Griffin Stone:Duke Of Decadence(78)

By: Carole Mortimer

Brennan’s laugh drifted over the wind, as if the mad chase had been a simple lark, as if there hadn’t been bullets fired. ‘Always, Nol, always.’ Sometimes, Archer envied Bren and Nolan their nonchalant ways, not seeming to care too much. They were proof that perhaps the unexamined life was underrated.

There was a makeshift stall above deck where the horse would be relatively safe. The Channel crossing was short. Just twenty-one miles of water separated England from France, but the water could be rough. Archer didn’t want to risk the horse doing further injury to himself, so saw the horse installed and ran a hand down each of his legs to make sure there’d been no damage from his leap.

Satisfied the horse was no worse for his morning adventures, Archer placed a hand on the horse’s neck. ‘I guess you’ll need a name if you’re going to stay with me.’ Archer thought for a moment. ‘How about Amicus? It means friend in Latin, and you were that today. You stood Brennan in good stead when he needed you.’

‘Especially since Cleveland Bays are carriage horses.’ Haviland’s voice was quiet behind him. Archer shrugged. He’d long since stopped caring if anyone heard him talking to the horses.

Archer smiled and stroked Amicus’s long nose. ‘Especially because of that.’ He gave Amicus a considering look. ‘I wonder if you might have been a hunter once, boy? It looked like you knew what you were doing when you made that leap.’ Fearlessly, as if he’d taken hedges and logs, heights and wide spreads, before. Cleveland Bays were the preferred carriage horse of royalty, and Archer knew a few breeders who enjoyed riding to the hunt on them.

Haviland stepped up beside him and petted Amicus. ‘Why do you suppose he did that? It was an extraordinary leap. I know horses that would have balked. He could have been killed.’

Archer gave Haviland a solemn look. ‘He decided England could no longer hold him.’

‘Like you, old friend?’ Haviland ventured. ‘Are you still determined to do this thing?’ Nolan and Brennan might not know of his choice to stay in Italy, but he’d confided in Haviland.

Archer nodded. ‘And you?’ Haviland had done some confiding of his own. Archer wasn’t the only one using this trip as an escape.

‘Yes. I want to taste some freedom, I want to know my own power, to see what might have been before...’ Haviland shrugged, his sentence dropping off. Haviland didn’t have to say it. Archer knew how that sentence ended: before he had to go back and give himself in an arranged marriage to a woman who did not inspire his passions.

Archer silently thanked the heavens again that he wasn’t firstborn. He at least had choices. He just had to make them. He and Amicus had something in common. He too had decided England could no longer hold him.