Forbidden to the Duke(7)

By: Liz Tyner

Her eyes blinked with innocence at Warrington for a moment before she acknowledged the introduction with a slight nod.

‘I believe the duke wanted to speak with you.’ Warrington walked to her, took the broom and looked at it as if might bite. ‘And I should see about Willa.’

The earl took two long strides to the door. ‘I won’t send a chaperon.’ He smiled at Rhys as he left. ‘You’re on your own.’

Chapter Two

Pleased Warrington had left them alone, Rhys’s attention turned to Bellona. She’d moved a step back from him and stood close to an unlit lamp on a side table. Her eyes remained on the arrow in his hand.

Perhaps he’d been mistaken about her. She might be unsettled.

Bellona nodded towards the arrow. ‘I believe that is mine.’

Rhys grasped the shaft with both hands and snapped the arrow across his knee, breaking the wood in two pieces. Then he held it in her direction.

The straight line of her lips softened. Her shoulders relaxed and she moved just close enough so that he could place the arrow in her hand. Exotic spices lingered in the air around her and he tried to discern if it was the same perfume from a rare plant he’d once noted in a botanist’s collection.

‘Thank you.’ She took the splintered pieces and increased the distance between them. Examining the broken shaft, she said, ‘I feared you would not be so kind as to return it.’

‘You could have injured someone. My gamekeeper.’

She raised her eyes to Rhys. ‘The arrow did what arrows do. I didn’t want to hurt him, but he—’ Bellona dismissed the words. ‘His voice... You should speak with him about glossa—his words.’

‘Leave the poor man alone. He has been on my estate his whole life and feels as much kinship to the land as I do.’

‘A man cannot own land. It is a gift from the heavens to be shared.’

‘For the time being, it is my gift and I control all on it. You upset the gamekeeper.’

She shrugged. ‘He upsets rabbits.’

‘They are invited. You are not. However...’ His next words were about to change that, but he forgot he was speaking when her hand moved.

Flicking up the notched end of the arrow, she brushed the feathery fletching against her face. The arrow stroked her skin. One. Two. Three little brushes. Softness against softness.

His heart pounded blood everywhere around his body except his head.

He remembered where he was, but not what he’d been saying. He looked at her eyes, checking for artifice, wondering if she knew how he reacted to her.

‘I do not know if this is a good idea.’ He spoke barely above a whisper.

‘The traps are a bad idea. Wrong. Thinking you own the earth is not correct.’ She moved her hand to her side, the arrow tip pointed in his direction.

Traps? That problem was easily solved.

‘At the soirée, what did you say to Pottsworth in Greek that was so shocking?’ he asked.

She raised her brows.

‘Never mind.’ He turned away. Walking to the painting, he looked at it. An idyllic scene with a sea in the background. Waves lapped the sand and breezes brought the scent of moisture to him. ‘Are you one of the little girls in the painting?’ He raised his finger, almost touching the long-dried oils. She had to be the youngest one—the urchin had grown into the woman behind him.

‘Miss Cherroll.’ He turned back. ‘Are you the little one in the picture?’

‘It is just a painting. From my homeland.’

‘Tell me about yourself.’

‘No. You broke my arrow.’

‘I beg your pardon.’ He turned to her and locked his clasped hands behind his back. This intractable woman and his mother would not get on well at all. Such a foolish thought.

‘You do not mean to beg my pardon,’ she said. ‘You just speak it because it is what you have always said.’

‘I’ll buy you a score of arrows to replace this one if you merely promise you will not shoot in the direction of a person. I was making a point.’

She waved a hand his direction. ‘Keep your arrows. I have many of them.’

‘Well, I must be going. You’re not quite as I expected. Thank you for your time. I sincerely regret breaking your arrow.’ He stopped. ‘No, I don’t. However, I will see that more are sent your way. Please be careful with them and do not practise archery on my land.’

She didn’t speak.

He strode to the door. This woman could not reside with his mother. He did not know how he could have imagined such a thing. But he just did not know what to do. He turned back. He could not go out that door.

‘You may visit my land whenever you wish.’ He didn’t recognise his own voice. His words sounded parched to his ears—the same as when he was little more than a youth and requested his first dance from a woman whose eyes glittered with sensual knowledge.