“Damn it to hell.”
“Such language, Lord Hasty,” a husky voice called out.
Swiveling around in the saddle Henry found Georgiana Buchanan gliding to a stop just beyond his horse’s flank. In her customary fashion she’d adorned herself in yards of silk and lace, from the frilly edge of the modest square-cut bodice of her lavender gown, to the wide ribbon cinched around her waist, to the layers of ruffles and furbelows of her full skirts.
Atop her head she wore a ridiculous concoction of straw, flowers, ribbons and bows, hiding her glorious hair but for one long spiral that had escaped its pins to flutter over her shoulder.
“And in front of two young ladies.” She smiled up at him, her eyes shining in the sunlight that had yet to be chased off by the gathering clouds. “Poorly done even for a libertine, my lord.”
Henry could only stare at the lady, too surprised by her sudden appearance to form words.
“Miss Georgiana, there you are,” Miss Margery called, hurrying over to join the lady, her gaze flitting over Henry atop his horse. “We waited for you as long as we could, but there is the loveliest lace shawl in Mrs. Peabody’s shop that I simply must have.”
“You will not,” the dark-haired goddess warned as she stopped beside the blonde.
“Lord Hasty, are you acquainted with Miss Eleanor Brooks and her sister Miss Margery?” Georgiana asked, her eyes never leaving Henry’s face that suddenly felt too hot.
“Lord Hastings, silly,” Miss Margery corrected with a smile. “We have had the pleasure of making his lordship’s acquaintance two years past when he visited Idyllwild. How do you do, my lord?”
The sisters dropped into curtsies that showed off trim ankles in satin slippers. Georgiana did not follow suit, instead continuing to look at him, her smile growing wider with each passing second.
“A pleasure to see you again,” Henry replied with a nod, barely sparing a glance for the ladies he had no memory of having met.
“Have you come to spend some time at Idyllwild?” Miss Margery asked, her gaze darting between Henry and Georgiana.
“What in blazes are you doing here?” he barked.
The Misses Brooks looked at one another and back to Henry, two sets of green eyes round and unblinking.
“We are just coming from Matilda Marshall’s wedding,” Georgiana replied as calmly as if he hadn’t shouted at her on the street. “And what a lovely wedding it was, too.”
Huffing out a frustrated breath, Henry climbed from his mount to join the ladies on the walkway. “What are you doing in Deerfield? Why are you not in London where you belong?”
“I wasn’t aware I belonged in London, or anywhere else for that matter,” she answered, wrapping her hand around his arm. “Will you walk with us, my lord?”
“Oh yes, please do, Lord Hastings,” Miss Margery urged while her sister bobbed her head. “Perhaps Jilly and Laura will see you escorting us.”
As he looped the horse’s reins around a hitching post, it occurred to Henry that the Misses Brooks were quite young, likely barely out of the schoolroom, which would explain why he did not remember meeting them. Two years ago they’d still been in braids and pinafores.
“Oh I’d wager they are in the bakery,” Miss Margery told her sister.
“Shall we run ahead and see?” Miss Eleanor asked with a giggle.
“Please do,” Henry muttered.
“We’ll stay to the street so that you might readily find us again,” Georgiana offered, turning her smile on the exuberant girls. “His lordship will be certain to fawn all over the both of you when you return. That’ll pickle Silly and Laurel’s insides to no end.”
Beaming their gratitude before spinning away, the two girls with curves too generous for their young minds hurried down the street hand-in-hand.
“Aren’t they darling?” Georgiana asked, tucking her hand more firmly around his arm and tugging him forward along the sidewalk.
“What are you doing here?” Henry asked for the third time, his frustration falling away as his balls twitched and his cock pulsed.
“Is there some reason I should not be here?” she asked.
“Why did you run off?” Henry watched her as they set off toward the center of the village, quite unable to look away from her profile and the smile that coasted around her full bottom lip. “I awoke to discover you’d fled in the night. In my shirt, no less.”
“There was no need to linger,” she replied airily. “I’d gotten what I wanted, after all.”
Dumbstruck by her blasé words and the slow lift of her lips into a full-blown grin, Henry halted beside her.
“Never fear, my lord. I shall return your shirt.” Georgiana peered up at him through her lashes.
“I don’t give a damn about my shirt,” he muttered. “I am not accustomed to falling asleep with a lady only to awake alone.”
“No, you likely lie abed devising ways to remove either the lady or yourself from the premises,” she agreed. “Have you contemplated sawing off your arm?”
“Sawing off my arm?”
“Killjoy once told me he has considered such drastic measures on more than one occasion, most especially when he awoke to find Prudence McIver curled up beside him.”
Henry barked out a laugh.
“You have imagined it!” Georgiana skipped ahead of him and spun about to face him, clapping her hands and beaming up at him. “Who inspired you to meditate upon life with one arm?”
“I have never—”
“Come, come, my lord. You can tell me. Who was she?”
Henry shook his head, enchanted by her smile, by the dimple that winked beside her wide mouth, by the humor shining from her eyes.
“Tit for tat,” she teased, falling in beside him again and twining her hand through his elbow, her fingers curling around his arm.
Dropping his hand over hers, he laced their fingers together. “What are you offering up in trade?”
“To be sure I’ve never thought to lop off my arm,” she drawled, her voice taking on a soft lyrical cadence.
“You must share some dark secret from your past,” he told her.
Tapping one long finger against her chin, she hummed softly.
“Too many to choose from?”