Do you think she’ll be happy?” Daisy whispered to Rosie as both girls stared at their friend, Cynny, who was standing at the mirror in their bedchamber as she adjusted her wedding veil. Today was Cynny’s wedding day and her betrothed, Lord Kensington, would arrive at Talcott House at any moment. “Heavens, she’s never met her new husband—her new papa—before. Not even once! What if Lord Kensington is old and cranky? What if he has warts and hairy hands?” Rosie swatted Daisy lightly on the arm and gave her a scolding look. “Of course she’ll be happy,” Rosie whispered back in an annoyed tone. “Now hush, you don’t want Cynny to hear you, do you? She’s probably nervous enough as it is. Besides, Miss Wickersham would not have found an old, cranky, hairy, wart-ridden papa for a bride as beautiful as Cynny.” Daisy pressed her lips together and sighed inwardly. Well, she supposed Rosie was right about that. Miss Wickersham, the headmistress of Talcott House, had probably selected the most handsome papa in the entire country for a young woman as lovely and perfect as Cynny. Daisy, on the other hand, harbored no hope that she would be as lucky as Cynny, who had the most gorgeous blue eyes and flowing blonde tresses. Daisy absently touched her straight, plain brown hair. Everything about Daisy was boring and plain and she wondered if Miss Wickersham would ever find a suitable husband for her. She longed for a papa to call her very own, a papa who would also be her husband and cherish her and take care of her, but she was nearing the age of twenty and feared her features would only become more plain and boring as she got older. What would happen to her then? What if she ended up like Garland—a bossy caretaker who never found a papa and had to work at Talcott House forever and ever, only to watch other girls come and go as they got married and found happiness and started their own wonderful families? Daisy blinked against a sudden burn of tears, but she forced a smile as she continued staring at beautiful Cynny, hoping the others would only think she was overcome with emotion at watching one of her dear friends finally get married and leave Talcott House.
In any case, Daisy would truly miss Cynny and she wished her friend all the best in her marriage to Lord Kensington, however kind and handsome the man was. She glanced around the room, her heart panging at the sight of Cynny’s bed, which would soon sit empty, as well as their friend Cammie’s bed. Cammie had recently gotten married and moved away from Talcott House. How quickly things were changing, and she hoped with all her heart that the changes were for the better. Although Daisy perked up a bit at the thought of sharing this bedchamber with Rosie for a while, just the two of them, as thick as thieves. She felt a smile touch her lips at the prospect of staying up late and whispering to one another, and how Daisy could scandalize Rosie by reading passages aloud from the romance novels she routinely swiped from Miss Wickersham’s study. Rosie was often too serious and Daisy looked forward to getting her best friend to loosen up a little in the days to come, without anyone else around to overhear or interfere in any way. The sound of a carriage rolling up the lane drew all three girls to the window. They peered down at the entrance to Talcott House from behind the curtains. “Oh,” Daisy said in a whisper, “what a beautiful carriage.
” She looked at Cynny and smiled. “I hope Miss Wickersham finds a lord to be my papa too.” Perhaps if she said her hopes and dreams out loud, they would actually happen. She felt suddenly guilty for her earlier remarks about whether Lord Kensington had warts or hairy hands. Even if he did, Miss Wickersham would not have matched Cynny, or any of the other girls from Talcott House for that matter, with a man who wouldn’t completely and utterly cherish and care for his new little wife. “Hush!” Rosie said, swatting Daisy’s arm again. Daisy glared at Rosie for a moment, then returned her attention to the activity in the lane below their window. A finely dressed footman jumped from the back of the carriage and ran to open the door. An odd feeling of warmth overcame Daisy the moment Lord Kensington emerged from the carriage. He was dressed in his wedding finery, and she thought him the most handsome man she had ever seen.
