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The Morning After [25/12, early morning]- Xmas 1677

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Sophia awakened on Christmas morning with a soft smile curving her lips, still caught up in a lovely dream where she had been singing to Juan while he slowly undressed her, caressing each part of her body that he exposed. It took her several long minutes to come back to the present, and as soon as she realized she was lying in her bed and not standing in the room she and her Prince had shared in Madrid, despondency washed over her in sorrowful waves, leaving her with a feeling of emptiness. Juan was far away and the opera was over. The anticipation and excitement that she had experienced during the last two months of preparations had vanished.


Attempting to shake off the melancholy that always assailed her on the morning after a performance, she rose, bathed, and let Anna dress her and fix her hair. There was still so much to look forward to. She shouldn't be feeling so depressed. A ball would most likely be held tonight, and there were Lady Kendishall's party and Lord Maldon's snowball fight to attend, as well as putting finishing touches on her plans for her banquet. And she needed to continue the redecorating she had started on this house. She hoped that Esteban would allow her to redecorate the Embassy as well.




Sophia needed to talk to him. She had been too nervous during the carriage ride to the opera last night, and too exhausted to think on the way back. He had been angry at her, she remembered that much, sitting across from her silent and tense. But why? Hadn't he been pleased with her performance? Her voice had been at its finest and she had made a better Diana than the goddess herself. Master Greyson and Master Cole would be renowned all over England for their opera and she had helped to make it a success.


She almost went to his rooms but decided to send a servant instead with a message that she would be waiting for him in the drawing room. The dark dismal drawing room that could use a lighter shade of wallpaper and pretty pastel upholstery and rugs. It was quite obvious that a gentleman had lived here alone … if Ronquillo could even be called a gentleman. The entire house screamed for a woman's touch.


As she entered the room, Sophia strolled over to the small Christmas tree that Lord Maldon had brought her yesterday. She had moved it to a table in the center of the room and it made a festive … and very German … centerpiece. As she waited for her husband to arrive, she straightened a couple of candles, and adjusted some of the decorations, more to keep her occupied than because they needed it.


The young singer hoped that her husband's anger had cooled and he would tell her what had upset him so.

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The Baroness was informed that her husband had gone to attend an early morning Mass at the Queen's Chapel. Ordinarily, he did not choose to attend Catholic churches in England, but he made exceptions on certain holidays. Instead, he had brought Father Alberto from Madrid to act as confessor to him and the other Spaniards in the embassy. Sophia was the only Protestant in the household and it was a source of friction from time to time. Father Alberto had alternated between soft and stern manners to encourage Sophia to convert to the True Faith. Estaban did not allow Alberto to speak disrespectfully to his wife. He was convinced that she would embrace the faith, but in due course. Alberto was to hold a small Mass for embassy staff at noon.


It was nearly ten o'clock when he returned to the house. Notwithstanding his opportunity for reflection before God, he was still upset and did not wish to speak to his wife. Instead, he ignored her and moved to his office, thinking highly of himself for showing so much restraint so far.

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  • 1 month later...

Sophia should have known that her husband would go to Mass on Christmas morning. As she fiddled with the tree, she wondered if she should have gone to Church as well, but she didn't think she would have been able to sit still through a boring sermon today and she needed to rest her voice after last night's performance. She usually didn't even practice the day after an opera. Tomorrow she would be back to singing for her usual two hours.


Why, she wondered, had he not invited her to go with him? She remembered when they had first met and he had told her that a Protestant wife would be beneficial to him if he wanted to become the Ambassador to England, but with Father Alberto's intrusion into their household, she had been feeling the subtle push to convert to Catholicism. In truth, she considered herself more a garden-variety Christian than a strict adherent to any faith, and the only obvious difference that she knew of was that Catholics confessed their sins to a priest while Protestants felt no such need.


Sophia didn't think she would feel comfortable with that aspect of the Catholic faith. What did she have to confess? Was it wrong to be young, adventurous, and full of mischief? Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned, because I'm a teenager and that's what we do.


She definitely didn't want to divulge her impure thoughts. That would keep in her in the confessional forever. That's all for now, Father. Thanks for listening. Wait. I just had another one. I was thinking about how much I like the taste of Don Juan's cock.


A little smirk turned up the corner of her lips as that thought crossed her mind. Oh, how she wished he was here with her now! Sophia had not yet written to him about the opera but she planned to do that later today. She wasn't the most expressive of writers, but she hoped she could make him feel as if he had been by her side the entire evening.


