Miss Cassandra Hathaway is beautiful, intelligent, and innocent. Lord Blytheland is handsome, intelligent, and sophisticated. A perfect match, you think? Lord Blytheland doesn't. After a disasterous marriage in which this widower suffered with a faithless, bluestocking wife, there's nothing he'd like worse than another educated miss with an unfortunate penchant for blurting out the painful truth. As for Cassandra, there's nothing she'd like less in her life than an illogical man prone to emotional outbursts, and never mind his good looks and devastating smile.
Neither one of them figures on the tortuous machinations of Cassandra's little sister, Psyche, or Psyche's mischievous friend, Harry, and his arrows that cause people to fall very, very desperately in love. Especially when he shoots too many of them…
The conversation before the music would normally have been tedious for Psyche, for it was all about people she did not know. She glanced at Harry, glad for his presence, for she would have been hard put to keep her promise not to fidget otherwise.
"Harry," she murmured almost under her breath, even though she was at quite a distance from her mother, "what do you think of him?"
Harry looked at her admiringly. "You become better and better at not moving your lips at all when you speak."
"Do I?" Psyche said, pleased.
"Yes. I remember a man once who could do that. He could even make his voice seem to come from objects at a distance from him."
"No, really? I should like to do that someday."
"What was interesting," Harry continued, "was that he had two heads and travelled about in a raree show." He gave her a wicked smile.
"You are the most detestable boy imaginable! I do not have two heads!"
"I never said you did!"
"Did you say something, Psyche?" Lady Hathaway called.
Harry shot Psyche a warning look.
"No, Mama." Psyche made herself look as innocent as possible. She sighed and sipped the tea the butler had brought in. Telling lies was becoming quite easy lately. Her mother smiled at her and returned to the conversation.
"Really, Harry, you are provoking!" Psyche whispered. He opened his mouth to retort, but she shook her head slightly. "Now enough! What do you think of Lord Blytheland?"
Her friend, wings motionless from concentration, stared at the marquess then frowned. "I can't have made another mistake...no, there must be something wrong with him."
"Whatever can you mean?"
"Only look at him. He is obviously attracted to your sister, but he resists it. It is not something I like at all."
Psyche felt uneasy. Harry could be the most amiable boy imaginable, but he took certain things quite personally, especially when it came to the way gentlemen and ladies behaved toward one another. He was staring at both Cassandra and Lord Blytheland in a most intent way, as if trying to solve a puzzle. His frown deepened.
"Perhaps we should tell Mama that he is not really a good match for Cassandra," Psyche said. She felt a little uneasy. Harry could be very persistent if things did not go the way he wished.
Harry shook his head. "He is a good match. I never make a mistake about such things." A brief, uncomfortable look flashed across his face, but he continued. "He is arrogant, Psyche. It's hubris, and that is always offensive to me."
Psyche was not entirely sure what hubris was, but it was not something one did or had without getting Harry and his relatives irritated. Her uneasiness grew. She remembered the stories her father told her about Harry's relatives, and began to wonder if the marquess would end up turned into a tree, or chained to a rock and eaten by vultures. However, she was certain there were no vultures in England, so perhaps his punishment would not be so very severe. There were ducks, though. She tried to envision death by duck, but it did not seem very much the same as death by vulture, somehow.
Harry made a short, angry sound, startling Psyche out of her thoughts so that she almost upset her tea. She looked at him and watched his expression grow more stormy as he gazed at Lord Blytheland.
"He believes he is invulnerable when he truly is not. In a way, he is a little like your brother Kenneth, who pinches maids and kisses them, but never does anything else. Blytheland tells himself he does not need a wife, is not in love with your sister, and that he is looking for more than what she has to offer as either wife or lover." He looked solemnly at her.
"Are you saying he will pinch Cassandra?" Psyche gnawed her lower lip. She had thought the marquess a very amiable sort of gentleman. She could not imagine him pinching anyone, much less her sister.
Harry suddenly grinned. "If only he would! Then I would not need to give him the punishment he deserves for his arrogance. Your sister would give him such a set-down that he would need a shovel to dig himself out of the ground."
"Then where is the trouble?"
"Look at Cassandra."
Psyche turned in her chair. Her sister's gaze was intent on Lord Blytheland's face, drinking up his words as if they were some life-sustaining elixir.
"Is she in love with him?"
"Of course, though she does not know it quite yet."
"Of course? Why is that?" Psyche looked suspiciously at him. "You didn't!"
"No, I did not shoot any of my arrows at her!" Harry said indignantly. "Your sister doesn't need any. I shot one of my arrows at him. And he has such arrogance that he refuses to give in to it."
Psyche looked at him, horrified. "You didn't!"
"Yes I did." Harry smiled in a satisfied way. "It was when your sister and your parents went to the musicale. I'm certain he fell instantly in love with your sister, but he is a stubborn case. He has overcome my arrows before, but this time I'll make certain he does not."
"You always think people are arrogant when they resist you, Harry! You shall change him back!"
Harry frowned. "Why should I? He's eligible enough, and Cassandra is not opposed to his attentions at all. Only look at him! Would he not make a perfect husband for her? He is handsome, plays exquisite music, and is quite intelligent. Also, he is wealthy and has a title. Few females can resist that."
"Cassandra is not mercenary!"
"But you cannot deny his other assets would influence her."
Psyche looked at the marquess again. She had to admit he was quite handsome, and Cassandra was excessively fond of music. She creased her brow in thought. "He is amiable, even if he is rather old. He must be all of thirty. Hmm. It is not as if she would know the difference, after all." She shook her head. "No, I cannot like it, Harry. You must change him back. I am quite right about such things."
