Read An Accidental Seduction Online

Authors: Lois Greiman

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General

An Accidental Seduction (8 page)

Gallagher answered back. “Ahh, hello. I thought I saw…I thought I heard someone from below. It must have been you.”

“Oh, aye, I like to do a bit of fishing here.” The old man’s voice had a slow, steady rhythm. “While me old team drinks.”

Savaana remained as she was, not daring to make a move, though her ankle hurt like the devil. Gritting her teeth against the pain, she remained absolutely silent, waiting.

“’Tis a fine day to spend with the fishes,” Gallagher called. “How be the trout hereabouts?”

Holy hell! Trout? Now?

“Truth to tell, they’re scarce enough, but there are bream aplenty if Ned here don’t scare ’em off.” She could hear splashing as one of the horses pawed at the water. “Go on now, you daft bugger, quit stirring up the mud. There’s others want to drink.”

“Bream you say,” Gallagher called. “’Tis good to
know. For now I’d best fetch me own cob before she wanders off, though.”

The fisherman didn’t answer, and in a minute Savaana heard Gallagher move away. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, relaxing against the boulder. He had gone for the mare and would have no reason to return to the water’s—

But suddenly her eyes snapped open wide.

He was gone. Which meant he could be heading back to Mrs. Edwards at this very minute. Cursing silently, she rose to her feet. Her ankle screamed. She almost did the same, but clamped her teeth on her bottom lip and swallowed the pain.

Dear God, there was no way she was going to be able to beat the Irishman back to the damned carriage. Unless…

Peeking past the rough boulder, she glanced in the direction of the fisherman. He had settled his back against a toppled tree that had come loose from the loamy earth at the water’s edge. Its roots, broad and spidery, still clung to the upturned soil, while its leaves remained intact. The old man’s feet and knees were visible past a leafy bough, but his torso was hidden.

Savaana shifted her gaze from his worn shoes to his horses. They were heavy, honest looking animals, haltered and relaxed. Dragging their leather leads behind them, they foraged amidst the sparse grasses. One was
dark but graying with age around his broad muzzle. The closer of the two was a blue roan with flickering ears and a wily expression.

He would be the faster of the two.

The thought shimmied through her head. For a moment she tried to shoo it away, but the animal was wandering closer.

Keeping her gaze on the fisherman’s feet, Savaana tore a tuft of soft grass from the boulder’s roots and rose to her full height. Stepping from hiding, she reached toward the roan. A well-aged log lay between her and the gelding, but he lifted his head and pricked his ears, gazing placidly over the moldering bark. Shifting her gaze toward the fisherman again, she noticed no movement there and kept advancing. But at that moment the older gelding plopped into the sand to roll. Grunting with happiness, he kicked his heels against the sand. It sprayed out, splattering the downed tree.

“Hey now, leave off,” yelled the fisherman. His feet shifted. As the roan turned toward the sound of his master’s voice, Savaana sprang toward the log that stood between herself and the nearest animal. Using it as a springboard, she landed on her hands, launched into the air, then twisted onto the animal’s serviceable back. Shocked from his investigation, the roan sprang up the escarpment like a hunted hare, leather lead flying behind him.

Savaana snatched it up.

“What the bloody hell!” yelled the old man, but she had gained control and was already hustling the horse over the lip of the slope and into the woods beyond. For a moment she was certain she heard her grandfather’s laughter float behind her on the breeze. And after that it was a wild ride through the trees, branches slapping at her face as she reined the gelding in an arc toward the Gypsy camp. In less than a minute she was directly beside Knollcrest’s horseless vehicle.

With a breathy thank-you and a pat to the animal’s solid neck, she launched herself from his heaving back before he leapt from the cover of the trees. Vendors gasped and scattered as he careened riderless onto the grassy knoll.

Savaana winced as she caught her weight on her good foot and straightened.

Startled from her nap, Mrs. Edwards came to with a jerk and a snort just as Savaana snatched an ice from the abandoned booth and sauntered, teeth gritted, toward her chaperone.

“Here now. What’s the fuss?” The old woman blinked as she caught sight of the roan, calming now as he dropped to a trot and shook his massive head. “Why is that horse loose?”

“I’m not entirely certain,” Savaana said, and rose painfully to her seat beside the widow. “But not to worry. It
looks as if the towns people have the situation well under control. Here then,” she said, and handed over the newly stolen treat. “I thought you might like something to cool your throat.”

“Oh…well…” Mrs. Edwards harrumphed a little as she accepted the offering. “That’s quite thoughtful of you, my dear. I don’t know why people say you’re such a—”

Savaana smoothed her skirt and raised a regal brow.