So tall and broad-shouldered, with dark hair and the kindest dark gaze as well. When he glanced up at Talcott House and smiled, it was all Daisy could do to keep from swooning. Oh, Cynny was so lucky! She tried her best to push down her sudden jealousy. If this handsome lord was indeed going to marry a girl from Talcott House, at least he was marrying one of her friends. Though Daisy didn’t know much about Cynny’s life prior to Talcott House, she suspected Cynny had had an extremely rough childhood. If anyone deserved such happiness as marrying Lord Kensington, it was Miss Hyacinth “Cynny” Heathrow. The girls quickly ducked away from Lord Kensington’s view as his gaze continued to scan the house. “Do you think he saw us?” Daisy asked. “I thought I told you to hush.” Rosie narrowed her eyes at Daisy, and as soon as Cynny returned to the window to gaze out at her husband-to-be, Daisy seized the opportunity to stick her tongue out at Rosie.
Rosie rolled her eyes at Daisy and made her way to the window again. “He is quite handsome,” she said. “I am sure he will make a wonderful papa for you.” Daisy squeezed between them for another peek at the handsome lord, then grew puzzled when she glanced over at Cynny to see her frowning. The bride-to-be’s whole body was tensed, as if she were dreading what was to come. Daisy, for the life of her, could not understand how Cynny could feel anything but utter joy at such a moment. As Rosie had said, she really was the most beautiful bride, and today was supposed to be a joyous day, for Cynny would finally have a husband who would also be her papa. A noise behind the girls had them all turning around. It was Miss Wickersham. The headmistress bustled into their bedchamber, moving faster than usual and appearing frazzled.
“Oh my dear Hyacinth, you are an absolutely beautiful bride, as I always knew you would be,” Miss Wickersham said as she fussed and fawned over Cynny, adjusting her veil and then caressing her cheek. Cynny, still looking unsettled, murmured her thanks and glanced about the room with an increasingly worried expression. Daisy started walking toward her, intending to give her a hug and tell her everything would be fine, only for Miss Wickersham to interrupt. “Ladies,” the headmistress said, gazing between Daisy and Rosie, “would you please excuse us for a moment as I would like to speak with Hyacinth alone.” “Yes, Miss Wickersham,” Daisy said in unison with Rosie. She playfully elbowed her friend toward the door and they made a quick escape. When Miss Wickersham bid you to enter or leave a room, you obeyed as fast as possible unless you wished to be on the receiving end of a good scolding. Daisy and Rosie walked side by side down the narrow hallway that housed all the bedchambers of the bigger girls of Talcott House, passing no one since it was a lovely day and everyone was outside enjoying the pleasant weather. The wedding ceremony was to be a private affair and even Daisy and Rosie wouldn’t be in attendance. Soon, after ushering Cynny off to Miss Wickersham’s study where the wedding would take place, the two friends would venture outside to join the rest of the girls while everyone waited to bid Cynny and Lord Kensington farewell after they emerged from exchanging their vows.
“What do you think they’re going to talk about?” Daisy asked in a conspiratorial tone as she waggled her eyebrows at Rosie. “Whatever it is, it is none of your business, or else Miss Wickersham would not have asked us to leave,” Rosie replied. As they descended the stairs and made their way through the great room, Daisy leaned closer to Rosie and whispered, “Lord Kensington is so handsome and tall. Do you think he enjoys kissing and hugging?” She giggled, only for Rosie to glare at her for a moment before glancing around to make sure no one was nearby. “Whether he enjoys kissing and hugging is also none of your business. You had better be quiet. If Garland hears you…” “I saw Garland go outside earlier with the other girls.” A surge of mischief ran through Daisy as a naughty idea popped into her head. “You know, since no one else is close by right now, we could just happen to borrow some flour from the kitchen and then just happen to sprinkle it inside Garland’s night cap. Now would be the perfect time to get her back for tattling on me yesterday.
” “Oh, by tattling are you referring to when she heard you say a naughty word, and then when she approached you, you ran and hid in the gardens so she had no choice but to go inform Miss Wickersham of your naughtiness?” Rosie gave Daisy a knowing grin. “Does it still hurt when you sit down? I heard Miss Wickersham used her hand and her ruler on you.” “You’re not so perfect yourself, Rosie. You’ve been punished by Miss Wickersham before.” “Not in a very long time, and certainly not as frequently as you.” “Well, as well-behaved as you are, I am shocked Miss Wickersham hasn’t found you a papa yet.” The instant the words left her mouth, Daisy regretted them. “Oh, Rosie. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry.
