He looked up as she approached, and scratched the end of his nose as he often did in moments of—for him—extreme emotion.
I wish he wouldn’t do that with his nose, thought Scarlett, immediately feeling disloyal as she did so. She widened her lips in a smile. ‘Hello, Henry!’ she said brightly.
‘Good evening, Scarlett.’ He cleared his throat, as if he was about to make a speech. ‘I must say, my dear, that the gown you’re wearing looks very—fetching.’
‘It fetched an exorbitant price,’ remarked Scarlett. ‘I can tell you that much!’
Henry frowned. ‘Not exactly the most gracious way to receive a compliment, Scarlett.’
Scarlett sighed. ‘Sorry. It’s just that you don’t usually make them.’
‘Meaning that I should, I suppose?’
Meaning that she was surprised that Henry was going all romantic on her, when they both knew that romance did not figure very highly in their particular relationship. ‘No, of course not. Oh, Henry—don’t let’s quarrel. Especially not tonight.’
‘No.’ Henry stared down at her. ‘Speaking of which... Come with me,’ he said suddenly, and took her by the hand.
‘You’ll see,’ he said mysteriously.
He didn’t say another word until he’d led her out onto the terrace, where the iridescent outline of an enormous moon tempted them with her promise.
Once there, he looked about, as though checking that the coast was clear, then he smiled as he put his hand in his pocket and drew out a small turquoise box, elaborately tied with a white ribbon.
‘Well? Aren’t you wondering what’s in here?’ he asked teasingly.
Scarlett played the game. She was good at playing games. ‘Tell me!’
Henry waggled a finger at her. ‘Patience! Patience!’ And he flipped the top off to reveal a mammoth diamond solitaire. It captured every ray of the moonlight and glittered there in all its cold, cold beauty.
As if she were observing it happening to someone else, Scarlett watched while Henry slipped the solitaire onto her left ring finger, but the ring was slightly too large, and the weighty stone slid underneath her finger, leaving just the plain gold band visible—like a wedding band...
Scarlett shivered again.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Henry easily. ‘I can have it altered first thing. I wanted it to be a surprise.’
‘It’s—absolutely beautiful,’ said Scarlett, slightly awestruck.
‘Why, thank you!’ And Henry pulled her into his arms and bent his head to kiss her.
It was just unfortunate that at precisely that moment Scarlett turned her head, certain that she’d heard a noise behind her, so that Henry missed her mouth completely and his kiss ended up on her left cheek.
He gave a self-conscious laugh, and planted a quick kiss on her mouth before drawing away. ‘Don’t worry, old girl,’ he said gruffly. ‘I won’t bother you too much about that sort of thing.’ He lowered his voice. ‘Messy, overrated business, in my opinion. Though, of course, we’ll have to think about producing an heir at some point.’
Scarlett stared at him, the full impact of his words hitting her like a dull blow. ‘That sort of thing.’ ‘Messy, overrated business.’ She swallowed. Sex with Henry. It was a subject she had found only too easy to ignore up until now. Because sex with anyone other than Liam was simply unimaginable. But after she and Henry were married...
‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Henry quickly. ‘I told you—I shan’t be a demanding sort of husband. Now—why don’t we go inside, find ourselves a glass of champagne and start showing your ring off?’
Feeling slightly ill, Scarlett allowed him to lead her back inside, and the first person they saw was her stepfather.
‘Evening, Sir Humphrey!’ said Henry enthusiastically. ‘Just bought the lady a bauble!’
‘Let’s see!’ Sir Humphrey peered down at Scarlett’s ring. ‘Nice size, Henry! Good investment. Where d’you get it?’
‘Tiffany’s, actually.’ Henry beamed. ‘As you suggested, Sir Humphrey.’
‘Good choice!’ said Sir Humphrey, and pumped Henry’s hand approvingly.
‘Like it, Scarlett?’
‘Adore it!’ she answered lightly as she looked up at her stepfather.
How old he was looking tonight, she thought suddenly. How lined his face seemed. His business, she knew, was in trouble. Although nothing had been said to her directly, she’d heard faint whispers that his company was not doing as well as it could be. The cold fingers of the recession had touched the Seymours too.
Even Scarlett had noticed of late that the roof of Seymour House was in need of repair. It was easy to see where economies could be made—Sir Humphrey was paying out far more on staff than he needed to, for example. But then again, since gaining his knighthood he had developed a certain sense of noblesse oblige. There wasn’t any way that he would dream of getting rid of staff. After all, what would the neighbours say?
Not for the first time, Scarlett wondered why her stepfather was going to all the expense of having a huge engagement party followed by a lavish wedding. When she’d asked him his reply had been quite emphatic.
‘Got to do things properly, Scarlett,’ he’d answered briskly.
Scarlett had wanted to wait until things started picking up a bit—weddings were so expensive—but Sir Humphrey had been adamant that it should take place as soon as possible.
‘I want to see you happy and settled,’ he’d said, a nerve twitching in the side of his cheek.
And Scarlett had allowed her mother—who doted on Sir Humphrey and would have done anything to fall in with his wishes—to gently persuade her to go ahead with the wedding.
Scarlett fastened her social smile to her lips as the guests started arriving in earnest. Wraps and jackets were pulled off to reveal shimmering dresses in jewel-bright colours, complemented by the sombre formality of the men’s black dinner jackets. The aristocracy were at play, and soon the party was in full swing.
First there was a supper of fresh salmon. Raspberries and strawberries were served for pudding, along with big bowls of golden clotted cream, then cheese platters, dotted with exotic fruits.
There was to be no engagement cake, nor speeches—it was too close to the wedding for that—but the large dining-room was cleared for dancing, and as Henry took Scarlett into his arms to start the dancing the guests began to applaud. It was a slow number, and they drifted around the floor.
‘Everything seems to be going splendidly.’ He smiled contentedly as they moved in time to the music.
Her golden eyes sparked back. ‘Don’t speak too soon—I’ll probably step on your toes in a minute!’
‘Are you never serious?’ he laughed.
‘Never!’ She smiled back. She’d learnt her lesson about being serious. If you were serious about things you got your heart broken; if you were flippant—you survived.
He dropped his hands from her waist as the music came to an end. ‘Look—your father is beckoning me. I’d better go and see what it is he wants. Go and circulate, darling.’
Scarlett watched him go, feeling suddenly deflated as she looked around the room at all the glittering dancers, a lot of whom were strangers to her. I feel as if I’m on the outside looking in, she