Frances Bowes, the richest young widow in England, saves Jack Slade from drowning, but Jack, living in his own private hell after the death of his wife, is not grateful. Newcomer Holbrook dazzles the neighbourhood in his glorious regimentals and Frances’s mother, match-making hat firmly in place, claims that he’s admirable husband material. Frances remains unimpressed, but when the newspaper publishes an ugly letter questioning her reputation, she realizes someone is trying to force her into something she definitely does not want.
An absorbing tangle of emotions and a heart-rending denouement.
His clothes… She ran her eye over the long length of him, took in the riding breeches and top-boots, both of a quality far beyond the pocket of a mean highwayman. Her mouth twisted. What did she know of highwaymen? His left hand, relaxed and long-fingered against the stony ground, bore a heavy gold ring on the third finger, and as she watched, the sun raised a scarlet gleam from the embedded stone. A wedding ring?
Thoughts tumbled through her mind at amazing speed. She ought to check his head and see if the wound still bled, but to do that she must touch him. Such a small thing; yet she hesitated.
Frances! Touch him, or else call yourself a coward.
Her hand trembled in the air above him and then closed upon itself and retreated, curling into a fist against her throat. Even with him unconscious, she did not like the thought of touching him.
Marriage to Rathmere had left her with a huge dislike of physical contact. But this man, she told herself, looking down at him, offered no threat. He needed her help.
Do it. Do it now.
Taking a deep breath, she reached out before her fears caught up with her and touched his brow. Her fingers sprang back as if she encountered fire. Frances shook her head at her foolishness.
His skin was cold beneath her hesitant fingers, but a pulse beat slowly in his neck. Drat the proprieties. And be damned to her fears. If he died, she would never forgive herself.
“Wake up, you silly creature.” Growing bolder, she shook him by the shoulder. “Wake up. Speak to me. Who are you?”
Perplexed, she flopped down on the wet mud beside him. He was far too heavy to lift. She could not drag him up the slope to the meadow, even with Gyp’s assistance.
Hugging herself, rocking back and forth, she dithered. If she knew what to do, she would do it, but she had no idea what would be best.
Gyp whined, shuffled closer, stretched out her neck and licked the man’s neck with long, curious strokes.
Stimulation. Frances smiled. Of course.
She gripped the man’s shoulder. He looked uncomfortable, sprawled on his side, one cheek flat against the mud. He proved far heavier than she expected, and as soon as she let go, he flopped back again. Odd sounds and a trickle of water came from his mouth. Encouraged, she tried once more, and failed again.
“Oh for pity’s sake!”