” She touched her friend’s arm in a gentle gesture. The timing of marriages and papas in Talcott House was a touchy subject for many, as most girls wished to be married as soon as possible in order to start their new lives with a loving husband and papa. “It’s all right, Daisy. I know you didn’t mean it. The truth is,” Rosie said, looking sad, “I am afraid. Miss Wickersham has asked me if I feel ready to have a papa several times, and I always tell her no. I can’t explain why I’m so fearful, but doesn’t the idea being married scare you? Marriage is forever. That’s a big decision and one that cannot be undone. I would never say such a thing in front of Cynny or any other girl who’s about to get married, but I worry about what would happen if Miss Wickersham didn’t pick the right papa for me. It’s exciting to think about having a papa, but it also makes me so nervous.
I wonder if maybe I should stay here at Talcott House and be a caretaker like Garland. Perhaps I’m not meant to be a wife, to be some rich lord’s little girl.” “Oh, Rosie,” Daisy said, giving her friend a fierce hug. “I didn’t know you felt this way. You should have told me sooner. I’m sure Miss Wickersham won’t make you get married if you truly don’t wish to have a papa, but I know you better than anyone and I think you would make a wonderful wife and mother. Don’t you want children someday? A family of your very own?” Rosie appeared skeptical, and for a brief instant her eyes seemed haunted, as if she was remembering something awful that had happened long ago. “I will have to think on it more. I know I must decide soon, as I’m not getting any younger. I think Cynny is the oldest girl in the history of Talcott House to get a papa, and she’s twenty-two.
I’m almost twenty-one, as you know.” “Cynny had to wait so long because she’s even naughtier than me,” Daisy replied with a giggle, in an effort to ease her friend’s tension. Rosie finally laughed. “I think you’re right about that. She is probably more familiar with Miss Wickersham’s ruler than you and I put together.” The sound of another carriage barreling up the drive caught their attention, and both girls exchanged a look and then hurried to the window in the great room beside the entryway. “Now who do you suppose that is?” Rosie asked. “The vicar always arrives on foot.” A well-dressed man jumped out of the carriage before it came to a full stop, and Daisy squinted out the window, not bothering to conceal herself behind the curtains. “Oh my! That’s the gentleman who visited Talcott House a week ago.
The one who was walking through the gardens with Miss Wickersham and then Garland interrupted because she needed Miss Wickersham’s help with something. Do you remember?” “I remember. Yes, and then this gentleman approached Cynny in the garden and talked to her for a long time. She never told me his name. Did she tell you?” “No, she seemed rather secretive of the whole affair, though I admit I found it strange, and perhaps a little exciting, that a gentleman to whom she wasn’t betrothed simply showed up at Talcott House and decided to talk to her as if he was courting her. He even kissed her hand! I wonder what Lord Kensington would have to say about that.” “We must tell Cynny this gentleman has arrived,” Rosie said. “Come on.” The two girls bolted upstairs, sweeping past an annoyed looking Miss Wickersham as she vacated their bedchamber at a brisk pace, obviously on a mission to greet the unannounced visitor. Cynny was standing at the window, and Daisy had never seen her so pale before.
“Is that not the gentleman you were speaking with in the garden last week?” Rosie asked, even though she obviously already knew the answer. “He is certainly handsome. Why do you suppose he has returned?” “You would not even tell us his name or what you spoke about,” Daisy said, stepping in front of her two friends to peer down into the lane. This gentleman was handsome, but he was not quite so breathtaking as Lord Kensington, in Daisy’s opinion, but she wasn’t about to say as much, so she settled on, “Oh my. He is an attractive man. Do you suppose he has come to call upon you, Cynny?” “Of course, not,” Cynny replied testily. “He knows I am to be wed. In fact, I told him the exact date when we spoke. He is simply a busybody and I have no idea why he would be here at Talcott House so soon. He must have business with Miss Wickersham.