The steady cadence of footsteps in the corridor put an end to her contemplation. Turning toward the door, she expected to see her husband enter the room, but the footsteps continued onward. They were too bold to belong to a servant, so she knew they were Esteban's. Had he not received her message? Perhaps he would join her in a few minutes.


But those few minutes passed, and then a few more. With a little sigh, Sophia went in search of him, finally finding him in his office. She stopped just inside the doorway, smiling mischievously. “If I didn't know better, dear husband, I might think you are avoiding me. I guess the servant did not give you my message.”

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Sophia would learn much of what she might fear by the cold look he gave her as she entered. "I am avoiding you, for your own good; but, now that you are here, close the door and come in."


There was going to be a spectacle no doubt and he would do her the service of having it cloaked in as much privacy as possible. He signaled for her to take the seat in front of his desk.


"Sophia," he began, "actresses are viewed as whores because they revel in revealing their flesh through scandalous costumes. They act like whores in tantalizing men in the audience to want to have sexual relations with them. They often succeed in Spain as they do here in England. I am told that the best actresses become mistresses to important persons."


Esteban felt that he should begin his lecture as a father might. It was the calmest persona he could adopt under the circumstances.


"What you did last night was offer your body in the most impure ways possible to an audience of England's finest. The men leered at you as if you were a naked whore and the ladies turned their heads away at the scandal." His voice was becoming more tight as his temper increased. "You are a married lady. You are a daughter of a Graf. You are the wife of the Spanish Ambassador. Yet, you acted as the cheapest woman in London. You embarrassed yourself in front of me and in front of the entire court. Every lord in England shall think you an easy prize for his bed. Every lady in London shall want nothing to do with you, and shall keep you from their husbands."


His temper was becoming more pronounced. "What in God's name possessed you to have no idea that you were ruining everything for yourself and me? You have undermined everything I had hoped to accomplish in gaining respect here. Courtiers shall laugh at me behind my back. I shall become the butt of jokes. Who will want to engage in negotiations with me other then men offering me money if you would warm their beds at night?" His face was acquiring a reddish tint.

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The blood drained from her face and her heart fell to the pit of her stomach when she saw his grim expression. He was still angry at her, that much was apparent, but for what? Her performance had been a raging success. Was he jealous because more attention would be lavished on her now than on him? He had never seemed like the envious type, but Sophia could think of no other reason for his fury.


It appeared that she was about to find out and she shut the door as he requested, moving further into the room and watching him warily. Instead of sitting down in the chair in front of his desk, she remained standing. Although she was both frightened and nervous, she forced herself to remain relaxed, unwilling to give him the satisfaction of seeing how unsettled she was by his frigid demeanor.


Sophia frowned as his lecture began Yes, she knew that actresses were viewed as whores, but what did that have to do with her? As he continued, a spark of anger ignited within her. How dare he accuse her of acting like a common strumpet! She had done nothing of the sort. Her costumes had not even been particularly revealing next to some of the outfits she had worn in Venice. All she had done was play Diana as she was meant to be portrayed. It had been the goddess onstage last night, not Sophia. Why couldn't he see that?


She had not been offering herself as a mistress to every man in the audience and nothing about her performance had been vulgar or tasteless. Sophia had been playful and flirtatious on a grand scale, but she had only been playing a role and she didn't see how her performance would reflect poorly on either her or her husband. He was obviously not a fan of opera, and probably not theatre in general.


It's that damnable Spanish honor of his. He is blowing everything out of proportion. Just because he was embarrassed by my performance, that doesn't mean everyone was. Perhaps some people will shun me, but others will admire my boldness and thank him for allowing me to bring them joy through my music. But how do I get him to see that?


His outrage was increasing with every sentence he spat at her and despite her determination to remain calm in the face of his fury, she took an involuntary step backwards as he blamed her for ruining his chances of gaining respect in England. Sophia bristled when he insinuated that men would offer him money to sleep with her. She had not conducted herself in a shameful way at all.


When he stopped, red-faced, she forced herself to meet his eyes. “How do you know these things?” she asked softly, a hint of ire coloring her lyrical voice. “How do you know what people are going to think of you or of me? Just because you cannot separate me from my role does not mean that others will feel the same. For all you know, doors may open to you because you allowed your wife to sing last night. They may admire you, not condemn you. Some of the most powerful men at court, including the King, are libertine.”

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Her response was not the tears and apologies he had expected. Rather, she tried to argue that her performance was not lurid and might even help him. How very naïve she is.


