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He shifted her hand to the crook of his arm. ‘Is the summer house still standing?’
‘The summer house? Why yes.’ Startled by the change of subject she turned and let him lead her around the side of the small villa.
‘How strange that you recall it. Daniel and I used to hide in there and talk and talk and imagine that my parents had no idea where we had got to. It is just the same as it used to be, just rather more rickety.’ There had been tiny yellow roses around the wide doors again this summer, roses she had thought to pick for her bridal flowers.
The doors were unlocked and she opened them, went inside and turned as he followed her slowly into the small, rather dusty space. ‘It is not quite the romantic bower we thought it then: you must excuse the spiders and earwigs.’
‘I am still surprised how small insects are in England,’ Callum said and his mouth curved into the first smile she had seen from him since his return. ‘Might we sit here and talk?’
‘Yes, of course. Shall I ask the maid to bring out some refreshments? Perhaps I ought to call Mama.’
‘Thank you, no refreshments.’ Callum set two chairs near the doorway, dusted off the seats with his handkerchief, put down his hat gloves and whip and waited for her to sit. ‘Do you feel you need a chaperone?’
‘Not at all. Why ever should I? I have known you for years. You were almost my brother.’
Callum raised one eyebrow. ‘I can assure you, Sophia, my feelings for you were never brotherly.’
Flustered, Sophia took the left-hand seat. Now he had put the idea of danger into her head he seemed altogether too male and too close in the tiny structure. ‘Is the earl well?’
‘Yes, thank you. I gather it is a while since he has seen you.’
She had been avoiding Will and his kindness, afraid that she would humiliate herself and ask him for help, knowing that once he realised in what straits the Langleys found themselves he would feel honour-bound to bail them out.
‘He has been very kind,’ she murmured. ‘You have been in London since –‘
‘Since the funeral. Yes. I was offered a senior post with the Company, one that is based at East India House in Leadenhall Street. The hard work helped at first. Since then I have found it fascinating.’
‘I am so happy for you,’ Sophia said politely, wondering what this had to do with her, but glad that he was recovering from the tragedy. ‘How gratifying that your talents have been recognised.’ This was not the gangling youth she remembered hitting a cricket ball all round the lawns of the Hall, nor the intense young man setting out to seek his fortune in India.
‘Thank you. I have taken a house in Half Moon Street – a fashionable area by St James’s Park.’
‘And now I have concluded that there is one more thing missing from my new life.’ He was looking out over the tangled shrubbery but she sensed his mind was not on horticulture or even on the unkempt surroundings.
‘Hmm?’ she prompted as encouragingly as she knew how.
‘A wife.’ Callum Chatterton swivelled round and faced her, his air of abstraction quite gone.
‘A wife?’ Sophia found herself caught by his eyes, eyes that seemed now to see nothing but her.
‘A wife. I wondered if you would do me the honour, Sophia.’