The Babe and the Baron

The Babe and the Baron by Carola Dunn

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Authors: Carola Dunn
Tags: Regency Romance
flowerheads.
    “Now? No. Is that very shocking?” She tried to explain. “When I stopped travelling with him and settled at Swaffham Bulbeck, at first I used to miss him when he went off without me. But soon it was more a...a sort of wondering where he was and when he would come home, not really missing him. I grew accustomed to his absence.” After all, Freddie had paid her little enough attention when he was at home.
    “One can grow accustomed to anything.” He offered his arm. As they started up the path, he spoke from some deep inner emotion, “Time does not necessarily lessen the pain.”
    “Not necessarily. For me it did. I was always pleased to see him when he arrived, but to tell the truth, I was always pleased to bid him goodbye, too. He could be dreadfully tiresome.”
    “That I can imagine,” he said wryly, doubtless recalling the times his cousin had sponged on him.
    “So now, you see, when I am not constantly wondering what he is up to, I seldom think of him.” She remembered the relief she had felt after relating to Miss Burleigh the mortifying story of her elopement. Now, another sort of confession had liberated her from another burden. Now she recognized clearly that if she had been an undesirable wife, Freddie had been a most unsatisfactory husband. Almost gaily, she begged, “Pray do not tell anyone what an unnatural creature I am.”
    “My lips are sealed. As you are not a grieving widow, should you object to a small dinner party? I generally invite the local gentry to dine at the Manor when I am in residence. If I do not, they will be affronted. If I do, and you fail to attend, rumours will fly.”
    Gaiety fled. Her hand tightened on his arm. “Rumours that I am not respectable enough to meet your neighbours.”
    Gently teasing, he reassured her: “I was thinking of rumours that you are too high and mighty to associate with country nobodies. They are unpretentious folk, with short memories for London scandals if they even bother to read about them in the newspapers.”
    “I shall be happy to meet them,” she muttered, abashed at her overestimation of the interest her affairs had aroused, “if Miss Burleigh agrees that attending a dinner party is not improper in a supposedly grieving widow.”
    “We shall ask her. And then we shall ask Mrs. Davis when she can have an evening gown ready for you. The party shall be in honour of your new finery.”
    “You will not tell your guests!”
    “No? Will you deprive me of the triumph of announcing publicly that I have cleverly induced you to accept a few dresses?”
    “Odious wretch.” Reaching the top of the hill, she stopped.
    The pavilion was a simple circular structure, unenclosed, with a paved floor and white-painted pillars. Laura was glad to see the wooden bench around the sides and back. She had scarce noticed the climb, supported by Gareth's arm as they talked, but now she was ready for a rest.
    “Come and sit down,” he said. “You must be ready for a rest.”
    Though he echoed her thought, words of denial sprang to her lips. She swallowed them unuttered. For once he was right. Crossing to the far side, she sat down. He joined her and named the points of interest in the panoramic view that spread before them: Llys village with the river and the castle ruins on their mound; Radnor Forest in the distance, and Beacon Hill; ancient Celtic earth forts; the sinuous line of Offa's Dyke, built in the tenth century by a Mercian king in a vain attempt to keep out the Welsh; and lastly, the sprawling south façade of Llys Manor, with the central Tudor block and the idiosyncratic wings.
    Laura listened with interest, but a part of her mind was elsewhere. Dr. McAllister's opinion had clearly not set Gareth's mind at rest. She could not help wondering if the painful memories he had hinted at were connected with his fears for her.
    She had found relief in voicing her unhappy memories. Might he do the same? Did she dare ask him?
    “Bang, bang,

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