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Hooking up with your ex girlfriend, in front of her husband?
He bowed to her quickly and left, feeling her dark green eyes on his back as he walked away as quickly as he dared.
"We missed you after dinner last night." There was a note of reproach in his mother's voice, but it was tampered by the calming presence of the other guests. Marlowe sat with his family along with the three Jennings in their manor's sitting room. The air was heavy with afternoon sunlight, reflecting in hazy curves against the silver tea service sat to his side. The many-paned French doors had been thrown open, offering an expansive view of the back lawn and gardens. Marlowe sat on the edge of a plum-colored sofa, Miss Jennings on the other end. Mrs. Jennings sat near her daughter in an armchair- his mother draped across its twin to Marlowe's right. In the corner of the room, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Jennings were hovering over a table, clucking like old hens about the merits of Mr. Jenning's new timepiece.
"I wasn't feeling well," said Marlowe, pausing for a moment to sip from the small cup of white porcelain. Pink and red roses flowered under its gold rim. He glanced sideways at Miss Jennings. A dark curl fell across her face, escaping from its loose chignon. She smiled at him warmly, the corners of her deep blue eyes crinkling. Marlowe could not help but to smile in return.
"I hope that you are feeling better," Miss Jennings said. "It was so kind of you to help Lady Balfrey back to the house."
His mother eyed him waspishly. "And how did you find Lady Balfrey's company?"
Marlowe felt his neck grow warm and he loosened his cravat, stretching out his legs before him and letting his gaze settle on the warm glow of the gardens. Fat pink roses were hanging off of stems. He could swear that he could hear the buzzing of the honey bees that flew around them. A child laughed in the garden- the Jennings's much younger son, Louis, playing with his nanny. "She was pleasant enough to company, despite her injury."
His mother sniffed and fluttered her fan. "She seemed so especially taken with you. How on earth did you manage to charm her?"
Marlowe coughed slightly on his sip of tea. It was unexpectedly bitter. "I beg your pardon, mother, but I am not completely devoid of charm."
"Oh my dear Mrs. Hughes, you musn't taunt your poor son so," Mrs. Jennings cut in, giving Marlowe a sympathetic look. "You do not give him nearly enough credit." She looked at him warmly. "Such a brave and handsome young man.
His mother made a tutting sound. "Marlowe knows that I am simply vexed with him for his comportment the night that he met you."
Mrs. Jennings folded her hands in her lap. "Still? As I've told you, there was no harm done. He was only just come back from the war. I do understand how that changes men. And whatever the case, we're all the best of friends now."
His mother looked at Miss Jennings meaningfully and then back to Mrs. Jennings. "We would all be much closer friends if he had more manners, I'm sure."
"It is most disconcerting to be spoken about as if you are not present," interrupted Marlowe. He stood up abruptly. "I fancy a stroll around the gardens. Miss Jennings, perhaps you would like to accompany me?" He extended his hand.
She smiled at him and looked from her mother's face to his. "Yes, I believe I would." She arranged her thin shawl across her arms and followed him to the open doors after grabbing a parasol from a wicker basket beside the door. Marlowe's mother made smug eye contact with him before he looked away in annoyance.
They were soon out the doors and taking long strides down the green lawn. Miss Jennings grinned at him. "Couldn't wait to make your escape, could you?" she said as soon as they were out of earshot of the door.
Marlowe tilted his head up to the sun and sighed against the light breeze that rustled his dark hair.