Dinah closed her eyes, swaying just a little. She could not even begin to think of doing such a thing as that, not when everything she had known, everything that had once been hers, was now lying in smithereens at her feet.
“That is quite enough,” Lady Whitehaven said firmly, taking Dinah’s arm and turning her towards the door. “Goodness, you are being quite ridiculous, Grayson, truly. Try and put yourself in Miss Shepherd’s situation and consider how she must think of you at this moment.”
Much to Dinah’s shock, the only response that came from the gentleman was a laugh. A harsh, burning laugh that ran right through her and made her heart turn over within her chest. He did not want her here. He wanted to have her married off just as soon as possible so that she would not be a burden to him. The fellow cared nothing for her torment, nor for her sorrow nor her grief. There was not a single modicum of kindness or compassion in his heart—and that tore at Dinah’s soul.
“I will take you to your rooms now,” Lady Whitehaven said quietly, as the door was held open for them by one of the footmen. “I will make certain that refreshments are brought up to you. Pray, do not concern yourself over my son’s demeanor nor his comments, Dinah.” She squeezed Dinah’s arm gently. “In his own way, he is trying to lift your spirits.”
“Then he is failing,” Dinah replied hoarsely, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks. “Failing entirely.”
Lady Whitehaven said nothing but continued to lead Dinah up the long staircase and then along the hallway until she came to a large room with the door propped open. It was beautiful and bigger than anything Dinah was used to but, in her grief, Dinah noticed nothing.
“I do hope you will feel at home here with us—in time,” Lady Whitehaven murmured, helping Dinah to sit down carefully in a chair by the hearth. “I will leave you to rest now, unless you wish for company?” Seeing Dinah shake her head, Lady Whitehaven gave an understanding nod and then pressed Dinah’s shoulder gently. “Your maid, Sarah, will remain with you until you retire. Do rest for as long as you wish, Dinah. You have a good deal to recover from.”
Dinah, who was feeling more and more exhausted, managed a small nod. “Thank you, Aunt, for everything you have done for me.”
“It was the very least I could do,” Lady Whitehaven replied, letting go of Dinah’s shoulder and making her way back towards the door. “You will be safe here, child. Rest now. Sleep. You have nothing to fear any longer.”
“Well, Dinah, now we come to you.”
Slowly, Dinah lifted her head to see her aunt standing framed in the doorway, a gleam in her eye and a small, expectant smile on her face.
“You know, do you not, that we have come to London for the Season?” Lady Whitehaven continued, coming into the drawing room and coming to stand directly in front of Dinah. “Your cousins – some of them, at least, are come back to support you.”
“Support me in my endeavors to find a husband,” Dinah replied dully, knowing full well that the last few years had been not only a chance for her to complete her education but also to ensure that she was entirely prepared for the life that was to come. The life that would make her a wife to some as yet unknown gentleman. It was a thought that did not bring any joy to her heart—for it was the very last thing that she wanted.
“That is it precisely!” Lady Whitehaven said loudly, practically beaming at Dinah. “I am certain that 1817 will be the year that you shall find yourself happily married and truly content, just as my daughters have been.” She threw a sharp glance towards Dinah. “And I would not have you complain nor state that you do not wish to marry. For Catherine did the very same, did she not?”
Catherine, Dinah’s cousin, had been quite determined never to marry but only last Season had found a very suitable gentleman who had been more than willing to accept her just as she was – even with her penchant for riding astride instead of side saddle! This, Dinah realized, was meant to reassure her that even though she believed she did not wish to marry, there was no reason for her not to attempt to seek out a husband, given that she might thereafter find herself in a similar situation to that of Catherine’s.
“And Lord Whitehaven–Grayson–is to join us also,” Lady Whitehaven continued, referring to her son, who had gained the title and was now the Marquess of Whitehaven. Unlike most, Lady Whitehaven still referred to her son by his Christian name, which Dinah found somewhat unusual but did not reject outright. She, of course, referred to him as Lord Whitehaven, as was expected, but that did not mean that she had a great deal of respect for her older cousin. He had proved himself to be as disagreeable, as rude, and as inconsiderate as he had appeared on the first day she had met him. His eagerness to attend the Season would have nothing to do with helping Dinah, of course. It would merely be to do with seeking his own pleasures and delights.
