Constance Wynne Hare stamped her well-shod little foot with vehemence as her mother stared with alarm. “Yes, her suitcase. That’s his claim. He only went with her to help with the suitcase, and somehow—mind you, he’s very unclear on the details—but somehow it turned into a wild party and they were all taken to the precinct house and not charged, but locked up all night.”
“Naturally,” her mother said, her tone cool and her eyes narrowed as if she had just spotted a partner trumping out of turn.
“I do think it entirely unnecessary that he escorted her home in the morning after such an arrangement, and even more so that he stayed to eat breakfast with the baggage! Insupportable.” Constance threw herself down into a chair, but even the violence of that action did little to assuage the peevish sense of being done very wrong indeed by the exasperating Mr. Wood.
It made it much, much worse that her mother regarded her with such pity now. “My dear child, I hate to say I warned you of this—”
“Then do not!” Constance knew that anger at her mother was the only thing keeping despair at bay. “Mother, I cannot bear you being beastly just at this moment. It’s the last thing I need. I may just have to run off and join a convent.” She folded her arms with decision.
Unfortunately, her mother only laughed. “My dear, the convent that takes you in would have to be a rather forward-thinking institution.”
“Don’t tease, Mamma.”
“Constance, you know well my opinion on Mr. Wood. I do wish you’d had the good sense to marry that nice young banker—”
“That boat has sailed.” Constance frowned. Bankers were less likely to be the stable wagers her mother thought, she knew all too well. Get them out of the counting house and the unaccustomed freedom quite turned their heads. “I need a change of scenery. I need to leave London.”
“Go to Bath.” Her mother said with suspicious quickness. “It ought to be quite lovely this time of year. I know many families who take their leisure there in the off-season.”
“Do you?” Constance gave her mother a shrewd look that would have recalled a mongoose to any careful observer.
“Oh yes,” her mother said casually, turning to adjust the flowers in the Sèvres vase on the little oak table. “Why, I believe the Worthingtons are there just now.”
“Are they?” It was a good thing her back was turned or Constance’s mother would have seen a most objectionable look on her daughter’s face, one she might have scolded as both unladylike and entirely unnecessary.
“Oh, they seem to be having a most delightful time. The Earl’s gout is clearing up at last and young Earnest has become quite the talk of the town—very popular among the ladies, as I hear it.”
“It must be his extraordinary fondness for cakes that has set the ladies all a-flutter.”
Her mother turned with snake-like speed. A more timid girl would have cowered, but Constance was no flibbertigibbet. “Are you objecting to his very large girth?”
“Not at all. I like to see a man of substance,” Constance said, her head held high, insulted both by the question and her mother’s tone. “However, I object to a gentleman so greedy as to roughly elbow a girl aside in the pursuit of said cakes. I have not forgotten the Duchess’ hunt dinner.”
“How awful of you to recall such an embarrassing evening, which I recall we agreed never to mention again.”
“Mother, you drive me to desperate measures. Earnest Worthington? I’d sooner marry a—a fishmonger.”