“Certainly. Everyone else has.”
“The London season is like one of those Drury Lane melodramas in which marriage is always the ending. And no one ever seems to give any thought as to what happens after. But marriage isn’t the end of the story, it’s the beginning. And it demands the efforts of both partners to make a success of it. I hope Mr. Rutledge has given assurances that he will be the kind of husband that your happiness requires?”
“Well . . .” Poppy paused uncomfortably. “He told me I would live like a queen. Although that’s not quite the same thing, is it?”
“No,” Win said, her voice soft. “Be careful, dear, that you don’t end up as the queen of a lonely kingdom.”
Poppy nodded, stricken and uneasy, trying to hide it. In her gentle way, Win had offered more devastating advice than all the sharp warnings of the other Hathaways combined. “I’ll consider that,” she said, staring at the floor, at the tiny printed flowers of her dress, anywhere other than into her sister’s perceptive gaze. She twisted her betrothal ring around her finger. Although the current fashion was for diamond clusters, or colored stones, Harry had bought her a single rose-cut diamond, shaped at the top with facets that mimicked the inner spiral of a rose.
“I asked for something small and simple,” she had told Harry when he had given it to her.
“It’s simple,” he had countered.
“But not small.”
“Poppy,” he had told her with a smile, “I never do anything in a small way.”
Spying the clock ticking busily on the mantel, Poppy brought her thoughts back to the present. “I won’t change my mind, Win. I promised Harry that I would marry him, and so I shall. He has been kind to me. I would never repay him by jilting him at the altar.”
“I understand.” Win slid her hand over Poppy’s, and pressed warmly. “Poppy . . . has Amelia had a ‘certain talk’ with you yet?”
“You mean the ‘what to expect on my wedding night’ talk?”
“She was planning to tell me later tonight, but I’d just as soon hear it from you.” Poppy paused. “However, having spent so much time with Beatrix, I should tell you that I know the mating habits of at least twenty-three different species.”
“Heavens,” Win said with a grin. “Perhaps you should be leading the discussion, dear.”
The fashionable, the powerful, and the wealthy usually married at St. George’s in Hanover Square, located in the middle of Mayfair. In fact, so many peers and virgins had been united in holy wedlock at St. George’s that it was unofficially and quite vulgarly known as the “London Temple of Hymen.”
A pediment with six massive columns fronted the impressive but relatively simple structure. St. George’s had been designed with a deliberate lack of ornamentation so as not to detract from the beauty of the architecture. The interior was similarly austere, with a canopied pulpit built several feet higher than the box pews. But there was a magnificent work of stained glass above the front altar, depicting the Tree of Jesse and an assortment of biblical figures.
Surveying the crowd packed inside the church, Leo wore a carefully blank expression. So far he had given away two sisters in marriage. Neither of those weddings had begun to approach this kind of grandeur and visibility. But they had far eclipsed it in genuine happiness. Amelia and Win had both been in love with the men they had chosen to marry.
It was unfashionable to marry for love, a mark of the bourgeoisie. However, it was an ideal the Hathaways had always aspired to.
This wedding had nothing to do with love.
Dressed in a black morning coat with silver trousers and a white cravat, Leo stood beside the side door of the vestry room, where ceremonial and sacred objects were kept. Altar and choir robes hung in a row along one wall. This morning the vestry doubled as a waiting room for the bride.
Catherine Marks came to stand on the other side of the doorway as if she were a fellow sentinel guarding the castle gate. Leo glanced at her covertly. She was dressed in lavender, unlike her usual drab colors. Her mousy brown hair was pulled back into such a tight chignon as to make it difficult for her to blink. The spectacles sat oddly on her nose, one of the wire earpieces crimped. It gave her the appearance of a befuddled owl.
“What are you looking at?” she asked testily.
“Your spectacles are crooked,” Leo said, trying not to smile.
She scowled. “I tried to fix them, but it only made them worse.”
“Give them to me.” Before she could object, he took them from her face and began to fiddle with the bent wire.
She spluttered in protest. “My lord, I didn’t ask you to—if you damage them—”
“How did you bend the earpiece?” Leo asked, patiently straightening the wire.
“I dropped them on the floor, and as I was searching, I stepped on them.”
“Nearsighted, are you?”
Having reshaped the earpiece, Leo scrutinized the spectacles carefully. “There.” He began to give them to her and paused as he stared into her eyes, all blue, green, and gray, contained in distinct dark rims. Brilliant, warm, changeable. Like opals. Why had he never noticed them before?
Awareness chased over him, making his skin prickle as if exposed to a sudden change in temperature. She wasn’t plain at all. She was beautiful, in a fine, subtle way, like winter moonlight, or the sharp linen smell of daisies. So cool and pale . . . delicious. For a moment, Leo couldn’t move.