Home > A Wicked Kind of Husband(4)

A Wicked Kind of Husband(4)
Author: Mia Vincy

“Why can we not talk to them?” Cassandra asked.

“They are not interesting enough.”

“Arabella, you promised me conversation.” Cassandra stopped in rebellion and narrowly avoided colliding with a trio of elegant gentlemen, who almost fell over in their haste to bow to Arabella and escape. “How am I supposed to forge connections if you do not allow me to talk to anyone?”

“Not any conversation will do.” Arabella scanned the crowd, her uncommon height giving her an enviable view. “Most importantly, so long as you are with me, you will be seen.”

Indeed, everyone wanted a glimpse of Arabella, who, since her marriage to the Marquess of Hardbury, had scaled the slopes of London society and planted her flag firmly at the peak. Those around them watched her while pretending not to, their expressions a mix of longing and fear, and they turned to each other to whisper words that bobbed through the air amid the colorful feathers and parasols, words like “Lady Hardbury” and “Cassandra Lightwell” and “DeWitt” and “Bolderwood.”

“By ‘seen’, of course, you mean ‘gossiped about’,” Cassandra said. “I suppose it cannot be avoided.”

“It must not be avoided. If one is not gossiped about, then one does not exist. What with this promenade and your appearance in my box at the theater tonight, every morning call in every drawing room tomorrow will feature your name.”

“Gosh. What proportion of each call might I merit? A whole minute?”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Cassandra. You are not that interesting.” Arabella slid her an amused sideways look. “Although with your family history…perhaps half a minute? Multiply that by, say, three thousand conversations, at a very modest estimate—that’s fifteen hundred minutes. Most people would kiss a monkey if it would garner them half that much attention.”

“Why, that’s…Twenty-five hours of gossip, on me alone.” Cassandra twirled her parasol and smiled at the world. “How marvelous I am, to make such a generous contribution to society.”

Society! Oh, how exciting to be in a crowd again! The last time she walked in Hyde Park, she had been Miss Cassandra Lightwell, engaged to Harry, Lord Bolderwood, and Charlie and Papa were still alive. And then—Well, that was then, and this was now. And now, she had nearly three weeks before Mr. DeWitt was due to return from his trip to Liverpool, and she meant to put every minute of it to good use.

Which is what she thought was the purpose of this walk: to smooth her way back into society, for Lucy to follow. Yet she felt less like a participant than a visitor at a menagerie, with Arabella as her guide.

“That fellow over there”—Arabella indicated a fashionable gentleman whose cravat was tied with such complexity it must have required a good three hours—“was last week found guilty of criminal conversation with Lord Oliver’s wife. The jury set the damages at nearly twenty thousand pounds, which of course he cannot afford. The red-haired woman there is Lady Yardley”—a plump, vivacious lady in her thirties with a circle of admirers—“who almost outdid me at the Ladies’ Debating Society the other day. And that handsome gentleman riding the fine bay mare would suit you nicely as a lover.”

Cassandra stumbled and turned the misstep into a jeté to avoid tumbling over. “I beg your pardon?”

“So you are paying attention.” Arabella laughed softly. Which was lovely. Arabella had rarely laughed before her marriage. “Anyway, ’tis not as though your marriage vows mean anything, since you married only to secure your inheritance, and he—Why did he marry you again?”

“Because Papa asked him to. But I would not take a lover simply because I can, or because Mr. DeWitt is rumored to do so. Why on earth would a woman go to bed with a man if it were not required?”

“Because it’s…Oh, never mind. I have seen your Mr. DeWitt,” she went on, “although he has not yet been introduced to me. No one knows what to make of him. They recoil because he is an industrialist, but receive him because his investments make them rich. They say he is no gentleman, but cannot forget that his father is an earl and that he would have been earl one day too, had his father’s bigamy not rendered him illegitimate. Meanwhile, he goes where he pleases, says what he pleases, and no one dares get in his way. And,” Arabella added, slyness creeping into her tone, “he is very good-looking.”

Was he? At their only meeting, on their wedding day two years ago, Cassandra had hardly looked at him. She had still been heartbroken after Harry jilted her and grieving for the future she had lost.

“I remember him only as being dark and abrupt,” she said. “I assumed he was as uncomfortable as I at marrying a stranger.”

It was the waiting that Cassandra remembered, mostly. First, in the drawing room of Mr. DeWitt’s Birmingham townhouse, waiting for the groom to show up to his own wedding. Papa chatted with the vicar, all the while flapping the special license that he had cajoled from the archbishop. The drawing room had the stale air of disuse, and an out-of-time clock persistently ticked away the last minutes of her spinsterhood. Finally, her groom blew in like a gale, and Papa had barely performed the introductions when Mr. DeWitt turned to the vicar, clapped his hands once, and said, “Let’s get on with it, then. I don’t have all day.”

And later, oh good heavens, later. She had waited then too, huddled under blankets in the dark, for him to do what had to be done to complete the marriage. “Let’s make this as quick and painless as possible,” he said when he came to her bedroom—not exactly what a virgin wanted to hear from her groom on their wedding night. She squeezed her eyes tight shut throughout. His hands were gentle and warm and not unpleasant, and several times he told her to relax and she almost did, but then the act itself…

It wasn’t painless, but it was mercifully quick, and she breathed through it while he stilled and cursed. When he got out of bed, she lay motionless and didn’t look at him, not even when he spoke: “I doubt you enjoyed that very much,” he said. “If it’s any consolation, I didn’t enjoy it either. It’s best this way.” She didn’t ask what he meant; she wanted him only to leave, which he did, and he had already gone out when she rose the next morning, and she and Papa went straight back to Sunne Park and she never saw him again.



They had not gone much further when Arabella clutched Cassandra’s elbow and steered them in another direction, saying, “Let us veer away now.”

“Who are we running from?” Cassandra asked.

“I am running from nobody. You are choosing to avoid an encounter with Lady Bolderwood. No, don’t look now.”

Somehow, Cassandra kept moving, on limbs so light they might have floated away.

“I am right in assuming you don’t wish to meet Lady Bolderwood?” Arabella asked.

“I suppose I cannot avoid it, but thank you, I should rather not do so today.”

Nevertheless, Cassandra could not resist glancing at the Viscountess Bolderwood, the woman who had stolen her life. She saw a pale lady in an elaborate yellow outfit that showed off her small, well-shaped figure to great advantage.

“She is pretty,” she ventured.

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