"I watched men leer at you. I know the difference between leering and delight at a performance. At chapel today, some people avoided me as if I had some illness. It is Christmas Day. They should have approached me with holiday greetings. They did not," he lamented. It was possible that there might have been other motivations, but Esteban was in no mood to be reasonable.


"Separate you from your role?" he all but shouted in a sarcastic tone. "You even sound like an actress. Stop thinking like an actress, who are treated as whores. Think like the wife of an ambassador. Would this performance have made your father or mother proud? No." he paused to let her try and dispute that.


"If the wife of the French ambassador cavorted about on stage half naked, I would have a grand time ridiculing her, and him, in diplomatic circles." The fact that the French Ambassador was not married was beside the point. "What do you think he will say about you, and us?"


"Si, perhaps the so-called Merry Group of Libertines of London might applaud you, but that is small solace." He could not remember the name of the Merry Gang, so he had invented something similar, Again he paused to see if any embarrassment might seep its way into her psyche.

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Men leer at me constantly, she thought. Even if I am just sitting in a room and reading to myself. Has he had his eyes closed all this time? I cannot help that God gifted me with beauty and a big bosom. It is not my fault that gentlemen are drawn to me because of it. Instead of berating me for it, he should be thankful that I have remained faithful to his master.


Sophia was in love, but she wasn't dead. There were a few gentlemen at court whom she found exceedingly attractive. Two of them had been romantically involved with her. She and Master Cole had declared their undying love for each other, but it had died anyway, crushed by baseless rumors. She and Lord Dundarg had wanted to marry but her guardian had forbidden it. Now both gentlemen were just very dear friends.


There were other gentlemen who could make her swoon … some she had met and some she had just seen around … but what could one expect from a sixteen-year-old girl with raging hormones? She had no desire to sleep with any of them. The golden-voiced singer belonged heart, soul and body to her beloved Juan. She would wait for him and sate her desires by herself in the privacy of her bedchamber. It wasn't nearly as pleasurable that way, but it did have its appeal.


As for being snubbed at chapel, it probably had more to do with Esteban's nationality than her performance. She knew that he rarely attended mass in England. That's why he had his own private priest. Maybe the other worshipers had been surprised to see him there. And if the anger he bore toward her had been as apparent as it was now, they might have been afraid to approach him or thought that he wanted to be alone. Sophia knew better than to tell him any of this. He would not believe her anyway.


It was also possible that he had been avoided because of her.


Sophia had never seen him so infuriated. In fact, she had never seen him angry at all. He had always been so kind to her and she had started to believe that he actually enjoyed her company, that he was proud of her and didn't regret their marriage of convenience. Yet if he had begun to view her in a favorable light, she had ruined it by her performance. That saddened her, but she still considered him to be wrong.


It would be easy to give him what he wanted … to fall down on her knees and beg for his forgiveness. And she could make him believe that she was truly contrite using the same acting skills that he was condemning her for. Unfortunately, Germans were as stubborn as they were blunt, and she refused to give him the satisfaction of admitting that his assumptions were ... or could be ... correct. Her performance had been seductive, but it had not been tasteless. He could yell at her all day long and she would never, ever …


My father.


Why did he mention my father?


Despite her determination to keep her composure, her lips began to quiver and tears welled behind her eyes, making them appear even bluer than usual. No, her father would not have been proud of her. Closing her eyes, she could see the disappointment on his face when he had stalked backstage and confronted her after watching her sing in an opera that he had decided to attend on the spur of the moment … never dreaming that his precious daughter would be the scantily-dressed star. She had defended herself to him too, claiming that she had done nothing wrong.


All the while, he had been dying and she hadn't known it. His final months should have been peaceful and happy, but he'd had to cover up a scandal and make certain she would be taken care of and make a good marriage despite what she had done. Sometimes, Sophia wondered if he would have lived longer had he not had so much to worry about. Even though he told her he had forgiven her, sometimes she could see sadness in his eyes when he looked at her. Forgiving was not the same as forgetting.


Now she had let her husband down too. No matter who was right and who was wrong, he was disappointed in her and she had embarrassed him without realizing it. She told herself that he could have watched the rehearsals and advised her on how she should act, but she knew he had his new duties to attend to and had not had the time. Now she truly ashamed of how she had failed him.


Just as she had failed her father only a bit more than a year ago.


Would she ever learn?


