I took my cousin’s hands in mine. “I hadn’t wished to discuss this before for fear of disturbing you, Izzie. But it would drive me mad to hear those women talk about de Grave in that way. How do you put up with it?”
Izzie’s eyes filled with tears, threatening to brim over. “If it were any other man, I wouldn’t put up with it. But Vincent is so splendid, such a wonderful, wonderful man. You don’t know how he suffers on my account! D’you know he almost decided not to propose?”
I privately wished de Grave had decided to hold to that choice, but outwardly tut-tutted in sympathy.
“He’s everything that is good and decent and beautiful about the world,” she continued, the tears in her eyes replaced with a fervent glow. “Yes, he’s had his missteps. What man hasn’t? The important thing is that he’s moved on from them.”
“But aren’t you concerned about your reputation, Izzie? Think about how Valentina would feel if she heard your name being bandied about by those vicious old matrons.”
Izzie stood up, fists clenched. “I don’t give a farthing about my reputation. I hate this stupid season, all of this!” She gestured to her fine dress, the dainty shoes poking underneath. “I do all this to make Mama happy, but I know in her heart of hearts, she would just want me to be happy. And my happiness is dependent on Vincent, not a clutch of bitter old crones.”
I stood up, too, smoothing my skirt. “A passionate defense. If I wasn’t already on your side, I daresay I would have switched by now.”
Izzie’s hands slowly unclenched and she laughed, the sound of it a watery gurgle. The tears sprang forth again, and the next thing I knew, she was crushing me in a smothering hug.
“Oh, Sam! I knew I could count on you! Will you speak to Louisa? Only you could convince her to see things our way. Then it will be easy to convince Mama, too.”
After we had repaired Isabella’s face so that no trace of tears was left, we squared our shoulders and walked back into the ballroom. As we passed a group of young bloods, I could hear one of them say quite loudly, “I do say, who is that exquisite creature in the blue gown?”
Isabella’s gown was a pale gold whereas mine was blue. And yet, I was so used to the attention being focused solely on Isabella, I couldn’t help turning my head to stare at the young man and make sure he was talking about me. He had a quizzing glass raised to his right eye and he was observing me through it, one enlarged blue eye blinking at me in a comic fashion.