To Catch a Husband…(7)

By: Sarah Mallory

She bit her lip and nodded. The sensation of being swept off her feet left Kitty feeling giddy and very helpless. She was held tightly against the man’s chest, her face only inches from his jaw, so close that she could see the black stubble on his cheek and smell the damp wool of his greatcoat. As he turned his feet slipped a little on the cobbles and her hands flew up around his neck. His arms tightened even more. He held her firmly but he was not crushing her, yet for some reason she found it difficult to breathe. Her heart was pounding erratically, thudding against her ribs as if trying to escape her body. She had a sudden and inexplicable desire to lean her head against the man’s shoulder. She had to admit it looked very inviting, and reassuringly wide. She realised that this was a situation she had dreamed of, a chivalrous knight coming to the rescue of a beautiful maiden. Only in her dreams her hero was a fair, handsome young knight, one deserving of his reward, not a big, brutish oaf with no manners. She peeped up at the strong, rather hawkish face of her rescuer, noting the long black lashes around his eyes, his straight nose and the smooth curve of his lips. Suddenly, surprisingly, Kitty found herself wondering what it would be like to kiss him.

He glanced down at that moment and she found herself staring into those dark eyes, unable to look away. For one alarming moment she thought he had read her mind and that he would actually kiss her. She was in his arms and completely at his mercy. Her heart raced. A moment’s heady excitement was followed quickly by panic. To cover her confusion she said crossly, ‘Pray do not hold me so tightly. You are crushing my dress.’

He chuckled.

His amusement only served to increase her discomfiture. She said angrily, ‘I vow I cannot breathe! Loosen your hold, you oaf!’

The black brows snapped together and a dangerous gleam flared in his eyes. He released his grip on her legs and she gave a little cry as her feet touched the sodden ground.

‘Ee, lass, seems I lost my grip on thee.’ Her tormentor still had an arm around her shoulders, hugging her to him. She managed to free one hand and brought it up to his grinning face with a slap.

‘How dare you do that to a lady?’

He looked down at her, his eyes narrowing. Then, very deliberately, he let her go. She gave a shriek, her arms tightening around his neck as she tried to lift her feet from the mud. Calmly he reached up and pulled her hands away and she was obliged to stand, the cold muddy water oozing around her ankles and into her boots.

‘If that wants trettin’ like a lady,’ he growled, ‘then that mun act like one.’

And with that he turned and walked to the carriage.

Kitty lifted her sodden skirts and pulled one foot clear of the sticky, cloying mud. With slow, unsteady steps she made her way to the road, biting her lip in rage and mortification. She had been very rude, to be sure, but how dare he drop her in the water? She looked down at her feet. Her new boots were ruined and instead of a jaunty yellow decoration around the hem of her walking dress, the bottom six inches of her skirts glistened with slick brown mud.

When Kitty reached the road she was too upset to speak and after scraping the worst of the mud from her boots and stockings she climbed silently into the carriage, biting her lip while Mrs Midgley clucked and fidgeted around her like a mother hen.

Daniel looked down at his legs. His topboots were almost completely covered in mud and it had splashed up over his buckskins. He walked to the edge of the ford to wash the worst of the dirt away before climbing back into the carriage. Mr Midgley gave the word and they set off again. The atmosphere inside the carriage was distinctly uncomfortable. Daniel looked at the young woman huddled in the corner: she was staring out of the window, her jaw set hard. He saw her blink rapidly and guessed that she was trying not to cry.

‘I beg your pardon,’ he said quietly. ‘Miss Wythenshawe, I—’

‘Now, now, my boy, you did your best,’ put in Mr Midgley. ‘I did not see quite what happened, as I was helping my wife into the coach, but I am sure it could not be helped. We must be thankful that one of our ladies at least was carried safely across the mud. I have no doubt Miss Wythenshawe is most grateful for your efforts, isn’t that so, my dear?’

Daniel saw the little chin tremble. Miss Wythenshawe averted her face but he could not mistake the bitterness in her voice when she replied.

‘Mr Blackwood’s efforts will not be forgotten.’

‘There, now, all’s well, you see.’ Mr Midgley beamed around the carriage. ‘Once the mud has dried, we can clean it off and your boots and your gown will be as good as new!’

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