This is probably my favorite scene in The Upright Son. (Except for that big kiss. Maybe I’ll do that one next week.) David has reacted to an accident by forbidding his children to go anywhere near Lady Fitzwallace and her children. So, of course, Marj has headed directly there.
He dismounted and waited for them to approach, trying to assemble his disordered thoughts. Temptation to lash out warred with a suspicion he owed the lady an apology. Desire to chastise his daughter for running off warred with the impulse to hug her. Confusion drove his good sense to the winds.
“What the devil is this about?” he snapped, immediately embarrassed by his rudeness yet determined not to give the woman the satisfaction of seeing it.
“This young lady arrived on my doorstep and threw herself on my mercy.” Lady Fitzwallace, chin high and jaw tight, spoke as if every word was forced out.
“She made me come back,” Marjory muttered, staring at her feet. Her head bobbed up. “But I needed to talk to her. I did.” She cast a sour glance at the woman.
“I’m grateful to you for returning her,” he said. It was true enough.
“I hope I don’t regret it.” The woman eyed him as if he were some species of monster who might eat his young.
His head jerked up. “I beg your pardon, madam?” Her outspoken disrespect gave his words a sharp edge.
The Fitzwallace woman shuddered and sighed, as if struggling for self-control. As well she might.
“You forbade her my house,” she said. “I certainly didn’t plan to shelter her like some sort of criminal. I brought her to face you. I merely hope you’ll hear her out. She has some important things to say.”
He studied his daughter, eight years old, and worldly beyond her years. She met his gaze steadily, her expression comically similar to that of the woman who held her hand. More forceful than her mother ever was.
She has backbone, my daughter. A niggle of pride overtook him. “Come inside then, Marjory, and I will hear you out.”
The girl clung to Delia Fitzwallace’s hand and glanced up at the woman with pleading eyes. “Only if Lady Fitz comes too.”
‘Lady Fitz’ is it?
The lady knelt right there in his lane like the farm wife he first thought her, ignoring her gown, grasped both of Marj’s hands, and spoke softly. That he found it endearing was a complication for another day. “What did we talk about, Marj?” she said. “Remember the words.”
“I’m to apologize and, and make my case,” the girl replied. “But about Alf—”
Lady Fitzwallace tugged on the tiny hands. Marjory sighed, her gaze on the woman, and went on. “Defend but don’t defy—and warn.”
“I have confidence in you, Marj,” the woman said.
David reached out to help the lady rise as a gentleman ought. She blinked, as if stunned by the gesture. He soaked in the troubled whirlpool of emotion in her expressive eyes, but his hand never wavered. She wore no gloves; David resisted the urge to tear his off, to feel the texture of her skin. When she placed her hand in his, their eyes holding, warmth flowed through him, setting off a flurry of improper thoughts followed by immediate irritation at his weakness.
The lady broke eye contact whispering to his daughter. “Confidence.”
Confidence. It must have been the magic word. Marjory walked directly to him and said, “I apologize for disobeying you by going to see Lady Fitzwallace, sir, but I would like to have a word, if you please.”
Spoken like a diplomat. How could he resist. “Then we shall have a word.” He glanced behind her. “Perhaps, Lady Fitzwallace might be so kind as to join us.” The words were out before he thought. He hoped he wouldn’t be sorry. He didn’t wait for an answer.