About the book
She, as no other ever could, reached every corner of his heart.
Powerful and influential Lady Harriet Windsor's pampered life takes a turn when she becomes the guardian of her orphaned cousin.
Used to always getting her way, she comes to the jarring realization that she must now secure her young charge's future. And she is willing to pull every string at her disposal to do just that.
Playful and flirty with a certain disregard for social etiquette, Timothy Ramsay, third son of the Marquess of Westbrook, has a reputation to match his mischievous ways. With his family unable to control him and many a respectable lady warning their daughters to stay away from him, he is a true heartbreaker. Or is he?
Unable to stay away from each other once they cross paths, Timothy's undesirable reputation is not the only trial they must face: a bet he made to conquer the challenge that is Harriet's heart comes to light. Thrown in the middle of a game they think they can control, they belatedly realize they focused on the king and lost sight of the most important player: the pawn.
It was the ball of the season at Almack’s Assembly Rooms, but Lord Timothy Ramsay knew that it was not yet time to collect his dance. Timothy had been well acquainted with the usual life at Almack’s, where gambling went on in one room, and the dancing took place in the great room. Occasionally, he preferred the increasingly scandalous nature of Carlisle House, but the ball of the year took place exclusively at Almack’s, also known as ‘The Marriage Mart.’
Not that Timothy was in search of a wife of good social standing. However, his longtime friend, Lord Curtis Sutton, the firstborn of an Earl, had such inclinations. For the time being, the two men enjoyed the view that spread before them. Beaming debutants with flushed cheeks would whisper to each other, throwing coy glances at gentlemen who’d caught their attention.
Timothy always believed that one of the most extraordinary advantages of being friends with the host of the ball entailed the avoidance of being officially announced. Instead, he could do what he enjoyed most on these occasions. He simply observed the gathering of lords and ladies, with his friend by his side, focusing on the blushing beauties.
“They all look so innocent, so prim and proper, don’t they, my good man?” Timothy chuckled to his friend, who simply nodded. “So absolutely beautiful. A damned improvement upon the last ball we attended.”
“But there was still diversion enough, was there not?” Curtis elbowed his friend playfully.
“Very well put,” Timothy agreed, his eyes watching a young girl across the room, whose dark curls framed her lovely face, as her eyes met with his. “Mere diversion, nothing else, I assure you. Unlike it is the case with you and Lady Coleborn.”
“Lady Coleborn will make a fine wife.” Curtis tried to defend his courting of a very suitable future wife. It was, after all, what the world expected of him. And, most importantly, what his own family expected. Timothy was also aware of that fact, and secretly dreaded the possibility of losing his best friend. Surely, they would continue to socialize, but once a man had gotten married, that was the end of the line. At least, in Timothy’s mind.
Timothy also knew that, unlike himself, his friend had a title to inherit, and with it, a certain bearing of character.
He quickly frowned. “Marriage is Hell.”
“Marriage to the wrong woman might be,” Curtis agreed up to a certain point. “But I believe marriage to the right woman is-”
“Paradise?” Timothy laughed boisterously. “Do not be absurd, Curtis. I would expect this of anyone, but you.”
“This is all fine and dandy, but you know that this can’t go on forever,” Curtis gestured with his hands all around him.
“It can go on for as long as I want it to,” Timothy snickered. “For I dread the other option. Having a woman lead me by the bollocks? I think not. Diversion is all I need in this life, and trust me-”
But he couldn’t finish his thought. Instead, he found himself staring at the couple that had just entered the ballroom. The lady in question looked absolutely ravishing in her violet silk gown, decorated with dark purple flowers. Immediately, his throat went dry, and Timothy wished he had some whiskey, just to wet his tongue a little.
He recognized the young man as His Grace Harley Windsor, the Duke of Pickering. In that case, the young woman by his side, with her large blue eyes and hair the color of the sun, must be Lady Harriet Windsor, his sister. But he could barely believe it to be. Lady Harriet was not of age yet. Or was she? He almost couldn’t believe it to be possible.
