“You wouldn’t need to ask,” Amelia said, “if he dared to come here for a visit.”

“I suggest,” Miss Marks said hastily, before Poppy could retort, “that as a family, we invite Mr. Bayning to accompany us to the Chelsea flower show, the day after next. That will allow us to spend the afternoon with Mr. Bayning—and perhaps we will gain some reassurance about his intentions.”


“I think that’s a lovely idea,” Poppy exclaimed. Attending a flower show together was far more innocuous and discreet than Michael having to call on them at the Rutledge. “I’m sure that talking to Mr. Bayning will ease your worries, Amelia.”

“I hope so,” her sister replied, sounding unconvinced. A tiny frown pleated the space between her sister’s slim brows. She turned her attention to Miss Marks. “As Poppy’s chaperon, you have seen far more of this furtive suitor than I have. What is your opinion of him?”

“From what I have observed,” the companion said carefully, “Mr. Bayning is well regarded and honorable. He has an excellent reputation, with no history of seducing women, spending beyond his means, or brawling in public venues. In short, he is the complete opposite of Lord Ramsay.”

“That speaks well of him,” Cam said gravely. His golden hazel eyes twinkled as he glanced down at his wife. A moment of silent communication passed between them before he murmured softly, “Why don’t you send him an invitation, monisha?”

A sardonic smile flitted across Amelia’s soft lips. “You would voluntarily attend a flower show?”

“I like flowers,” Cam said innocently.

“Yes, scattered across meadows and marshes. But you hate seeing them organized in raised beds and neat little boxes.”

“I can tolerate it for an afternoon,” Cam assured her. Idly he toyed with a loose lock of hair that had fallen on her neck. “I suppose it’s worth the effort to gain an in-law like Bayning.” He smiled as he added, “We need at least one respectable man in the family, don’t we?”

Chapter Five

-- Advertisement --

An invitation was sent to Michael Bayning the next day, and to Poppy’s elation, it was accepted immediately. “It’s only a matter of time now,” she told Beatrix, barely restraining herself from hopping in excitement the way Dodger did. “I’m going to be Mrs. Michael Bayning, and I love him, I love everyone and everything . . . I even love your smelly old ferret, Bea!”

Late in the morning, Poppy and Beatrix dressed for a walk. It was a clear, warm day, and the hotel gardens, intercut with neatly graveled paths, were a symphony of blooms.

“I can hardly wait to go out,” Poppy said, standing at the window and staring down at the extensive gardens. “It almost reminds me of Hampshire, the flowers are so beautiful.”

“It doesn’t remind me at all of Hampshire,” Beatrix said, “It’s too orderly. But I do like walking through the Rutledge rose garden. The air smells so sweet. Do you know, I spoke with the master gardener a few mornings ago, when Cam and Amelia and I went out, and he told me his secret recipe for making the roses so large and healthy.”

“What is it?”

“Fish broth, vinegar and a dash of sugar. He sprinkles them with it right before they bloom. And they love it.”

Poppy wrinkled her nose. “What a dreadful concoction.”

“The master gardener said that old Mr. Rutledge is especially fond of roses, and people have brought him some of the exotic varieties you see in the garden. The lavender roses are from China, for example, and the Maiden’s Blush variety comes from France, and—”

“Old Mr. Rutledge?”

“Well, he didn’t actually say Mr. Rutledge was old. I just can’t help thinking of him that way.”


“Well, he’s so awfully mysterious, and no one ever sees him. It reminds me of the stories of mad old King George, locked away in his apartments at Windsor Castle.” Beatrix grinned. “Perhaps they keep Mr. Rutledge up in the attic.”

“Bea,” Poppy whispered urgently, filled with an overwhelming urge to confide in her, “There’s something I’m bursting to tell you, but it must remain a secret.”

Her sister’s eyes lit with interest. “What is it?”

“First promise you won’t tell anyone.”

“I promise promise.”

“Swear on something.”

“I swear on St. Francis, the patron saint of all animals.” Seeing Poppy’s hesitation, Beatrix added enthusiastically, “If a band of pirates kidnapped me and took me to their ship and threatened to make me walk the plank over a shiver of starving sharks unless I told them your secret, I still wouldn’t tell it. If I were tied by a villain and thrown before a herd of stampeding horses all shod in iron, and the only way to keep from being trampled was to tell the villain your secret, I—”

“All right, you’ve convinced me,” Poppy said with a grin. Dragging her sister to the corner, she said softly, “I have met Mr. Rutledge.”

Beatrix’s blue eyes turned huge. “You have? When?”

“Yesterday morning.” And Poppy told her the entire story, describing the passageway, the curiosities room, and Mr. Rutledge himself. The only thing she left out was the kiss, which, as far as she was concerned, had never happened.

“I’m so terribly sorry about Dodger,” Beatrix said earnestly. “I apologize on his behalf.”

-- Advertisement --