Stiles returned to the Martin estate unescorted, the chaperone at Eichen House having twisted her ankle walking back to the house. The valet helped him down from the carriage and ushered him inside, where the entire house greeted him in the solarium. Lydia and Allison smiled warmly at him, the Alpha and Lady Martin looked smug, and his father looked downright suspicious.
“I am told you went off alone with a strange Alpha today,” he commented lightly, his words betraying his casual tone.
The omega rolled his eyes. “Colonel Parrish is an Alpha of high society, and a paragon of virtue. His servant Miss Tate chaperoned us, and it may well have cost the poor girl her foot.”
His father still looked a bit wary, but Stiles came forward and gave him a small hug. “I would never be so foolish as to risk my ruination, Papa, least of all to such a proper Alpha.”
“Better an improper one?”
“If I am to be ruined before my season, I should like to be as scandalous as possible. Lord Peter Hale, perhaps.”
Despite being a Beta, Johnathon Stilinski could growl and intimidate as well as any Alpha. “I should have him on the hill with pistols drawn before the first pin fell from your hair.”
This granted him a laugh from the others, save Stiles, who knew from experience his father meant every word of it.
Lydia Martin found herself, not for the first time, thoroughly disenchanted with Bath. She had lived her life here, in the country, and was left with little to do outside the summer season, when the wealthy aristocracy flocked there to enjoy the weather and gaiety. She had the day to herself, with Stiles out with Allison having tea at the McCall estate. Lydia had been invited, of course, but the tension that no doubt would take root in Lady McCall’s parlor was enough to keep the Omega home bound. She was reading in her family’s rather large library when the valet came in, announcing a visitor as he did.
“Lord Peter Hale, miss.”
Lydia stood and curtseyed, while Peter gave a slight bow.
“Omega Martin, I am looking for your father. We have some business to speak of and I thought him in here.”
The valet would have to be admonished, leaving an alpha of high society alone with an unmated omega. As Lydia looked on him, she understood her cousin’s teasings of ruination by the Lord’s hand, for he was quite handsome, and his charm was spoken of all throughout London, reaching as far as her own ears in the country.
“You have traveled here in vain, I’m afraid, for Papa has gone away for the week, we do not expect him back for some time.”
“A pity then, though I daresay my trip was not wasted, for I have had the pleasure of speaking to a lovely Omega in doing so.”
Lydia blushed at the compliment. “I could say the same, though I should think flattery would only serve to feed your ego further.”
Peter crossed the room to her, taking her hand and kissing it, teeth scraping lightly against the soft skin. “My ego is rather ravenous, I admit. It could do with a good feeding.”
Lydia jerked her hand back, though every instinct told her not to. “You go too far, Lord Hale. I am without my gloves and my chaperone, and you have been most improper by taking liberties.”
Peter backed away, “My apologies, Omega Martin, I meant no offense.” The look the older man wore expressed his guilt, and Lydia could not find it in herself to be angry with his actions.
“I forgive your indiscretion; however, I suggest you leave before your mere presence ruins me.”
As the Hale carriage pulled away, Lydia watched it go with a desire coiling in her gut that surely meant trouble.
Tea with the McCall family was, if Stiles were to speak plainly, utterly disastrous. The Omega Lahey and Colonel Whittemore had been in attendance, which caused several problems, as Stiles was not fond of Whittemore, Whittemore was not fond of the Alpha McCall, the Alpha McCall was no longer fond of Allison and Allison was most certainly not fond of the Omega Lahey. Lady McCall had joined them, while Lord McCall had been wise enough to avoid the gathering altogether, choosing to go on a hunt with the neighboring family instead.
“Tell me, how have you been finding the country, Stiles? We haven’t received you in some number of years.”
“It is as wonderful as it was during my childhood. I must say, maturity is quite over rated, I sorely miss rolling about in the grass and scouring the forest for woodland creatures.”
Jackson looked to him. “We went on such a hunt once, before my family moved estates. You and McCall got us hopelessly lost and I was bitten by a wild fox.”
Stiles hid his smile behind his fan. “I maintain that the darling creature was merely protecting me, for after you berated Scott for getting us lost, you rounded on me for it being my idea.”
Jackson snorted. “I was right in my accusation; it was indeed your fault and you deserved to hear it.”
Isaac frowned. “You would yell at an Omega?”
The Colonel smirked. “The most Honorable Omega is not so delicate that he is unable to bear reprimand, for his father gave him such a tongue lashing when we returned I daresay he stayed indoors for the rest of their stay.”
Stiles nodded. “The Colonel is right; it was my idea and I cared not that he chose to admonish me. Truly it was rather amusing, even more so after the cunning little fox took a bite out of him.”
Allison shot Isaac a poisonous look. “Our caste does not dictate our nature, we are allowed to be more than wilting flowers.”
Scott placed an arm around his intended’s shoulders, thumb brushing his scent gland. “I rather enjoy your nature, Isaac.”
Everyone in the room gaped at the alpha, for touching an omega’s scent gland was incredibly intimate, and toed the line of impropriety, courtship or not. Allison looked on the two enviously, and Stiles could see the prickly Colonel doing the same.