‘They’d best not,’ he said, but he called the dog to heel. It went to him obediently, but remained alert.
‘Are you the owner of this barn?’ Adam asked him.
‘The tenant. What are you doing here? And stealing my hay, an’ all. I’ll hev the law on yer.’
‘We will pay for it, of course. I am afraid our horses were terrified by the storm and we thought it best to seek shelter. We will move on as soon as the weather eases.’
‘Tha’s all very well, but if you’ve damaged anythin’...’
‘I am sure we have not, except to bring a little mud in on the wheels. Naturally I will pay for the inconvenience.’
‘And who might you be?’
‘Viscount Kimberley of Saddleworth. This is...’ he indicated Sophie still holding Swift’s head ‘...my cousin, Miss Cavenhurst. We are travelling to Norfolk.’
‘I doubt you will get there tonight,’ the man said. ‘Never seen a storm like it and the roads are awash. Shouldn’t be surprised if the river hev burst its banks.’
‘Until we are able to move on, do you think you could provide us with some food and something to drink?’ Adam appeared unruffled by this news. ‘We had planned to stop at the Rutland Arms in Newmarket for a meal, but if you are right, we might take some time reaching there.’
‘I’ll go and talk to the missus.’ He stomped out into the rain, followed by his dog.
‘Do you think he is right?’ Sophie asked Adam. ‘Will the river have flooded?’
‘I don’t know. When the rain stops I’ll go and reconnoitre.’ He turned to the coachman. ‘In the meantime, unharness the horses, will you, Mr Brandon? Let them have a rest. Give him a hand, Alfred, will you?’
While the two men obeyed, Adam went to the door and looked up at the leaden sky. The wind, which had blown the clouds up so rapidly, had dropped and there was not a breath to carry them away. The rain was pounding on the roof of the barn and filling up the dents and hollows in the farm yard until it looked like a pond. Thankfully the building was watertight, but he was aware of a sharp drop in the temperature and the ladies were shivering, especially Sophie because she had draped her shawl over Swift’s back.
‘Put your shawl back on, Miss Cavenhurst,’ he told her. ‘You need it more than the mare.’
‘Would you address a cousin so formally?’ she asked.
‘You are not really my cousin.’
‘But you told the farmer I was.’
‘It was easier than trying to explain.’
She smiled. ‘Then it had better be Sophie, don’t you think?’
He laughed aloud. ‘Sophie,’ he said. ‘But for that to be convincing I must be Adam.’
She had been thinking of him in those terms for some time, though she had never uttered his name aloud. ‘Very well...Adam.’
The farmer returned, carrying a rough cloth coat and a pile of sacks. ‘Will you come up to the house, my lord?’ he said, handing Sophie the coat and distributing the sacks to the others. ‘My Molly is making a meal for you. If you follow me, I’ll lead you over the driest bits.’
As far as Sophie could see there were no dry bits. She draped the coat over her head, which was thick enough to keep off the worst of the rain. She went to step outside, knowing she would get wet feet, but before she could do so, Adam had scooped her up in his arms and was carrying her. ‘My lord...’
‘Adam,’ he corrected her, marching behind the farmer. ‘I am wearing boots, you are not, so no argument.’ Joe, who was also wearing stout boots, had taken his cue from Adam and picked Bessie up and, despite her not-very-convincing protests, was right behind them.
Sophie clasped her arms about Adam’s neck and leaned into him. He had a lean, hard body, broad shoulders and narrow hips. She could feel his muscles flexed beneath his clothes and wondered idly what he would look like stripped. She remembered his bruises, but either they had healed remarkably quickly or he was able to ignore the pain. ‘Now who is savouring the moment,’ she murmured under her breath.
He chuckled. ‘I am. It is surprising how appealing a wet face and a fusty overcoat can be.’
She had not realised she had spoken loud enough for him to hear, and the glow in the core of her intensified. The warmth of his body enveloped her, the smell of him, a mixture of soap and horse and honest sweat, filled her nostrils. Her heartbeat tuned itself to his. She felt moulded to him, two bodies in one. It was such a lovely sensation she gave herself up to it. But not for long because they were at the door of the farmhouse and Adam was being ushered inside by the farmer. Adam set her down and they were two separate beings once more. He took the coat from her shoulders and handed it back to the farmer.