‘What did you say, Sophie?’ her mother asked.
‘Nothing. I think I’ll go for a ride.’
She took Patch, her own grey mare, not Swift. She did not think she would ever ride her again; the memories were too painful. Her ride took her over the common towards Witherington and the fen. She had played here with Teddy as a child, fighting imaginary battles with wooden swords and using a tumbledown hut as a fort. Poor Teddy; Papa was being very hard on him. And she had still found no way to repay Adam. For her pride’s sake, she must do it.
She dismounted where the track petered off at the edge of the mere and stood looking down at the dark water with its long grassy weeds, swaying just below the surface. She heard the sound of horse’s hooves behind her and turned to see Lord Gorange riding towards her and her heart sank. With deep water behind her there was no escape and she stood, watching him cantering closer while her fury mounted.
He stopped beside her and dismounted. ‘Miss Cavenhurst, your obedient servant.’
‘What are you doing here?’ She was so angry she could not even be polite and greet him properly.
‘Looking for you.’
‘Silly question, Sophie...’
‘I have not given you permission to use my given name.’
‘Oh, come on, Sophie, let’s not be coy. I remember a time when you were more than glad to see me. And you did say you would reconsider my offer.’
‘I have reconsidered it, and the answer is still no.’
‘You will change your mind.’
‘Then I will, of course, have to tell your parents what happened in the coach when we were alone together.’
‘No? Have you forgotten the intimacy we shared, an intimacy that could have only one outcome?’
‘You are mad. Nothing like that happened. Find someone else to torment.’ She tried to remount, but he pulled her back and into his arms. She struggled. ‘Get away! Leave me alone! I shall scream.’
He looked about them at the deserted landscape. ‘Who is there to hear you?’
‘Let me go!’
‘Just a little kiss to be going on with,’ he murmured, twisting her round in his arms and trying to kiss her. She moved her head away and his wet lips connected with her ear. ‘Now, that is not very kind,’ he said. ‘I will let you go if you give me just a little kiss.’
‘And if I don’t?’ Anything to keep him talking and give her time to think of a way to escape.
‘I shall take it anyway. Then we shall ride back to Hadlea together and you will tell your papa that I would like to speak to him.’
‘What do you mean to say to him?’
‘My dear, that depends entirely on you. Say yes, and it will be a discussion on a marriage settlement, including your brother’s debts, or say no and it will not be just your parents who hear of your indiscretion, it will be the whole world.’
The prospect of everyone, including Adam, hearing his lies and believing them sent a shiver right through her. ‘Why are you doing this to me? I cannot think you really want an unwilling wife.’
‘You will not be unwilling, my dear, not in the end. And I do want a mother for my girls. They are growing up quite unmanageable. You are not so much older than they are, I am sure you will deal well together.’
‘I feel sorry for them, but that does not mean I will ever agree to marry you. And that goes for Sir Reginald and Mr Fanshawe, too.’
‘You do not have to worry about them,’ he said with a laugh. ‘They have given up the competition and gone for easier conquests. When I left the metropolis, Dickie was paying court to Miss Malthouse and Reggie had his sights set on Miss Martindale.’
‘Lucy is promised to my brother,’ she said, slightly diverted by this news.
‘Ah, but where is he? Too far away to be of any use, I fancy. And under the circumstances I cannot see Lord Martindale entertaining his suit, can you?’ He smiled. ‘That leaves only me to take the prize.’
‘I am not a prize.’
‘Oh, but you are, my dear. Now give me that kiss and we will be friends.’
He was short and fat, and would not find it easy to mount without a block or boulder to help him, whereas she was fit and agile. She looked at his face; he was eagerly awaiting her to comply. She leaned towards him as if to let him kiss her and then lifted her knee into his groin as hard as she could. He doubled up in pain and she ran and was on Patch’s back and galloping for all she was worth back to Hadlea.