be twenty-one in December.”

“Then why are you wearing that ridiculous cap? Take it off.”

“My aunt and uncle prefer it. It serves to remind me of my station.” She seemed to stiffen even more, but lifted off the cap and raised a brow. “Does this meet with your approval, my lord?” There was nothing in the words, in the voice to which he could take exception, but she had somehow become even more glacial. 

He gave an inelegant snort. He knew he had been unpardonably rude, but her only reaction seemed to be freezing politeness. “You do, I hope, have some notion of the situation we find ourselves in, do you not?” His tone grew more acid. “I trust you are not so deficient in understanding that you have failed to comprehend that I am here to propose and that you are here to accept.”

She was utterly still, staring at him for a moment, and then flew to her feet so quickly that Philip was not sure he had actually seen her move. One moment she was sitting, the next she was not. The movement must have startled him enough to make him jerk his head—fortunately, because the cup she threw at him smashed harmlessly against the wall instead of against his face. 

He felt the breath knocked out of him. No, she was not made of ice. She was blazing with fury—and she was breathtakingly beautiful. 

“How dare you, you contemptible rake! You may be sure I am quite aware of the situation in which we find ourselves, and I do not need your sulks and ill temper to remind me. You may resent the prospect of wedding me, my lord,”—she was fairly spitting out the words and pointing her finger at him—“but I am the one who is about to lose her chance at freedom when it was almost within my grasp. Am I supposed to be pleased at the thought of wedding you simply because you are a marquess? Do you assume a marriage such as this fulfills all my girlish dreams of love and romance? Do you think I look forward to being trapped this way? To spending my life being ordered about, under the control of a man with neither sense nor morals? Am I supposed to think that your title makes all other considerations unimportant? How dare you take that tone with me! You might remember that neither of us would be in this fix if you had had the decency to stay in your own bed!”

She spun around to stare out the window. Her spine was like steel, her arms folded tight in front of her. The air about her seemed to vibrate with her rage. He somehow managed to pull himself to his feet, holding on to the chair, and watched, amazed and impressed, as she brought herself under control. He realized his jaw was hanging open and closed it. She was magnificent.