All eyes were on them. Timothy noticed they hadn’t approached anyone for a greeting. He watched her as they walked, her hand resting on her brother’s elbow. She was so short, so petite. A funny thought occurred to him. He could just hide her in his waistcoat pocket and run away. No one would even see him do it.
“Why are you smirking?” Curtis asked.
Timothy fell silent as he gazed at Lady Harriet; her demeanor calm and composed. There was no giggling, no blushing. Her cheeks were a dignified shade of pale, her eyes traversing the room with detailed accuracy. And, yet not once did she look in his direction.
Timothy finally turned to his friend, seeing the profile of Curtis’ once long and straight nose, now rendered slightly crooked, courtesy of some ruffian they met in a place no gentleman should frequent. Curtis locked eyes with Timothy, both of them with the same idea in mind.
“I know what you’re thinking.” Curtis shook his head.
“You couldn’t possibly begin to understand,” Timothy grinned. “She seems like she would be quite a pleasant distraction.”
“She is breathtaking, I concur,” Curtis agreed. “However, I couldn’t even dare to entertain any such thoughts.”
“What?” Timothy chuckled wildly, stealing a quick glance at Lady Harriet. A man bowed before her, but she wasn’t smiling. It gave him hope. “Lady Coleborn has already shackled you, even without the official papers?”
“It is too soon for me to cause another scandal,” Curtis sighed.
Both men remembered how the ton buzzed at the revelation that Lord Curtis Sutton had ceased courting Lady Inglewood and immediately professed his adoration of the recently widowed Lady Holliday. The shortness of period was shocking, even for Curtis himself. But, sometimes, a man was led by something other than his mind.
“Then, the path is completely open?” Timothy asked.
“Not only open, but I also issue a challenge.”
“A challenge?” Timothy’s curiosity peaked more than it had in ages.
“Indeed,” Curtis nodded. “I know how much you enjoy a good wager.”
“Do you remember when we took bets at White’s on that man who collapsed on the doorstep?” Timothy laughed. “Luckily for the old fellow, he was alive, though not all that well. As for me, I walked out of White’s slightly richer that evening.”
“I do,” Curtis joined in. They laughed so rowdily that a few ladies glanced in their direction, wonderingly. “In that case, this is your challenge. Win the lady’s heart by the end of the Season.”
“Lady Harriet?” Timothy wanted to confirm. Curtis simply nodded.
Timothy watched as everyone’s attention was still directed towards the lady in question. His heart gave a pang when he thought she smiled at a young man, a different man this time, who was now bowing before her. Still too far away from her, he tried to find a flaw in her loveliness. From afar, there was none. He needed to get close, and not only for that reason.
“I accept,” Timothy nodded.
In his mind, he could already see himself kissing her shamelessly, her body in a state of intoxication, like so many other women before her.
“We shall arrange the details later,” Timothy dusted off his shoulder with the tips of his fingers. “Now, I must act.”
Confidently, he strode towards Lady Harriet, with only one thing in mind.
The man who was approaching Harriet was infamous. She knew that much. In reality, she knew much more than she was willing to divulge, and she had always found that to be one of her advantages in life, even at such a tender age.
She had learned much regarding Lord Timothy Ramsay from her brother, and she knew that he was the kind of man mother’s usher their daughters away from. But she was not frightened the least bit, of a man with a suspicious past. A man whose cards were all out on the table was far less threatening than a man who had much to lose.
Mr. Willis, the husband of the late Mr. Almack’s niece, approached her together with Lord Ramsay, whose confidence was visible from a mile away. He reminded her of a peacock.
“Lady Harriet,” Mr. Willis commenced, “if I may introduce Lord Timothy-”
“Ramsay,” she finished his sentence. Lord Ramsay’s surprise didn’t escape her notice. It also didn’t fail to make her glad. She curtsied, mirroring Lord Ramsay’s bow of respect.
“May I have this dance, Lady Harriet?” he asked, offering her his hand.
To his surprise, she did not accept it immediately. Instead, she looked somewhere behind him, but he didn’t allow this to confuse him. His hand still lay outstretched in the air, waiting for her reply.
“Now?” she asked, realizing herself the silliness of such a reply.
