The carriage began to slow, and Grace leaned forward, looking out the small window. They’d come to a plain building, but up the road, she could see a small chapel next to a field where sheep grazed. When the carriage came to a halt, the Brumley footman opened the door and held up his hand to assist Grace.
She stepped out and looked around. “What place is this?” she asked, peering up at the building.
“Office of the magistrate, miss” he said, and shut the carriage door.
The door of the building swung open, and a portly gentleman stepped outside. “This way, if you please,” he said, gesturing to Grace.
Grace slipped Honor’s letter into her reticule, picked up her skirts and walked up the uneven path to the door. The gentleman showed her into a small, dark office and gestured to a wooden bench against the wall. “If you would, miss. Someone will be along to collect you when the time has come.”
He’d already shut the door.
Grace looked around the room and sat reluctantly. A few minutes later, she was startled to her feet when the door swung open.
Merryton stepped through the door. He seemed surprised to see her; he was still wearing his cloak—as was she—and boots muddied from his ride. She wondered where he had come from.
His green eyes scraped down her body and up again. A shiver ran through Grace; she thought of that darkened tea shop, the feel of his body hard against hers, his lips soft but demanding. She looked down, uncertain what to do in this situation, and afraid he would somehow read the memory in her face.
Why did he not speak?
She couldn’t bear the silence and lifted her gaze.
The man whom she had dishonored was staring at her, his gaze dark and devouring. She didn’t understand it completely, but she felt the intensity of it, and her hand fluttered self-consciously to her neck.
He clasped his hands behind his back. But he did not speak.
“My name is Grace,” she said, her voice sounding too loud in this room. “Grace Cabot.” The moment the words came out of her mouth, she realized how absurd she must sound. As if he’d not gone to the trouble to find out who, precisely, he was marrying. But whatever Merryton thought, she would not be allowed to know. His expression did not change.
Grace’s heart began to pound in her chest. She suddenly imagined him taking her in hand, taking her on the small, cluttered desk. Isn’t that what his gaze meant? “I, ah, I realize we’ve not been properly introduced.” She nervously cleared her throat. “I wish I knew how to…to adequately express my deepest apology,” she said with an uncertain gesture.
One of his dark brows arched slightly above the other, which she assumed meant he found her effort to apologize lacking.
“I can’t begin to apologize enough, my lord,” she quickly amended, trying to convey the depth of her regret. “But I am truly and deeply sorry for what I have done.”
Still, he did not speak. He had piercing, all-seeing eyes, and she wondered if he could sense how uncomfortable, how uncertain, she was. She didn’t want him to see it—she knew instinctively that to show this man any weakness would be like dangling meat before a lion. So she tried to smile a little. “So…here we are.” She nervously shifted up onto her toes and down again. “What shall I call you?”
He almost looked surprised by the question. “My lord,” he said, as if that were perfectly obvious. “Excuse me.” He turned around, his cloak swirling behind him, and walked out of the small room, closing the door firmly behind him.