'Let me tie your cravat.’ Lady Navenby reached up and began to tie the cumbersome cloth with expert hands. ‘There.’ She stood back with a tremulous smile. ‘You look very smart, Theo.’
‘I look like an extra in a Merchant Ivory production.’ He regarded himself in the mirror, trying not to scowl at the striped trousers, waistcoat, tails and a cravat. ‘Or like I’m back in school uniform. At least I’m spared the hat.’ The exclusive school he’d attended had insisted on straw boaters in summer and top hats in winter. Some of the boys had enjoyed the pageantry. Theo had loathed it. No wonder he had founded a company where each item of clothing was crafted for comfort and use as much as for aesthetics. ‘You look rather lovely yourself.’
It wasn’t often he saw his mother out of her ancient tweeds but she’d dressed up for the occasion in a bright blue silk dress and matching jacket complete with a dainty hat that seemed entirely made from feathers. He summoned up his most positive grin and turned to her but there was no matching smile. Instead, her expression was full of concern.
‘Are you happy, Theo?’
He steeled himself to face her searching look. ‘What a question on the morning of my wedding,’ he tried to joke, but her look of concern merely deepened.
‘I’m aware you proposed to Madeleine at a very difficult time. She was your father’s goddaughter and a huge help to me. If you felt obligated…’
‘Hey.’ He put his hands on his mother’s shoulders. ‘Where has this come from? I thought you were happy about the wedding?’ Theo was conscious of a feeling of betrayal. He was getting married for the sake of the family after all – it was bad enough hiding his own doubts, he couldn’t shoulder his mother’s as well.
‘Last night, at the dinner, you and Madeleine didn’t exchange one word, Theo. There’s more chemistry in a vacuum. I knew you’d rushed into the engagement – and your father died happy so I couldn’t blame you for that – and I knew, although I didn’t want to admit it, that you didn’t love her, not the way I would want you to love a wife. But I thought, I hoped, that there was attraction, liking, a compatibility that would grow into love. Last night I saw no evidence of that.’
Theo had hoped the same. Had his unwanted, horribly timed attraction to Elisaveta sabotaged the chances of a happy marriage, or had there been no chance all along? No, what had Elisaveta said? You took what you had and made the best of it. He had a church full of guests and a woman who had agreed to marry him in good faith. He couldn’t humiliate Madeleine to take a chance on the understanding in a pair of dark eyes and an attraction which had sprung up literally overnight. He couldn’t, he wouldn’t.
‘Madeleine and I have a perfect understanding,’ he reassured himself, just as much as he reassured his mother. ‘Everything’s going to be fine.’ But he couldn’t tell her he was happy. He couldn’t lie, not to her. Not to himself.
Theo could only hope that by doing the right thing he wasn’t making the biggest mistake of his life.