to show off my future bride."
"Splendid!" the vicar exclaimed.
Chelsea blanched, but nonetheless, managed a pleasant enough smile.
Lord Rathbone saw the vicar out and moments later, returned again to the drawing room. "I should like a word with you, Alayna," he said warmly.
Chelsea glanced up at the tall gentleman. He looked quite dashing today in a claret-coloured waistcoat and white shirt, his buff breeches tucked into shining black top boots. A finely turned-out gentleman at the castle was an unusual sight. Up against the slap-dash manner in which most of the footmen and manservants appeared, Lord Rathbone's clean-shaven face and neatly brushed hair were a decided contrast.
"If you will excuse us, Mother?" he said, politely.
"Indeed. I am quite ready to repair to my chamber now for a nap. Jared!"
The sheer unexpectedness of his mother's bellow brought a look of surprise to Lord Rathbone's face.
A smile played at Chelsea's lips. "All of the bell-pulls are inoperable," she explained to Ford who was gazing at his mother as if she'd just taken leave of her senses. "I shall fetch Jared for you, Aunt Millie."
Chelsea scampered from the room and returned a moment later with Jared close on her heels. When the butler had pushed Lady Rathbone's chair from the room, Chelsea took her seat and turned an expectant gaze on Rutherford.
He stood with one arm resting on the back of an ancient old corner chair. "I should simply like to say, Alayna, that I am extremely pleased by all I learned about you today. I admit I am a good deal surprised by your . . . selfless attitude, that is, given your . . . privileged upbringing, but apparently you possess a certain talent for household management that I was unaware of. It gives me hope."
"Hope?" Chelsea murmured.
Lord Rathbone nodded. "Indeed. As a planter's wife you will have similar duties in Honduras. And aside from looking after our immediate household, I had hoped you would spearhead certain charitable concerns in the village. We've a long way to go before we are as civilized as England, of course, but I am determined that we shall succeed."
"Oh." Chelsea let her gaze fall to her lap. To say truth, what the gentleman proposed sounded quite intriguing to her, and she'd like nothing better than to throw herself wholeheartedly into such a project, but . . . he was not speaking to her, he was speaking to his betrothed, Alayna.
"Have you nothing to say, Alayna?"
Chelsea lifted a tentative gaze.
"What is it, my dear? You seem to exhibit some reluctance in speaking your mind to me. If you have something to say, I implore you to say it at once."
Chelsea chewed on her lower lip. Though she was loath to do so, she simply must tell Lord Rathbone that Alayna had no intention of returning to Honduras to live with him after they were married. Alayna would not have waited this long to voice her feelings in the matter. She had to tell him.
"Alayna!" Lord Rathbone's dark eyes flashed. "I demand that you tell me at once what is the trouble!"
Chelsea swallowed hard. And rose to her feet. To confront a gentleman as formidable as Lord Rathbone from a sitting position was something she did not think even Alayna could do. "I . . . I have no intention of returning to Honduras with you, sir."
The veins in Lord Rathbone's neck popped out. "That is preposterous, Alayna! Of course you will return to my home with me. What is the point of our marrying if we are not to live together as man and wife?"
Affecting the mocking posture she had so often seen Alayna wear, Chelsea thrust her chin up. "I was given to understand that the point of our marriage was the release of your inheritance, cousin."
Lord Rathbone glared at her. "You are being insufferable, Alayna. I will not countenance it. I refuse to countenance it, do you hear me?"
"Of course, I hear you, Ford. I expect even the servants can hear you."
His dark eyes smoldered with rage as he moved to stand in front of her. For the space of a second,