The old woman cleared her throat and took a bite of ice just as Gallagher led the chestnut into the clearing. His gaze shot immediately to Savaana. An unusual frown marred his brow as he shifted his gaze to the roan. The gelding had already dropped his head to graze.

“What’s afoot?” he asked, approaching their vehicle.

“We are,” Savaana said, and raised her chin a notch. “Until you get that screw harnessed. So let’s not dawdle.”

He watched her. “You’ve no wish to watch the performance, then?”

“In this backwater circus? I think not.”

“But I thought—”

“And I wouldn’t advise you to waste time doing so again anytime soon,” she said, and glanced toward the trio of men who carefully approached the stray roan. “Now, let us be off before we are trampled by an entire herd of loosed animals.”

He was still watching her. “Certainly, my lady,” he said. “But would you care to have help freshening up a bit first?”

She pursed her lips, perusing him. “What’s that?”

“I know how you like to care for your clothing.”

She managed to refrain from glancing down at her perfect ensemble. Indeed, she stared with single-minded concentration at him, though she felt her persona slip just a notch, like a cog in a machine that’s too tightly wound. “Are you a lady’s maid now, Wicker?”

He grinned, eyes sparking. “If my lady wishes.”

His dimples pulled her in. They were enchanting, all but mesmerizing. But she fought off the effects. She’d seen charming before. “She doesn’t,” she said, and disdainfully removed an imaginary fleck from her skirt. “You’re barely fit as a driver.”

He watched her for an instant, then laughed. “’Tis God’s own truth,” he said, and sobered just a tad. “I but thought you might wish to be rid of the mud that sullies your slippers.”

avaana held her image with an iron grip. Two days had passed since their trip to Darlington. Two days since Gallagher had looked at her so strangely and inquired about her slippers. What kind of man would concern himself with a little mud on one’s footwear when in her company? She was a comely woman. A rare beauty, in fact. A hundred men had told her as much. But what did she expect from a rough-cut Irishman?

She sighed. Beneath her, Daisy plodded serenely along. Savaana refrained from glancing wistfully at the dark gelding beside her, for she would not make the mistake of riding him again. The Irishman must do something to earn his keep, after all.

“Is something amiss, my lady?” he asked, turning to gaze at her.

She didn’t glance to her right. She knew how he would look. Devilishly handsome and ridiculously jovial, with that quirky smile playing around his evergreen eyes and satyr’s lips. Earlier in the ride he had rolled back his
voluminous sleeves. Muscles would be dancing along his forearms as he kept the restive gelding at bay. She didn’t need to see that.

“Yes,” she said, and shifted her ankle a bit. It was still a little sore. “Something is most certainly amiss.”

“Can I do aught to set it to rights?” he asked.

There was concern in his tone. She wondered if it was real or fabricated. More than a few had faked concern in an effort to win her favor.

“Absolutely,” she said, and finally turned toward him. And dammit, his idiotic muscles
dancing. “You can cease with the seduction.”

His brows rose. “What?”

“The seduction,” she said. “It won’t work.”

His eyes lit up like mischievous fireflies and his lips quirked at the corners just as she’d suspected they would. “You think I’m trying to seduce you, do you?”

She raised a single brow. “Yes.”

“And what makes you think as much?”

He was dimpling. She didn’t tell him what that did to her equilibrium. That when he smiled like that it made her chest feel too small to accommodate her lungs, made her toes curl in her carefully cleaned riding boots. “I have not just arrived off the boat,” she said. “Perhaps your pedestrian charms will work on some apple-cheeked country bumpkin, but not for me. In fact, why not dimple up to Emily?”

She stared straight ahead. The sun was shining on the countryside as if it were the first day of creation. And despite the fact that she had worn a riding habit too warm for the weather, the heat felt good against her face. She had removed her gloves some time ago and wished she could do the same with the jacket. But she wouldn’t bare any more skin than absolutely necessary. Still, even overdressed and undermounted, it was heavenly to be out of doors, away from walls and the accoutrements of a civilization she had eschewed for as long as she could remember. The rain had cleaned the air. A crested lark sang from atop a stone wall as sheep grazed around them or scampered away at their approach.

Gallagher laughed, drawing her attention from the perfection of the day. “‘Dimple up’?” he said.

“Yes.” She didn’t turn toward him. Didn’t smile, though the sound of his laughter made it difficult to resist.

“Dare I hope you enjoy my dimples, lass?” he asked.

“No, you may not,” she said. “But perhaps Emily is the sort to go dreamy-eyed when you turn up your charm.”

“But not you.”

Although she didn’t look at him, she could tell he was smiling. Dear God in heaven, he was always smiling. Except when he was looking at her as if he could see straight through her undergarments.

