An Unexpected Love
very much caught up in a conversation about tapestries, while Fanny and Amanda had quickly exited the room to keep Fanny from having to endure Daniel’s attention.
    Not even bothering to excuse herself, Sophie hurried for the front door. The butler, ever efficient, stood at the ready with her wrap. It appeared to Sophie that Wesley had told the man to anticipate her arrival.
    “Thank you,” she murmured.
    Outside, the air was brisk but not at all unpleasant. She spied Wesley at the bottom of the graveled drive, standing by the path that led into the front gardens.
    “I feel like a naughty schoolboy,” Wesley said with a grin. Sophie could clearly make out his features in the glow of light from the house. “I hope you don’t think ill of me for suggesting such a thing, but . . . well . . . my mother always taught me to act quickly when an opportunity presented itself.”
    “And what opportunity is this?” Wesley asked as Sophie led the way to a stone bench.
    “The opportunity to better know you, of course. You seem so different from most of the men I’ve met.”
    He chuckled and waited for her to sit before answering. “I suppose I should take that as a compliment, but perhaps it is otherwise intended.”
    “Not at all.” Sophie smiled up at him. “I find myself wanting to know everything about you.”
    He frowned. “Some of my life is not worth addressing.”
    “I know that you were once married. You needn’t speak of it if it causes you pain. I overheard Lady Illiff speak to my aunt about it.”
    Wesley’s expression seemed troubled. Sophie worried that she’d pushed too far and started to comment on the matter when he spoke.
    “My wife, Eugenia, was a delicate, fragile woman. Her health was never good, and three years ago she succumbed to a bout of pneumonia.”
    “I am sorry for your loss but glad to see you have come out of mourning.”
    “Lady Illiff insisted. She said that three years was more than ample time. She’s encouraged me to live life to its fullest, but I can’t quite decide how one should go about doing that.”
    Sophie smiled and patted the seat. With an arched brow that she knew would give her a rather alluring come-hither look, she said, “Well, perhaps I can help you to figure that out.”
    Though Victoria would have preferred to retire for the evening, she accepted Lord and Lady Illiff’s invitation to join them in their luxurious sitting room. She was surprised to see Mr. Hedrick enter the room nearly twenty minutes later. The man had certainly captured Sophie’s interest during dinner. Although he was considerably older than her niece, Mr. Hedrick had provided a positive diversion for Sophie throughout dinner. She’d been relieved, however, when the girls had retired to their rooms immediately following the meal. She had feared Sophie would make some sort of scene with Mr. Hedrick.
    “Wesley, how good of you to join us,” Lady Illiff greeted him. “I was just telling Mrs. Broadmoor how long it has been since you last visited. We are truly blessed to have your company.”
    “Too true, Wes, old man. I’ve not had a good hunt since you left,” Lord Illiff said. “You must join me on the morrow.”
    “I believe that would be quite enjoyable.”
    “We will have to find a diversion for the girls, as well,” Lady Illiff suggested, “lest they feel left out.”
    “Knowing my niece, she will no doubt strive to include herself in the hunt if we do not otherwise occupy her,” Victoria said. “In fact I’m surprised that she is not here, affixed to your side, Mr. Hedrick. She seemed to monopolize your conversation throughout dinner.”
    Mr. Hedrick smiled. “I simply explained I’d made prior arrangements to have a glass of port with Lord Illiff. She is a charming young lady.”
    “As you say, she is young. Unfortunately, her behavior sometimes reflects her youthfulness,” Victoria added.
    Mr. Hedrick laughed. “Which, I believe, adds to her charm.”

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