Bareback! She was riding bareback and astride too. What was she thinking about? How could she be so thoughtless and careless about her reputation? And theirs? She was going to ruin it all. How could she be so selfish? Dahlia turned to Rose whose face identical to hers bore what she assumed the same expression as hers. That Theodora could act in that way without any consideration for their sister’s chances on the marriage mart was outrageous.
They both looked at Phil. She wasn’t sure what was in his eyes: sorrow? No. No, he seemed to be hesitating between annoyance and merriment. Of course: it was so unfair. They all loved Theodora but she got away with misbehaving when she shouldn’t.
“Philip, do something.” Dahlia whispered angrily. “What if someone saw her?”
He shook his head.
What did that mean? People visited the Glendale’s estate on a daily basis. Sure they’d had no visit in a few days but that was exceptional. Soon there would be the ball: Mother had promised they would receive this year. Maybe next week or the one after.
“What’s wrong with her?” Rose asked in her worried voice. What did she guess?
“Nothing.” Phil replied curtly.
“Phil, you’re a terrible liar,” Rose insisted. Dahlia noticed Phil tense: Rose was always sensitive to people’s mood. “She’s been hovering between frightened cat and tiger in a cage ever since you brought her back from Town. What happened? And why hasn’t Commander Thornhill called upon her? He’s been good for her.”
Philip’s mouth tightened. Wasn’t Lord Thornhill his friend? Something had happened. To Theodora. And Lord Thornhill had something to do with it. But she had said nothing. Of course she had said nothing: Theodora would bear almost anything without a complaint. She had been their companion through their first season even if she was on the shelf. She didn’t like balls but she had come. She didn’t mind leaving with Philip when he was in pain even though people thought she was the reason for their departure. Dahlia looked back at Theodora who was galloping away from the stables. There was something wild in their sister: there always had been but it was tainted with sorrow and anger. Dahlia could see it now. She may not care about her reputation but Theodora had always ensured her failure to secure a husband or her passion for science didn’t affect her family or her sisters’ chance for a good match. Was it possible that Lord Thornhill had compromised her? That would explain Phil’s reaction. But it wouldn’t explain Theodora’s attitude; she wouldn’t let anyone rule her heart. Unless…
“That’s because of the men who were arrested last week. They had Theodora, as a bait for Lord Thornhill. He does love her.”
Rose’s face went from worry to joy back to concern. And Phil growled. He may be hard to read but not when it came to his sisters, particularly his twin.
“Why is Teddy not marrying him?” Phil turned around. He was angry. “She refused his proposal, didn’t she?”
“Since you both seem to read minds, why don’t you speak to Teddy? She won’t speak to me.”
Rose’s mouth drew a perfect o.
“It’s because of you Lord Thornhill hasn’t come… You fought with him. About her? That’s why she’s angry.”
Phil’s shoulders slumped. Dahlia felt like hugging him: he’d never fought with Theodora before. The two of them shared as deep a connection as she and Rose. It wasn’t right that they shouldn’t talk to one another.
“Phil… She loves you. But she’s obviously in love with him. She won’t bear causing you pain but you can’t ask her to stop being who she is.”
She could swear Phil shuddered.
“What do you know?”
“Oh come on Phil, Teddy can’t abide Society’s rules for women. That’s what her work with Lord Dashford is about. Did you truly think we didn’t know about her escapades at night?” Rose said. “When you left for the war, she would claim she went to the theatre or the opera. Every time Brent, Sebastian and Adrian were out, so was she. Sometimes, she wouldn’t even come back home from the museum. She wouldn’t have gone to the theatre in her day gown. We’re not stupid. Whatever she was doing at night, she must have met Lord Thornhill. That’s why they abducted her.”
Dahlia watched her sister: she’d figured all of this out. How? She’d had no idea their sister had a secret life. Working with Lord Dashford was already enough for Society to look down on her. Why would she take more risks? But it hadn’t spilled over her daily life. Phil sighed; Dahlia did hug him.
“Have you spoken about this with anyone?”
He was weary and sad and in pain. He was fighting too many battles alone, at once. Obviously he hadn’t said anything about Theodora’s habits to their father or siblings.
“Of course not.” She retorted. “We’re not empty-headed.”
He kissed her brow; sometimes she thought it meant he was treating her like a kid but really there was so much brotherly love in the movement.
“I know you aren’t. But I don’t want Teddy hurt more than… she has been already.”
She could hear the addendum to the sentence “more than I have hurt her.” Phil’s soul was bare for them to see. He was trying to protect Theodora but he was hurting her and himself in the process.
“Does Father know about the abduction?” She asked softly.
“Yes. But not Mother. So please be careful. We did everything we could so that no-one outside the family knew it happened.”
“Except Lord Thornhill.” Rose insisted.
“Yes.” Phil gritted.
“Phil. You like the Commander. Whatever he’s done, he’s your friend. And if he’s going to be our brother, which I would very much like for Teddy’s sake and my own, it’s important you reconcile with him. Is your pride, our family pride so important that Teddy must be miserable and pay for it?”
“You don’t understand.”
“I probably don’t. But Phil… You know how difficult it would be for any man to satisfy Teddy; she’s got a mind of her own, she’s strong-willed and she won’t accept a weak gent who will be awed by her height or her knowledge. The Commander is a man who will accept her for the woman she is. And he proposed.”
Phil threw his arms in the air.
“Fine, fine. By Jove, I pity the man who will be foolish enough to be taken in by your air of sweet innocence. I’ll speak to Jeremiah.”
“And to Teddy.”
“Yes… To Teddy as well.”
“Good. Now we can tell her that riding bareback is just not something a Lady does.” Dahlia added.
Phil and Rose laughed, which had been her purpose anyway. This was way too much drama, even for her.