“I cannot believe we shall meet a king!” Ophelia said, grasping her sister-in-law Abigail’s arm with both hands. “How thrilling!”
Abigail smiled as Ophelia twisted a few of her curls a bit more artfully around her cheeks and smoothed her gown. “Thanks to your brother’s position, you have met a great many important people of rank and position.”
Ophelia shrugged. “I suppose so. Though I’m not sure I would compare any of those ancient bores to the King of Athawick.” She waggled her eyebrows playfully. “You cannot pretend you haven’t heard the stories. Seen the artist renderings of the man in the papers.”
Abigail shot her a look. “You are talking about how handsome he is supposed to be?”
“A king who isn’t ancient or gouty,” Ophelia breathed. “Imagine that. And we are to meet him before the arrival ball. Practically the moment he has disembarked from the ship from Athawick.”
“It does speak highly of your brother that our family was chosen as one of the few who will have this brief private audience before the ball, yes.”
Ophelia nodded. Of course, she wouldn’t expect any less. Her brother, Abigail’s husband, was the Duke of Gilmore. And no better a man or duke would one find in all of England, Ophelia would have strong words with anyone who debated her on that topic.
“Now what is that look?” Abigail asked, reaching out to take Ophelia’s hand gently.
Ophelia ducked her head. Though the new duchess had not been in their family very long, she and Ophelia were already as close as sisters could be. And there was no hiding from her sharp observations. “I was just thinking how very different Nathan and I are. And hoping he won’t regret including me in tonight’s festivities.”
Abigail’s expression softened. “Nathan would never regret bringing you anywhere. And you two are not so very different. Oh, he plays the very serious duke in public, of course. It is how he is expected to behave. But you know as well as I do that he can be open and warm and funny in private, just as you are.”
“Wild,” Ophelia said softly. “He once described me as wild.”
Abigail flinched slightly at that assessment, and Ophelia immediately wished she had not brought up the topic. It was of specific pain to Abigail, and Ophelia would not ever cause her pain on purpose.
“My dearest, you are sunshine and brightness and everything lovely,” Abigail said. “You bring enthusiasm and fun into every room you enter. And if you sometimes go a…a bit too far…well…your captivating nature will always offer you more forgiveness than censure on that score, I think. Especially since I have never known you not to have the best interest of everyone you meet at heart. In that way, you and your brother are very much alike. And I love you both for that charming and wonderful quality.”
Ophelia wrapped her arms around Abigail and squeezed gently. “As we both adore you.”
She stepped back, blinking at tears that had suddenly leapt into her eyes. She grabbed Abigail’s arm and tugged her to the mirror against the wall in her dressing chamber. Together they stood, looking at the image of themselves in the glass.
Abigail was beautiful in a dark pink gown with lighter highlights through the pleating on her skirt. And Ophelia had had a new gown made for this very occasion, a creamy silk adorned with peacock feather ornamentation in the flow of the skirt and a line of folded and braided silks along the apex. She wore a pale purple silk robe over it, with more peacock highlights on the shoulders and pleating so it fell just perfectly. Her maid had tucked and curled and pinned her hair with jeweled clips.
“Look at us,” Ophelia teased. “There will be no resisting either one of us—this handsome king will surely fall madly in love and it will be a passionate scandal.”
Abigail burst out in laughter, shaking her head. “You are outrageous. I promise he will not fall in love with me. And no one could resist falling in love with you. Now come, we are expected shortly and must make our way.”
Ophelia laughed as they made their way downstairs and were greeted by her brother. Nathan’s eyes lit up when he saw Abigail, and there was almost an audible hum between them as they met and he kissed her quite shamelessly right there in the foyer. Ophelia was very happy for them. She just wished she didn’t feel a slightly darker emotion, as well. One she shoved aside as they crowded into the carriage.
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