‘Where is he?’
‘I don’t know. He did not come home last night. He is often out into the early hours, but I have never known him stay out all night.’
‘Shall I ask a groom to ride behind us? Would that serve?’
‘What? Oh, yes, but why bother? My reputation is already in tatters.’
He came closer and put his hand on her arm. ‘You are truly worried about your brother, aren’t you?’
‘Ten to one, there is nothing to worry about. He is probably carousing with friends or might even have found other, sweeter company.’
She knew what he meant. ‘Do you think so?’
‘Why not? He is young and virile—it is only natural. No doubt when we come back from our ride he will be home and contrite that he has worried you so much.’
‘He is always contrite,’ she said dully.
‘Come, then. We ought not to keep horses standing in the street. If he has not returned by the time we come back, I will undertake to go and look for him.’
She followed him out into the street where his bay and a lovely brown mare waited for them with a street urchin holding their bridles. Adam gave him a groat and bade him buy himself a good dinner and the lad scuttled off, more than pleased with his earnings.
‘What do you think of her?’ Adam asked, taking the bridle of the brown mare and bringing her round for Sophie to mount. ‘Her name is Swift.’
‘Is she swift?’
‘I don’t know. That is for you to find out, but I would guess she is.’ He bent and cupped his hands for her foot and then threw her up into the saddle. She picked up the reins and settled her foot in the stirrup, spreading her habit neatly about her. ‘I am thinking of buying her,’ he added, ‘and would like your opinion.’
‘My opinion, my lord? What can I tell you about horses that you don’t already know?’
‘You could tell me how comfortable she is to ride, how docile, how responsive she is to the reins.’
‘You can surely find that out yourself.’
‘Ah, but not side-saddle.’
‘You are thinking of buying her for a lady?’
‘Oh.’ He was unmarried, he had no daughter, so it could only be for a mistress or a potential wife. Cassie perhaps?
He mounted his bay and they walked their horses out of Mount Street and along Park Lane to the entrance to Hyde Park. Because of the traffic they had to ride one behind the other until they were in the park, where he came up alongside her.
‘From a very poor start we have had a good summer so far,’ he said. ‘I do not think you can have been confined indoors once since you arrived in town.’
‘I don’t believe I have. The only rain we have had was during one night that left puddles, but that is all.’
‘We might have a good harvest. After last year it is certainly needed.’
He looked sideways at her, but she was looking straight ahead over the mare’s ears. ‘Shall we canter?’
To do so they had to leave the Ride because other riders were only walking their horses or at the most trotting and it would have been hazardous. He led the way and they soon left the crowds behind. Reaching a group of trees, he dismounted and she did likewise.
‘Now,’ he said firmly as the horses began to crop the grass, ‘what do you think?’
‘Think about what?’ Her thoughts were chasing each other round in her head. His asking her opinion of a horse he was far more qualified than she was to assess and wondering who the mare was meant for, all mixed up with her continuing worry about Teddy.
‘Swift. Will she do, do you think?’
‘Any lady would be pleased to have her. I cannot fault her.’
‘Not lively enough for your taste, though?’ he queried in an endeavour to make her smile.
‘I expect she would be lively enough given open country to gallop in.’
‘You are probably right.’
He let the reins of his mount trail and moved nearer to her, so that she became almost overwhelmed by his size and masculinity. She wished he would move away, because his nearness was making her heart beat uncomfortably fast.
‘Now tell me what is wrong,’ he said.
‘Nothing. I told you I cannot fault her.’
‘Not with the horse, with you.’
‘Nothing is wrong, my lord. Why do you say that?’
‘It is obvious there is.’
‘It is nothing.’