“What better time?” he smiled, revealing a row of pearly teeth; she knew that many women had fallen victim to that smile. She remained reserved, despite the fact that her heart skipped a beat at his charming chuckle.
“Well, I…” she started, but at that moment, the orchestra struck up and what followed was a Viennese waltz.
“Lady Harriet?” he asked again, his voice urging her to accept.
The way he pronounced her name kept ringing inside her ears, like a long-forgotten melody. She waited a moment longer, then realized that her brother’s eyes watched her from the other end of the room ever since they had been briefly separated. Still, she placed her hand in Lord Ramsay’s.
“Very well,” she nodded, but she did not return his smile.
She moved slowly, her every step deliberate, as he led her to the parquetted floor to join the other dancers. They stood facing each other, hands linked. His free hand found a suitably respectable position on the middle of her back. She made sure to keep a decent distance from him, as she gently pushed him away with an outstretched arm, her hand resting on his shoulder.
“I assure you, I am quite a good dancer,” he told her, as they started to move.
“I’m certain you are,” she replied, as he whirled her across the floor.
It seemed he was telling the truth. He guided them both through the music, following the rhythm, his steps mirroring the tempo. He twirled her around, as they went down the line facing each other, then they turned away. Every time she got closer to him color rose to her cheeks. She was enjoying this dance immensely, even though she had been waiting for someone else before him.
All the air fled from her lungs, every time her eyes met his. If she had taken but a single sip of wine, she would be happy to bestow the effects on the spirits and not him. But the dizzying response her body exuded was due to him and him alone.
“But that is not my only strength,” he added mischievously, so much so that her cheeks flared up at the insinuation.
“It seems that modesty isn’t one of them.” She couldn’t resist the urge to talk back. After all, she had never been the one to remain quiet in the face of adversity - of any kind.
Timothy chuckled once more. “A man needs to know where his strengths lay, does he not?”
It was obvious that he was enjoying himself, and what she had heard was utterly correct. He was not bothered much by what society thought of him. His was a reputation that not only followed, but actually preceded the person in question.
“I’m afraid I wouldn’t know that for sure,” she replied, stifling a smile. “For I am not a man, my lord.”
“That is indeed true,” he nodded. “And call me Timothy. All my friends do.”
She wondered if they were friends. Or, at least, if he considered them such, after this much too brief a time spent together. All logic claimed otherwise.
“If you wish,” she responded.
He seemed a little disappointed at her reply. She supposed he expected her to be thrilled that they were on first name basis so quickly.
“May I call you Harriet?” he continued, boldly. He was confident. She had to admit that much. And, that confidence was highly amusing.
She didn’t reply immediately, as their bodies flowed together, fitting so well that she herself was shocked at the realization. She never thought such a tall person would lead her so well on the dancefloor. But he wasn’t only tall. He was muscular. His jaw clenched as his eyes shone every time he looked at her. She forced herself to look away.
“That would infer that we are friends,” she told him.
“Are we not?” He spun her wildly.
“Well, for one we have just met,” she elaborated. “People do not become friends just like that.”
“What does it take then?” he urged, locking his eyes with hers.
“Common interests, time spent together,” she explained. “But I am not certain we could be friends, My L… Timothy.”
He twirled her again, and her gown flounced freely. She remembered his reputation once more and knew that once this dance ended, she would curtsy and then be led back to her brother’s side. But something told her that she would not be rid of Timothy that easily. And she welcomed the idea.
“How can you be so certain of that, Harriet?” He used her name so freely, as if their supposed friendship had spanned across decades and not mere minutes.
“I have my ways,” she blushed.
She wanted to tell him all; her aim to get to know all the people of influence and wealth, the redeemable ones, that is, and employ them in her altruistic cause of helping those who could not help themselves. She was already privy to much information, and her demure appearance concealed strong opinions.
She was well aware of the fact that her brother’s support meant much in the way of keeping her safe and well looked after. In addition to this, he supported all those causes she felt passionately about, such as women’s education and the poor’s welfare in the House of the Lords. He always offered support, yes, but never so much as to be branded extreme. And she understood why.
