“Mama,” he murmured, lifting his head and thinking silently to himself that he needed to ensure that his valet was given some sort of reward for the concoction he had made Grayson drink, for it truly had done wonders. “I hear that you have received a note of some sort?” He tried to keep his voice light as he came to sit down opposite his mother at the dining room table, where she was breaking her fast. “What is it that concerns you so?”
Lady Whitehaven, he noted, looked a little distraught, which he found to be a little concerning. His mother was usually quite at ease, with a ready smile and a welcoming word or two, but now she was tightlipped with a sharp look in her eye. Her brows knotted.
“Whatever happened to you?” she asked, sounding a little horrified. “Your eye, it is quite bruised and swollen!”
Grayson waved a hand. “It is nothing that should concern you,” he replied, desperate for his mother to ignore it. “Tell me about the letter. You received it this morning, I understand.”
“I did, yes,” Lady Whitehaven proclaimed, straightening in her seat. “A note that I have found quite extraordinary and certainly have very little idea as to what I ought to do about it.”
Grayson swallowed hard, his hands tightening into fists underneath the table.
“Do you not wish for something to drink?” his mother continued, her tone a little gentler as she gestured to the waiting cups and saucers. “Pray, do not allow
Shaking his head, Grayson gave her a tight smile, trying to calm his frantically beating heart and praying that his mother would not lose her temper with him when she discovered the truth of his gambling.
He blinked rapidly, staring at his mother and seeing her brows lift in evident awareness of his astonishment.
“I am quite at a loss!” Lady Whitehaven continued, gesticulating furiously. “This gentleman – a Viscount Irving – has stated that he wishes to court Dinah and seeks my permission to do so. I cannot understand it, Grayson. Truly, I cannot!”
Grayson swallowed hard, feeling his heart flood with both relief and an overwhelming sense of anxiety as he thought about Dinah. The idea of her being courted by a gentleman – any gentleman, in fact – ought to bring him a good deal of joy, but instead he felt himself reject Lord Irving entirely, even though he knew nothing of the fellow.
“Might I ask why you are so disturbed over this letter, Mama?” he asked, trying to make sense of his mother’s reaction. “Surely this is to be expected, given that Dinah is out.”
Lady Whitehaven shook her head firmly. “Lord Irving has danced only once with Dinah, Grayson,” she explained, her brow lowering. “Only once, you understand.” Her lips twisted, as though this was something truly regrettable. “He does not know Dinah at all. He has not called upon her, taken tea with her, nor suggested that they might take a turn about the park together or anything of a similar nature. I am not inclined to accept a gentleman’s request to court her when it seems he does not know her at all!”
Grayson, rather relieved at this but aware that he could not reveal an eagerness about the matter, tried to appear nonchalant. “But all the same, Mama, it may be that he has simply taken a liking to Dinah and wishes to court her. That cannot be a bad thing, surely?”
“It is not as simple as that,” Lady Whitehaven protested, waving a hand. “You know as well as I that Dinah does not simply require any gentleman to wed her. She needs someone who is sensitive to what she has endured, who understands her need for her continued piety. She requires someone to seek her out, to pursue her so that the truth of her character is revealed to them.” Sighing, she set her hand back on the table and picked up the letter again. “I am not convinced that Lord Irving is such a gentleman, especially when I know nothing of his character.”
“Then seek it out,” Grayson replied, trying to force himself to consider Lord Irving’s request without the immediate sense of rejection that filled him. “State so in your letter. Tell him that given that neither you nor Dinah know Lord Irving particularly well, you cannot accept him as yet. That way, if he is truly interested in her, he will pursue matters further.”
Grayson turned quickly, seeing none other than Dinah standing framed in the doorway, one hand on the door and her body ramrod straight.
“Oh, it is nothing,” Lady Whitehaven said quickly, rising from her chair and gesturing for Dinah to come forward. “It is only that a gentleman has requested to court you, and I sought out Grayson’s opinion on the matter.” She patted Dinah’s arm, as Dinah quickly sat down in the seat next to where Lady Whitehaven had been sitting. “I have to write to Lord Irving now, although I should inform you that I will not be granting his request to court you, my dear.”
Grayson allowed a small smile to tug at his lips as he saw the relief etch itself into Dinah’s expression.
“After all, as Grayson himself has said, the fellow does not know you from Adam – and you do not know him either,” Lady Whitehaven continued, leaving Dinah’s side and making her way to the door. “I shall write this very moment, have no fear. Do excuse me.”
Dinah half rose from her chair, looking at the departing figure of Lady Whitehaven, as though she wanted to follow her.
“Did you have something more to say to Mama?” Grayson asked quietly, aware of how Dinah flushed red and wondering what it was he had done or said to make her appear so. “I can have the footman call her back.”
Dinah swallowed, shook her head, lowered her eyes, and sat back down in her chair.
“Then please, do not allow my presence here to prevent you from breaking your fast,” Grayson added, unable to keep the hint of sarcasm from his words. “I am well aware that you do not seek my company, Dinah.”
Inwardly, Grayson berated himself for speaking so, aware that his hackles were rising and that his sense of confusion was growing within him. He did not know what it was nor what he ought to do with it, for his heart grew warm within him at her company, and yet his defense of such a feeling was, it seemed, to speak to her cruelly. Angry with his own demeanor and quite unable to understand it, he simply lowered his head and picked up his cup and saucer, thinking to drink his coffee quickly and then excuse himself.
“Little wonder that I do not seek your company after your behavior last evening, Whitehaven.”