Village of East Whitloe
"Foolish. Impetuous. Risky. You needn't hold back now, Piers. I know precisely what's ticking in that mind of yours."
I forced my shoulders back against the bark of the oak tree where I'd spent the last few interminable hours shivering. Even the slightest movement of my hurt ankle caused knives to twist beneath my skin.
Piers Cavanagh merely shook his head as he looked over my injury. "I simply cannot deduce how the devil this happened. First off, it's nigh five in the morning. Second, I was under the distinct impression you were to return home this afternoon." He rolled his eyes heavenward. "Believe me, I've been counting down the hours till I would see you again, and I'm certain it was to be later today."
I threw my hands up, regretting the action at once as I winced. "I haven't the foggiest idea how the date of my arrival became confused. I was always to return on the seventeenth of March. Do you know, no one was sent to the coaching house last night to bring my maid and me home to Flitworth Manor. What a pickle we were in."
Having finished pawing at my ankle, Piers moved his hand to my resting fingers, his gaze following suit. "Yet here you sit with all the signs of a battered ankle. Thank goodness the bruising isn't worse."
"I admit my decision to borrow a few hacks and set out on the journey ourselves turned out to be a poor one. I was thrown . . .the little beast."
His eyes shot to mine. "Do you mean to tell me you left the coaching house on your own with no escort but your maid?"
"Don't scold me. I daresay I've paid enough for my foolishness. I was just so anxious to see you again." I tipped my head back. "'Pon my word, the last thing I wanted to do was to waste one solitary hour apart from you when I'm to be dragged out of the country tomorrow morning. Oh, Piers. I still cannot believe my family's move is actually happening...and so suddenly at that. My parents were quite devious to send me away to my cousin's house while they worked out all the details. I can't even begin to tell you how many miles Ceylon is from here."
Piers sighed. "A little over five thousand. I checked."
My heart squeezed, but I lifted my chin. Secret romance or not, surely no distance, however great, would squelch what Piers and I had discovered only a few months before. I toyed with the edge of my lip.
At least we would have letters. Really, all I had to do was wait for his proper proposal, and I would be whisked back to Britain and into Piers Cavanagh's waiting arms. If only his mother hadn't already decided on Honora Gervey for a daughter-in-law, this whole ridiculousness could have been avoided. Engagements entered into by parents at the infants' cribs rarely came to fruition, particularly when the parties involved had little interest in each other.
He squeezed my hand, a wry smile inching across his face. "And you're absolutely right. We haven't any time to lose." He rearranged his position on the ground, then leaned in close, pausing only at the last second to flick his eyes to the road. "Where exactly is your maid again?"
"I sent her for help hours ago."
He ran his finger down my hairline and around my ear, his deep blue eyes as alive as I'd seen them a week ago. "How I've missed you, Charity Halliwell."
Careful of my ankle, he closed the gap between us, pressing his lips to mine.
I melted forward, numb to the aching world beyond his kiss. There was no one in Britain like Piers Cavanagh, and he'd given his heart to me and me alone.
Suddenly he pulled away, fumbling for his pocket watch; his cheeks still slightly pink. "It's getting late."
A gust of wind rumpled his brown locks and made over his face. Disquiet filling his eyes, he turned to the road like he'd seen a ghost. "Do you think you can ride?"
"I don't know."