“Aren’t you going to get ready?” Mr. Pendlebury asked Antonia. “Laird and his fiancée will be here soon.”
She was tempted to say that she didn’t want to get ready because she didn’t want to have dinner with them. However, she couldn’t deny that she was curious to meet this woman who had stolen Laird’s heart. “I’ll get ready,” she said.
“What’s the matter, Antonia? You look like you have something on your mind? Would you like to talk about it?”
“You’re right. I do have something on my mind.”
“And what is that?”
“I admit that I still haven’t gotten used to the idea that he’s going to get married.”
“Don’t you think he might be rushing into this?”
“I don’t think so. Laird isn’t one to make hasty decisions, especially not when it comes to his life–his future. No, I believe that this is something that he wanted to do from the moment he met her. For some people it doesn’t take a long time for them to know that they’re meant to be together. I was one of those lucky people and as it turns out, so is Laird.”
His words were like a knife piercing her heart. How she managed to remain there, appearing calm and unaffected, she had no idea. It was imperative that he never knew how she really felt about Laird. “I wish he had introduced her to us before they got engaged.”
“I agree with you. It would have been nice to meet her before the engagement but Laird always did things his way.”
“I just hope that he will be happy with–her.” She almost choked over the words.
“I hope so too. That’s all your mother and I ever wanted for you, kids. I’ve never mentioned this to Laird but I don’t see any harm in mentioning it to you. It was he, not Karson whom your mother had her heart set on pairing you with because she felt that you two would have made an ideal couple. I talked her out of it, of course.”
“Well, for one thing, Laird never showed any romantic interest in you and it was clear that relationships were the last thing on his mind. He was more interested in pursuing a career in Politics after graduating from Oxford. Karson, on the other hand, made it very clear that he had feelings for you so, I steered your mother away from considering Laird to considering him. And, she did. And it turned out that I was right. You and Karson got engaged and would have married if it hadn’t been for that awful accident which claimed his life–“
“Please, let’s not talk about it,” she said. She didn’t want to hear about Karson.
“I’m going to get dressed now. Excuse me.” She hurried out of the room.
He watched her go, regret etched on his face. I should have known better than to bring up the past, he thought to himself. He hoped the evening would turn out to be a pleasant one. How he wished that Karson and his mother were here to meet the woman who was soon going to be a member of the family.
Antonia closed the door behind her and leaned against it for a moment. Her mind was spinning. Over and over she heard her father saying that it was he who had talked her mother out of making a match between Laird and her. If he hadn’t interfered and if Karson hadn’t fallen for her, there still might have been a chance for her with Laird. In time, Laird’s feelings for her could have changed, couldn’t they? And now, it was too late. Laird was engaged to another woman. Was it possible to hate someone you’d never even met?
She moved away from the door and slowly undressed. The sunlight streamed through the room. It was after seven but it seemed earlier. She went into the bathroom and took a quick shower.
As she toweled her skin dry, she wondered how she would be able to keep it together when she saw Laird and his fiancée together. How was she going to be able to pull off the happy sister act? Pain and jealousy clawed at her insides. She had a good mind to stay in her room and claim that she had a terrible headache but that would be the cowardly way out. Now, she was going to go down there and pretend to be happy for Laird even if it killed her.
She got dressed. The black dress she wore was simple but stylish. She applied a little makeup, hoping that it would be enough to hide her paleness. When she was done, she sat there for several minutes.
The clock on the vanity showed that it was 7:40. Laird and his fiancée were expected at eight. This was a meeting she dreaded but it was inevitable. She stood and ran her hands nervously down the sides of her dress. Was this how one felt when they were on their way to either the gas chamber or to the guillotine?
Mr. Pendlebury was still in the drawing-room where she had left him. “Laird called to say that they should be here in about fifteen minutes.”
“So, they’re still coming.”
He looked at her in surprise. “Why wouldn’t they be?”
“I just thought that something might have come up.”
“Thankfully, nothing did. Before they get here, would you like something to drink?”
“No, thank you. I never drink on an empty stomach.”
“Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m–I’m fine. I guess I’m a little nervous.”
“Nervous about meeting Laird’s fiancée?”
“Yes.” She was nervous about seeing Laird because of what had transpired the last time she saw him.
“I’m sure everything will be fine.” He poured himself an aperitif.
Antonia went and stood by the window, looking out and with her arms wrapped around her. Although it was hot outside, she felt cold. A part of her wished that something had come up and Laird wasn’t on his way but another part of her longed to see him.
The chime of the doorbell announced that their dinner guests had arrived. Her heart began to pound and she leaned against the window frame. Perhaps she should have sat down. It was too late now. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves as she heard voices and approaching footsteps.