Forbidden to the Duke(5)By: Liz Tyner
He snorted, amazed at the folly of his imagination. He’d not had such foolish thoughts in a long time. Nor had he longed for a woman’s comfort overmuch in the past year. Now, he imagined the huntress and his body responded, sending reminders of pleasure throughout his being.
Leaning into the window frame, holding the arrow like a talisman, he tried to remember every single aspect of her. What she’d said and how she’d looked. Each word and moment that had transpired between them.
He pulled the soft end of the arrow up, looking at the feathers one last time before tapping the nock against the sill, staring at the reflections of sunlight.
This woman at the earl’s estate, who was willing to fight for rabbits, but could keep the servants whispering about her, might be just the woman who could bring his mother back to life. She’d already reminded Rhys that he was still alive.
* * *
Within the hour, Rhys was in the Earl of Warrington’s sitting room. The duke clasped an arrow at his side and waited as he expected he might. He moved to the window again, wanting to feel the heat from the sun streaming through the panes. Trees budded back to life. A heathen spirit might do the same for his own home.
The mantel sported a painting of three young girls playing while their mother watched. He wagered the painting was of Greece and one of the girls could have been the one on his property. Except for the single painting, the room seemed little different than Rhys’s own library.
Rhys looked out over Warrington’s snipped and clipped and trimmed and polished world, almost able to hear the laughter from years before.
Only, the laughter was not his, but directed at him.
Of course, both he and Warrington had matured now. They had left foolish prattle and childish games behind.
Warrington strode in. Rhys could still taste the medicinal the others had found in the apothecary jar and forced into Rhys’s mouth when they were children. That had to be his earliest memory.
‘Your Grace,’ Warrington greeted. The earl moved to stand at the mantel. He glanced once at the painting above it before he asked, ‘So what is the honour that brings you to Whitegate?’
Rhys held out the arrow. ‘I found this on my property and heard that you have a guest who practises archery. I’d like to return it to her.’
Rhys had never seen Warrington’s face twitch until that moment. He studied Rhys as if they’d just started a boxing match. ‘You are interested in talking with Bellona?’
Warrington’s eyes flickered. ‘I’m sure whatever she did—’ Warrington spoke quickly. ‘She just doesn’t understand our ways.’ He paused and then sighed. ‘What did she do now?’
‘I just wish to meet with her,’ Rhys said, ‘and request that she refrain from shooting arrows on to my property—particularly near others.’
Warrington grimaced and then turned it into a smile. ‘She does... Well...you know...’ He held out a palm. ‘Some women like jewellery. Flowers. Sharp things. She likes them.’
Warrington shook his head. ‘Never a dull moment around her.’
‘Beautiful voice—when she’s not talking. Her sister forced her to attend the soirée at Riverton’s, hoping Bellona would find something about society that suited her. Pottsworth wanted to be introduced. She’d not danced with anyone. I thought it a good idea even though he is—well, you know Potts. She smiled and answered him in Greek. Thankfully none of the ladies near her had our tutors. Riverton overheard and choked on his snuff. We left before he stopped sputtering. He still asks after her every time he sees me. “How is that retiring Miss Cherroll?”’
‘Can’t say as I blame her. You introduced Pottsworth to her?’ Rhys asked drily.
‘I’m sure she might wander too far afield from time to time,’ Warrington murmured it away, ‘but your land has joined mine since before our grandparents’ time and we’ve shared it as one.’ Warrington gave an encompassing gesture, then he toyed with what could have been a speck on the mantel. ‘We’re all like family. We grew up together. I know you and I don’t have the very close bond of our fathers, but still, I count you much the same as a brother of my own.’
‘Much like Cain and Abel?’
Warrington grinned. He waved the remark away. ‘You’ve never taken a jest well.’
‘The bull,’ Rhys said, remembering the very incensed animal charging towards him, bellowing. Rhys was on the wrong side of the fence, his hands on the rails, and the older boys pushed at him, keeping him from climbing to safety. He’d felt the heat from the bull’s nostrils when they’d finally hefted him through to the other side. Laughing.