“Certainly not me,” she said.

“And what makes the likes of you so hard?” he asked.

She did turn now. Turned and raised a carefully plucked brow. “Perhaps you have mistaken hardness for discipline.”

“Is that what you call it, then?”

She looked at the unfolding country around them again. “Need I remind you that I am not the type of woman who would be attracted to an Irishman with too little funds and too much…” She waved a hand at him. “…good cheer?”

He laughed again. “Constantly,” he said. “In fact, it seems, at times, as if you are two different women entirely.”

She felt herself blanch but kept her back perfectly straight, her expression unchanged. “Tell me, Wickerbell, have you been getting into Lord Tilmont’s port?”

“In Darlington, for instance,” he continued as if she remained mute, “’twas you who wished to see the entertainment at the start. But ’twas also you who decided to leave shortly after the beginning of the performance.”

She shrugged. “Perhaps you have not heard that it is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.”

He was watching her again. She didn’t like that. It made her skin hot.

“I am told that their acrobat is rather handsome,” he said.

What was he getting at? she wondered, but kept her voice steady. “‘Their’ being…?”

“The Gypsies,” he said.

“Ahh.” She nodded. “I should have known a man such as yourself would be interested in the wild Rom.”

He was silent for a second, maybe considering the fact that, once again, it had been her idea to see Dook Natsia at the outset.

“So you are not?” he asked finally.

She raised a haughty brow at him. At least she hoped it looked haughty. Maybe it only made her appear peevish. “Interested in the Rom?”


She laughed. Holy hell, the effort all but made her face bleed. ’Twas not easy being a harridan every minute of the day. “Is he titled?” she asked.

“The acrobat?”

“I believe that is who we were discussing.”

He shrugged. “I asked around a bit. I am told Tamas is, in fact, descended from kings.”

“Well, he lies,” she snapped, and felt the silence thrum around them like a heavy drumbeat.

She could feel his confusion, though she dared not turn toward him.

“You know this Tamas?”

She felt her heart twang in her chest. How could she be so foolish? she wondered frantically, but kept her expression stoic, her eyes straight ahead. “Ahh, so you have found me out. Well, I might as well confess all, then. As
it turns out, I am having quite a lurid affair with him. Just as I am with the tanner and the shoemaker and the hermit who lives under the bridge by the river.”

He was examining her, his gaze as steady and warm as the sunlight. God help her, he had eyes like a song. “My apologies,” he said. “’Tis just that there seemed something familiar about him.”

“Well, perhaps he is your long-lost brother after all.”

“I have only one brother.”

She raised a shoulder. “A by-blow by your father, perhaps, then. Not someone your sire admits to. It happens, I’m told, that babies are left with Gypsies on a fairly regular—”

“I’ll not have you defaming my family, lass.”

She turned toward him. All traces of humor had disappeared from his face. And in the sinking light of the sun, he almost looked sinister. Almost dangerous.

“My father had his faults, ’tis true, but he cherished my mum with every fiber of his being. Cherished her until the day he died.” There was something about the way he said it. Something about his fierce defense of the woman who had birthed him that brought tears instantly to her eyes.

“I’m sorry.” The words were out before she could stop them. “I wasn’t…” She drew a deep breath and reminded herself who she was, but it made little difference. She couldn’t stop the apology. Loving mothers were a
rare and precious thing. None knew that better than she. “I’m sorry,” she said again.

Though she dared not look his way lest he see the tears in her eyes, she felt him soften. “She was…” He paused, and now she couldn’t help but glance at him. He was gazing into the distance as if lost in some earlier time. In some kindly memory. “She was sunlight,” he murmured.

His voice was soft and reverent, his eyes dreamy. Savaana found herself lost in his misty emotions. But she found her sharp-edged demeanor with an effort. “Not literally, I assume,” she said, and he smiled crookedly. A dark shock of hair bent upward gently before falling forward with cocky happiness onto his forehead.

But who would not be happy if she could touch him with such easy regularity? Surely Lady Tilmont herself would have been unable to withstand his come hither charm.

“All but,” he said. “Da was sure the day did not truly begin until she had smiled on the horizon.”

Something tugged at her heart. She tugged back. She was not one to be sappy, and Lady Tilmont even less so, but her throat still felt a little tight, and her eyes stung. Best to make small talk.

“She is…gone, then?” She stole a glance at him. He was studying the distant woods. And with his profile toward her, it was all but impossible to look without reaching out to touch.

“She was taken two years past.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, but certainly not even the most heartless could blame her for
apology. You’d have to be a rock not to say it. Surely Lady Tilmont wasn’t a
, she thought, then caught herself. She
Lady Tilmont, but her facade was cracking badly.

