Patience gave him a sweet smile and turned to the door connecting the two rooms. Her hips swayed delightfully underneath the gown as she strolled away from him. He would really have preferred to be her lady’s maid tonight, so he could kiss each delectable inch of her skin as he removed her garments.
Allowing for her innocence, Alex permitted her to go. He pulled his cravat off and tugged at the cuffs of his jacket. He’d given his valet, Thomas, the evening off.
Once he’d stripped all his clothes off, he struggled with what he should wear. He preferred to wear only a banyan, but considering this was their wedding night, and he had an innocent bride, he pulled on a pair of breeches and a loose linen shirt, opened at the neck and tucked into his pants.
He wandered over to the sideboard next to the huge window near the also huge bed, and poured a glass of brandy. He had taken a sip when there was a scratch at the door. Two footmen entered, carrying a table and a tray of food. They quickly set everything up and left the room.
Alex checked his timepiece. Since he had no idea how long it would take a bride to prepare herself for her wedding night, he tamped down his impatience and had another drink.
He was staring into the darkness through the window when the door between their rooms opened and Patience appeared. He frowned at her appearance. She had taken her hair down, and it had been brushed to a glowing sheen in the candlelight, cascading over her shoulders. Shoulders that were covered in wool material.
She had changed from her wedding gown into a serviceable gray woolen gown. Said gown went all the way down to her wrists and all the way up to her throat. She looked like a damn governess. The only thing missing was an absurd little ruffled cap on her head.
Alex took a deep breath and told himself to calm down. She was probably nervous. He would take his time and work on relaxing her. “You look lovely, Patience.”
She smiled. Not the sort of smile he would expect from a nervous bride, more of a smirk. Nevertheless, he moved to the bottle of champagne on the table and poured them both a glass. He handed one to her and raised his. “Here is to a wonderful life together.”
“Yes. A wonderful life.” She took a sip, then placed the glass on the table. “Perhaps we should eat.”
Something was wrong. He was not sure what it was, but Patience was not herself. Or perhaps she was still angry with him over the botched proposal. Well, they would eat and then he would use all the persuasive skill he’d learned over the years to remove that ghastly gown and steer her toward the bed.
He held out her chair and she sat. As she reached for a roll, he covered her hand with his. “I hope you are not still angry with me. I know I behaved in a somewhat imperious manner, but I could not stand to see you wed to that lecher.”
“’Twas very nice and noble of you to rescue me, Your Grace.”
Alex put his fork down and stared at her. “I did not rescue you.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Well, perhaps it appeared that way.” When he saw her raised eyebrows, he continued, “All right, then maybe I did rescue you, but you needed rescuing.”
Bloody hell. What was this all about? He knew he should have had a lengthy conversation with her before the wedding, but it had become impossible for them to be alone at all.
Patience picked up her fork and calmly began to eat. Alex gulped down his champagne and poured more into his glass. “Would you care for more champagne?”
“No thank you.” She nodded to the goblet next to her plate. “I still have a full glass.” She slid a piece of chicken into her mouth and licked her lips, then slowly chewed, all the time staring at him.
“Patience, what are you doing?”
She regarded him wide-eyed. “Excuse me, Your Grace?”
He hopped up from his seat and paced. “Let’s start with ‘Your Grace.’ When did you forget my name?”
“I haven’t forgotten it, Alex.”
“Good.” He sat back down. “Now let’s get to the important things. Why are you wearing that hideous gown?”
She glanced down at herself. “Hideous? I don’t think it is so hideous.”
“Patience.” He snarled. “I ask you again, what is going on?”
Raising her chin, her eyes flashed. “Very well. Alex. What is going on is, I am tired of being treated like an object for sale. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I realize that under the law, married women are no more than mere possessions for husbands to do with as they will.
“However, I resented being forcefully betrothed as a young girl to a man I loathed, and then when he died in a situation that had all the ton snickering at me, I am almost forced into a betrothal with another man who is even worse, and then you rush in to rescue me, after admitting you did not want to be bothered with all the annoyance of courting.” She stabbed a piece of meat with her fork and waved it at him. “Not once were my feelings considered. By anyone.”
She dropped the fork and took a deep breath. Then throwing down her napkin, she stood. “You told me, quite clearly, that marrying me was a way for you to avoid all the messiness of finding a bride. She is handy, so I might as well marry her. I am a mere convenience.”
Patience pushed her chair back and stepped away from the table, tears shimmering in her eyes. “You have your wish, Your Grace. You have your marriage of convenience.”
With these words, she stiffened her shoulders and marched from the room. Alex stared after her, slack-jawed, as the door between their bedchambers slammed shut. A portrait of one of his ancestors fell to the floor.