Philippa Dean was sitting sideways on the padded window seat in her bedchamber, her very favorite spot in the town house her father had leased in London for the spring months so that she could make her come-out in society. Her feet were drawn up before her; her right hand, in which she held one of her opened letters, draped over her knee. The other letter lay forgotten in her lap. She was gazing out the window to the garden below, though she was not really seeing either the flowers or the grass and trees.
She was seeing a future filled to the brim with happiness.
And this, now, this moment, was the beginning of that future. This was the happiest day of her life.
She raised her hand and looked at the letter again, though she had it by heart already after at least a dozen readings.
Julian was coming to London.
He would be here in a week’s time, perhaps a little longer. Certainly no more than two.
And when Papa saw him again, he would discover the changes two years had wrought, and he would have no further objection to him as a suitor for her hand. Julian would be allowed to court her openly, and after a decent interval he would offer for her and then marry her, and they would live happily ever after.
For a moment she felt a twinge of anxiety, for this desirable outcome had not yet been achieved, of course, and, as her grandmama was fond of saying, there was many a slip twixt cup and lip. But she refused to allow a silly old adage to lower her spirits. She had waited two long years for this moment, or rather for the moment that was now within her reach.
Nothing—surely!—could or would go wrong.
Julian had changed. He was also undeniably eligible. And she was eighteen now rather than sixteen. She was of marriageable age. Indeed, she had come to London for that very reason. It was the Season, and she had been brought here to find an eligible husband.
Papa loved her, as did Mama. They wanted her to make a good marriage, of course. She was the eldest of five children, all of whom would need to be suitably settled within the next few years, and Papa, though comfortably well off, was not vastly wealthy. But equally important to her parents was that she make a marriage in which her affections would be engaged, a marriage in which she would be happy. They had said so repeatedly.
Philippa tipped her head sideways to rest her temple against the glass of the window. She sighed deeply and happily.
Julian was coming—all the way from Cornwall. She would see him again. She closed her eyes and remembered his tall, lithe figure; his handsome, vital face with the slightly crooked smile; his dark, often intense eyes; his brown hair always attractively disheveled as though he had just been running in a wind. Had she remembered him as he really was? She sometimes wondered. Two years was an awfully long time. Had he changed? What did he look like now?
Would he think her changed? She hoped so, for she had grown up since he saw her last. She had been a girl then. She was a woman now.
She looked down at his letter, read it once more, and folded it small, as it had come to her inside Barbara’s letter. Barbara Redford, Philippa’s closest friend in Bath, was Julian’s cousin on his mother’s side. It was through her that the two of them had met and then kept up a correspondence for two years, a clandestine, guilty exchange between a single gentleman and a young girl who was not even out of the schoolroom when it started.
Philippa hoped that when she was the mother of daughters grown beyond childhood but not yet quite to adulthood, she would remember that it was possible to fall in love with a steadfast devotion that would continue unabated through a lifetime. Her love for Julian had not wavered in two years. Neither had his for her. He had written to her faithfully every month of those years, though everyone knew that men were not the most constant of letter writers—nor of suitors.
She drew her feet a little closer to her body and clasped her arms about her knees. She gazed down at the spring flowers blooming in the garden with a more conscious appreciation.
Her court appearance two weeks ago had dazzled her with its splendor, and her come-out ball had been wonderful beyond imagining. She had danced every set, and she had received no fewer than eight bouquets of flowers the morning after. It could only have been more perfect if Julian had been there, but he had thought it wiser to wait a short while before coming. Mama and Papa might be a little suspicious if he appeared too soon, he had written. Indeed, they might not even have invited him to her ball, since Papa had been very vexed with him two years ago.
That would have been horrible. Quite disastrous, in fact.
Now he was coming—before any of her admirers could turn into serious suitors for her hand and complicate matters.
She wondered which ball he would choose to attend first after his arrival. She considered which of her gowns she would wear for the occasion and how she would have her hair dressed.
But these happy thoughts were interrupted by a tap on her bedchamber door. Her mother came inside without waiting for an invitation. Philippa smiled at her as she folded Barbara’s letter around the smaller one and slid them beneath the cushion on which she sat.
Her mother paused before she came closer.
“Oh, Philippa,” she said, “you are in such good looks. You look quite radiant even though we did not get home until after two o’clock last night. You are enjoying yourself, are you not?”
“I am, Mama,” Philippa assured her. “More than anything in the world.”
“You are looking happy now,” her mother said, smiling archly at her. “But just wait until I tell you what the morning post brought your papa. Philippa, how would you like to be a viscountess? Viscountess Darleigh.”