As a result, Harriet knew much of the rumors regarding Lord Timothy and his dandy ways. She was almost positive she knew what his intentions were, from the moment he bowed before her and offered a dance. She should be shying from him, like the Devil shied from the cross, and yet, she felt no such inclination. On the contrary, she was utterly confident that she could control the situation.
But, this time, he seemed to be the one in control, as he bent over, outrageously diminishing the proper distance that was to be kept between the dancing couples. She was caught off guard and did not even remember to pull away. Instead, she listened to him singing, with a voice more melodious than any she’d ever heard before.
He started, following the melody to perfection.
“I once knew a lady whose countenance bore, a striking resemblance to a sandy seashore. Her eyes, they were blue, her skin was pale white, she promised she’d meet me by the seashore tonight. But, alas, she was gone, she was nowhere in sight, how shocking to find ladies so impolite!”
He pulled away, suddenly, once his mischievous song had come to an end, and she found herself entirely amused by it. Her lips danced in a barely visible smile, and she was fighting the urge to break into loud laughter. It was obvious that he had come up with the words himself, and paired with his most harmonious voice, it sounded more than appealing.
Still, she knew that controlling the situation meant that she should always be one step ahead of him. Her lustrous, pink lips parted to speak, but at that moment, the music ceased.
“Thank you for the dance, my lord.” She made sure to use his title and not the name he offered, and be the first to thank him, even though that was always left to the man.
“It is I who should be thanking you, Harriet,” he bowed deeply. “I think perhaps -”
“I need to see my brother now.” She excused herself not overly politely, but graciously enough to be given a reason to depart.
She didn’t need to turn around to know that his eyes were burning a hole in the back of her head. He was confused, probably a little upset at the way she had handled the situation. She chuckled to herself, silently. By the time she reached her brother, she was an epitome of grace and serenity, as always.
Immediately after his dance with Harriet, Timothy knew that he would be watching this lady all evening. This maddeningly gorgeous and witty girl was unlike anyone he had ever met before, and judging by her tongue, he knew that courting her would be so much fun.
He returned to his friend and perched himself where they usually sat. It bestowed a gracious overview of the whole ballroom, and it was easy to reach even the most hidden corners with a mere glance.
However, Timothy wasn’t content with finding just any lady to marvel at. This time, only one would be desirable, but he knew that he was not the only one who thought that way.
“Have you tired of the dancing yet?” Curtis inquired.
He had always been a matter-of-fact sort of fellow. He believed what he saw, not what he was told. And, strangely enough, he wasn’t all that fond of balls. He endured them, so to speak, simply because that was the only acceptable manner in which he could find a suitable young lady who would become his wife. Or, perhaps just a distraction - in the manner of his best friend.
“It is always an entertaining spectacle, you know that my good fellow,” Timothy nodded, with a lingering smile, not taking his eyes off of his newest object of desire. “Especially now with the challenge you have set before me.”
“Perhaps you are doubting yourself with this one?” Curtis asked again, as they both watched Lady Harriet closely.
Not a single hair was out of place on her blond head. Not a single emotion was revealed on that kind face, which occasionally resembled a mask. Timothy wondered what it was she was trying to hide so desperately. Or was it simply him?
It did not escape his attention that in the hour following their dance, she did not dare look in his direction once. Admittedly, his reputation was untrustworthy, but a single glance would not have hurt anyone. Was she not curious?
As for himself, he was more than merely curious. Lady Harriet was more beautiful than any other woman present, and this fact, together with the challenge that was brought forth, made it impossible to look away.
“You must be sotted to think so!” Timothy chuckled. “There has not been a woman yet whose reins I did not hold in my arms.”
He knew that he would hold hers eventually. He was certain of it. Despite all those eyes that rested on her, that drank from the fountain of her beauty, he knew none of them mattered. Perhaps he himself did not matter to her at this moment, but he would change that.
Suddenly, he remembered how he held her, how he guided her through the waltz. She liked his song. He could see that smile endeavoring to break through, but she would not allow it. She was fighting it.
I do love a good challenge. He thought to himself, grinning.
Now, he found himself longing for more. More of her witty comments, more of her effort to fight him, to push him back, even though an invisible magnetism kept pulling them towards each other.
