Chapter 3 By Annie Burrows
She wouldn't put it past him. With all the rumours of disgrace in his past - and a disgrace so disgraceful her husband had refused to even hint at what it might have been - and the way he always looked at her, as though he knew something she didn't, and found both it and her very amusing, well...
She had not even drawn breath throughout the whole of her mental diatribe, she realized. Not that one needed to breathe, to think. Except that annoyingly, in Lord Torquil's vicinity, breathing never did seem to occur naturally.
It came as something of a relief when, just as they drew level with Mrs Hopewell's cottage, she saw the curate, Mr Hodges emerging from the gate.
"Good day, my lady, good day!" He raised his hat, and stepped out into the lane, his keen blue eyes flicking from her to Lord Torquil.
"What a surprise to see you out walking on such a hot day," he said to Lord Torquil, producing a handkerchief with a flourish, and mopping his brow. "I would not have ventured forth myself, were it not for my duty to offer spiritual comfort to the sick and indigent," he said, annoying Araminta intensely. She found the widow Hopewell a delightful person. A fund of interesting goss...news. It rankled to hear the young curate relegate her to the status of a duty to be got through, rather than a person with whom it was always a pleasure to sit and share a cup of tea.
"Alas," replied Lord Tall and Dangerous-to-her-breathing, "Lady Araminta's brand new phaeton has developed a problem on its very first outing. She has been obliged to postpone her trip, and return home on foot. Naturally, seeing her predicament, I offered to escort her."
He had done no such thing! He had simply strolled over, and informed her that he would do so. And was doing so, without so much as a by-your-leave.
Mr Hodges took on that rather pompous look which usually preceded the more uncomfortable points during his sermons.
"There is no need for that, my lord," he said firmly. "Now that I am here, you may continue upon your way. I shall escort Lady Araminta home."
Lord Torquil raised one eyebrow. "Indeed?" He looked the perspiring curate up and down.
"You do not look as though you should be out in this weather yourself. In fact, did I not know better, I would venture to say you look as though you have already been exerting yourself overmuch. Though I am sure you would deny you have been running."
"Running? Why ever should I do such a thing? In this heat!" His face turned an even deeper shade of red. "I did not wish to put it so bluntly," he said, swelling with the kind of indignation Lord Torquil had just provoked in her, "but Lady Araminta really should not be seen walking alone with a man of your...reputation. Much better for me to see her home."
"Better for whom," said Lord Torquil dryly. Then he shrugged. "I do not suppose I can stop you from joining us," he said as the curate took his place on Araminta's other side. "But it makes no difference to my plans."
"Very well," said Mr Hodges with unmistakeable hostility, over the top of her head. "If you persist in your obstinacy, at least my presence will preserve the lady from the sort of unpleasant gossip that being seen alone with you would provoke."
Lady Araminta pouted. They were like two dogs fighting over a bone. A bone, what was more, that would much rather be left alone. But was this not typical male behaviour? They had taken it upon themselves to decide what was best for her. Not once had either of them asked whether she wished to be escorted home by a sweaty curate and a Totally Disreputable Son-of-a-Duke.
Oh, if only there was some way she could bring them both down a peg or two!
Don't miss chapter 4 - coming tomorrow!
In the meantime, why not enter the Harlequin Historical authors Summer Beach Bag giveaway? There are daily giveaways all the way through June, and a grand prize draw on June 29th. To find out more, click here
Annie has a book out with Harlequin Historical in July - "An Escapade and an Engagement". You can find Annie on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/AnnieBurrowsUK