Today's Reading

CHAPTER TWO

Amelia Strathmore twirled the rod of her pink silk parasol, her chin high, as she strolled the sidewalk toward her dearest friend's residence. Her chaperone trailed behind like the ribbons of Amelia's bonnet fluttering on the warm spring breeze. When she reached the home of Lady Charlotte Dearing, she opened the wrought-iron gate and strode up the limestone path to knock on the front door. Thank heavens Charlotte had not moved farther away after her recent marriage.

Amelia would be lost without their morning ritual of a walk to St. James Square, where they sat on a marble bench and confessed secrets before they returned the same way they'd come. At times they would feed pigeons, read poetry, or watch pedestrians, but always they conversed about matters of the heart. Amelia focused on her brother's haphazard attempts to see her married, while Charlotte lamented her current unhappiness, trapped in a practical match when she desired true love.

Amelia dropped the knocker and waited, the butler accustomed to her frequent visits. True to form, the two ladies departed arm in arm only moments later, their chaperones in step behind.

"I'm surprised your brother persists when you've made it clear you will choose a man to marry when you are ready."

Her friend's loyal support served as a balm to her soul. With Father's health failing, Amelia suspected time was running out on
her independent status. "I don't think Matthew believes me. Meanwhile, I have no idea what he'll attempt next." A sudden giggle
escaped. "Although I daresay I'll never forget the look on Lord Trent's face when his pants lit on fire."

"If only I had been there. I would have applauded your valiant defense."

No one knew, save Charlotte, the true reason Lord Trent's comment incited Amelia's temper and spurred her vehement response. "You're my dearest friend. I could never allow anyone to spout blithe nonsense when you're living proof men have all the advantages in marriage and women have none."

Charlotte's expression turned solemn and for a few breaths only the clicking heels of their boots marked their progression along the cobbles. A carriage rolled by and a small dog chased its rear wheels. Amelia watched it pass as her heart ached for her
disconsolate friend.

"It hasn't been so bad of late."

Amelia squeezed Charlotte's arm tighter. "That's what I fear the most. At least when Lord Dearing behaves with his usual surly
demeanor, we know what to expect. When he's kind, I'm terribly suspicious." An unbidden shiver passed through her and she hugged Charlotte closer. "Did you mention how much you'd like an animal companion? A dog or a cat would keep you company when he's locked in his study or otherwise occupied. Pandora is always there for me no matter my mood, and even though cats cannot speak, she never fails to console me."

"Yes, but consider the trouble Pandora has caused. Lord Dearing wouldn't be pleased if a pet scratched the furniture or stained the carpet."

Amelia's scoff overrode Charlotte's objection. "Does he plan for a family someday? Children do the very same things and worse. Besides, just because Pandora finds mischief does not mean all cats have the same temperament." She smiled. Her cat was her second dearest friend to Charlotte and she would not trade either companion for all the chocolate in the world.

"When I suggested we purchase a pet, he didn't reply with keen approval."

"Did you mention it would bring you happiness?" Amelia prodded, determined to improve Charlotte's situation.

"Happiness was not a condition to my marriage. My parents needed the security of Dearing's finances. If only I'd had the time to get to know him better. You're lucky to have your brother in control of your future instead of parents sorely indebted and in need of immediate rescue."
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