Forbidden to the Duke(3)By: Liz Tyner
‘I would not be so certain of the earl’s opinion.’ She paused, softening her words. ‘He says you are quite the perfect duke. A duke from heel to head.’ Warrington had stared at the ceiling and grimaced when he spoke.
‘A compliment. I’m certain. From Warrington.’ He shrugged. ‘Too many things distract me from perfection. I just trudge along, doing what I can. Hoping to honour the legacy my father left behind.’
He turned to the other man, sending him along. ‘I’ll see Miss Cherroll home.’ Taking a step towards her, he paused when she moved the pointed tip the slightest bit in his direction. ‘Assuming she doesn’t do Warrington a boon and impale his favourite neighbour.’
When he stopped moving, she relaxed her hand.
‘I will manage well enough on my own.’ She turned, pulling the skirt’s hem from a bramble, and moved closer to the bow. ‘I know the way.’ She heard her own words and turned back to the duke and leaned her head to the side. ‘I have been lost here before.’ She pulled the bow into her hand, freeing it from the thorny brambles clasping it.
‘I would imagine so. Wicks claims you are here more than he is. I might call on you,’ he said, ‘later today to assure myself you arrived safely home.’
She shook her head. ‘Please don’t. Warrington is always claiming I bring home strange things from my walks.’
‘My dear, I’m a duke. He won’t be able to say a word. It’s a rule of sorts.’
‘You truly don’t know him well, do you?’
‘Well, perhaps he might grumble, but his good breeding would insist he appear welcoming. At least in your presence.’
She held the nock end of the arrow as if she were going to seat it against the bowstring. ‘You’re right in that my English father named me for the Roman goddess of war. And, it’s said I’m completely lacking in the ways of a proper Englishwoman. But I do remember one phrase. “I am not at home.”’
‘Miss Cherroll. I would think you’d not mind sharing tea with me seeing as you have already shared my property.’
She shook her head. ‘I have been called on before. I have not been at home.’
She firmed her lips and shook her head.
She didn’t answer his question. She could not speak of her memories aloud. Putting them into words brought the feel of the rough fingertips to her neck.
His brows furrowed. Even though she knew a proper lady didn’t scurry along the trail, she did, leaving the duke standing behind her.
* * *
Rhys Harling, Duke of Rolleston, sat at his desk, completely unmoving. Wicks stood in front of Rhys, repeating the same words he’d said two days ago and the two days before that. Rhys hoped the air would clear of the man’s dank scent when he left.
Wicks waved the arrow like a sceptre. His lips didn’t stop moving even when he paused to find new words.
Wicks rambled on, falling more in love with his discourse as he continued. If the gamekeeper were to be believed, the woman created more mischief than any demon.
It had been five days since Wicks had caught the woman. The gamekeeper had approached him twice to discuss the lands and could not keep from mentioning her.
Rhys interrupted, his voice direct. ‘She did not try to impale me. Neither her teeth nor her eyes—which are not rimmed by devil’s soot—show brighter than any other’s in the dusk and she is not as tall as I am. You cannot claim her to be something she is not. I forbid it.’
‘You can’t be faultin’ me for lookin’ out for your lands, Your Grace.’
‘I don’t. But she’s the earl’s guest. You must cease talking at the tavern about the woman.’
‘Who told you?’ His chin dropped and he looked at the floor.
‘Who didn’t tell me?’ Rhys fixed a stare at the man. ‘Wicks, you should know that words travel from one set of ears to the next and the next and before long every person who has shared a meal with someone else has heard.’
‘She does stick in my craw, Your Grace.’
He didn’t blame the gamekeeper. Rhys couldn’t remove her from his mind either. The quiver cinched her trim waist. A twig had poked from her mussed hair. The magical thing he’d noticed about her was the way her hair could stay in a knot on her head when most of it had escaped.
Rhys had known when the gamekeeper first mentioned the trespasser who it would most likely be. He’d wanted to see her for himself.
Wicks wasn’t the first person to discuss her. Even the duchess, who talked only of family members who’d passed on, had varied from her melancholia once and spoke of the earl’s sister-by-law Miss Cherroll. The foreign-born woman rarely let herself be seen by anyone outside the earl’s household and that caused more talk than if she’d danced three dances with the same partner.