Astonished at not only the boldness of her words but also the agony of what was held within them, Grayson lifted his head and looked directly into Dinah’s eyes. She was holding his gaze steadily, although her lips were trembling just a little. His heart sank to the floor, realizing suddenly who it was that had helped him to his bed. It had not been one of the servants, and he certainly had not managed to climb the staircase himself. Instead, it had been Dinah who had helped him to his rooms. Closing his eyes, he laced his fingers behind his head and set his elbows on the table in a most uncouth fashion, groaning quietly. What was it he had done?
“I am not surprised that your head aches,” Dinah continued, mistaking his demeanor for that of someone who has a painful head after a night of debauchery. “But if you believe that speaking to me and treating me in such a fashion is appropriate, Whitehaven, then you are very much mistaken.” Her voice was shaking now, her anger and upset more and more apparent. “I am aware that you want me gone from this house and that your only wish is to see me wed so that I might no longer be a burden to you, but I will not be forced from it by you, Whitehaven. You may attempt to encourage me from your side in all manner of ways, but I will not accept them from you.” Drawing in a long, audible breath, she let it out slowly. “How dare you treat me with such inconsideration?”
“Whatever it was I did or said, I am truly sorry.”
Raising his head and letting his hands drop, Grayson looked directly back into Dinah’s face and saw the tears glistening in her eyes. Guilt seared him, his eyes closing tightly so that he did not have to see her sorrow.
“I mean no ill will,” he said, even though his behavior had said otherwise. “I was not in my right mind, Dinah. Truly.” Opening his eyes, he saw her stiffen, her gaze somewhat fixed as she looked back at him. “I am truly sorry.”
It took some moments before Dinah reacted. It was as if she were trying to work out whether or not she could trust him, whether or not she could accept what he had said to be the truth. Grayson looked back at her with a calmness in his expression that he did not feel for inwardly, his emotions were running wildly though him, his heart clamoring and his mind begging her to believe him.
“You do wish me to be gone, however, do you not?” she said eventually, her eyes no longer glistening with unshed tears. “You will, of course, push me towards this Lord Irving.”
“That is not so,” he replied at once, a small flicker of anger in his heart. “I have told my mother that she ought to refuse Lord Irving’s request to court you until he knows you a little better.”
“And should I refuse to accept his court?”
The question was thrust at him like a knife, a sense of coldness rushing through him. What would he do if Dinah refused to accept Lord Irving? Would he force her to do so? Demand that she court the fellow regardless of what she felt? It would be one way to remove her from his house and, in doing so, hopefully allow his own affections to go with her.
“I think that you would push me towards Lord Irving regardless,” sh
e said, answering for him. “It is obvious to me that you want me gone from your house.” Lifting her chin, she sniffed and turned her head. “And that will occur, Lord Whitehaven, you need have no fear about that. But only I will determine when it will take place and in which direction I shall go.”
Grayson did not know what to say for this displayed more strength than he had ever seen before in Dinah. She was as regal as a queen, sitting across from him and refusing to follow anyone’s path but her own.
“Then if not Lord Irving, then mayhap someone else,” he suggested slowly, aware that his heart leapt at the thought of taking her in his arms but knowing that he could not do so, not when she was so pure and he so ugly. She deserved a gentleman who, as his own mother had said, would treat her with the kindness, gentleness, and love that she deserved. He was nothing more than selfish, and Dinah had seen more than enough of his arrogant character these last few years. No doubt she would refuse him even if he were to lay his heart out for her to see. “You shall have to dance with gentlemen, converse with them and the like, if you are to make a decent match.”
Dinah let out a short, guttural exclamation before turning her head back to his.
“Or mayhap I should be permitted to follow my own path,” she told him bluntly. “Mayhap there are other ways that I might seek out my future.”
Frowning and not at all understanding what she meant, Grayson tilted his head, regarding her. “If you mean to say that you wish to vet the gentlemen who seek you out, then by all means do so. Or if it is that you fear that your dance card will remain empty, then I should be glad to aid you in such a thing.” He did not quite know what he meant by such a remark, for given that his damaged leg could not even allow him to walk without limping, he did not think that he would be able to dance and certainly had refused to do so over the last few years whenever he had been in company.
But for Dinah, Grayson knew he would do so.
“I hardly think so, Whitehaven,” Dinah replied, picking up her teacup, drinking it quickly and setting it back down so hard that it rattled in the saucer. “For to be quite frank, I should much prefer to dance with a pig than to step out onto the floor with you.” And so saying, she rose to her feet and hurried from the room, leaving Grayson open mouthed with shock and surprised that the quiet, pious Dinah had spoken to him with such vehemence and disdain. Evidently, his behavior last evening had sunk him even lower in her consideration of him. Groaning, Grayson set his elbows on the table and buried his head in his hands. Everything was going so terribly wrong, and there seemed to be nothing he could do about it.
Dinah closed her eyes at the recollection of how she had spoken to Lord Whitehaven earlier that day. She had been honest in her words, yes, but they had been cutting and cruel, and whether or not Lord Whitehaven deserved them, she ought not to have said any such thing.
“Dinah, do not look so melancholy!”
Lifting her head from where her gaze had settled on the floor by her feet, Dinah looked into Titania’s face and saw her usual bright smile and warm expression that was meant to encourage her.
“I am not melancholy,” she replied truthfully. “I am regretting something that I said and am quite content in my feelings regarding this.”
“Stuff and nonsense,” Titania stated, firmly. “You ought not to be so concerned about such things, Dinah. We are all inclined towards making mistakes, are we not? Why then must you torment yourself over your own fallibilities?”
Considering this, Dinah shook her head and felt the guilt pierce her soul. “My mother was very devout,” she replied, answering Titania’s question as best she could. “It is the one of the few things about her that has left its mark upon my heart. She was as kind, as gracious, and as loving as a mother could be, and I wish to emulate that.”
Titania frowned. “And you believe that piety is how you become such a lady?” she asked, as Dinah nodded. “My dear cousin, I believe you are quite mistaken.”[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
Dinah’s anger flared hot, her jaw working furiously, but Titania merely smiled and put a gentle hand over Dinah’s.
“I can see that I have angered you, but if you would only give me a chance to explain,” she said, her hand squeezing Dinah’s. “Please, dear cousin. I know that I have earned your displeasure many a time by my behavior, but I hope you can see that I am a little improved now. and that—thanks to not only your concern but that of my mother’s—I am changed enough to be able to bring even a modicum of wisdom to your circumstances.”