"He is six and twenty. That is not old, Psyche," Harry replied, smiling. "At least, not for your sister."
"No. Mama thinks that Cassandra is nearly on the shelf, so she must be getting a bit on, don't you think?"
Harry's smile widened into a grin. "Not really. You will understand when you are turned three-and-twenty."
Psyche made a face. "I do wish you wouldn't talk to me as if you were so much older than I am. You can't be any more than fourteen, if that."
"But I am much--"
"And I still think you should change him back." Psyche stared at him sternly. Harry was very good at distracting her from her purpose, and she knew he was doing it now, but she knew better than to let it go too far.
"No." He stared back at her, his chin thrust out stubbornly.
"Then I will tell Cassandra what you have done."
Harry smiled sweetly at her. "She won't believe you."
Psyche stared at him again, but he only stared back defiantly. She could try not talking to him again, but sooner or later he'd say something and she'd forget about it. Perhaps she could think of a way of persuading him later. She sighed and shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, for now, let us listen to the music. Cassandra has learned a new piece by Herr von Beethoven. She told me it is called 'Sonata in F minor,'" she said, proud that she had remembered it.
When the first notes broke the parlour's silence, Blytheland sat up abruptly, recognizing the music at once: The Apassionata. It was not at all a feminine piece to play, and when he glanced at Lady Hathaway's disapproving face, he saw that she thought so, too. And yet, gazing at Miss Hathaway, he felt not disapproval but despair that he had come to listen to her play, and that she had chosen this music.
Cassandra's eyes had widened, absorbed and intent upon the keyboard. Blytheland watched her fingers fly over the keyboard, sure and practiced. Her technique was excellent, her talent superior to any young lady's he had heard so far. He had hoped that she would be play poorly, that her apparent knowledge of music was false.
But it was not so. For she was clearly caught up in the music, as he often was himself when he bowed his violin. And passion! Her hands pounded it from the keyboard, and her fingers coaxed it out to shimmer hotly in the air. A single curl fell forward onto her brow, and Blytheland closed his hands against the feeling that he must brush it back. He made his body still and forced himself to sit in a negligent manner on his chair. But his mind was not still and he envisioned himself brushing back the curl, his fingers feathering across her cheek and tracing the outline of her lips before his own lips followed. Her mouth would open under his, and she'd respond with, yes, passion. Her slender fingers that now slipped amongst the keys would slip downward from his chest and--
With a last flourish, Miss Hathaway was done, and the pianoforte fell silent. Blytheland blinked, suddenly released from his imaginings, and drew in a deep breath. He saw Cassandra cast an uncertain glance at Lady Hathaway, and at her mother's meaningful look, bit her lip and looked worried. He stood up abruptly.
"Truly masterful, Miss Hathaway! An excellent rendition of the sonata." Before Lord Blytheland could stop himself, he strode to her and lifted her fingers to his lips. He did not need to look up to see Lady Hathaway's smug look--he could well imagine it was there. He mentally cursed himself, but put a smile on his face. "It is not what I would expect a young lady to play, but it was very well done."
Instantly, Miss Hathaway's look of pleasure at his words faded, and he regretted his words. After she gave another apologetic glance at her mother, she smiled briefly and murmured, "You are too kind, my lord."
An odd, twisting sensation went through his chest for a moment as he looked into her eyes. "No, I am far too moderate. In truth, you are an excellent musician, and I would welcome a chance to play a duet with you." The words came from his mouth before he could stop himself. It does not matter, he told himself, gazing at Miss Hathaway's now sparkling eyes and softly smiling mouth. Besides, it was not as if he were declaring himself by wishing to play a duet with the chit. It was merely that she was an excellent musician. He would want to play a duet with any musician of her calibre.
Miss Hathaway blushed and pulled her hand from his, and he mentally cursed himself again for holding her hand for so long. "Oh, to be sure I--that is to say--you flatter me. I would pleased to join you in--in practicing music."
He raised his eyes and caught Lady Hathaway's not-quite-concealed look of triumph. However, it would not do to seem too eager. He smiled coolly at them both and bowed to Lady Hathaway.
"I hope I do not impose, ma'am."
"Oh, heavens, no, Lord Blytheland. Why, you need only say when you wish to practice with Cassandra, and I shall set aside the time." Lady Hathaway's face was wreathed in smiles.
Of course you will, he thought wryly, and ignored her expectant look. Really, it seemed he was digging a deeper hole for himself than he had thought he would. Well, it was not as if he had got himself out of worse situations. He turned to Miss Hathaway.
"Do you go to Lady Marchmont's ball, Miss Hathaway?"
"Why yes, I believe we do." Cassandra smiled shyly up at him. "Shall we see you there, my lord?"
He picked up his hat, bowed over Lady Hathaway's hand, and then Cassandra's. "Perhaps," he said, and smiled. There. He had promised nothing, and when he did not appear at the Marchmont's ball, both the Hathaway ladies would have no one to blame but their own expectations for any disappointment they might feel.
If he had thought Miss Hathaway beautiful before, he was mistaken. The smile that parted her lips also delicately blushed her cheeks and seemed to light her eyes from within, and he could not help staring at her again.
"Oh, Lord Blytheland, I do hope I--we shall see you there."
Her voice made him blink and he hastily released her hand. He really should try not to be so influenced by music. He smiled once more and bowed before he left.