The Viscount's Rose(6)

By: Meara Platt

Well, perhaps there was a little of that. “My ankle is bound, my gown is covered in soot, and the kiln is damaged. I think they’ll suspect all is not as it should be. If you’re worried that I’ll understate the danger, rest assured the twins will not overlook a single detail. They’ll probably embellish the story and have you dueling a marauding pirate or two at some point in their retelling.”

He ran a hand through his hair and laughed. “I like your sisters, even though my eyes still cross whenever they stand together.”

“Rolf has two more sisters,” Nicola said, her own grin wide and her eyes revealing her triumphant joy in finally getting her and Lord Emory to meet. “The twins are the youngest, but there’s also Laurel and Daisy. Laurel will make her debut next year and Daisy the following year.”

“You all have floral names except for Dillie,” he noted, nodding as Rose offered him more tea. He really was being quite attentive and polite, not at all impatient as Nicola had described him.

“Her real name is Daffodil, but she’s not very fond of being called that. Yes, we’re all named after flowers although our parents sometimes think they ought to have named us Nettle, or Thorn, or Bramblebush. We vex them at times.”

He was smiling at her again in a charmingly seductive way that tempted her to rethink her decision to hobble into the house on her own. Why was it so important? Couldn’t she pretend to be a delicate female in distress and feign endless gratitude when he lifted her into his manly arms and carried her inside?

The wind began to pick up and the white clouds suddenly turned gray, obscuring the sun. Lord Emory glanced up. The wind ruffled his blond locks, brushing them back to accentuate the strong angles of his cheekbones and firm jaw. “Looks like our run of good weather has come to an end. Miss Farthingale, let me help you into your home before the rain pours down and turns the dirt on our clothes to mud.”

Pruitt must have also noticed the sudden change in the weather. He hurried out with two footmen to clear away the tea and linens. “May I help you, Miss Rose?”

Lord Emory moved possessively close. “I’ll take care of her, Pruitt. See to the tables.”

Rose regarded him curiously. Nicola wished for a match between them and had never been subtle in her desire, but Lord Emory’s name was already linked to a recently widowed countess, a renowned beauty who traveled in his elegant circle. He reportedly was infatuated with her, if one were to believe the gossip rags, although he didn’t seem to be the sort to be led about by the nose by any woman.

But what did she know about men? Or love?

Nothing, obviously. Her senses were still addled, for Lord Emory appeared to be interested in her beyond a casual concern for her injured ankle even though she knew it couldn’t be so.

Shaking her head, Rose stood and carefully tested her injury by putting delicate weight on her foot. “Crumpets!” She winced as a lightning bolt of pain tore upward from her swollen toes and straight into her temples. “Very well, I’d be grateful for your help. I’ll never make it into the house on my own without falling flat on my face.” Her ankle was already throbbing and she had yet to take a single step.

He seemed relieved that she made no protest, but at the same time, his body tensed the moment he lifted her into his arms. Had she said or done something to displease him?

Was she too heavy?

Those ginger cakes were awfully good.

“Where should I set you down?” he asked, striding into the house with her nestled in his arms as though she were no burden at all. Apparently she was not too heavy for him and he seemed quite capable of holding her in his arms for hours.

She pretended to think about the question, for she was in no hurry to respond. She liked the solid feel of his arms and had an artist’s admiration for the firm, masculine contours of his body. “The salon, I think. On one of the stools beside the fireplace.”

“On a stool?” He frowned.

“Our clothes,” she reminded him. “I’d hate to ruin my mother’s new furniture. She took ever so long to find just the right shades of blue silks and brocades for the seat cushions and drapes.”

Instead of doing as she suggested, he called to Pruitt to have one of the maids fetch an old sheet and spread it over the sofa.

“At once, m’lord,” he replied without so much as batting an eyelash. Pruitt had been with the Farthingale family long enough never to be surprised by anything that happened in the household.

Rose remained in Lord Emory’s arms until the task was accomplished, all the while itching to run her hands along the breadth of his chest and shoulders. She didn’t think he’d understand the artistic purpose to her touch, but he also had an interesting face and well-formed limbs that merited further study.

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