How to Capture a Duke(7)

By: Bianca Blythe


And then she saw it.

A tree, long and thick, had fallen across the road, its position just as precariously placed as in all her dreams. Pine needles covered its branches, but Fiona knew that underneath the pleasant scent hid imminent danger. A sharp curve lay immediately after the tree, the type of curve a coach driver coming from the opposite direction should slow for, but which he might not necessarily do. She didn’t want to imagine the horses trying too late to stop.

She turned her head in the direction of the apple orchard. She didn’t have time for this. This might be her last chance to do any digging, and she wanted to see Rosamund afterward.

But the impediment was so large, and the potential destruction so severe.

Fiona slowed Ned down and examined the sturdy trunk and the jagged branches. She slid from the horse, tied him to a tree, and then returned to examine the obstruction. The horizon had narrowed to a thin sliver, and she pressed her lips together.

If only she’d brought a shawl that she could have used as a warning.

She exhaled. Maybe she could remove the offending tree, so even the most unobservant driver could safely barrel down the road. She grasped a branch of the tree and attempted to drag it.

The tree did not budge.

She removed her knife. She sawed off some of the smaller branches and shoved them to the side of the road. The trunk was still too heavy for her.

She sighed. She would need to return to Cloudbridge Castle. She would send some of the male servants back to complete the job of clearing the road, hoping that they could get to it in time.

She pressed her lips together and tried not to think about whether any passer-by had spotted the tree that her parents’ carriage had collided with and had decided not to move it.

Trotting hooves and jostling wheels interrupted her thoughts. She swung her head toward the sound that was coming from farther down the road.

She scurried forward, accidentally sweeping her skirt and cloak through a puddle. No matter. Right now the only thing of any importance was to warn the driver.

A post horn sounded.

She hastened around the corner.

A dark coach pulled by four horses sped along the road, and Fiona hollered at the driver to stop. She picked up her skirts and marched over the lane. The wind blew against her, and her hair spilled from her hat. Mud coated the edges of her cloak. The knife was still clutched in her hand, and she waved it.





Chapter Three




Percival Carmichael, seventh Duke of Alfriston, was hurled from his seat.

He landed on the wooden floor with a thump, reflecting that some pieces of advice his former governess had been prone to bestowing had an irritating propensity to be correct. The advice that soared most prominently in his mind was her warning not to drink in a moving carriage.

His governess had been referring to apple juice, his preferred beverage at the time of his pre-Harrow education, but he contemplated that the advice still held true when imbibing a wider variety of drinks—in this case, brandy.

His cravat displayed distinct tawny spots now, an addition his valet would be most disapproving of. He also would criticize the alcoholic smell that now infused the velvet cushioned seats, the maple floor, and particularly Percival’s attire.

Blast. Yorkshire was every bit as horrid as the ton claimed.

He would have enough scrutiny tomorrow without appearing with a stained cravat.

He pulled himself back onto the seat. Speed was of importance, and the driver knew it. Percival had expressly promised him a significant tip if they reached London before tomorrow evening. The driver should be aware that a significant tip from a man who possessed a vast amount of wealth was nothing trivial.

Percival patted the package and pushed away the uneasy thoughts that consistently forced their way through his mind when he devoted too much attention to his impending engagement.

The driver said something, and the horses restarted their trot. Thank goodness. Percival stretched out his leg, and his Wellington struck the opposite seat. He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes. Soon he would be in London, ensconced in a life everyone would envy, until they learned about the accident.

“Halt.” An alto voice cut through the sound of whinnying horses. The voice was commanding, different from the high-pitched murmurings and giggles of the debutantes and young widows with whom he tended to consort.

The coach continued on.

“Halt!” The voice called out again, and this time the carriage wheels screeched. The horses snorted and stomped their feet, and the driver uttered an ungentlemanly word.

Percival swept the curtain back.

A tall woman in a cape stood beside the road. She clutched a knife, directing it at the coach. The woman’s eyes were narrowed, and red hair swirled in the wind. Mud crusted the bottom of her dress, and pine needles cleaved her cloak. The blade of her weapon glinted underneath the flickering lanterns of the coach, and her expression was solemn.

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