Tilly by M.C. Beaton

Book: Tilly by M.C. Beaton Read Free Book Online
Authors: M.C. Beaton
doorway of the drawing room. He felt strangely breathless and excited and began to think that being sober might not be so bad after all.

    The Marquess of Heppleford was an extremely puzzled man. Various strange servants were sorting out mountains of luggage in the hall. Various strange carriages were being led off to the stables.
    “What is all this?” he asked Masters as that gentleman welcomed him home.
    “The members of the house party arrived this morning, my lord,” murmured Masters, relieving his lordship of his hat and cane.
    “Indeed!” The marquess’s lips folded in a thin line. “Tell my lady I wish to see her immediately.”
    “I am afraid that is not possible, my lord,” said Masters soothingly. “My lady has taken her guests on a picnic.”
    “Where the hell are they, then? Where have they gone?”
    “I am afraid I do not know, my lord. Mylady did not tell me. But you will see her ladyship at dinner.”
    The marquess crashed up to his rooms in a bad mood. He had been looking forward to peace and quiet, not a houseful of guests. Then there was the question of the will. His lawyer had said it would not be a good idea to contest it and, after all, he had added delicately, my lord was already married and would… er… naturally wish an heir.
    How can I tell Tilly about this new will with all these bloody people around?
he thought crossly. He lay down on the bed, planning only to rest for a few minutes, but he was tired from his travels and fell asleep, to be aroused only some three hours later by the sound of the dressing gong from the hall below.
    With the assistance of his man, he dressed himself in white tie and tails and marched along the corridor to his wife’s rooms and rattled the doorknob.
    “Who’s there?” called a light, feminine voice he did not recognize.
    He stood, frowning, and then called, “Heppleford! Who’s that?”
    There was a delicious ripple of laughter from behind the door and then that tantalizing voice said, “It’s I, Tilly, Philip dear. Youmust not see me until I am dressed. I will see you downstairs. The guests are in the drawing room.”
    “I don’t know who you are,” said Heppleford, “but you can tell my wife that I do not like these silly schoolgirlish jokes.”
    Silence answered him and he slammed noisily off downstairs. He blinked at the array of guests in his drawing room. It was a beautiful evening and the long windows were opened. There were about fifteen people, including, he noticed with increasing bad temper, the ducal family Glenstraith. He moved from group to group murmuring his greetings and then seized Toby Bassett by the arm and half dragged him onto the terrace.
    “What the hell is going on here?” he demanded. “Has Tilly run mad? What are the horrible Glenstraiths doing here?”
    “Steady on!” protested Toby. “I’m engaged to Aileen.”
    The marquess took a step back and stared at his friend, who was gazing mournfully into a glass of lemonade. “She trapped you when you were drunk,” said the marquess. “Out with it, Toby.”
    After some gentlemanly hesitation, Toby began to talk, and, once having started, he couldn’t seem to stop. Aileen and her motherhad indeed trapped him with champagne and moonlight. Before he knew where he was, he had been
by the duchess that he had proposed to Aileen, although he could not remember it. Then he complained at equal length of his enforced temperance, ending up with a cry from the heart. “What am I to do? If it had been some stunning female like Tilly, I could understand it.”
    “Stunning!” said the marquess. “Tilly? Oh, I see what you mean. Yes, she does rather get on one’s nerves with that laugh of hers. Well, we’d better join the guests.”
    They entered the room and the marquess suddenly stopped rigid. The guests had already witnessed the transformation that was Lady Tilly.
    She was wearing a scarlet chiffon dress, as scarlet as her impossible-colored hair. Her

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