"I was in the library looking for something to read when you sent for me."
"You can't mean you've finished all those magazines I had sent over for you! There was a stack as high as my waist."
She bit her lip and gave him a laughing look. "Did you actually look at any of them?"
"I don't think you'd find them very edifying."
Stephen knew nothing of women's magazines, except that women read them faithfully, but in an effort to keep the conversation going, he politely inquired about the names of the magazines she'd received.
"Well, there was one with a very long name. If I remember correctly, it was called, The Ladies Monthly Museum, or Polite Repository of Amusement and Instruction: being an Assemblage of what can Tend to please the Fancy, Instruct the Mind or Exalt the Character of the British Fair."
"All of that in one magazine?" Stephen teased. "That's quite an ambitious undertaking."
"That's what I thought, until I looked at the articles. Do you know what one of them was about?"
"Based on that look on your face, I'd be afraid to hazard a guess," he said, chuckling.
"It was about rouge," she provided.
"The article was about how to rouge one's cheeks. It was absolutely riveting. Do you suppose that falls under the heading of 'Instructing the Mind' or of 'Exalting the Character'?" she inquired with sham gravity as Stephen's shoulders shook with helpless laughter at her wit.
"Some of the other magazines did have articles of far more import, however. For example, in the one called La Belle Assemblée, or Bell's Court and Fashionable Magazine addressed particularly to the Ladies, there was an informative treatise on the correct way for a lady to hold her skirts when she curtsies. I was spellbound! I had never realized it was preferable to use only the thumb and forefinger of each hand to spread one's skirts, instead of all the fingers God gave us. Dainty perfection is the ideal to which every woman must aspire, you know."
"Is that your theory, or the magazine's?" Stephen asked with a grin.
She gave him a sidewise, laughing look that was a miracle of jaunty irreverence. "What do you think?"
Stephen thought he'd take her jaunty irreverence over dainty perfection every day of his life. "I think we should have that rubbish removed from your bedchamber."
"Oh, no, you mustn't. Truly you mustn't. I read the articles every night in bed."
"You do?" Stephen asked because she looked perfectly serious.
"Oh, yes! I read one page and nod right off. It's ever so much more effective than a sleeping draught."
Stephen pulled his gaze from her entrancing face and watched her shove her hair back off her forehead and give it an impatient shake that sent a veil of coppery locks sliding off her shoulder. He'd liked it where it had been, draped artlessly over her right breast. Annoyed with the impossible direction of his thoughts, Stephen said abruptly, "Since we've ruled out rouge and curtsying, what are you interested in?"
You, Sherry thought. I am interested in you. I am interested in why you seem uneasy right now. I am interested in why there are times when you smile at me as if you see only me and I am all that matters. I am interested in why there are times when I sense that you don't want to see me at all, even when I'm in front of you. I am interested in anything that matters to you because I want so much to matter to you. I am interested in history. Your history. My history. "History! I like history," she provided brightly after a pause.
"What else do you like?"
Since she couldn't speak from memory, she gave him the only answer that came to mind. "I think I like horses very well."
"Why do you say that?"
"Yesterday, as your coachman drove me through a park, I saw ladies riding, and I felt… happy. Excited. I think I must know how to ride."
"In that case, we'll have to find you a suitable mount and find out. I'll send word to Tattersall's and have someone over there choose a nice, gentle little mare for you."
"It's an auction house."
"May I go along and watch?"
"Not without causing an uproar." She gave him a startled look, and he smiled. "Females are not allowed at Tatt's."
"Oh, I see. Actually, I'd rather you didn't spend money on a horse. It may turn out that I don't know how to ride at all. Could I not use one of your horses first, to find out? I could ask your coachman—"
"Don't even consider it," Stephen warned sharply. "I do not own a horse suitable for you or any other woman to ride, no matter how accomplished you may be. My animals are not the sort for a demure jog through the park."
"I don't think that's what I imagined yesterday. I felt like I wanted to gallop and feel the wind in my face."
"No gallops," he decreed. No matter how much riding she'd done, she was no rawboned country girl; she was slender and delicate, without the strength to handle a spirited gallop. When she looked bewildered and mutinous, he explained gruffly, "I don't want to carry you home unconscious for a second time."
He suppressed a shudder at the memory of her limp body in his arms, and that reminded him of another accident… another limp body belonging to a young baron with a life ahead of him and a beautiful girl who wanted to marry him. The recollection banished all desire to delay coming to the real point of their visit.
Leaning back in his chair, Stephen gave her what he hoped was a warm, enthusiastic smile and put his plan for her future into action. "I'm delighted to tell you that my sister-in-law has persuaded the most fashionable modiste in London to abandon her shop in its busiest time and to come here, with seamstresses in tow, in order to design a wardrobe for you to wear during the Season's activities." Instead of being thrilled, she furrowed her brow a little at the news. "Surely, that doesn't displease you?"
"No, of course not. But you see I don't need any more gowns. I still have two that I haven't yet worn."
She had a total of five ordinary day dresses, and she actually believed that was a wardrobe. Stephen decided her father must have been a selfish miser. "You will need a great many other things, besides those few items."
"Because the London Season calls for an extensive wardrobe," he said vaguely. "I also wanted to tell you that Dr. Whitticomb will be arriving this afternoon with an acquaintance of his, an elderly lady who, I understand from the doctor's note, is eager and competent to be an acceptable duenna for you."