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A loving matter

Georgiana Roe swiftly put up a gloved hand to check that her bonnet plume had not been blown askew by the brisk breeze from Sydney Cove and stepped into the offices of Blackthorne & Paris.

‘I'm Miss Euphegenia Arbuthnott here to see Mr Richard Paris.’

With a sniff, a bald-headed clerk left his ledger to rap upon the inner door and escort her through.

She caught her breath as Richard Paris rose from behind his desk to greet her. There surely could be no man in Sydney who could best him for style. The London coat spoke of Bond Street tailoring, not a wrinkle or speck marred the cream pantaloons, and his cravat created the right impression. Neither too loose for a braggart nor too high for a dandy.

For a brief instant, surprise seemed to hinder Mr Paris’ manners. So, he had been anticipating a spinster of less tender years not two and twenty. His gaze lingered upon his client’s face and swept over appreciatively her before he seemed to remember the courtesy due and gestured her to be seated.

‘Miss ...’ he frowned and tapped the diary askew to check her name afresh. ‘Arbuthnott?’ Tossing his blue coat tails back, he seated himself, leaning back in his chair with the utter confidence of a man who knew his profession. His silver-grey eyes smiled across at her and a swift grin showed her that he felt himself in full control again. ‘How may I serve you, Miss Arbuthnott? Is it some worthy mission? Perhaps you wish Blackthorne & Paris to donate ....’

‘I wish to engage a lawyer, Mr Paris.’

Mr Paris frowned. ‘For what purpose, Miss Arbuthnott?’

‘I wish to serve a summons for breach of promise.’

He sat forward in astonishment, his cuff knocking a quill to the floor. By the time he had retrieved it, she was not sure whether he was amused or irritated.

‘Excuse me.’ He laid it carefully beside the blotter and rested his chin upon intermeshed fingers thoughtfully. ‘You realise that this is a very serious charge if it is not settled out of court. One that is likely to be expensive and arouse a great deal of scandal. Indeed, I am puzzled, Miss Arbuthnot, as to why did you not seek out Mr William Wentworth as your attorney? He has more experience in cases of this nature.’

‘Oh, such squinty looks and he is… oh … no, indeed, I could never speak with him on so delicate a matter.’ Her cheeks flamed. ‘Mr Paris, believe me, it has taken a great deal of courage to come here today.’ Her glance fell to her gloved hands upon her lap.’ No doubt you think me frivolous but it is no light matter, I assure you.’

‘Indeed, I begin to appreciate that. Then let us get down to details. Has this gentleman toyed with your affections?’

Her blue eyes met his gravely. ‘I believe him to be sincere.’

‘He is not an adventurer, a fortune-hunter?’

‘Indeed not, Mr Paris, he is of good parentage and earns his living honestly.’

‘Do you suspect he is already married or that his heart is given to another?’

Georgiana frowned. ‘No, I do not believe so. I think he merely lacks courage and ...’

‘Courage!’ he exclaimed. ‘You astound me, Miss Arbuthnott.’ Male indignation laced his tone.

‘Hush, Mr Paris, I pray you let me finish. My Papa is most wealthy and, well, ambitious, I daresay, and I believe my fiancé may feel he must live up to Papa’s expectations. To be honest, I would be happy to live with him on far less income.’

‘Have you actually discussed the date of your marriage with this gentleman?’

‘He skirts around the issue every time I raise it.’ She lifted her chin defiantly.

‘But do you love the gentleman?’

Georgiana met his gaze. ‘Yes,’ she answered truthfully. ‘With all my heart.’

The bell in the outer office sounded, and she rose, smoothing her skirts. ‘Your next appointment, I believe.’ She held out her hand to him with a businesslike smile. ‘Good day to you, Mr Paris. Pray write and tell me if you will take the case.’

Richard Paris came round the desk to her. His eyes were serious as he took the little gloved hand and kept it within his.

‘It seems, Miss Arbuthnott, we shall need another appointment.’ Not letting go her hand, he pulled the diary round. ‘The 6th June at 3 pm?’

She peeped up at him mischievously from beneath the creamy brim. ‘Where, Mr Paris?’

‘St John’s.’ He went down on one knee. ‘Marry me then and there, dearest Georgie.’

Her laughing eyes above him sparkled and forgave.

‘Indeed, yes!’ murmured Miss Georgiana Roe. ‘I thought you’d never ask.’

First published in Woman's Day, Australia

Copyright Isolde Martyn