“I thought that Lord Whitehaven preferred to stay at home during the Season,” she commented, as a small twinge of curiosity ran through her. Lord Whitehaven had remained at his estate these last years and had certainly made no attempt to aid his sisters in their search for a husband – so why was he to come to London now?
Lady Whitehaven sighed and shrugged. “I believe that Grayson has taken some time to understand his role,” she suggested carefully. “Now that he has a good grasp of estate matters, and since the estate is doing well, I believe that he can finally allow himself a few weeks of respite. Besides which,” she added with a rueful smile, “he enjoyed the quiet that came with remaining at the estate whilst his sisters were in London. Now that they are all wed, I wonder if mayhap he feels the quiet becoming a little too great.”
“Perhaps,” Dinah murmured, wondering if this meant that she might see very little of her cousin. That, at least, would be something of a relief. “When does he arrive?”
“Later this afternoon,” Lady Whitehaven replied, looking rather pleased. “And we are all to attend a ball this evening. He will have to refresh himself and change rather quickly before we go, but I am certain he will be
prepared on time.” Her eyebrow arched. “You have remembered, have you not, Dinah? You have a new gown for it.”
Dinah screwed up her face and closed her eyes. The dressmaker she had been forced to attend had insisted on a few new gowns, all of which Lady Whitehaven had approved of. Dinah, who thought that they revealed far too much of her décolletage, did not care for them in the least – but Lady Whitehaven had insisted. There would be the maid to do her hair, which would take a good deal of time, and then she would be dressed and prepared to depart. She would have to endure hours upon hours of inane conversation floating all about her – for she had no intention of continuing on with any such discussions – whilst attempting to make herself as inconspicuous as possible. Not that such a thing was likely. During previous Seasons, Dinah had been able to hide herself away, given that her cousins were being pressed forward by their mother, but now that she was the only one left, there was to be no escape.
“You should repair to your room soon,” Lady Whitehaven continued, clearly ignoring Dinah’s reaction. “There is to be a bath prepared and thereafter—”
“Very well, very well,” Dinah sighed, interrupting Lady Whitehaven by getting to her feet and making for the door. “I shall go at once.”
This seemed to please Lady Whitehaven, who smiled and accompanied Dinah to the door, as though she wanted to ensure that Dinah did as she had said. Nothing more was said, for Dinah hurried quickly through the door and made her way to the staircase that would lead to her bedchamber here in Lady Whitehaven’s London townhouse. It was a good deal smaller than the one back at the Lord Whitehaven estate, but Dinah did not complain. She had been given a very great deal, and she did not want to ever appear ungrateful – even though, at this present moment, she was feeling both frustrated and irritated over Lady Whitehaven’s insistence that she be primped and preened in preparation for this evening’s ball.
“I am certain Grayson will be delighted to accompany you to this evening’s ball,” Lady Whitehaven called, as Dinah began to ascend the stairs. “And do try to look forward to this evening, my dear. It will be quite wonderful, I am sure.”
Dinah said nothing, her heart sinking to the floor with each and every step she took. She did not want to go to the ball, no matter how wonderful it might be. Nor did she want to converse or dance with eligible gentlemen. She would much prefer to stay at home, resting in her bedchamber, so that she might read her book, continue with her embroidery, and mayhap, pray for her cousins and her aunt. She did not want anything to change at the present moment, for Dinah enjoyed her life such as it was. She was a good companion to Lady Whitehaven and, now that Lady Whitehaven’s daughters were all wed and settled, they spent a good deal of time in each other’s company. There was a friendship there that had begun from the very first moment Dinah had stepped into the Whitehaven estate. Lady Whitehaven seemed to be quite contented to allow Dinah to forge a new life for herself with someone new, but Dinah did not feel that way at all. She had taken some years to become used to her life as part of the Whitehaven family and was not yet ready to set it all behind her. This was her stability, her anchor, her place of strength. She feared that to leave it would make her return to that weak, frightened little bird, as Grayson had called her at the first. She did not want to become that again.