Read An Arrangement of Sorts Online

Authors: Rebecca Connolly

An Arrangement of Sorts (10 page)

“Because I was waiting almost two hours.”

“Two hours?” he cried, jerking in his saddle, causing Mercury to stutter in his step and shift restlessly.

Moira laughed again. “I think your horse would appreciate steadier nerves from you, Nathan.”

He grunted, patting the horse soothingly. “Mercury can handle it. He just wants to gallop.”

“Mercury?” she asked looking at the horse fondly. “He should gallop, if he is named for a god with wings.”

“Perhaps he will later, but you need to explain yourself, Moira,” he told her with a scolding look. “Why on earth were you there two hours when we agreed on first light?”

“Because I did not sleep well, probably due to my anxiety to be on our way, and so when I gave up on sleeping, I dressed and made my way over.”

“Moira!” he protested. “It was cold yesterday morning!”

“I know,” she quipped, her eyes dancing. “I was freezing. Believe me, I was cursing your name up and down the entire time.”

He bit back the urge to demand why she did not come and find him. She would not have known where, and had she asked, someone might have cast her off as being rude and impertinent and informed her of his identity, and then she certainly would not have allowed him to come. “Two hours,” he muttered under his breath. “Fool of a woman.”

“You asked, Nathan. I warned you that you would not like it,” she reminded him, enjoying his discomfort a bit too much.

“No wonder you were cross.”

“I was not cross!” she insisted in mock outrage, trying not to smile and failing.

He gave her a look. “You were very cross. I almost turned around right then.”

“You did not. At any rate, anybody would be cross waiting that long in the frigid morning air,” she argued, still smiling. “I can only imagine how grumbly you would be if you had to endure that.”

“I would not be grumbly!”

“Oh, believe me, you would be,” she promised, shaking her head. “You are a very grumbly man. And terribly pensive. You need to let some more light into your life, Nathan.”

“I have light aplenty,” he assured her, laughing in spite of himself. “I am very pleasant person when I am not in the company of someone who drives me to distraction.” Now she let out a bark of laughter, and he grinned. “Besides, there is nothing wrong with being pensive. I find that reflection often brings better insight.”

Moira took a bite out of an apple that seemed to appear out of thin air. “Well,” she said around her rather large mouthful, “I find that reflection only serves to make me depressed, but perhaps that is only me and my flaws.”

“Where did you get that?” he asked, feeling rather hungry himself, in spite of their having had a light breakfast not so long ago.

She grinned, one side of her face puffing out around her bite of apple. “The inn. I took the liberty of packing away some items to tide us over until we stop again. Would you like one?”

He nodded, amused by her minor thievery.

She reached into the satchel that hung on one side of her and tossed the apple to him, which he caught deftly. He took a bite out of it and cocked his head, looking at her. “You were right, you know.”

“Of course, I was,” she said immediately, which made him laugh. “But about what in particular this time?”

He grinned rather deviously, which he saw made her wary. “You do take rather large bites when eating an apple.”

Her eyes widened slightly, but she was soon laughing with him. “I know I do,” she moaned. “I can’t help it. It seems the best way to eat them. Not very ladylike, to be sure, but…”

“No, not at all, but I agree with you.”

She stilled, her eyes wide, her face suddenly devoid of laughter.

“What?” he asked, startled by the change in her. “Moira, what?”

“We… we agree on something?” she asked in a hushed voice, her expression very nearly horror-struck.

Nathan only had to wait a moment before Moira’s face broke into a grin and she started to laugh, and, after realizing he had been had, he released the breath he’d been holding and joined her.

“You should have seen your face!” she cried, her cheeks flushing with laughter.

“You are terrible,” he told her, shaking his head. “Absolutely dreadful.”

“But a much better actress than you give me credit for,” she pointed out. “Admit it, I had you convinced.”

He shook his head. “Not even for a moment. I knew you had some sort of trick hidden about you, I just was not sure where it lay.”

“Oh, please,” she scoffed, taking another large bite of apple, “You were petrified that you had said or done something wrong.”

There was no way he was going to let her win this little game of hers. “If we agreed on something,” he growled, “then I obviously did.”

She threw her head back and laughed, all inhibitions gone. “True enough.”

Nathan continued to chuckle, but he knew that he would never get the image of her laughing out of his mind. The way she had simply tossed back that mass of glorious hair and laughed, without restraint or delicacy, had been breathtaking, and not just because she was beautiful. It was simply her, just Moira, her very essence captured in that laugh. It was as though he had suddenly experienced his very first breath of fresh air, and was now wondering what it was he had been breathing all this time. She was so alive, and he wished he could be the same.

He had spent so long hiding from himself, from the world. Only his friends knew him, and even they did not know as much as they thought they did. His own family was in disarray, not knowing if any of the others were alive or dead. He used to be troubled by it all, by everything he saw in the army, by everything he had gone through. He had since learned that the best way to endure life’s hardships was to feel nothing.

It was not until he had inherited the earldom that he had realized that in feeling nothing, he had become nothing. He did not want to be nothing. He now had tenants who depended on him, lands that were under his care, and people who genuinely needed him. He could no longer hide himself, and he did not wish to. That was what had brought the earldom down in the first place; his uncle had decided the best course was no course at all, and how many had suffered at that one decision?

