Excerpt: Entertaining the Sombrevilles

Elizabeth, the Dowager Countess of Blackford, put her cup down with a clink. Tea spilled out onto the saucer, and the rosewood table shuddered.

“The nerve of that girl,” she said. “The nerve! Contacting us again, after everything she has done to this family.” She huffed, and her face turned sour. “Well, don’t just sit there. Read the letter to me.”

Lady Blackford’s daughter and granddaughter accompanied her in the drawing room, together with a number of maids. It was her daughter, Lady Kingsley, who had brought the letter in and who now cleared her throat to read it.

“Oh Mother, I agree it is most… Dear Granny, she writes, I do hope that you are well. I was very sorry to hear of Granddad’s accident. Will be coming home in time for the funeral, and we’ll be staying over the summer. I shall like very much to finally show Ilthorn to my children, who should have seen it ages ago. Take care. Lots of love, Geraldine.”

Lots of love.” Lady Blackford spat the words out like they had a foul taste. “What kind of an expression is that? Did she learn that nonsense in America?”

“We shall have to ask her when she gets here,” her granddaughter Odette said and smiled.

“Hm.” Lady Blackford frowned. “‘Over the summer’, is that really what it says? No wonder she shows up now, when dear Robert…” She dabbed at her eye. It was only weeks since the passing of her husband, the former Earl of Blackford, who’d had a fatal heart attack during a party. “She’s a vulture. Thinks she can get her hands on our money.”

Odette laughed. “Really, Granny. Geraldine is a peacock and nothing else. I’d rather enjoy seeing her again. And surely we have room for her and the children.”

Lady Blackford ignored her. “My dear husband never could stand that girl. Joining a—a, what do you call it? That horrid invention.”

“A circus, Granny.”

“Oh, I know what it’s called. Such a ghastly affair. To think of it, my own granddaughter… and then, a few months later, we had news saying there had been a wedding. To a Russian, no less.”

“Russian?” Lady Kingsley frowned. “But I thought his name was Sombreville.”

“The Russian died,” Odette said. “Don’t you remember? Soon after, but don’t ask me how it happened. It didn’t take her long to find a new suitor, of course. James Sombreville.”

“How like that girl to marry a Frenchman,” Lady Blackford muttered.

Odette shook her head. “Oh, but he wasn’t French, Granny. I hear his parents own quite a large estate outside York. You must have heard of them. Geraldine’s father-in-law is the Marquess of Harworth. If I’m not mistaken, chances are that her boy will inherit that title one day. There’s only a childless uncle to compete with. Geraldine did rather well for herself, you can’t say otherwise. Milton has met Lord Harworth and his wife on several occasions, and he doesn’t have anything nasty to say about them. Mind you, my husband rarely gossips at all.”

“Dear man,” said her mother.

“Oh, he truly is. But it would seem that Geraldine’s late husband was the black sheep of the family, so to speak. Lord Harworth must have been thrilled to have had a remote Scottish estate he could leave in the hands of his impossible offspring.”

“Quite the perfect match for my granddaughter.” Lady Blackford’s lips were pursed tight.

“Indeed. They met in Boston, I believe, and there was a wedding soon after. A little too soon, if you know what I mean.”

“Hm!” Lady Blackford didn’t seem surprised, but Lady Kingsley blushed.

“I suppose her eldest is fully grown, then,” she said with a little cough. “How old is he now?”

“Twenty-two, or something like that.” Odette took a sip of her tea. “The poor boy was eleven years old when his father died, and the girl was ten. There’s a third one as well, but I can’t seem to recall whether it’s a boy or a girl.”

Lady Blackford appeared bored, but Lady Kingsley pursued the topic. “Can you imagine, fatherless at such a young age. How awful! And growing up in the Highlands, too, with only themselves for company. I’m sure life can’t have been easy for them.” She turned to Lady Blackford. “Please, Mother, let us give them a warm welcome. The children are innocent, after all. They shouldn’t have to suffer for things that happened before they were born.”

“Very well.” Lady Blackford rose. Went over to the window. “At least they can’t be any worse than their mother.”

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