Kenneth Hathaway, newly returned from the Peninsular war, can't seem to stop worshiping his fiancee, Aimee Mattingly--from afar. Very far. From as far away as her portrait in his desk drawer at army headquarters. Problem is, he can't figure out why it is everything about Aimee falls short of what he remembered before the war--except whenever he looks at her portrait…
How do you make a very stubborn and very battle-fatigued brother do right by his betrothed? That's the problem the now teenaged Psyche Hathaway must solve--especially when it was her friend Harry who caused it in the first place. Now if only Kenneth and Aimee would stay still enough at Almack's so that Psyche can hit them with Harry's love darts, instead of at all the other dancing couples!
"I am afraid Miss Mattingly is not in, Miss Hathaway," the butler said, when Psyche came home from the draper’s.
Psyche frowned. "That is odd, Trimble. I was sure she would be here, and my brother also." She had purposely dallied at the shop, hoping to give some her brother and Aimee some time alone together.
Trimble's expression turned suddenly wooden. "Miss Mattingly has gone out with Lieutenant Pargeter-Hathaway, and Captain Hathaway has not arrived." He opened the door wider. "However, I expect them to return in a few minutes if you wish to wait for them."
"Thank you, Trimble. And that's Pargeter, not Pargeter-Hathaway," Psyche said automatically. Her frown grew deeper. "But I was sure she would be here! I know Kenneth was to call upon her. This is not like Aimee at all." She looked at the watch pinned to the bodice of her pelisse and shook her head. "He should have arrived by now." She gazed curiously at the butler. "And I think by your expression that something has happened about which you do not approve."
The butler's face turned even more wooden as he took the bonnet she gave him. "I do not comment upon my superiors, Miss," he said and looked down his nose at the maid who had come with Psyche into the hall.
She turned to the maid and smiled. "You may go belowstairs, Gwennie." The maid cast an anxious glance at the butler and walked quickly away.
"Ah! Something did happen." Psyche said after the maid had left. "What is it?"
"Far be it from me to--"
"Never mind that, Trimble!" she said, following him to the drawing room. "Aimee will be part of our family in a very short time, so I shall know about it soon, I daresay. So you might as well tell me."
A gloomy look replaced the wooden one. "I have cause to wonder if such a felicitous event will occur."
"Nonsense!" Psyche stepped into the drawing room--indeed empty--and sat down upon a sofa near the fireplace. "They are very much in love and are betrothed. Of course they will marry."
Silence ensued. Psyche watched curiously as the butler's face almost writhed with emotion: from gloom to severity to an acute anxiety. It was almost painful to watch how he tried to control the obvious strong feelings regarding his stature as butler and equally strong feelings of disapproval. She almost dismissed him to save him the struggle, but he finally burst out, "Miss Hathaway, I have heard the Captain has gone to Gunter's with Bertie Garthwaite instead of calling upon Miss Aimee."
"Ah!" Psyche said.
"Not that I would ever eavesdrop, Miss Hathaway!"
"No, of course not, Trimble. You were merely doing your duty by keeping yourself informed of the family's activities," Psyche said kindly.
The butler breathed a sigh of relief. "Miss Aimee was not pleased, miss. And I could hardly blame her for wishing for a bit of entertainment on a bright day like this."
"Naturally," Psyche said. She looked up and smiled at the butler. "If you would be so kind as to bring me a little tea, I would be very grateful."
"Of course, miss," Trimble replied and breathed another sigh of relief before he left the room.
Psyche shook her head. Something had gone awry, and very badly at that. Kenneth never had missed an appointment with Aimee before, and he had never delayed in being with her in the past that she had heard of. There had not been a quarrel, so that could not be the reason behind his apparent reluctance. And yet, there seemed to be an odd reticence about her brother when it came to Aimee. She smiled at Trimble when he brought the tea, then nibbled on a sweet biscuit contemplatively. And yet, it was at complete odds with the fervent adoration her brother seemed to have for Aimee whenever he spoke of her or looked at her portrait. Perhaps...perhaps Harry should not have shot Kenneth after all. A portrait was not the same as one's beloved, to be sure!
She jumped, almost upsetting her tea, and turned around. "Heavens, Harry, I told you I did not like it when you surprised me like that!" She looked up at her friend indignantly.
Harry grinned and gazed at her, his head cocked to one side. "But you startle delightfully! You don't precisely jump, you know, not like other people do. You sort of bounce, I think."
"Bounce!" Psyche gazed at him severely. "You make me sound like a ball--and I do not think I like that comparison! It seems too...too...."
"Spherical?" Harry said helpfully. "Round, perhaps?"
"Oh!" Psyche cried, and threw a pillow at him. "You are horrid!"