He had no appointment the last time he stopped here, clearly he is boorish and rude and cares not for the time or convenience of others.” “That is rather unkind,” Rosie said. “You never say mean things,” Daisy said, continuing to puzzle over why Cynny didn’t seem excited to marry Lord Kensington and why this strange lord had shown up in an apparent hurry on the morning of Cynny’s wedding, no less. Something was going on and she hoped they soon got to the bottom of it. “Well, he simply got on my bad side, I suppose,” Cynny finally said, and Daisy glanced at her friend’s hands to see they were badly trembling. She appeared even paler than moments ago. Yes, something was indeed amiss. Daisy looked outside again, having heard more movement around the carriage. “Who is that man?” Her stomach flipped at the sight of a second man, this one not appearing kindly in the least. “He looks very serious,” Rosie said.
“Is that a pistol in his hand?” Daisy asked, feeling her eyes grow wide. Oh, something suspicious was definitely afoot this morning, all right. But what? And why did Cynny look so scared? Rosie emitted a dreamy sigh. “Oh, I believe the man with the pistol might be more handsome than the other man. Honestly, Cynny will you at least tell us his name?” Daisy was about to insist that Lord Kensington was the most handsome of all three gentlemen visitors at Talcott House this morning, but as soon as she opened her mouth she promptly shut it. What would her friends think if she said such a thing aloud about Cynny’s betrothed? She didn’t want Cynny believing she was jealous of her new papa, even though a small part of her—all right, perhaps more than a small part of her—burned with longing for the handsome and kindly appearing Lord Kensington. “Grayson,” Cynny finally answered. “He is Lord Grayson. I have no idea who the other man is.” The two unexpected visitors hurried toward the entryway and were soon out of sight.
A second later, the walls of the bedchamber rattled with the slamming of the front door below. “They are inside now,” Daisy said excitedly as she moved toward the door, determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. Her stomach tightened with nerves and worry as she considered the man with the pistol. She hoped he didn’t intend to hurt anyone, and she wondered if he’d been the one to slam the front door so hard. “I am going to find out what is happening. What an exciting day.” Daisy scampered down the stairs, keeping her footfalls as quiet as possible, and pressed herself flat against the wall near the great room. She heard the two visitors speaking to one another and held her breath, listening with rapt interest as her heart hammered in her chest. “Do you suppose we’ve arrived in time?” one of the men asked. “I believe so.
It’s still a bit early in the day. Don’t look so dour, man. You are soon to have a sweet bride to call your own.” A bride? But who was the bride they were speaking of? Luckily, the men kept moving toward Miss Wickersham’s study, neither of them seeming to hear Daisy. She was very good at eavesdropping. Once the door to Miss Wickersham’s office opened and then slammed shut, she inched closer to the sounds of raised voices. “Lord Grayson, you and your equally ill-mannered friend are not welcome here this morning. I insist you both leave at once.” “I will happily leave, as soon as Miss Heathrow is brought to me. I will not leave the premises without her.
” “Absolutely not! Do as Miss Wickersham has asked and leave Talcott House immediately!” came another man’s voice. Was that Lord Kensington? Oh, he sounded most stern and serious. An excited shiver coursed through Daisy. Lord Kensington had a deep, masculine voice that set off the most delicious flutters in her tummy. “The girl called Miss Heathrow shall be his! Lord Grayson will make her a fine husband!” Hm. Was that man with the pistol speaking now? Daisy clasped a hand over her mouth. Oh, how exciting! Lord Grayson, the man who had visited Talcott House and spoken with Cynny days ago in the garden, had arrived just in time to stop Cynny’s wedding to Lord Kensington. Apparently, Lord Grayson wanted Cynny for himself. All the events clicked together in her head as she raced back upstairs and burst into the bedchamber where Rosie and Cynny were waiting.