Lost in her own private hell, the rest of her husband's words went right over her head. Opening her eyes, Sophia stumbled over to the chair in front of his desk and sank into it. A single tear slid down her cheek and in a childlike gesture, she wiped it away. “I … I'm sorry,” she said, looking down at the rug beneath her feet. She was not acting. Esteban had gotten through to her bringing up the pain of her past.


“I had no idea that you would be upset or how others might perceive me. Since I was singing for nobility and not the public, I thought ...” Her voice trailed off on a sad little sigh and she looked up at him, her teeth worrying her lower lip. “I cannot take it back now, but how can I make it up to you?”


Her father had passed away before she could regain his respect. But now, with her husband, she had another chance.

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Slowly but surely the severity of the situation began to dawn on his wife. Perhaps it took German's longer to see the truth. The expected tears began to flow; but, all the tears of sorrow had no hope of extinguishing the flames of scandal Sophia had kindled.


"I am not certain," Esteban confessed at last. "One approach is to have you stay away from court for the rest of the season." He knew that would be seen as very severe punishment. Sophia wanted to be the center of attention, as most young ladies did. "Perhaps, if you were seen in proper company ... ." He paused to weigh the chances that the Queen would tolerate Sophia's presence. It was said that Queen Karoline was cold to libertines because they encouraged her husband to wander. Thoughts about stifling gossip were abandoned as scandalous gossip was a force of nature at court.


"Perhaps ... we can say that the script was changed at the last minute and you objected to the part, but felt honor bound to complete it." It was a fabrication, albeit a weak one. Already Toledo was shaking his head in rejection. "We need the advice of proper members of society," he declared. "Perhaps, if we move quickly ... ."

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Sophia didn't want to be banished from court, even if she was able to go to Madrid and be with Juan. She thought that sending his wife away would make Esteban look uptight, pompous, and weak. The opera had been a success and so had she. Some courtiers might snub her but others would applaud her. Her absence would bring him derision instead of respect and very few people would want to deal with a gentleman who handled difficulties by hiding them away and ignoring them instead of facing them head on.


He was so angry that he wasn't able to think coherently. If the King was pleased with her, everyone else would be pleased with her too. It was too early to tell how they would react. Though she was young and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she knew that hasty decisions were often fatal. If she felt that her presence was hurting her husband, she would make up some kind of excuse and leave court voluntarily. It would be less damaging to him if she left of her own accord than if she disappeared without saying good-bye to her friends.


But she hoped it wouldn't come to that. “I plan to give the Queen a gift tonight at the ball … a Christmas pyramid. It is traditional for Germans to give each other gifts around Christmas. I believe she will be pleased.” She had not attended the opera, and if she was as pragmatic as most Germans, she would disregard gossip until Sophia had a chance to explain herself. The vast majority of gossip started with jealousy. The Queen had heard her sing and had been impressed by her voice. She might attribute any rumors she heard to envy.


But how would she explain herself? Various possibilities ran through her mind as her husband continued speaking and she thought that one of them might actually work quite well. Before Esteban could finish his next sentence, she leaned forward in her chair, wiping away another errant tear. “What if I say I was drunk? I was so nervous that I drank too much before the performance and didn't realize what I was doing. Everyone will be able to relate to doing embarrassing things while inebriated. Remember the party at Brighton? Many people did things they regretted later. If I am remorseful at the ball tonight, they may feel sorry for me and forgive my youthful folly.”


She settled against the cushions again. “I am sorry. I did not mean to interrupt. What were you about to suggest?”

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Sophia offered a possible explanation, that she was inebriated. Esteban paused to consider the merits of such a plan. Initially it seemed hopeful. People could understand a young girl becoming intoxicated easily. But, what would explain the costume? Surely, she was not drunk when she say the costume she was to wear, or when she reviewed the script. It sounded too convenient, too contrived.


"Perhaps," he replied, wanting to encourage her to keep thinking. "Maybe we combine your drunkenness with my other suggestion that they changed costumes on you at the last minute." Even the combination seemed hollow to the Baron, though it was the best he had at the moment. The long sigh he offered would signal that he remained unconvinced.


As to the idea he was about to utter, it came back to him slowly. "If we announce that you will no longer perform any acting and opera, it may work to save you. We can say that you wanted to try it once. Now, having experienced it, you think it best to return to proper society."

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Sophia shook her head. “Unless we get everyone who was involved in the opera to lie for us, we cannot say that the costumes were changed at the last minute. There were several dress rehearsals. Everybody saw them, even the members of the orchestra. I think we should say nothing about the costumes at all. The focus was on my voice and on the story we told. What I wore might have already been forgotten.” She smiled wryly. “My bosom might be remembered, but no more of it was revealed than in the gowns I usually wear. I cannot help that it heaves when I sing.


