Why Dukes Say I Do(7)

By: Manda Collins

Trevor felt a pang of conscience at seeing her genuine concern for her servant. Still she had not yet proved herself to be anything other than what she seemed. A prickly society lady who had come to Nettlefield to prey upon the dukedom of Ormonde. Doubtless she had some sort of charity to fund. Or a sibling who needed schooling.

“Aye, milady,” Liston said, his pale face determined. “I don’t want you out here catching your death simply because I was too foolish to keep meself from taking a bit of a tumble. Go wi’ this fellow and get to the house. Jemison and Jeffries will be here with someone from Nettlefield before ye know it.”

“If that’s the case,” she said, looking uncertain, “then perhaps I shouldn’t—”

But Trevor was tired from his earlier labors and the rain was beginning to come down harder. “Come, milady,” he said firmly, dropping his guise of happy farmer for a moment. “Let’s get ye up to Nettlefield House. I know the master would have me head for keepin’ ye out here this long.”

With a grim nod Lady Isabella buttoned up her pelisse and donned the cloak that lay spread out behind her on the carriage seat, pulling the hood up over her carefully dressed hair.

Trevor offered her his hand, and though she glanced quizzically up at him, she took it and allowed him to assist her from the carriage. Fortunately, she’d worn heavy boots for the journey, because the ground was a soggy, muddy mess. To his surprise, she was taller than he’d supposed, her nose almost aligned with his own when she stepped out next to him. Their eyes locked for one heart-stopping moment, before she colored up and looked away.

Well, he thought with an inward grin. Perhaps the prickly London lady was less prickly than he’d at first surmised. He felt his body respond to her nearness in the automatic way it always did when confronted with a pretty girl. But there was something about this one that felt different. Which clearly meant that he’d been awake for far too long. He needed to get this chit back to Nettlefield so that he could reveal his true identity and send her back on her way. He didn’t like forcing a woman out onto the road so soon after her arrival, but if she’d come uninvited to beg or, worse, at his grandmother’s behest then there was no reason for him to feel any sympathy for her.

Didn’t stop him from feeling a churl, though.

“Up ye go,” he told her, gripping her around her trim waist and lifting her to sit sideways across Bey’s saddle. Without further ceremony he put his foot in the stirrup and mounted up behind her, slipping a protective arm around her waist to hold her steady.

It was a surprisingly intimate situation between strangers, and Trevor tried to steel himself against responding further to her nearness. But it was impossible to ignore her lavender-scented hair and the more natural, primal scents of female sweat and something that he knew instinctively was simply her.

Directing Bey into motion with a touch of his heel to the horse’s flank, he clenched his jaw and tried to ignore her. Which proved impossible given the way that her reluctance to hold on to him put them both in danger of falling. They might be atop the same horse, but Lady Isabella kept herself as far away from his body as possible.

“I won’t bite,” he said, unable to hide his amusement at her diffident grip. Ignoring her protest, he held on to her more tightly. “Unless you wish it, of course.”

He waited for an outraged gasp, but she had no doubt decided to ignore him. A few moments later, however, she said, “It’s funny. You sound like an unschooled peasant one minute, and then the next your voice has a distinctly upper-class accent.”

Caught out, Trevor thought with a frown. “I don’t suppose you’d believe that I received lessons from the local vicar?” he asked.

“Not for a moment,” she said grimly.

“Well, then, Lady Wharton,” he said calmly, “I’m afraid that I’ve misled you a bit.”

“Rather more than a bit, I think,” she said sharply. “Though I suppose the lack of proper introduction excuses you, under the circumstances…”—she paused deliberately—“Your Grace.”