Chapter Eight ~by Barbara Monajem
As if she had a choice! If she tried to run, the masked man would catch her in a trice, and besides that, what woman would flee a man with such a glint in his eye?
Glints must be a characteristic of dangerous, handsome men. Not that she knew whether the masked man was handsome. She would have to take that on faith. With those eyes, eyebrows, lips and manly chin, this wasn’t difficult. Thrills chased themselves up and down her spine. Desire rampaged through her. She closed her eyes and parted her lips for his kiss…
What was the dratted man waiting for?
At last his lips touched hers. A wave of nostalgia swept over her as he deepened the kiss. Ah, passionate kisses like this had been the best thing about marriage. How she missed them!
The sound of galloping hooves penetrated the haze of desire. The highwayman broke the kiss, and regretfully, she opened her eyes. Oh! It was Lord Torquil D for Domineering, riding the Duke’s stallion.
“How did you get a hold of that horse?” Araminta demanded crossly. “It galloped the other direction a while ago.”
Lord Torquil sprang from the saddle. “I whistled for him. He was mine before the Duke of Dashing won him from me by cheating at piquet.” He glared at the masked man. “Kissing the lady was not part of your mission. Unhand her, you rogue!” This order was entirely unnecessary, seeing as the masked man had already stepped away from her with a muffled curse.
Araminta stamped her foot. “What business is it of yours if he kisses me?”
Lord Torquil gave her a supercilious stare. “My dear Lady Ambleforth, this is Cheat-gallows Jim. I cannot permit such a man to kiss you.”
A blush of excitement swooped up her cheeks. “The Terror of Penenden Heath? How thrilling!”
The highwayman grinned and blew her a kiss. Which was all very well, but she wanted another real kiss! She pouted.
Lord Torquil huffed. “He’s also Brandywine Bob, leader of the notorious Medway River and Estuary Smuggling Consortium.”
Araminta clasped her hands to her breast. “A smuggler, too? You are a very busy man, sir!” How dare Lord Torquil Dictatorial order her about? She would never get a chance to be kissed by a smuggler dash highwayman again.
“I’m never too busy to kiss a lovely lady,” the masked man murmured. “And those are only two of my aliases.”
More aliases? This man became more fascinating by the minute! “Tell me all about them,” she purred.
“Definitely not!” Lord Torquil said. “That would be, er, unsuitable for a lady’s ears.”
“Come now,” said Jim, or should she think of him as Bob? “Surely we can trust Lady Ambleforth. You’re a patriotic Englishwoman, aren’t you, sweetheart?”
Sweetheart? Now that was going too far. “Just because I allowed you to k—” Belatedly, it dawned on her what he had just said. “What has patriotism got to do with it?”
Lord Torquil drew himself up to his full height. His hair was disheveled from the fistfight, his breeches were muddy, and a sprig of cow parsley clung to his collar, all of which made him far less impressive than before. “This is for your ears only, Lady Ambleforth. I am in the service of England, and this fellow is my assistant. We are in pursuit of a dastardly French spy.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “The one who purposely damaged my phaeton, I suppose?”
“Precisely. He seeks to use you for his own diabolical ends.”
Araminta crossed her arms. “And why would I believe the word of a disgraced man?”
Lord Torquil stiffened. “It’s the word of an Englishman, dash it all.”
She tapped her foot and glowered at the highwayman. “Or that of a criminal?”
The masked man grinned. “Some of my aliases are respectable, but they are all in the service of the Crown, as are Lord Torquil’s layers upon layers of disgrace.”
Lord Torquil grunted. “Believe me, it’s not easy for a duke’s son to get himself cut off from family, banned by society, forced into seclusion in a godforsaken backwater—”
“Seclusion?” Araminta blushed at the thought of Lord Torquil and his voluptuous mistress ensconced in the ivy-covered mansion on the hill.
“Dear lady, if you knew how much it cost me—or rather, the Crown—to persuade my mistress to rusticate in Kent … where was I?”
“At your layers of disgrace.” The highwayman winked at Araminta.
“Ah, yes,” Lord Torquil said. “After a number of increasingly worse scandals, my family finally cast me off for setting up as a fishmonger. But in the service of one’s country, one must make sacrifices, even if it means smelling of the shop.”
“Literally.” Jim-Bob wrinkled his nose.
“As you well know from hiding kegs of brandy under rotting fish!” Lord Torquil retorted. “But that’s neither here nor there. We must whisk you to safety, Lady Ambleforth. Any moment now the spy may catch up with us and charm you into believing he is another loyal Englishman.”
A shot rang out!
Barbara Monajem's latest novella, To Rescue or Ravish? goes on sale July 1st. Visit her at www.BarbaraMonajem.com.