“Saying I was drunk could work, though. I did not speak to anybody backstage and much of the time, I paced around in a corner, silently going through my part. I must have looked a bit strange, waving my arms around and mouthing words that no one could hear.”


He didn't seem to be as angry with her now that she was willing to work with him to undue the damage her performance has caused. If he had not mentioned her father, she might have made things worse by arguing with him like she had often done with Lord Kingston, but that simple comment had gotten through to her. After she agreed with him, his fury had seemed to abate. There was a lesson to be learned in that.


“We can say that I will no longer perform onstage, but not that I will give up singing opera. I can still sing in private concerts or at court events like I did during the last two seasons. I am not going to give up singing altogether.”


Her eyes met his. “But first, before we do anything, we should see how we are received at the ball this evening. If we are both treated respectfully, then my behavior has been either accepted or forgiven and we do not need to make excuses for it. If we are snubbed by important courtiers, we can say that I decided that performing on a stage was inappropriate and that I have no desire to repeat the experience. We do not want to displease the King. He may wish to hear me sing again, but it does not have to be in a theatre."

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As Sophia noted, Esteban's outrage cooled once she admitted her fault and was contrite. No doubt she would learn multiple lessons for the future.


As such, he did not object to her continued singing at private events. Her suggestions were noted. "Si, we will see how we are treated at the ball this evening; but, even if all treat you well, your days on the stage are at an end. Do you understand?" As for the King, there would be no private performances behind closed doors. The Merry Monarch was not going to lay his hands on Esteban's wife.


"Select your gown carefully tonight," he admonished. "You will choose a conservative one, with no bosom showing." He gave her a glare that signaled no willingness to negotiate.

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One of the lessons Sophia had learned would probably not have pleased her husband. If you said you were sorry and admitted you were wrong, your accuser would be appeased. Saying 'I'm sorry' was easy; they were just two simple words. Meaning it was more difficult. In this instance, she was not apologetic for entrancing the audience with her voice, but she was sorry for inadvertently insulting her husband's honor and traipsing about like a common actress. She should not have performed so seductively, and she should have sung without flirtatiousness coloring her voice. Yet Diana's role, in its very nature, had called for both. Would her portrayal have been as believable had she been perfectly chaste? She didn't think so.


The young Baroness winced when he firmly stated that she would never perform onstage again. “Ja, I understand.” Her voice was soft and contrite. If the King commissioned another opera, it would be impossible to refuse, but Esteban could review the script and insist that inappropriate lyrics be changed and he could also attend rehearsals to make certain her performance and her costumes were respectable.


It was more likely, though, that the King would prefer professional actresses rather than courtiers. in subsequent performances. If she had been a commoner, he might have taken her to his bed and she would have been thrilled. The Spanish Ambassador's wife was off-limits, and even if she wasn't deeply in love with Juan, she had no desire to be one of His Majesty's many mistresses. Not to mention that it would ruin any chance of becoming a friend to the Queen.


Still, Sophia was fanciful enough to hope she had danced through his dreams last night and that he would always remember the lady he could never have. Maybe he would wish to dance with her tonight. Dances were harmless, and she doubted the Queen would mind. It was better that he danced with ladies who had no interest in him than with those who did.


“I have already picked out my gown. You will approve. It does show some cleavage, but it would not be fashionable otherwise and would imply that I had something to hide.” Like bruises. If she was completely covered up, it would look as if Esteban had beaten her, and while some gentlemen might condone it, others would condemn it. Sophia doubted the King would be happy that she had been punished for pleasing him.


“I think everything will be fine, husband. I may be seen as more approachable and be able to charm a few gentleman into letting down their guard and giving me information that could help you and Don Juan. We can turn this unfortunate situation to our advantage, to find out where people stand in regards to Spanish affairs.”

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Gentlemen like Esteban lived in a world of honor in which one's word was one's bond. If someone apologized and offered to not engage in the harmful conduct again, it was often times sufficient to resolve a dispute. As for whether those rules applied to foreign teenage wives, one would need to see. As to whether she could manipulate things later to serve her purposes, time would only tell.


As for the gown she had selected, the Baron doubted that it was nearly as chaste as she let on. Given that it was but hours before the ball, he supposed there was little to do to change it. Perhaps Sophia's maid might be able to sew lace on the gown to hide the cleavage, but that risked making the gown appear out of style. If she abused the privilege, he would make certain that some Spanish seamstress took over her wardrobe. She would be wearing black and covering all of the flesh on her body.


