The Lady's Disgrace
modiste in London.”
    Abigail smiled warmly at the widow. “Indeed I do, but I doubt if I will have time to travel to London if I need any new frocks. I’m sure you will do nicely to accommodate me.”
    Widow Barnes swallowed several times, appearing to almost cry with pleasure. “That is most kind of you, my lady.”
    “Lady Abigail, so nice to see you again.” Lady Durham stepped to Abigail’s side and embraced her as if they were long-lost friends.
    A bit surprised at the warm welcome, she murmured, “And you too, Lady Durham.”
    Lady Durham faced the women in their circle. “I was honored to be introduced to Lady Abigail this morning.” She beamed at Abigail, seeming to have recovered from the shock she’d received at their breakfast table. “I am sure she will be a wonderful addition to our little group.”
    “Lady Abigail, you must join us for tea one day next week,” Mrs. Steeves said. “We take turns hosting our gathering of ladies. We sew baby clothes for the poor.”
    “Indeed,” Lady Durham said. “I will be happy to stop by to escort you in my carriage.”
    Several women came and went to their little group, all very pleasant and welcoming. It was nice to be so quickly accepted by Joseph’s people. She’d been invited to several teas, and offers to have her and Joseph to dinner.
    “My dear, I think it is time we departed.” Joseph walked up behind her and squeezed her elbow. “Ladies, if you will excuse us.”
    “Certainly, Mr. Fox,” Widow Barnes said. “I imagine you are both still fatigued from your trip from London.”
    “Yes, and Lady Abigail sustained an injury the day we arrived, and she should not be overtiring herself.”
    “Oh, my lady, I hope you are all right.” Lady Durham was the epitome of solicitude.
    “I am fine. It was a minor mishap.” She turned to Joseph. “I am tired, perhaps it is best if we take our leave.”
    After a quick good-bye they withdrew, leaving Abigail with a warm feeling from the women she’d met. Life here could be very pleasant.
    …
    “Would you care for a sherry before bed?” Joseph asked from the sideboard where he splashed some brandy into his glass.
    “Yes. Perhaps I will.”
    He poured the drink and after handing it to Abigail, settled in the chair across from her.
    “I received the final sketches from the contractor. They had apparently been delivered while we were at the meeting this evening.”
    “Wonderful. I am anxious to see them. Did he include the suggested changes I made so there is a quiet space for the children to read? I envision some type of a small library.”
    “Yes. I am very pleased with the results. And I must thank you once again for your very insightful ideas.”
    A comfortable silence followed as they both sipped their drinks.
    “Mrs. O’Neill was kind enough to give me a tour of the house today.”
    “Ah. I hope you found everything to your liking?”
    “Yes.” Her slight hesitation and then charming flush left him thinking she wanted to discuss something different. A more important topic. Hopefully she was ready to be his wife in truth, since he’d been thinking of nothing else all day.
    Whatever was supposed to be occupying his thoughts had not been enough to keep his mind from drifting toward Abigail and her luscious body. He’d been embarrassed when several times the contractor had to repeat himself to get a proper answer.
    The next appointment for the day had been a young couple casting each other shy and loving glances. The interview to arrange for their banns to be announced only reinforced his decision to stop this game Abigail was playing. He didn’t know how much longer he was willing to put up with it nor did he understand where her reluctance came from.
    The meeting tonight had not engaged his attention fully, either. He’d watched her as she spoke with the ladies of the parish, all the time planning how he could get her away from the group and headed home. To bed.
    The word bed caught his

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