“You seem somewhat distracted,” Curtis noticed. “Or are you busy plotting?”
Timothy wondered how long it had been since their dance. Would it be too forward to approach her again?
He tried to look away, but his gaze always returned to her, like a ship coming home to a safe harbor after a storm. She, on the other hand, did not share the sentiment. Her gaze remained coolly detached, focused on the other end of the ballroom, as if something of crucial importance was happening there, and she couldn’t resist its allure.
He wondered if this was a conscious effort on her part. He wished it to be so, because that would mean that she had been thinking about him all this time. The thought excited him.
However, he could not be sure of that. Her demeanor always remained calm and not a single propriety broken. He couldn’t imagine her ever doing such a thing. Not her. Not the perfect Lady Harriet.
He watched her, and no matter how many hands she accepted, how many dances she had danced, she remained equally quiet, equally shy, small like a dainty little doll. And yet, that was what made her so approachable. She never shook her head at anyone.
The number of guests was staggering, and occasionally, Timothy would lose sight of her. But he would then see her take a moment to rest at the corner of the ballroom. She was slightly flushed, and Timothy wished it was he who had put that blush there once more.
This time, his was not the only pair of eyes that followed her. Timothy didn’t immediately see His Grace Cecil Sydney, the Duke of Redfield. Once the man was only a few short steps away from Harriet, Timothy realized what was to follow.
The Duke of Redfield cut a striking figure, as he walked slowly, his every step deliberate. His countenance was that of an army man. Once a man went to war, he never again got it out of his blood or out of his mind. Timothy considered himself fortunate enough not to have witnessed the horrors he had heard of.
The Duke of Redfield approached from his place aside the dancing couples. Tall and strong, it was impossible not to see him approaching. Harriet saw him, then lowered her eyelashes, looking down, her hands resting in her lap. She waited.
Did she welcome his advance as well? Timothy couldn’t tell. He continued watching the scene before him intently.
This man who was more than ten years Timothy’s senior had golden white hair, with a few streaks of black, as a memory of his fallen youth. The right side of his face was adorned with a barely visible scar, one that he was not even trying to hide. Timothy knew a little bit of the Duke from the ton. The Duke served briefly in the army, but then a tragedy struck his family, and he was forced to return, because there was no one else to assume the title.
Timothy wondered about the horrors the Duke had seen in the war. What happened to a man who went through that? Could he ever lead a normal life again?
But the time of the most important ball of the season was not the right moment for such bleak thoughts. The Duke approached Lady Harriet and bowed before her. Timothy looked on; his jaw clenched.
Curtis could see it all, as well. The Duke’s advances. His best friend’s uneasiness regarding it. Yet, he chose to remain silent.
At that moment, the ex-military man took Lady Harriet’s gloved hand, and laid a soft, feathery kiss on it. Timothy thought that the man’s lips rested on it a little too long for good measure, but all he could do was grind his teeth at the sight, because one thing was obvious.
“I did not know she was being courted.” Curtis gestured at the couple with a few quick nods of the head, as both men stared.
“I doubt anyone here knew. Look.”
They glanced around the ballroom quickly. It seemed that all eyes were on them. Some girls leaned over to whoever was by their side, and whispered directly into their ear, hiding their words with their hand. Truly, Lady Harriet and the Duke of Redfield were the object of gossip. Still, it didn’t seem that either of them minded it the least bit.
“Looks like you’ve lost, my good man,” Curtis sighed heavily, feeling the burden of his best friend almost as his own.
“Only the battle,” Timothy corrected him, shaking his head. “Not the war.”
His tumultuous thoughts assured him of that. After all, Lord Timothy Ramsay had never been the one to back down from a trial. And this was proving to be an increasingly amusing one, something he wouldn’t miss for the world.
He watched as the Duke led Lady Harriet to the other dancers. They danced… properly. He couldn’t think of a better term for it. Her back stood arched. Her eyes never left his. There was no blushing of her usually pale cheeks. There was not even a hint of a smile. Everything about it was simply… proper.
