“That was rather fortunate that you ran into Mr. Bennett today,” Lady Charlotte said.
Phoebe poured for her aunt and Lady Charlotte before helping herself. “Indeed, it was.”
“And do you expect to see Mr. Bennett when you return to London?” Lady Charlotte asked.
“I should think so,” Phoebe told them. “While he may not receive all of the same invitations, we do share several mutual acquaintances.”
“I see.” Lady Charlotte cast a sideways glance at her aunt while she sipped her tea.
“If I might pry, for a moment,” her aunt prompted. “What are your expectations for a husband?”
Phoebe lowered her cup. “I had rather hoped that I might find a gentleman who shared the same interests as myself, and if we suited well enough, I might consider matrimony.” She shrugged. “However. I would also be content with being the eccentric aunt to all of the nieces and nephews that I feel certain my brothers and sisters will provide.”
“So you do not have any aspirations on the handsome Mr. Bennett then?” Lady Charlotte pressed.
Phoebe felt her cheeks grow warm. “I—” She cleared her throat. “He is most certainly handsome enough to catch any girl’s eye. But I’m not sure he is the man for me.” She reached for one of the biscuits that cook had added to the tray.
“Why ever not?” her aunt asked.
“Well because…” Phoebe glanced from her aunt to Lady Charlotte and tried to think of a single reason why she wouldn’t be interested in him. “I—”
Lady Charlotte’s brow rose in question. “You?”
Phoebe lifted her chin. “I can’t think of a single reason why not, but I know it wouldn’t be a good idea.”
“Are you not attracted to him?” her aunt asked.
“She already said he was handsome,” Lady Charlotte false-whispered to her aunt.
Aunt Gladys nodded to her friend. “She did, didn’t she?”
“Is he not intelligent enough for you, perhaps?” Lady Charlotte asked.
“No, no.” Phoebe shook her head. “He is quite intelligent, actually.”
“Has he been unkind to you?” Aunt Gladys asked, somewhat alarmed.
Phoebe’s frustration rose. “Oh, no, not ever. He’s always been a perfect gentleman.”
Lady Charlotte’s brow rose in question, almost smugly, as if she knew full well, Phoebe was very nearly trapped by their questions. “Well then why do you not find him a suitable match?”
“Other than the fact that he may or may not be returning to England any time soon?” Phoebe threw out the last valid argument she could think of.
Without missing a beat, Lady Charlotte answered, “Yes. Other than that minor issue.”
Phoebe struggled to find a legitimate reason to give them. After all, she couldn’t very well tell them the truth. That he was, in fact, a gentleman’s son, working under a false name, for some secret purpose. And despite her early objections to him based on what she believed to be ill treatment of her friend, she had learned new information about him. Especially about his character. Deep in her heart, she found her answer. “I suppose I don’t object to him at all,” she whispered.
The two matrons practically beamed at each other.
“There.” Lady Charlotte patted her on the knee. “That wasn’t so hard to admit, now was it?”
Phoebe’s hand shook as she put her cup on the tray. “That doesn’t mean that he has any aspirations of acquiring a wife.”
Lady Charlotte waved her hand. “Every man thinks they don’t need a wife until they find the woman they cannot do without.”
Phoebe stared into the distance as she contemplated what it must be like to have a man think that way of her. Not just any man. Specifically, Vernon. Someone wanted to be with her because he enjoyed her company, not because of who she was related to. Someone whose touch made her long for more.
She grew warm and her belly felt as if there were a dozen butterflies set loose inside.
Vernon fit each of those requirements.
ALSO IN THE SERIES