He neatly dodged the pillow and put on an injured look. "But I think roundness is thoroughly enchanting! How can I be horrid for thinking that?"
She felt her face grow hot and she pressed her hands to her cheeks. "Ohhh! See if I speak to you ever again!"
He came around the sofa and sat beside her. "But you shall, you know, because I can see already that you are curious about my new clothes." He crossed his legs and leaned back into the seat cushions and looked as satisfied as a cat in cream.
He was, indeed, dressed differently. His Greek kilt-like chiton was gone: a fine blue jacket was neatly fitted across his shoulders instead, and an impeccably tied neckcloth around his neck. A gold-chased waistcoat peeked from underneath it, and his legs were encased in pale yellow pantaloons. And his wings...his wings were gone. Psyche gazed at him, at the way he grinned at her mischievously yet had a hopeful questioning look in his eyes, and she felt an odd twisting sensation in her chest. She glanced away. She was not used to him without his wings--that was it--and was not sure she liked it.
His hand touched her arm briefly and she looked up at him. His gaze was concerned, though he still smiled. "Is there something the matter?" he asked. "Perhaps I am not dressed in the proper mode?" His expression turned slightly anxious and it occurred to her suddenly that perhaps he wished to please her a little. She smiled at the notion. What nonsense! Harry had rarely pleased anyone but himself. It was the way of the Greek gods, after all.
Psyche shook her head and laughed. "You look very well--and there! You have made me compliment you, so I hope your vanity is satisfied."
"You are pleased, then?"
She looked at him, startled. "Why, yes, I suppose so...although why you should wish to please me, I don't know. Unless...." She gazed at him suspiciously. "Have you been doing something you ought not?"
Harry looked offended. "I? No! And why should I not wish to please you from time to time? Are we not friends?"
"Yes, of course we are," Psyche said instantly, feeling oddly relieved. "But there have been times when you've wheedled, you know, and it's because you've done something you should not."
He gave her a triumphant smile. "There, my point exactly. I would not do that if I did not wish to be in your good graces."
Almost Psyche asked him why he wished to be in her good graces...but then the tolling of the clock caught her attention and made her remember her earlier thoughts and wonder why Harry had such an uneasy air about him.
"Hmph!" she said, and gazed at him speculatively. "What I wonder is if you had noticed anything odd about Kenneth."
He looked uncomfortable and hesitated before he said, "I am not sure, but I have thought perhaps I have made a bit of a mistake regarding your brother, and was hoping to catch him here with Aimee."
"A mistake?" Psyche gazed at her friend anxiously. Was he ill, perhaps? He had never admitted to a mistake so readily before. She took his hand and patted it. "Are...are you well, Harry?"
An astonished look crossed his face, then he smiled crookedly, as if he wasn't sure whether to laugh or protest. "By the gods, Psyche, just because I say I might have made a mistake does not mean I feel ill! I have admitted it any number of times."
Psyche smiled skeptically at him and silently ticked off the fingers of one hand.
"Oh, very well! Not often! But at least I am becoming better at it--did I not admit it now, and fairly quickly, too?" He shrugged his shoulders when she only continued to smile at him but said nothing. "At any rate, I think perhaps I should shoot another arrow at your brother, this time in Aimee's presence." He glanced away from her and bit into a biscuit he had selected. "You see...I think he might have fallen in love with her portrait, not with her."
"Wellll...." Psyche gnawed on her lower lip. "You know I do not like such things and would prefer you do not intervene. Perhaps if I bring it to Kenneth's attention that he is neglecting Aimee, he will remedy it himself. It is not as if you had shot more than one arrow into him, like you did with my brother-in-law."
"I knew you would bring up Blytheland," Harry said, sounding put out. "If I had got to him sooner, it would have solved things more smoothly, I admit it! This is why I wish to remedy my mistake as soon as I can with Kenneth."
She could see the reasoning behind this. Slowly, she nodded. "Very well," she said. A thought struck her and she beamed at him. "I know! Perhaps I can help you."
He looked at her warily. "Help?"
"Wouldn't it be better if both of us tried to shoot Kenneth?"
"I think not."
"Oh, please let me! And I need not know how to draw a bow, because Papa told me a story once in which you used darts, too, and I know I will be able to throw them far better than shooting arrows." She smiled at him in her most persuasive manner.
Harry grimaced. "You know about those, do you?" He sighed. "I have seen you throw darts. I don't think you are all that accurate with them."
"That was many years ago, and I am much better at it now," Psyche said triumphantly. "And think how much more efficient it would be!"
"Well..." Harry stared at her for a moment, as if in deep consideration. A sparkle seemed to gleam in his eyes. "When do you suppose they might next meet?"
"Let's see...it's Tuesday now...I suppose it would be Almack's."
