Chapter Four ~by Elaine Golden
With a little sniff of annoyance they were sure to ignore as well, Araminta set off again at a brisk pace. Sadly, it took only a few strides for them to catch up. Mr. Hodges continued to make a show of dabbing his brow while Lord Torquil talked and talked, about nothing so much as himself. Maybe the D stood for Discourse.
“I say, perhaps we should pause at the mill so Lady Ambleforth may take a bit of shade,” said Mr. Hodges with feigned concern. He was beginning to huff and turn the alarming shade of boiled lobster.
“I assure you, I’m quite content to continue on. However, should you desire the opportunity to rest…”
“Yes, do rest, Mr. Hodges. We shouldn’t want you to take ill and miss the service this
Sunday.” Lord Torquil’s smirk suggested the opposite.
But Araminta was distracted and no longer paying them much attention. As they drew near the large stone edifice of the flour mill, she realized that something was amiss. Normally, this was a site of much industry. Today, it stood eerily quiet (her companions’ bickering aside), and it took a moment to realize why: the massive waterwheel wasn’t turning. The door of the miller’s cottage was open, and a saddled horse grazed idly in the yard beside.
How strange. Araminta paused in the lane in indecision. Should they investigate further? What if someone was hurt and needed assistance?
A shout drew their attention to the waterline where the miller, Mr. Probey, stood waist deep in the river, gesticulating wildly and pointing to a large wooden pole that appeared to be wedged in the base of the wheel. Then he leaned forward, straining for leverage.
“Looks like there’s something lodged in the wheel,” said Lord Torquil. “I don’t envy him the task of freeing it, at all.” Clearly, he hadn’t even considered offering assistance.
The faint creak of wood precipitated more shouting and straining. Then, with a long, violent shudder and a metallic shriek, the wheel began to move with all of the speed of a bed-bound octogenarian suddenly determined to walk. The once placid gelding took exception to the noise, reared, and thundered away.
The miller sloshed out of the way, laughing, and a moment later the water broke as another man surfaced beside him. A naked man. Or, at least partially naked, because all that Araminta could see at the moment was his chest, but –oh, my! Wasn’t that a sight to see? Lord Ambleforth had never displayed muscles quite like that.
She wasn’t sure how long she stood there ogling that fine specimen. She was certain, though, that the only reason she stopped doing so was because someone slapped their hands over her eyes to block the sight. She’d have wagered beforehand such action would be from Mr. Hodges, but she’d have been wrong. The D likely stood for Disappointing, then.
“What, ho!” called the curate some distance ahead while she tried unsuccessfully to remove Lord Torquil’s hands. “Sir Ed, is that you?”
Araminta paused. Sir Edgar Deppity? As the new owner of the mill (and many other businesses in town), it made sense that Sir Ed should be involved in restoring operations, but she hadn’t recognized him. Of course, she’d only met him that one time and, admittedly, she hadn’t been precisely looking at his face a moment ago…
“Aye, Mr. Hodges. How do you do, sir?”
“Kindly put something on, sir! Lady Ambleforth is in our company. Surely you didn’t remove all of your articles of clothing… ah, but I see I was mistaken. It’s the middle of the day, sir!”
Oh, dear. He really had been naked. Was naked. Lord Torquil tightened his grip and held firm, despite Araminta’s attempts to see what the rest of Sir Ed Deppity might look like wearing nothing but water droplets in the sunshine.
“All right,” said Sir Ed in a husky voice that sent little shivers down her spine, and the restraints fell away, revealing him in his fully garbed glory. As tall as Lord Torquil, his brown eyes glinted with amusement, as if he knew precisely what she’d just been imagining. His curly brown hair was tamed when wet and clung to his skill, accentuating his high brow and cheekbones. “What brings you by this fine day, my lady?”
“Oh,” she said with a smile and as much nonchalance as she could muster. “My carriage broke down and it seemed a fine day to walk home. The gentlemen are determined to escort me.”
“I see.” Sir Ed glanced at the now empty field beside the miller’s cottage then eyed her companions as if sizing them up. “Do you mind if I join you, then? I seem to have lost my mount in the proceedings. No doubt he’s enjoying a fine bit of feed corn while the stable lads make bets on what’s befallen me.”
Why did all of the men in the neighbourhood pick today to descend? The walk home had seemed a splendid idea when she had thought she’d be alone to enjoy the leisurely stroll.
As fascinating as the naked flesh and water display had been –and she was certain she’d spend some time recalling it this evening when she was alone –Araminta was not pleased for more company. But, as the well-bred peeress her mother had raised her to be, she smiled and inclined her head in acquiescence.
Surely, she could tolerate the three of them without losing all sense of decorum for the remainder of the journey?
Elaine Golden is the author of The Fortney Follies series. Links and other details can be found on her website (www.elainegolden.com)
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