Why Dukes Say I Do(6)

By: Manda Collins

The occupants of the carriage must have heard him approach, for the lady’s voice rang out into the night. “Hello? Hello, out there! I warn you, do not attempt to harm us. My.… my husband has a pistol!”

As if she’d nudged him into adding the words, her companion shouted as well, “Aye! I’m armed and dangerous!”

Dismounting, the duke left Bey under the cover of a large elm tree and approached the carriage. “I mean you no harm,” he said loudly. “I’ve just come from the village and wish to offer my assistance.”

There was a long silence in which Trevor imagined the haughty lady and her groom silently argued whether to accept his help. Then, as he watched, the carriage door opened slowly.

Stepping forward, he peered into the carriage and saw a lady huddled against the squabs of the interior, her pelisse and shawl clutched tightly around her. Her companion was a man of middle years, whose wan face and arm clutched tightly to his chest indicated that he was the injured Liston.

“We were on our way to Nettlefield House when something happened to the carriage wheel,” the lady said, her lips tight. Were it not for her cool expression, Trevor was quite convinced that she would have been among the most beautiful women he’d ever seen. Even in the dimness of the interior carriage lamps, her dark hair gleamed mahogany in sharp contrast to her porcelain complexion. Her figure, what he could see of it, was buxom. Perhaps more so than fashionable, but he had never been much of one for fashion. He liked a woman with a bit of substance. “My coachman and outriders have gone on ahead to the house to fetch help,” she went on. “I assure you we will be quite well, though I thank you for stopping.”

“Are you expected at Nettlefield House?” he asked, racking his brain to remember if either of his sisters had told him they were expecting friends sometime soon. He was about to go on, to explain that he was the master of the house, when she interjected.

“I’m sure I don’t know what business it is of yours,” she said, waving her hand dismissively. “Unless you are the Duke of Ormonde, which you clearly are not”—she looked him up and down, obviously rejecting the idea out of hand—“then I really would appreciate your assistance in getting us on our way. My man here is injured, as you can plainly see.”

Trevor bit his lip, fighting the urge to laugh aloud at her cutting remarks. Though he was technically the duke, he took no pleasure in the title. Clearly, this Lady Wharton was some sort of social climber who had come to Nettlefield in search of the new duke to beg some favor of him. There hadn’t been many who were willing to travel such great lengths to win his favor, but there had been enough that he recognized a supplicant when he saw one.

If she was expecting him to be a dim-witted yokel, however, then he’d give her one.

“Aye,” he said slowly, tugging his forelock in a sign of obeisance, “I can see yer man is hurt bad-like. Bu’ won’t do ye no good iffen ye catch the death o’ cold yerself, beggin’ yer pardon, m’lady.”

“Just what I been trying to tell ’er,” the unfortunate Liston said with a nod.

“Help’ll be on its way soon enow,” Trevor went on guilelessly, paying no heed to Lady Isabella’s pursed lips. “I thin’ it would be best iffen ye come up wi’ me on Bessie.”

Lady Isabella’s brows drew together. “Bessie?” she asked querulously.

“Aye,” Trevor said with an agreeable nod, getting into his role. “Bessie are t’best horse in all Yorkshire an’ make no mistake. She’ll carry you up wi’ me no trouble a’tall.”

The lady’s nostrils flared. “Is there some reason why she might have had trouble?” she asked silkily.

“Well, ye’re no li’l slip of a thing,” Trevor said, widening his eyes innocently. “Beggin’ yer pardon, milady.”

He could all but see the steam coming from her ears. And yet she didn’t raise a fuss as he thought she might. Instead, she looked back at Liston.

“Will you be well if I leave you here, Liston?” she asked the injured man. “I would send you away with this … this person if I thought you might ride with him without doing yourself a further injury.”