Page 4 of Vanquished

Chapter Four

“What’s all the excitement about?” Delilah turned to her friend as she twirled her parasol in the early morning sun. She didn’t get to see Francesca as much as she would like, for the blonde-haired, blue-eyed quintessential English beauty lived year around in London with her parents, while Delilah spent most of her time on her father’s country estate.

However, they made sure to visit each other during the rare occasions Delilah did make her way to town. She was actually due to leave the city that afternoon, for her father was eager to return to the estate and check on the rest of the horses, even though the money they had made from the auction had paid for their journey here several times over.

Delilah had never cared before, but as she had gotten older, there were times when she thought it would be nice if they could spend a bit more time in the city, so that she might visit her friends more often and flirt with any potential suitors. She was nineteen, after all. It sounded as though Francesca was certain to be engaged very soon, and she was a year younger. But then, her parents had ensured that their daughter had debuted the moment she was able, whereas Delilah’s father had responsibilities that awaited him.

Recently, Delilah had been thinking of approaching her father on the subject of her own society debut, but she had never summoned the courage to do so. Oh, how she wished her mother were still alive, for not only would she be able to give her the advice that Delilah craved, but they would ofttimes chat about the latest fashions and gossip, whereas her father could care less. The baroness had been gone five years now and Delilah knew that her father still grieved for his wife, and that the horses eased some of his continued pain, which was why she always hesitated to mention prolonging their time in London. She would never try to tear him away from the animals that were so important to him. Then again, they were special to Delilah as well, for without any siblings or close relation to visit, she spent many hours in the stables, just to keep the loneliness at bay. Of course, she would never tell her father these inner yearnings for fear that it would only upset him and make him feel as if he’d failed her somehow, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

An image of Mr. Flannigan flashed in her mind. At least she hadn’t had to suffer his disturbing company again. When he didn’t appear at the auction yesterday afternoon, she had breathed a sigh of relief and awoken that morning with a firm resolve to forget that she had ever met such an infuriating rogue, and thus far, it was going rather well.

Now, as she turned to view the crowd gathered at the edge of Hyde Park, Delilah frowned lightly. “I can’t say.” She lifted a brow as she turned to Francesca with a coy grin. “Should we go investigate?”

Her companion laughed brilliantly and looped her arm through Delilah’s. “Indeed, we should.”

As they crested a hill and drew closer to the excitement, Delilah could see that a carriage race was in progress, the contestants going at breakneck speed in their high perch phaetons and curricles. She clutched the handle of her parasol, for not only were they kicking up an absurd amount of dust, but she could picture one of the wheels snapping and causing someone to go careening to their death. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.

She stopped. “I think we—”

Francesca’s eyes had lit up with immediate interest. “I agree! Let’s get closer!”

Before Delilah could tell her that wasn’t what she’d intended, she was being pulled in that direction. She gritted her teeth, but allowed herself to be immersed in the assemblage, most of which were young men about their age, who were shouting and cheering their encouragement for the participants. She had no doubt that several bets had already been placed on the possibility of the winner.

Francesca immediately began to join in the merriment, shouting encouragement to the contestants, but Delilah was a bit more reserved. She stood there and gripped the handle of her parasol, as if by doing so, it might get her through this debacle. The wind from the passing carriages made her eyes blink rapidly, but when she was able to see clearly for a moment, her stomach clenched in alarm. There was one particular man with dark hair and a rather familiar, broad grin that stood out from the rest.

Conor…

She had told herself that she wouldn’t think of him in such a familiar manner, and yet, when she imagined him falling to his death, his skull crushed by the other carriage wheels, the proprieties were the furthest thing from her mind.

As horrific as the idea was, now she couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away from the race. When two of the taller curricles nearly crashed into one another, she yearned to walk away, leaving such ridiculous behavior behind, but she was rooted to where she stood. It wasn’t until the bright yellow phaeton flew across the finish line amid an uproar of cheers and whistles, did Delilah realize what had happened.

