It’s time for A Very Dorrington Valentine’s Day!
It’s been a while since we’ve seen our favorite duo, Henrietta and Miles. I should have anticipated that after being offstage for a few books, they would be a bit restless– and might not go gently into a nice, little bonus chapter.
Instead, we’ve got a very long bonus chapter.
To set the scene, it’s February of 1804, Henrietta and Miles’ first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. They’ve just helped rescue the King from an evil French spy, but Henrietta has other worries on her mind: she’s worried about Penelope’s impending marriage to Freddy Staines, concerned about Charlotte’s turning down Robert, and thoroughly miffed that that pesky spy not only escaped their clutches, but got the last word, too.
As for Miles, he’s heard about this Valentine’s Day thingummy from some chaps at the club….
So, without further ado, I give you Part I of Bunny & Biscuits: A Very Dorrington Valentine’s Day.
“I do wish Penelope hadn’t chosen the thirteenth,” said Henrietta indistinctly.
In practice, it came out something like “Mrr mrr mrr mrr eenth.” She was doing something to her eyes that appeared to require her mouth being half-open, which, Henrietta being Henrietta, didn’t stop her from expressing her opinions.
“What was that again?” said Miles, more to watch her blink at him in the mirror than anything else.
Over the past eight months, he’d become something of an expert an interpreting garbled Hen-speak. He knew what she sounded like when she was putting on her lip rouge, what she sounded like while trying to pull a dress down over her head (or, preferably, up over her head) and, his very favorite, how she sounded while speaking around a mouthful of ginger biscuit.
Mmm, ginger biscuits.
Right now, though, the Henrietta reflected in the dressing table mirror was a far from happy Henrietta. She waved the stick of kohl she had been applying to the sides of her eyes. “I do wish Penelope weren’t getting married on the thirteenth. It just seems like….”
“A bad idea?” provided Miles. He couldn’t agree more. If Penelope weren’t getting married this morning, they would still be in bed, under that pile of fluffy covers. They would also both be wearing considerably less in the way of clothing. Miles tugged at his cravat. “Is this crooked?”
“It’s just fine,” said Henrietta, without looking at him. “Stop tugging at it or Downey will be cross.”
Miles stopped tugging. He didn’t like to anger his valet. No one kept linen quite as fresh as Downey.
Downey had taken to Miles’ marriage remarkably well. (Miles had heard that some valets didn’t.) Miles suspected Downey was rather sweet on Henrietta’s lady’s maid—Nan? Annie? Mostly he knew her as the-person-who-barged-in-at-inconvenient-moments. Downey knew better; he had been trained in a bachelor household, after all, but Henrietta’s maid had come straight from Uppington House and was used to the freedom of her mistress’ chambers. They were still working on that.
On the whole, though, he was amazed at how little change their marriage had made in their lives—other than the fact that he saw a great deal more of Henrietta in the rather literal sense. Even the move to his parents’ empty townhouse, Loring House, had been less disruptive than he would have imagined. He had never spent terribly much time at his bachelor lodgings; he had passed most of his time at the home of Henrietta’s family, Uppington House. Within a few weeks of their marriage, Loring House had begun to take on an unmistakable resemblance to Uppington House, down to the yellow and white furnishings of the morning room. Miles suspected Henrietta of filching the furniture when her mother wasn’t looking. Those slipper marks on the settee in the morning room looked suspiciously liked the ones on the settee that used to be at Uppington House. Henrietta’s romantic novels filled the shelves by the window and Bunny-the-Bunny, the stuffed animal he had given Henrietta when she was still a wee thing, presided over the bedroom from the chair by the fire.
It was all incredibly comfortable—Miles had all but grown up at Uppington House, after all—but something niggled at him. It wasn’t a big niggle. It was just a little niggle, but there it was, all the same, niggle niggle niggling away, nagging at him late in the night when Henrietta was a warm lump in the covers beside him. Somehow, they had gone from being best friends to being best friends who just happened to be married. No one had been the least bit surprised (other than, perhaps, them). There had been no crying of the banns, no pounding of backs, no delighted exclamations, just a “Did you? Can’t say I’m surprised. I say, did you hear about Exeter’s new greys? Bang up to the mark!” Henrietta fussed over her friends, Miles went off to his club, and Lady Uppington indiscriminately cosseted and scolded them, just like always. They had been married for eight months now and it wasn’t that there was anything wrong, precisely—other than Cook’s staunch refusal to cede her recipe for ginger biscuits—but Miles knew something was missing.