Nathan was better than that. He would no longer allow himself to feel nothing but rejuvenating one’s dormant heart was not as easily done as he would wish.

Perhaps this infuriating woman could help him find his way back to the living.

If she could not, then he was not certain anyone would be able to.


ow did you discover that thing with the bird?”

Nathan blinked back the drowsiness that had overcome him and looked over at his companion, who had been surprisingly silent for some time. He had enjoyed the respite from thinking and reacting, and noticed that now the sun was nearing its zenith. They ought to think about stopping for a mid-day meal, if they wanted to have any sort of strength to press on for the night.

“Let’s give the horses a rest and walk for a bit,” he suggested, reigning in Mercury.

She shrugged and reigned Flora in. “Only if you will tell me the story.”

“I will, I swear, but we can walk for a bit. I think my legs need it.”

“Oh, well, for the sake of your legs, let’s walk, by all means,” she commented dryly, shifting in her saddle.

He dismounted and went over to help her, only to find that she had already made her own way down. “I could help you down from the horse, you know.”

She gave him a quizzical look. “Why?”

“Because that is generally how things go,” he said with infinite patience, or so it seemed to him anyway. “A gentleman assists a lady down from her horse.”

“But that is assuming the lady in question requires assistance, which I don’t. I fail to see why this matters.”

“Of course you do,” he muttered. “It’s just proper, Moira. I know you can do it, but it would be ladylike to allow me to assist you.”

She frowned up at him. “I thought I had made it clear that I care very little for what is ladylike.”

He sighed in irritation and threw up his hands. “Forget it, of course, you are right. Get yourself off of the horse, open your own doors, and ride astride, I don’t care. Would you like to lead in dancing as well?” He shook his head and moved back to Mercury, taking his reigns in hand, and beginning to walk away.

Moira hesitated only a moment, then she followed. “I have upset you,” she commented.

“I am not upset, just frustrated.” His voice was more than a touch sharp, but he was trying with all of his might to keep himself in check. If there was one thing he had learned about Moira, it was that, as prickly and feisty as she appeared, she was rather sensitive at heart.

“There’s a difference?”

He closed his eyes and fought for control. “Yes, there is. Upset would involve anger. It would be due to something that had been done to offend me or something I had done myself. It would be far more disconcerting. I would be yelling.”

“You look as if you would like to be.”

He took in a would-be calming breath through his nose and let it out again slowly. “Frustration,” he continued, completely ignoring her, “is different. It is agitation due to circumstances that are out of my control. I may become moody or snappish, but as it is not in my control, there would be no cause to be upset.”

“So this is you exhibiting frustration.”


“Because I wouldn’t let you help me off of Flora?” she asked.

He sighed again, this time in resignation. “No, Moira, that is not it.”

“What, then? I don’t understand what should upset you, excuse me,
you, about that.”

He could not help the small tick of a smile that threatened. No, she probably did not. It made him wonder again just what sort of life she had led. She had no notion of niceties or decorum, and yet she held herself with such airs. He was unwillingly fascinated.

“That was simply an example. I have been trying to be a gentleman with you, showing the proper respect and honor for a lady, and either you do not understand or you do not wish me to be such a person. It is in my nature to act this way, far beyond habit now.” There, that seemed to be clear enough.

“I haven’t prevented you from anything. You can act in any manner that you choose, and quite freely at that.”

Perhaps not.

“A gentleman helps a lady, whether she needs it or not,” he told her, casting an impatient glance at her. “Giving her his arm to lead her across the street, or helping her out of a carriage, or off of a horse, or protecting her when the time arises. It is chivalrous and admirable and what is expected of a gentleman. You are not allowing me to do that.”

“But that would put you above me,” she protested, still looking confused. “That would imply that I need assistance, that I’m unable to do things for myself. It would make me appear weak.”

“No, it wouldn’t. It would merely show that you are letting me be a gentleman.”

She shook her head. “Nathan, I want us to be equals in this. If I am capable enough to do something, why shouldn’t I do it? Why does that have to be unladylike, just so a man can put himself above me?”

“Do I look like I want to set myself above you?” he cried, gesturing to himself. “I have no such designs, I know that we are equals. I accept it and rejoice in it. In fact, I think you are far above me, which is as it should be. But for God’s sake, Moira, let me have a little dignity as a man!”

She continued to stare at him and he could see her mind whirling behind those eyes. “If I let you help me, only on occasion…” she stipulated with a warning finger.

He rolled his own and nodded. “Very well, on occasion, then.”

She nodded in return. “Then you will be satisfied?”

He grunted. “More satisfied than I am now, but not entirely.”

“That is the best I can do, Nathan. I am simply not ladylike and that is all there is to it.”

He exhaled slowly, his eyes scanning her face. “It does not bother me if you don’t wish to be a fine lady in all things,” he said softly. “I know you want to be independent and strong, and I think that a noble thing. All I ask is that you try to let me be who I am, and that is a gentleman. At heart, and to the core. Can you allow me that?”

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