Ben managed to contain himself until he was sure that Alice was out of earshot and rounded on his mother.
‘Apologise to Sally,’ he bit out. Sally was looking at her hands, her cheeks drained of colour.
‘Someone has to be practical round here,’ his mother said, looking surprised. ‘No sensible woman will object to you having a relationship with Alice, but to encourage her to think of Askett Hall as home is cruel.’
‘No, Mother, denying me my child was cruel. I’m sorry,’ he added to Sally. ‘My sisters are helping our mother move into the Dower House and wanted to meet you. I thought, wrongly, it would be a good opportunity for my mother to make amends.’
‘Alice is a real credit to you,’ Octavia said, looking at Sally and getting to her feet. ‘I’m going to go and find her and Allegra now, but I also hope we get a chance to have a proper chat before you go.’
Ben’s mother sat back and picked up her coffee cup. ‘Bennet, I know better than anyone the demands of this role. Do you really think this girl would make a good countess?’
Sally winced. ‘Ben and I are co-parents, no thanks to you, and friends. No one is talking marriage. Not that it’s any of your business.’
Dammit. Ben had never been one to discuss where things were going before, happy to let a relationship run its natural course, but for the first time he understood why his ex-girlfriends had found that so exasperating. He didn’t want to leave his relationship with Sally to fate—he’d already made that mistake once. But this wasn’t how he wanted to raise the topic of their future.
‘No one is discussing marriage
‘Ben, you don’t have to…’ Sally said, as she stood up, agitated.
‘I do have to. Maybe not here or now and not with an audience, but at some point I do. Not because you’re the mother of my child, but because you’re you.’
His mother sniffed as she got up and stalked out of the room. Ben turned to Sally, who was standing against the wall, her hands outstretched as if warding him off. All he wanted to do was hold her tight, kiss away her doubts, but he made himself wait to hear what she had to say.
‘Your mother’s right. I’m not a countess. I’m a university dropout, single mother and waitress who hides in the corner at fancy occasions. I’m not what you need.’
‘You’re exactly what I need,’ he said. ‘And as far as I’m concerned, the only person who needs to believe that is you.’
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