Forbidden to the Duke(8)By: Liz Tyner
‘I will not shoot near the gamekeeper any more unless he comes too close to me.’ Her tone commanded, but underneath there might have been a waver in it. His thoughts raced ahead.
‘But be aware he is not a nice man,’ she continued. ‘He has killed—he has killed them after taking them from the trap. With his foot.’ Her voice dipped. ‘It is—it is bad. He does not care.’
He turned away so he could concentrate and put his hand on the door frame, sorting his thoughts, listening with his whole body. ‘He said you shot at him.’
‘Yes. I was watching the traps to see if he’d caught anything. I was going to free the animals. But he was early. He knew. He saw me and he walked closer and I thought of the rabbits. The rabbits. What man could do that to another living creature? I could not let him near me. I shot at the ground between us. He stopped.’
‘It is his job to watch for poachers.’ He slid his hand from the wood and moved just enough to hold her in his line of vision.
‘Nothing should be trapped like that.’
He asked the other question again. ‘What did you say to Pottsworth?’
‘The man at the soirée?’
‘I was in the gardens because I did not want to be with the people. I heard him speak to another man and say I was ripe for his hands. I only told him what would happen if he touched me, although I did not say it pleasantly. I knew he could understand my language. Warrington had told us that most men at the soirée had been tutored in Greek.’
‘I have heard that your parents are no longer with us,’ Rhys asked, tactfully changing the subject.
She touched a finger to the tip of the arrow. ‘My mana is not alive. I miss her still. I miss her more now than when she died, because she has been gone from me longer.’
He stepped closer, into the whiff of her perfume—until he realised it wasn’t only the exotic scent around her, but that of fresh bread. His eyes snapped to hers.
The arrow tip followed his movement, but he didn’t care about that.
‘Have you been in the...cooking area?’ he asked.
She waved her palm the barest bit. ‘The staff here works hard. They do not need me watching over them.’
He edged forward and she stepped back. ‘You have a dusting of white on your face,’ he said.
She reached up, brushing, but missed it.
A duke simply did not reach out and touch a woman’s face, particularly upon their first proper introduction. But he did. Warm, buttery sensations flowed inside him. His midsection vibrated, but it was with the outward pressure against his waistcoat. If he looked down, he knew he’d see the tip of the arrow pressed there again. But the broken arrow wasn’t so long and it connected their bodies too closely. His blood pounded hot and fast. Blast. This was not good. He’d been too long in the country where he had to take such care because his movements were watched so closely. He needed to get to London soon and find a woman.
She smiled. ‘I use the arrows as my chaperon.’
‘Perhaps a maid would be better instead?’ He reached the slightest bit to nudge the arrow away, but stopped before connecting with the wood. If his hand touched hers, that would be more than he wanted to deal with.
He moved back, freeing himself in more ways than one, and examined his fingers while rubbing the white powder between thumb and forefinger. He was fairly certain it was flour or some such. Something one dusted on the top of cakes or used in producing meals.
‘You have been in a kitchen.’
‘I—’ Her chin jutted. ‘I do not...visit the kitchen. Often.’
He shrugged. ‘I do not mind. It just surprises me.’ He lowered his voice. ‘You shot at my gamekeeper—I don’t see why you’d have a problem with going into the servants’ area.’
He wasn’t in the mood to complain about her at the moment. But he must keep his thoughts straight. She had put a weapon against his waistcoat. She ran through the woods, tormenting a gamekeeper. She’d traipsed in the kitchen with the servants, chased a child with a broom in the sitting room and probably would not be able to respond quietly in the bedchamber as a decent woman should. He clamped his teeth together.
This woman was as untamed as the creatures she freed. She might be a relation of Warrington’s, but one always had an errant relative who did not do as they should.
‘I—’ She stepped back. And now the broken arrow rested against her bodice. ‘I cannot let the rabbits be trapped. I cannot.’
‘I suppose I understand.’ He did understand. More than she thought. She had a weakness for rabbits and right now his weakness was for soft curves and compassionate eyes. He must clear his head. No matter what it took, he must clear his head.