He smiled. Lady Harriet already had a suitor, and that was fine. That was perfectly fine. He felt magically drawn to her, despite her obvious unwillingness to look his way.
A flame and a moth.
Would they both burn? He didn’t care. He wanted the hunt. He relished it. The more difficult and unreachable the target, the more enjoyable the hunt.
As Lady Harriet’s petite frame swayed in proper distance from the Duke’s, a realization hit him. She was so innocent. Too innocent perhaps. Innocents were not his women of choice. He preferred experienced ladies. But there was something about this one. The allure of incorruptibility that reigned in those sky-blue eyes was impossible to resist. Whether she knew it or not, she was beckoning him, and he was more than happy to listen.
Patience was a much under-appreciated virtue. And he endeavored to exercise it.
It was a lovely, sunny afternoon which complemented the unclouded disposition Harriet was in. All the sounds of spring chimed around her and Abbie, as the two of them rode on their barouche, around Hyde Park. The Duke was keeping up on his stallion, by their side, not taking his eyes off of Harriet for a single moment.
“Oh, Harriet, what a grand idea to go for a ride!” Abbie, Harriet’s thirteen-year-old cousin, exclaimed with joy.
The two girls enjoyed the birds singing all around them, as well as the melody of the horses’ hooves which click-clacked in unison.
“Indeed, it is.” Harriet smiled, as she gazed at her cousin.
Still at a very tender age of thirteen, Abbie had little of that cold, aristocratic demeanor, which she was urged to start developing. She seemed more interested in simple joys of life, as a child usually was, and Harriet decided to nurture this for as long as she could.
Her cousin’s pale complexion was wonderfully complemented by a light green dress, which seemed to wrap her dainty frame to perfection. Sometimes, it seemed to Harriet that Abbie looked much older than she was. In mind, that was certainly so.
Harriet still remembered the day when she received word of what had happened to Abbie’s parents. A relatively young couple who loved each other and their daughter immensely, they were accosted one evening on the way back to London. The Constable had deemed it a robbery gone terribly wrong, leaving an orphaned child. Harriet saw no other way but to accept this poor girl into her home and be whatever Abbie needed her to be at that moment.
It took Abbie a while to start opening up, but Harriet was patient. It was this patience exactly which had led towards the blossoming of a most curious, most wonderful little girl, who had started to find joy in life once more.
“Perhaps, next time, we could ride together with the Duke,” Abbie suggested, her eyes shyly looking at the man beside them.
“You know that your riding skills still aren’t that good,” Harriet reminded her.
“But Lady Harriet,” the Duke interfered, his hard, grey eyes watching over the two ladies like a hawk. “How do you expect her to get better, if she doesn’t practice?”
“See, Harriet?” Abbie giggled.
“I promise that after little more practice with your riding tutor, I shall take you riding myself,” Harriet promised.
“I hope you don’t mean to leave me out of such a pleasurable activity, Lady Harriet?” the Duke interjected.
“Of course not!” Abbie replied before Harriet could even part her lips.
But it seemed that this wasn’t enough for the Duke. He gazed on at Harriet, expectantly. She just nodded. This was what she always found herself doing with him.
The period of their courting had still been short, but everything regarding it was proper, done according to all the rules. In a way, she did not mind this. She welcomed it, in fact. But a part of her wished for something more, something completely different, something she knew she could probably never have with a man such as the Duke of Redfield. So, she considered herself fortunate with things being as they were.
A slight breeze blew around them, and she raised her hand to her shoulder, rubbing her upper arm gently.
“Are you cold, Lady Harriet?” the Duke immediately asked.
“No, I’m fine, thank you,” she smiled. She had already come to expect this of him, to almost predict her every need and act accordingly before even she herself had become aware of it.
“Perhaps, we could rest a little, if you are tired?” he asked again.
“But I am seated, Your Grace,” Harriet chuckled, and Abbie joined in. “You are very kind and attentive, but I assure you that I’m perfectly fine, and enjoying myself immensely.”
“Then, that is all that matters,” he nodded once quickly.
He tried to smile, but Harriet noticed that every time he did so, his right cheek tightened, and his scar, which was usually almost invisible, became more prominent. She was not bothered by it in the slightest. In fact, it only proved how brave he was, that he dared go so close in the face of the enemy.