He suddenly rose and turned away from her and seemed to be attacked by a series of hiccups, then began to cough violently. Psyche rushed to him and pounded him on his back until he stopped. "Are you feeling well, Harry?" she asked anxiously.
He drew in a deep breath and let it out again, then turned to her. His face was flushed, but his attack of coughing must not have been very serious, for he was smiling slightly. He patted her hand that she had placed on his arm.
"Oh, I am quite well," he replied cheerfully. "It must have been a fragment of biscuit in my throat." The mischievous sparkle was in his eyes again, and Psyche could not help feeling a little uneasy. "Yes, you are right, Psyche. I think it would be very am--efficient if you were to throw darts at Kenneth, too. And Almack's would be the best place, for he would be obliged to dance with Aimee, after all, and what would be a better opportunity than that?"
This time it was Psyche's turn to eye him warily. "You are agreeing to it very quickly. I think perhaps you are up to some mischief."
"I?" Harry placed a hand upon his chest and looked at her with wide, innocent eyes. "I promise you, I shall not shoot at anyone but Kenneth, and you know well enough that I am an accurate shot."
Psyche stared at him, gnawing on her lower lip in consideration. "You promise, do you?"
"True blue and will never stain," he said promptly, using an oath she had taught him when they were children. "Not only that, but I will give you as many darts as you wish."
She could not help feeling there was something Harry was keeping from her, but he had promised her he would shoot only at Kenneth, and he always kept his promises. And there was nothing else in his agreement she could fault.
"Very well," she said, and offered him the plate of biscuits again.
He shook his head and rose from the sofa. "No, thank you, I think I need to go and make up some darts. Perhaps you should make certain that Kenneth goes to Almack's. It seems he has forgotten his appointment with Aimee--if so, I think we cannot depend on him to remember to attend Almack's."
Psyche nodded. "True. He doesn't really like to go, after all, and I have found it very easy to forget to do things if I don't like to do them." She smiled up at Harry. "It's very kind of you to let me throw darts, too." She took his hand and squeezed it.
He shrugged and grinned at her. "Not at all, not at all," he said carelessly. He moved from her and slowly began to shimmer and disappear. "You wished to help, after all," he whispered close to her ear. And then he was gone.
Psyche stared at the spot where he had been. She still felt a little uneasy...but she would be there at Almack's after all, and could watch him. She pulled the bell rope for Trimble and when he arrived instructed him to leave a message for Aimee upon her return from Gunter’s. But just as she was about go upstairs to change her clothes, the uneasiness suddenly flowered and she almost stopped in her tracks.
Almack's! Oh, dear. How was Harry to get in? He had no voucher or ticket to enter, and even if he were to use his invisibility to pass Mr. Willis at the staircase, she was sure none of the patronesses would recognize him. What if he were to be thrown out of the assembly rooms? It would be very embarrassing, and she was not at all sure that Harry would not exact some sort of revenge upon whatever patroness demanded his ejection. A god could do dreadful things if angered.
A vision of Mrs. Drummond-Burrell transformed into a cow in the middle of the assembly room rose before Psyche’s eyes and made her shudder. Perhaps she should deny any acquaintance with Harry if such a thing should happen. She did not like to do such a cowardly thing, but she could not help thinking that introducing a cow into the hallowed halls of Almack’s would bar one from getting vouchers forever, even if the cow happened to be one of the patronesses. And how would she explain that to Mama?
Psyche quickly ran up the stairs. She would try to call out to him once she returned to her room, and tell him they could not do it at Almack's. It would not work at all! It would be much better if they delayed it and went to Lady Connington's ball. It would be much easier to introduce him as a friend of the family's, and she would be supported in this by Cassandra, for she had seen Harry, too, before she was married and a few times since then.
But when she stepped into her room and called for Harry, he did not appear. Psyche's uneasiness grew. Well, perhaps it would not be all that bad. If Harry could not get into Almack's or was made to leave the rooms, it would all come to naught anyway, and certainly she could persuade him not to take vengeance upon anyone if he were ejected. Harry did say he wished to please her, after all. Psyche gnawed her lower lip, then sighed. One never could predict what would happen with Harry about.
However, it would not hurt to have Kenneth there. At the very least she could make sure he and Aimee had more opportunities to meet. She called for her maid again, ordered a coach, and pulled on her pelisse and bonnet. Trimble had said that Kenneth had gone to Gunther's with Bertie Garthwaite. Very well, then! She would seek him out and make sure he would attend Almack's. She remembered Aimee's confused eyes the last time she had spoken of Kenneth, and imagined the disappointment she must have felt when he did not come today to see her.
Psyche pressed her lips together firmly as she descended the stairs to the waiting coach. At the very least she would give her brother a piece of her mind!