"We shall see," was the nicest thing reply he could manage for her ideal speculation about how useful she would be to him after her social catastrophe. One had to abide the unrealistic notions of young ladies sometimes. "Why do you not dress in the gown and show it to me before we go?" That would get her to withdraw so that he could be left alone with his thoughts about how to salvage the situation.

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Sophia didn't blame him for being skeptical about her ability to assist him now, but she was determined to prove him wrong. She thought that he was entirely too pessimistic about the possible repercussions of her performance. There would be some, she was certain, but there would be praise and admiration as well. And if she could find out something useful, no matter how small, he might start to have faith in her again.


She felt guilty whenever she disappointed him because she was aware that he had married her knowing that she was Juan's mistress, most likely at her Prince's request. He was stuck with a wife that was not of his choosing and she always endeavored to please him and to show him that she was more than just a pretty face. Sophia had believed that she was succeeding until last night. Now she had to regain the trust that she had lost. The ball would be a good place to start and if the banquet was a success, perhaps she would see him smile at her again.


It annoyed her a bit that he didn't believe what she said about her gown. What reason did she have to lie to him? “I will show it to you before dinner,” she promised. “When I left my rooms this morning, Anna was still sewing on the trims. I rather doubt that she is finished with it yet.”


She held his dark gaze. “There are other things I wish to speak to you about.” Redecorating the house and embassy, the banquet, Lord Maldon's party. There was much that still needed discussing. Perhaps now was not the ideal time because of his anger toward her, but she didn't know when she would be able to speak to him again. For a married couple, they didn't spend much time together and she never knew when he was going to be home.

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The promise to model the dress was met with a casual nod. He doubted it would be too daring if she offered to show it to him; yet, his definition of daring would be far different than Sophia's.


When she raised the issue of discussing other topics, he fought a grumble. "What is it?" he asked with more than a hint of impatience.

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Sophia's eyes widened when he snapped at her. No, this was not a good time for discussion. He was still furious at her and might deny her things he would generally approve of. She doubted that he was any happier with the house and the embassy than she was. Both buildings practically reeked of Ronquillo. If they were going to stay in England permanently, they needed to make both places their own. But would he listen to her now?


And would he refuse to allow her to participate in Lord Maldon's snowball fight? He might think that she would accidentally fall into some mischief that would dishonor him. It might be better to wait a few days until they were certain how everyone felt about her performance and she could undo whatever damage she had done to his reputation and hers. At the moment, he needed time to cool down.


“Never mind,” she said softly and sadly. “We can talk another time. It is not so urgent that it cannot wait a couple days. Is there anything else you wish to tell me before I go?”

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Esteban was glad to hear that the other topics could wait. He was still annoyed and, as such, wished to think of other topics than the ones raised by his wife.


After a satisfactory nod to her deferral, he replied "no, you may go." There were other things he could tell her, but he was in no mood to do so. He needed to find other ways to reduce stress. He hoped that his correspondence might help with that. With only a modicum of politeness, Esteban paused but a moment and then began to shift his attention elsewhere.

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“As you wish,” she replied sadly when he dismissed her. Sophia wished that she had been able to restore his faith in her, but she knew that it would take some time. At least he wasn't yelling at her anymore and he knew that she was truly sorry for unintentionally dishonoring him by her performance. And he had been willing to work with her to undo the damage that she had done. That was all she was going to get from him today. Maybe if they were treated well at the ball, his icy demeanor toward her would thaw.


“I will model my gown for you before dinner.” she said as she stood up. She almost told him to enjoy the rest of his day, but that might have set him off again. Instead, she simply turned around and left the office. Dinner was likely to be a bleak and silent affair, but at least she could have their cook prepare some of his favorite dishes. She knew that Esteban enjoyed food and she had heard the saying that the way to a man's heart was through his stomach. Sophia didn't want his heart. She wanted his forgiveness and his trust.


I need to get out of here, she thought as she headed toward the kitchens. The house was suddenly stifling, maybe because of her husband's disappointment or maybe because everything in it reminded her of its former occupant. She wanted to start redecorating soon. Maybe she could at least get his permission for that tonight.


After the ball, she would write Juan about the opera. Now, though, she would pack up her painting supplies and go for a ride in her carriage as soon as she spoke with the cook. She did not plan on returning until it was time to get ready for dinner.



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