It was over, and Conor had won.

He wore a large grin on his face and waved out at the crowd and then added to the thrill of the morning by actually doing a backflip out of the carriage seat and landing on the ground with a dramatic flourish.

“Oh, my! He’s fantastic!” Francesca shook her arm, which was the only thing that brought Delilah out of her trance. “I daresay I’ve never seen him before. I wonder where he’s from. Let’s gain an introduction!”

Delilah was already shaking her head, too disturbed to do much else. “You go ahead. I think I’ll wait over here.” She gestured to a nearby copse of trees and prayed that her legs could make the journey the short distance without collapsing beneath her.

Francesca didn’t argue, but merely rolled her eyes as she scampered off to where the crowd had pressed in on the participants.

Thankfully, Delilah made it over to the trees without incident, although she grasped onto the nearest one when she got there. Her fingers dug into the bark of the trunk and clung, her breathing coming in heavy pants. A bead of perspiration trailed down her back, she could feel its slow trek as it crept down her spine. She would have thought, considering the state of her nerves, that it would be rushing along each vertebra instead.

She closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing, laying her forehead against the rough bark, but she imagined that it was Hercules’ velvety nose instead. “It’s all right. It’s going to be fine.” She repeated this assurance over and over, hoping that she could calm her racing pulse.

After a time, it seemed to work, for the sounds of the park began to penetrate her consciousness—the birds chirping in the sun, and the light rustle of the leaves above her.

“Ye didn’t want to congratulate me on my victory?”

Delilah’s eyes flew open, and she turned around with a gasp. Conor was leaning against one of the nearby tree trunks, his arms folded over his broad chest and a sardonic half-grin on his mouth.

But it was his eyes, shining with mirth and the color of moss that made her snap in return, “Victory, was it? It looked more like ignorance to me.”

Instead of causing the desired result, he threw his head back and laughed, showing off the appealing column of his throat. Even though he was actually properly dressed as a gentleman with a cravat and waistcoat, she knew the scoundrel that lay beneath the exterior.

“Don’t tell me ye’re a prude when it comes to racing, lass. I thought if anyone could appreciate it, it would be ye with yer stable full of impeccable bloodlines.”

“I suppose you thought wrong,” she returned abruptly. She pushed away from the tree and looked around for Francesca. She didn’t want to stand here with this… man any longer, but neither did she want to forsake her friend.

“If ye’re wondering about the lass ye came here with, she may not leave for some time.” He pointed with his thumb in the direction of the crowd and Delilah saw that Francesca was, indeed, completely in her element. Flirting had always come quite naturally to her.

Unfortunately, Delilah didn’t feel right about leaving her friend and possibly injuring her reputation, since they had left Francesca’s parents’ townhouse together, so she reluctantly remained where she was.

With her jaw set, she glanced at Mr. Flannigan once more. He hadn’t moved from his original position, although his eyes continued to appraise her with a certain heat that she wasn’t sure she approved of. “How long do you intend to remain in London?”

He gave a negligent shrug. “I’m not quite sure yet.”

“We leave today,” she announced somewhat proudly.

“Indeed?” He lifted a brow and then shook his head sadly. “Pity. I was hoping to take ye riding one morning.” The scandalous wink that followed told her that he wasn’t speaking of horses.

She frowned and tried to ignore the curl of heat that swirled in her midsection. “You mean, when you aren’t trying to sacrifice your own life by doing something this foolish?” She waved a hand to the area that the race had taken place.

He chuckled but seemed willing to allow the change in topic. “Ye have such a sour view of something that can be quite enjoyable. Have ye not considered the thrill of racing?”

“No.” She lifted her chin. “My mother died in a carriage accident, so I don’t see much thrill in the loss of a loved one.”

There was silence for a moment and when she met his gaze again, his eyes were somber. “What happened?”


Tags: Tabetha Waite Romance
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