A Lady's Guide to Ruin

A Lady's Guide to Ruin by Kathleen Kimmel Page B

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Authors: Kathleen Kimmel
bedraggled rat. From the look of displeasure on Martin’s face, Elinor was right. The best way to keep Martin from any affection for her was to act like the person he thought she was.
    The whole thing was going to give her a headache.
    *   *   *
    The interval between Daphne’s departure and Martin’s arrival had not supplied him with any new insight into her character, and he found himself as lacking in comprehension as he had been before. She seemed all the more like two women at once—or rather, in turns. The one he caught out of the corner of his eye, or for a few minutes at a time. Then, as soon as he fixed his full gaze upon her, she slid away, and the silly, quavering child was left in her place. He had no philosophical objection to tears, but Daphne, it could not be denied, was excessively leaky. Except when she wasn’t.
    Now, for instance. Elinor was asleep, wrapped in the blanket and her head cushioned as best she could manage with her rolled petticoat. The storm thundered on. The clouds made the hour difficult to determine, but he guessed it was late evening. Daphne had sniffled and complained her way through each hour, exclaimed on his bravery, and heapedherself dramatically by the fire in the preceding hours. But now she walked a slow, deliberate circuit around the room, touching the wall with the tips of her fingers and stopping at the door after each revolution. She regarded it with thin lips and a sort of promise in her eyes.
    â€œYou don’t like to be cooped up, do you?” he asked on her third turn.
    She froze, as if she’d forgotten he was there. A shadow passed over her face. Then she shifted her weight, let her head drop to the side, and gave a silly smile that didn’t suit her at all. “It’s just so dreary in here, don’t you think?” she chirped.
    â€œWhy do you do that?” Martin asked, voice hard.
    She settled into stillness. Not freezing, which implied suddenness. It was a slow drawing in, drawing down. “Do what?” she asked. No chirp in her voice now.
    â€œPretend to be . . .” he waved his hand. “Whatever that was.”
    He had sat with his back against the hearth, one knee up and the other leg stretched before him. She settled, legs to the side, across from him, her back at the leg of a rickety old table. She regarded him, and did not speak. He let her have her silence, because it was truer than the words she’d peppered the air with since he’d returned with the wood, and because in her truer moments she was beautiful. When she had spoken without the guise she took on and off so readily, she had been beautiful as well; it was the false mask that repulsed him, for it fit her poorly.
    â€œI’m sorry,” she said, her voice mouselike in its passivity. He let out a long sigh, and looked away. He had hoped for a moment that she would answer him honestly.
    He wished he had any notion of an answer himself. Hecould only think that she had some objection to being taken seriously. Or to forming any genuine connection with those who might otherwise enjoy her company. As for the why of that . . .
    In the days since she’d departed, he had thought of a number of reasons why a woman would be reluctant to invite the friendship of a man, and to hide behind silliness, even if that man were a cousin. All those reasons involved some root of betrayal or misuse, of trust broken and affection battered. But he had heard no such tales in relation to Daphne. Few tales, indeed, except of her harmlessness and the need to keep close watch on her. He would have called her guileless before meeting her.
    â€œDon’t be sorry,” he said. “I should be sorry. I spoke to you like a brute. Only do not cry; I think it is wet enough outside, without adding any moisture to the interior.”
    She gave a quick little nod and bit her lower lip. “You know,” she said, a little

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