Shouldn’t being married feel just a little bit different?
It might, he thought, have been different if he had managed to do it properly, if he had courted Henrietta through a Season of balls and teas, if he had sued for her hand and married her in Saint George’s, Hanover Square, instead of—well, instead of making rather a muck of it from start to finish. They had ended up in the right place, but they had done it all topsy turvy. Even his grand declaration of love had come out in the middle of trying to tie up a French spy, which, Miles had to admit, wasn’t the most romantic of moments, especially since the French spy kept interrupting, complaining, and, worst of all, critiquing.
Henrietta had been deuced sporting about it all, but Miles couldn’t help but wonder if she minded. She said she didn’t… but, sometimes, what Henrietta said and what Henrietta meant were somewhat different things.
He needed a Grand Romantic Plan.
Of course, the last time he’d come up with a Grand Romantic Plan, they’d ended up with Henrietta being chased by a French spy while Turnip Fitzhugh tried to cram himself under a convenient sofa. But this time would be different, Miles promised himself. A few of the chaps at the club had been nattering on about St. Valentine. Miles wasn’t exactly sure who this St. Valentine chap was—he appeared to have come to a bad end, which was usually the way of things with saints—but according to the chaps at the club, there was a quaint tradition of declaring one’s affections to one’s beloved on the Feast of St. Valentine. It couldn’t be more perfect.
Tonight, when they got back from Penelope’s wedding, he’d tell Henrietta just how much he loved her. It would be perfect. There would be oysters and champagne…. Henrietta would be sitting there—Miles mentally moved his wife’s chair a few feet to the left, in the optimal spot next to the fire and within easy carrying distance to the bed—and he could go down on one knee there, cunningly avoiding that creaky floorboard next to the bed, and then….
He’d been balked of his Grand Romantic Plan once; he wasn’t going to let it happen again.
Henrietta was back to frowning at the mirror. Miles could have pointed out that the kohl next to her left eye was a bit smudgy, but he didn’t think that was what was bothering her. Besides, maybe it was meant to be smudgy. Female fashion eluded him.
“It’s just… why the thirteenth, of all days? It’s almost as though she’s tempting Fate.” Henrietta moodily smudged the kohl on the other side of her eye.
Ah, so it was meant to be smudgy. Personally, Miles liked her eyes just the way they were, between her nose and her forehead, two of his favorite kissable spots, but he suspected that opinion wouldn’t be entirely well received.
“Isn’t tempting Fate what Penelope does?” The woman made a career of sneaking out onto balconies with everyone from Turnip Fitzhugh to the Prince of Wales. If that wasn’t tempting Fate, Miles didn’t know what was.
Henrietta frowned at her own reflection in the mirrow. “But Freddy Staines! The man’s a—”
“Reprobate and lecher?” provided Miles helpfully.
“That’s a bit harsh.”
“The man is a member of good-standing in the Naughty Hellfire Club.” Miles stopped, thought, and grinned. “Make that a member in bad standing.”
Sometimes, he amused himself so.
Henrietta set down the stick of kohl. “You’re not helping.”
Miles ambled over and squeezed her shoulders, dropping a kiss on the top of her head. “I’m sorry, old thing. But there’s nothing you can do.”
“I wish she were marrying Tommy Fluellen instead. Or Turnip Fitzhugh.” Miles forbore to point out that Turnip was already very happily married. Henrietta was off and going. “Or anyone other than Freddy Staines.”
“She did get caught on a balcony with him,” Miles pointed out.
“It wasn’t a balcony, it was a bedroom,” argued Henrietta.
Miles raised his brows. Henrietta wasn’t exactly helping her case there.
“Oh, all right.” Henrietta let out a long breath of air between her pursed lips. “But it just doesn’t seem fair that just for a few moments of indiscretion Penelope should be saddled for life with that—that—”
“You were saddled with me,” Miles pointed out. They’d been caught in a garden rather than a bedroom or a balcony, but the result had been the same. Matrimony had followed rather rapidly upon the heels of discovery.
