“Sophy! Get out of there. You look an utter fool and shall catch your death of pneumonia, I have no doubt.” Charles frowned deeply. His hands twitched against his folded arms with the desire to climb up there and drag her back home.
“Oh really,” she gurgled, gazing down at him from her perch at the top of the fountain. “Am I being ever so naughty? But Lord Marchbolt said it was all the rage among the young bucks, and I made him specially promise to teach me how to fence if I should do it. I promise I will come to no harm. I have a marvelous constitution. Sir Hubert would never have allowed me to come with him if I were one of those delicate creatures forever succumbing to a chill.” She was scrambling down the ornate facade, stepping on the heads of lions and dolphins. Sophy jumped down into the base and waded over to Charles, holding out her hand. “After all, you will not cross swords with me no matter how prettily I ask, and you must admit how devilishly unfair that is.”
The upward tilt of Charles's mouth betrayed that he was fighting back a smile as he helped her down onto dry ground. “Well, I am not so foolish as to want to give you more weapons should you lose your temper with me.”
“And we both know how often that happens, dear Charles!” Her sparkling eyes and flushed cheeks only enhanced her charms, and the wet linens clinging to her form caused Charles to reflect once more on how exceedingly lucky he was to have married her.
His eyes rose rather reluctantly to the wicked grin on her lips. “Let us get home at once.”
“Oh, but I must prove to Lord Marchbolt that I have won the dare. Let me just pop in to the Rotunda and show him wrong.”
“You--! You would go in front of that crowd of, of wretches in such a state of undress!”
“Oh Charles, don't exaggerate so. For one thing, Lord Marchbolt has been so utterly virtuous up until now that I confess I have begun to find him quite a bore. And for another, I am quite dressed, although Jane Storridge will be cross at me for dampening my gown. And it is the new sprigged muslin, although I am not quite sure it suits me.”
“Lord Marchbolt and his cronies are not going to see my wife in wet linens, Sophy. On that I put my foot down.”
“But Charles! Only think of my fencing lessons!”
“If you are that determined, I shall show you the basics, but I absolutely forbid you from doing anything but coming straight back home.”
Sophy demurely followed behind him. “Yes, Charles, dear , if you insist.”
He whirled, and caught her cheek threatening to dimple underneath her downcast eyes. “You minx,” Charles cried. “I should turn you over my knee for such a deception.”
“Well, if you hadn't been so unreasonable, I wouldn't have needed to prank you. You are not really angry, dear, you know.” She paused and twinkled up at him. “Although it would have been such fun to see the look on Lord Marchbolt's face had I walked in this way. His eyes bulge just exactly like a toad's , you know, and with his scowling countenance he quite reminds me of those horrid stone Oriental monsters that Lady Stanhope commissioned for her garden. ”
“A horrid Oriental monster is what I shall be if you don't hurry up and get out of those clothes.”
“Why Charles! Right in the middle of the Park? How dreadfully forward of you!” Laughing, she picked up her skirts and dashed towards the carriage. “I believe we had agreed that I would drive us home tonight?”
Charles cursed merrily under his breath and ran forward.
The next morning Sophy woke to a pounding at her temples and the beginnings of a sore throat. Of course it would never do for Charles to know of it—he would mock her mercilessly about it at every avenue—so she determined to be twice as vexatious and vivacious as usual so as to defer suspicion. It was very wearing though and by evening she was hard pressed to conjure up some excuse for retiring shockingly early.
When she woke though, there was no hiding it. Sophy, the grand Sophy, was indubitably sick.
Charles crossed his arms and glared down at her as the doctor fussed around taking her temperature and feeling her pulse. “I have no doubt that you shall be a horrible patient. I believe these energetic, never-sick-a-day-in-their-lives people usually are.”
She frowned up at him, her face paler than normal. “I am not sick. I cannot be sick, Charles. I hate being cosseted, and gruel makes me ill, and I cannot stand to watch things being done improperly, and you know Hodgkins will not properly dust unless you stand over her.”
The doctor began carefully placing his instruments back in his case. “I'm afraid you will have to give up that pleasure for a while,” he murmured. “It's nothing too serious, thankfully, but if you go running around it could very well worsen into pneumonia. Bed rest and hot liquids for the next two days, and absolutely no housekeeping—or fountain climbing,” he said, with a sharp glare at his patient.
“Oh, Doctor Baillie,” she cried, “please tell Charles that I am perfectly well. I refuse to lie here like an invalid all day long.” On anyone else it would have been a pout, but with Sophy it came out as an order.
Charles said sternly, “But you are an invalid, and if you don't do exactly as the doctor commands I shall...I shall take Salamanca out for a gallop.”
“Oh Charles! You wouldn't!” Bright pink circles of indignation burned her cheeks, making Sophy look much more her normal self. She laughed. “Of course you would. You have learned how to make proper threats, I see. It comes from associating with me, most likely.”
“Most likely,” he assured her, smiling to see her back in fine spirits.
He escorted the doctor to the door, thanking him quietly for his services, then turned back towards the bed. He peeled his jacket off and laid it across her dressing stool then bent down to slip off his boots as well. Sophy turned on her side and watched him, her eyebrows knitting, as he undressed.
“Oh but, Charles, you'll catch my cold sleeping next to me,” she exclaimed as he turned down the counterpane and climbed into bed behind her.
“That is precisely what I am aiming for, my dear Sophy. And then I may get the pleasure of lying here in bed with you while other people take care of my every whim.” He gently tucked his arm around her chest.
Sophy laughed and then winced at the ache that throbbed through her. “I am exceedingly cross with you. You know I am indulging in a fit of ill-temper and yet you deliberately make me laugh. Don't try to deny it. I know perfectly well by now when you are humouring me.”
Charles tightened his arm around her waist. “In that case I shall remain silent. You may consider me a blanket.”
“Oh you're much nicer than a blanket, dear. For one thing you're far warmer.”
“Well, you are far too far away. Give me one of those unnecessary pillows and get rid of the rest. I want you where I can reach you.”
“Yes, Charles,” she replied meekly, settling down against him more snugly.
“That is much better,” he murmured against her neck. “I believe I could enjoy spending the entire day with you in bed on a regular basis.”
“Oh, really you wouldn't,” she said. “You are simply too fond of striding about, shouting at people and looking important, to ever want to make a habit of laying about all day.”
“Whereas you are always too exceedingly busy causing mischief and arranging other people's lives to do so either. Still, you must admit that this is not a passingly bad way to spend our time for the nonce.”
Sophy hummed in accordance. “Perhaps I should make it a habit to climb fountains at night so that you might have a chance to relax.”
Charles huffed a laugh. “Oh, no you won't, madam! I'll put a stop to that soon enough.”
“I was only thinking of your health, dear.”
“My health is quite fine, thank you. The only thing I need to worry about is my nerves ever recovering from all of the shocks I you seem determined to give me. Sometimes I think I ought to just kill myself now and save you the bother of driving me into it.”
Sophy stirred uneasily and shifted in his arms so that she was facing him, her face unusually solemn. “Tell me truly, do you regret marrying me? Wouldn't you rather have had someone more respectable; some nice, sedate daughter of the Ton?”
Charles crushed her against him. “My darling Sophy,” he growled, “I have known many nice, sedate, respectable women. None of them would cause me half so many headaches as you.” He kissed her roughly, only pulling back for air when he felt her relax back against the pillow.
“Oh, dear Charles,” she murmured, “I love you too.”