Last time we stopped right where Sylvia–most embarrassingly–met the Duke! What shall happen next?
Owen pushed forward and offered Sylvia help up to her feet. The gentleman—Sylvia knew he must be a duke given her brother’s words—glared at the spectators and they turned to resume their business.
“Is she injured?” the duke asked Owen.
“I can speak for myself,” Sylvia raised her chin and refused to look away when the man’s eyes met hers.
“I am certain Sylvia is unharmed,” Owen answered and placed a hand atop Sylvia’s. “Are you?”
The duke raised a brow and Owen flushed.
“Not—not that I mean to say you could not withstand my sister’s—well…I do not know what to call the display—not that you were making a display—I see your coat is torn.”
Sylvia could stand in silence no longer. She cleared her throat. “Brother, I believe we are keeping His Grace. Pray, forgive me.” She curtseyed. “I should have watched where I was going. I reacted instinctively and meant no harm. Please, send my brother the bill for the replacement. You have his name?”
“Indeed, Miss Linwood.”
Why did he sound so amused? Sylvia bobbed her head when she wanted to roll her eyes. “Again, please accept my apologies.”
“Yes!” Owen exclaimed. “Sylvia would never accost a duke under normal circumstances, I assure you.”
The duke smirked. “Keep an eye on your sister, then, Linwood. Good day to you both.” He gave the merest bow and strode away.
Beside her, Owen let out a great exhale. “That was bloody awful.”
“You do not need to tell me that,” Sylvia huffed, wishing she could rub the ache out of her backside. “I have never seen you so befuddled!”
Owen winced. “We are late. I may have missed my opportunity to speak with her.” He wrapped Sylvia’s hand around his arm and drug her forward with his long-legged and quick pace.
“Speak with who and who was that? You seemed to know him and vice versa.” Sylvia used her free hand to slam down her bonnet that threatened to fly away as they nearly ran down the street.
“That was Nathaniel Gordon, the Duke of Russell, and I had hoped to spend a moment in his sister’s company today.”
“Owen!” Sylvia planted her feet firmly on the ground and nearly fell on her face when her brother did not stop with her and kept tugging her arm.
“What is the matter?”
“Did you accept Clara’s invitation to meet at the museum to court a girl? We were supposed to return to the estate today. You know how much—”
“Court her?” Owen laughed. “I could never dare to hope for a courtship with Lady Laura Gordon.” He pulled her forward. “I only wished to hear her speak, to look upon her face…”
Sylvia’s eyes widened. Her brother was mooning over a girl, the sister of a duke and an arrogant one at that. Oh, this could mean terrible things. He had never seemed in love before and would have little to offer such a lady. At least it seemed he understood he had no future with the lady.
They gave their tickets to the clerk at the entrance and then rushed through the first few rooms until they met with their group. Clara, now the Duchess of Clifford, had been Sylvia’s most hated teacher until she met and fell in love and married. At the time, the transformation had impressed upon Sylvia and her school friends to vow to marry only for love. All these years later, Sylvia scoffed at the idea of love matches. Not one in a million couples had the love the Cliffords shared, and she knew she could never be so lucky. Who would have her anyway? She had little fortune and only passable looks. Gentlemen desired a wife skilled in embroidery rather than collecting rents.
“Ah, there you are,” Clara, the duchess said before reaching for Sylvia’s hands and pecking her cheek. “I was ready to give you up,” she laughed. “I know Sylvia wanted to return home, and Owen forgets appointments as often as he remembers them, but Laura insisted we linger.”
Sylvia watched as Owen smiled adoringly upon the young lady next to Clara. The girl blushed flame red.
“I do not believe you have met Sylvia, dear,” Clara squeezed Lady Laura’s hand. “Allow me to introduce you.”
The necessary introductions performed, Clara continued to guide them through rooms. “I sent the others ahead, but we should reach them in a moment. Clifford chose not to join us. Gordon needed to visit a shop, and Clifford says he comes too often to the Museum. He is extraordinarily fond of it.”
Sylvia smiled at the way her friend and mentor spoke of her husband. Turning her attention to Lady Laura, she asked, “Do you come to the Museum often?”
“Not as much as I would like,” she answered. “His Grace is often too busy to accompany me. I am very grateful for the Duchess of Clifford’s attention.”
“Nonsense,” Clara called over her shoulder. “And I believe I asked you to call me Clara. Now, here are the others.”
They rounded a corner and met a handful of other friends of the Cliffords. Seeing a friend, Sylvia excused herself. From the corner of her eye, she saw Owen replace her next to Lady Laura.