“And your da?” Damn it. She should never use such a quaint colloquialism, but she had a tendency to pick up accents without meaning to. He didn’t seem to notice her slip, however, for he was lost in his own thoughts, almost scowling as he studied the verdant hills that rolled away from them like swelling waves.

“It was hard for him. First Mum, then—” He stopped abruptly and faced her.

“Then what?”

He shook his head and found his infamous smile. “I didn’t mean to sour the mood.”

Did he jest? Surely he realized Lady Tilmont’s mood had been soured for life. “What happened?” she asked, but he only shrugged.

“’Tis naught but a bit of trouble with me brother. You know how these family matters can be.”

“No,” she said. “I fear I do not.”

He watched her, expression soft in the evening light. “You have no kin?”

Dammit! She had learned little to nothing about Lady Tilmont’s lineage, despite her best efforts. All the lady
had said was that she would not be bothered by either relatives or friends during her sojourn at Knollcrest. “None in this country.” ’Twas a wild assumption, but she had to say something. “Thus you can understand why my marriage is so very important to me.” Best to remind herself of the lie.

“You’re eager to have wee ones of your own, are you?” His tone was somber now. She matched it with her own.


“And might you be needing some assist with that?”

She jerked toward him and he laughed.

“Me apologies,” he said. “I but think it shameful that your husband is not here to keep you safe.”

“Safe?” she asked, and hoped to God he couldn’t tell that she was flushed. “Safe from what?”

He shrugged. “While returning from the river in Darlington, I glanced through the trees and thought for a moment that you were gone from the carriage. You can’t imagine how I worried.”

gone,” she said, keeping her tone steady. “I went to fetch an ice for poor Mrs. Edwards.”

“And that’s how your slippers became soiled?”

For a moment she was sorely tempted to concoct some intricate excuse, but she stopped herself. “Tell me, Wickney, are you always so concerned about ladies’ footwear?”

“Only when the lady in question is as bonny as you.”

She resisted rolling her eyes back in her head. “Do you never give up?”

“Not when the lady in question is as—” he began.

She snorted and he laughed. “I but jest,” he said. “In truth, I find it quite admirable that you are so devoted to your spouse.”

“So devoted that I can even resist

His grin quirked up. “You could
it’s difficult.”

“Maybe if you had a title and a decent—” She stopped as she noticed a ewe lying flat out, unmoving on the ground before her. Its abdomen was distended, its neck outstretched. Facing them at an angle, it was sure to be aware of their approach. Nevertheless, it failed to move even as they rode closer.

Savaana halted her mount. “Is it dead?” she asked.

Gallagher was frowning. “Dead, no, I think not, but—” he began, and in that moment the ewe emitted a low, agonized bleat. Her huge belly spasmed and her legs, straight and stiff, jerked spasmodically. “I believe she’s in labor.”

Savaana nodded. She realized now that she could just make out two tiny hooves protruding from beneath the animal’s tail.

They sat their horses in silence. The ewe lay still, panting, pink tongue extended below toothless upper gums.

Savaana glanced behind them. Perhaps she was hoping to see someone riding to their rescue, but there was no one. “What shall we do?”

Gallagher scowled. “These things usually work themselves out, don’t they?”

“These things being lambs?”

He was frowning. “And other young.”

The ewe bleated again and strained. The tiny hooves moved a half an inch, then settled back where they were near the head of the mother’s tail.

“It doesn’t seem to be working.”

“No. It doesn’t.” It was Gallagher’s turn to glance toward Knollcrest, as if he were no more comfortable than she with the animal’s distress. “Perhaps the babe is coming wrong.”

“Well…” She felt agitated and tense. “Fix it.” The words could not have sounded more demanding if they had been spoken by Lady Tilmont herself.

“Fix it?” he said.

“Yes. You’re Irish.”

He leaned away from her as if struck. “What the devil does that have to do with birthing lambs?”

“Irish.” She waved her hand, unnerved by the animal’s pain. “Sheep. They’re a match.”

“I’m a match for sheep?”

“Surely you know what to do.”

“Surely I don’t. Our laborers—” he began, then stopped abruptly.

She scowled at him. “You had laborers?”

“I mean to say, the neighboring farmers, they cared for the sheep.”

Savaana’s mind spun. Who was this man? “And what did you do?”

He opened his mouth but the ewe bleated at that moment, stopping his thought. “I hardly think that’s the point just now,” he said.

She tightened her hands on the reins, jarred from her suspicions by the animal’s agony. “We could ride back to Knollcrest for help.”

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