You never coddled me, Sophie said in a low voice.
Maybe if the countess loved her, then the earl would love her as well, and maybe, even if he didn’t actually call her daughter, he’d treat her as one, and they’d be a family truly.As Sophie watched through the window, the new countess stepped down from the carriage, her every movement so graceful and pure that Sophie was reminded of the delicate lark that occasionally came to splash in the birdbath in the garden. Even the countess’s hat was adorned by a long feather, its turquoise plume glittering in the hard winter sun.
She’s beautiful, Sophie whispered. She darted a quick look back at Mrs. Gibbons to gauge her reaction, but the housekeeper was standing at strict attention, eyes straight ahead, waiting for the earl to bring his new family inside for introductions.Sophie gulped, not exactly certain where she was meant to stand. Everyone else seemed to have a designated place. The servants were lined up according to rank, from the butler right down to the lowliest scullery maid. Even the dogs were sitting dutifully in the corner, their leads held tight by the Keeper of the Hounds.But Sophie was rootless. If she were truly the daughter of the house, she’d be standing with her governess, awaiting the new countess. If she were truly the earl’s ward, she’d be in much the same place. But Miss Timmons had caught a head cold and refused to leave the nursery and come downstairs. None of the servants believed for a second that the governess was truly ill. She’d been fine the night before, but no one blamed her for the deception. Sophie was, after all, the earl’s bastard, and no one wanted to be the one to offer potential insult to the new countess by introducing her to her husband’s by-blow.
And the countess would have to be blind, stupid, or both not to realize in an instant that Sophie was something more than the earl’s ward.Suddenly overcome with shyness, Sophie shrank into a corner as two footmen threw open the front doors with a flourish. The two girls entered first, then stepped to the side as the earl led the countess in. The earl introduced the countess and her daughters to the butler, and the butler introduced them to the servants.
The butler presented the footmen, the chef, the housekeeper, the grooms.
He presented the kitchen maids, the upstairs maids, the scullery maids.He was, of course, partially submerged, with the edge of the water rippling against his rib cage.
The lower — she thought giddily — edge of his rib cage.Or perhaps if she were to be honest with herself, she’d have to rephrase her previous thought to: He was, unfortunately, partially submerged.
Sophie was as innocent as the next ... as, well, the next innocent, but dash it all, she was curious, and she was more than halfway in love with this man. Was it so very wicked to wish for a huge gust of wind, powerful enough to create a small tidal wave that would whip the water away from his body and deposit it somewhere else? Anywhere else?Very well, it was wicked. She was wicked, and she didn’t care.