Henrietta stood on tiptoes to press a kiss to the side of his chin. “Yes, but that’s different.”
Miles’ hands clasped her loosely around the waist. “How?”
“You’re you,” said Henrietta, as though that explained it all. A dimple appeared in her right cheek. “And you do an excellent job of keeping the bed warm.”
“Anything else?” Miles asked, shaking back a floppy lock of hair from his eyes. He tried not to sound as though he were fishing.
Henrietta considered. “You’re very useful for fetching things from high shelves.”
In other words, he was a combination warming pan and footstool. Miles made a mental note never to buy Henrietta a hot water bottle or a step-ladder.
Henrietta twisted out of his grasp, tucking a lacy fichu into the neckline of her dress. “It’s not just Penelope I’m worried about. Don’t you think Charlotte seemed a bit subdued last night?”
Charlotte always seemed subdued to Miles, but, somehow, he didn’t think that was the right answer. “Er—yes?”
He decided that he thoroughly disliked whoever it was who had invented the fichu. It made no sense at all as an article of clothing, it served no practical purpose, and it covered all of his favorite things.
Henrietta’s teeth worried at her lower lip. “She says she’s all right.”
That was all right then. Now if only he could just find a way to get rid of that fichu. “Well, if she says she’s all right….”
“It’s that duke of hers,” said Henrietta, tucking the fichu in more securely.
Blast. So much for accidentally knocking it off on their way into the carriage.
“She was the one who turned him down,” pointed out Miles. And, really, shouldn’t one have a little sympathy for the man scorned in that situation? He’d always thought the Duke of Dovedale was a rather decent chap, sensible, a good shot, not at all high in the instep. The man had asked for Charlotte’s hand in front of the King and Queen– how much more of a grand gesture could a woman ask?
Now that would have been an excellent Grand Romantic Plan. Why hadn’t he thought of that at the time? They had been in the royal audience chamber, being thanked for helping the King out of a bit of a spot of bother. Blast. If only he’d had the sense to fling himself down on one knee, and say, “Majesty, I crave a boon—the hand of Lady Henrietta Selwick!”
Leaving aside the fact that they were already married.
“She only turned him down because she didn’t think he really loved her,” said Henrietta. “I worry about her.”
“I know,” said Miles, kissing the kissable spot behind Henrietta’s right ear.
A blue enamel and seed pearl earring hit him in the nose. Henrietta’s loyalty to her friends was one of her many admirable attributes—he just wished, sometimes, that she didn’t find quite so much to worry about. Maybe he should have a word with the Duke of Dovedale about that whole Charlotte situation. With Penelope off in England and Charlotte reconciled to her duke….
“And then there’s that blasted French spy.” Henrietta adjusted her earring and jammed a jeweled comb down in her hair.
Miles was seized with a sudden sense of trepidation. He backed a step away, trying to get a good look at her face. “You’re not going to try to track him down, are you? I thought we’d agreed….”
“No,” said Henrietta with regret. “It would be no use. He’s probably halfway to France by now. But if we could find out who he is….”
Miles’ blood ran cold. It might just have been the February wind whistling through the windowpanes, but he had a sudden, uneasy premonition. “Not again, Hen. Remember the stilettos?”
“How could I forget? But the Marquise de Montval is dead—we think,” she added, before Miles could say anything. They’d thought the Marquise de Montval was dead before. The woman had an uncanny way of popping back up. “Besides, I wasn’t going to do anything rash,” Henrietta added virtuously. “I was just going to discover his name and then report him to the proper authorities.”
“Mmmph,” said Miles. Whenever Henrietta looked like that—like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth—it made him nervous. Very, very nervous. “Shouldn’t we just let sleeping spies lie?”
Every time he had a Grand Romantic Plan, French spies seemed to get in the way. As his mother in law was fond of saying, they were worse than moths. They got into everything.
Not this time, he promised himself. Not Valentine’s Day. This time, he was going to tell Henrietta he loved her, and he was going to do it right.
Then why did he suddenly feel a horrible sinking feeling?
Henrietta pressed a kiss to the corner of his lips. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything foolish. Have you seen my wrap?”
Stay tuned for Part II, coming up soon!