Wedding Wagers(6)

By: Donna Hatch

“I’ll save you!” A panicked male voice cried from nearby—probably the same idiot who had knocked her out of the boat in the first place.

“I don’t need saving,” Meredith called. “I have a hold of the boat.”

Annabel and the ferryman hauled her on board by her elbows. As she struggled to her seat, she noticed Annabel sitting, dry, except for a few darkened water spots.

“Are you unharmed, Merry?” her cousin gasped.

Meredith attempted to rearrange her wet skirts. “I’m quite well, if a bit damp. How did you manage not to fall in?”

“The ferryman caught hold of me.”

A sheepish smile crinkled the craggy face of the ferryman. “My apologies, miss. I couldn’t grab you both and keep the boat balanced at the same time.”

“I’m so sorry!” said the same male voice that had promised to save her. Mr. Partridge gaped at her, even more handsome up close. And what a stunning shock of blond in the middle of his rich, dark hair visible beneath his hat’s brim. What a stupid thing to notice at a time like this.

“I cannot believe I did that,” Mr. Partridge gasped. “Please forgive me!”

Her ire toward him for his actions softened at the genuine distress in his expression. But he was still far too handsome and therefore not to be trusted.

“Blamed fool,” his ferryman muttered, gripping his oar and glaring at the clumsy gentleman.

“Can I help you in any way?” Mr. Partridge asked Meredith, clearly aghast.

Annabel sniffed. “You’ve done quite enough, Mr. Partridge.”

He flushed. “I was merely trying to get closer—not run into you. I apologize.”

Next to him, his friend with sandy hair looked as if he couldn’t decide if he were amused or horrified.

Meredith shivered. Her clothing stuck to her, and water sloshed out of the tops of her boots. The whole situation seemed so absurd that she could only do one thing. She laughed.

Annabel stared, then joined in the laughter.

Meredith shivered again. “Well, that was not quite the adventure I imagined.”

Her ferryman said, “Back home, miss?”

“Yes, please,” Annabel said. “We must get her home and into something dry.”

As they rowed back to the shore they had just left behind, Meredith waved to Miss Harris, the lady in the purple bonnet. “Enjoy the gardens!”

Apparently, Meredith would not become the lady’s guardian angel as she’d hoped. She must hope the suitor would prove himself honorable or that Miss Harris would see through his façade before he broke her heart.

Miss Harris gave her a disbelieving smile and waved back. She called out something, but they had traveled out of earshot.

Meredith offered a wry smile to Annabel. “Well, that is certainly the most unusual thing that has happened to me since we arrived in London.”

“Oh, mercy,” Annabel said. “You must be so cold!”

“I am chilled, but fortunately my cloak is wool, so it will keep me from freezing.” She glanced back at Mr. Partridge, who sat twisted in his seat next to his friend and stared at her while his disgruntled ferryman rowed them closer to the far shore.

“What in the world got into him, I wonder?” Meredith mused.

“Obviously, he wanted to get close enough for you to notice him.”

“He succeeded.” She wiped her face with a gloved hand. “Perhaps he wanted to hear my story.”

Annabel made a scoffing sound. “I doubt he will ever forget it—or you. Don’t worry; I’m certain we’ll see him again.”

Meredith shrugged. She had no delusions about finding a husband in London. She’d do well to hope for a respectable country gentleman, like her Grandmother’s vicar, who could give her a home of her own and the joy of children.

Perhaps such a respectable marriage would earn her parents’ forgiveness. In the meantime, she’d do all she could to protect innocent girls from the lies of rakes and fortune hunters.

Even the next day, Michael Cavenleigh was still laughing over Phillip’s careless actions that led to the dunking of the intriguing young lady in the Thames.

Phillip slouched in his seat at Michael’s bachelor rooms and glared at his friend. He couldn’t keep a straight face for long. To be honest, the sight of Michael laughing again after such a long spell of sorrow, even though said laughter came at Phillip’s expense, was just too refreshing—and relieving—a sight to behold.

“Enough,” Phillip grumbled in mock grumpiness. “I admit, I didn’t think that one through, but I had to get closer, and the ferryman wouldn’t listen to me.”

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