Despite their unusual gap in age, Harriet knew that many women would give anything to be her. The Duke of Redfield was not only well known and respected, but he also had the demeanor of royalty, a touch of finesse, and she could not ever imagine him of any trespass.
However, she wished that sometimes, he would show more than just a half-smile. His parents had believed that if one showed emotion, one could and should be accused of vulnerability. And the Duke therefore believed that a man should never be vulnerable.
Once they reached the Serpentine, Harriet noticed that Abbie was staring into the reflecting pool of water.
“Is everything all right, Abbie?” Harriet inquired softly.
The horses neighed in unison and slowed down their pace. Abbie didn’t seem to hear her immediately. Not until Harriet placed her hand on the child’s shoulder.
“Sorry, I…” Abbie smiled a little sadly. “My mother and I used to stop by here, whenever we were on one of our rides around Hyde Park. We would stop and sit over there.” She stopped to point at an invisible spot in the distance, and even though Harriet wasn’t sure what she was looking at, she still focused her gaze.
“Perhaps, we shouldn’t have come here then,” Harriet bit her lower lip, regretting her choice of location. There were so many other places around London.
“Oh, no,” Abbie shook her head, taking Harriet’s hand into hers. “I’m glad to be here, with you.”
“You sweet child,” Harriet smiled, wondering where on Earth did this little girl get all that vigor from.
“I’ve accepted the fact that they are gone,” Abbie continued, “and the places we used to frequent are now even more beautiful than they were before, because they are colored by my memories.”
“That is a wonderful way of looking at things,” Harriet nodded.
“It absolutely is, if I may add,” the Duke said, in a most apologetic manner. “You shall make a fine wife to a lucky man someday, my dear.”
“Do you really think so?” Abbie’s eyes sparkled with hope at such a possibility.
“I am absolutely certain of it,” the Duke nodded.
“If neither of you would mind, perhaps we could stop by the lake,” Abbie suggested. “I do wish to feel the touch of solid ground.”
At that moment, Harriet glanced over at the lake. There weren’t many people around, simply walking, even though it was a fine day for a stroll. Most of them enjoyed themselves in their carriages or on horseback.
As soon as she realized this, she noticed a small, huddled group of four by the lake, just up ahead. The young man stood by a dark brown horse, holding it by the reins. On it, sat a woman, whose face was completely hidden by a pink straw bonnet. There were two more people present, chaperoning. Harriet supposed they were the girl’s parents.
But it was not that realization which made her heart skip a beat. Rather, it was the fact that she recognized the young man’s voice, which traversed the distance all the way to them.
“Perhaps we should go to the other side of the lake,” Harriet suggested.
She didn’t wish to see him now. They had their little fun during the ball, and he had already crossed one line when he leaned over and sang that song right in her ear, for everyone to see. She remembered how she had to tell her brother a little white lie regarding it.
Lord Ramsay had simply lost his balance and imposed upon my personal space. Then, he extended his sincere apologies, whispering them to me.
The thought of sincere apologies coming from that man amused her. She wondered if he had a sincere bone in his body. But she was not particularly keen on finding that out right now.
“We certainly can,” the Duke agreed. “Let us head over there, and we could -”
But his voice trailed off, and she wasn’t listening to him any longer. She was focused on the man in the distance. Her own bonnet was lowered over her eyes, but she knew that he was looking in their direction.
Did he recognize me?
Her ears felt a little hot. She shouldn’t care less about it, about him, and yet, she was exuberant with anticipation.
Finally, he raised his hand towards them, and waved cordially, as if he was waving at close friends he hadn’t seen in years.
“Harriet?” Abbie’s voice found her once more, bringing her back to reality. “Is that man… waving at us?”
All three pairs of eyes laid upon a figure who quickly mounted his horse and started galloping over to them.
Of course, he is, Abbie.
But she dared not say anything. His horse kept on dashing, diminishing the distance between them with every step. There would be no avoiding him now. Harriet knew that well. So, she awaited the rainstorm, without an umbrella, wondering what would happen.
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