Trevelyan smiled down at the top of her head. “Horses terrify me. Vertigo, you know. Perhaps you could walk with me. Just for a while, until I’m feeling a bit stronger.”
Claire tried to hide her grimace. She had no desire to spend her morning playing nursemaid to this man. She knew she should have sympathy for him, after all, he was obviously ill and he had fainted, but she had no sympathy for him. She found him unsettling, annoying. He made her feel angry and she didn’t know why. Maybe it wasn’t the man. Maybe it was that she was wet and cold and hungry. By now, surely, the household would be stirring and there would be food, nice, hot food, and she could find her own clothes and—
Trevelyan saw her expression. “You do not have to go with me,” he said, pulling away and bending to pick up her damp jacket from the ground. “Please allow me to assist you to your horse. I’ll be fine on my own.”
She looked up at him, but not as far as his eyes. She avoided his eyes. She looked at the scars on his cheeks and at the color of his skin and knew she had to help him. As she slipped her arms into the cold jacket, she was tempted to leave him there, but her conscience wouldn’t allow her to leave a man who was as sick as he was. If he had another fainting spell and lay in the rain and caught some terminal infection, it would be her fault.
“No,” she said with a sigh. “I’ll help you get to shelter.”
Again she slipped her right arm about his waist and again he leaned heavily on her, making sure that he limped now and then to show her he did indeed need her help. They started walking down the path, the horse docilely following them.
“Who are you?” Trevelyan asked.
“Claire Willoughby,” she snapped, then cursed herself for being so ridiculous, but the man’s touching her bothered her. He made her feel strange: angry and restless in a way that she didn’t like.
“And what, Claire Willoughby, were you doing out before it is full dawn, riding a horse at a neck-breaking speed and wearing clothes that don’t fit you? Have you escaped your governess?”
Claire was too wet, too cold, too hungry, and in much too much pain from her arm to be polite. And, too, the man was making her
more uncomfortable by the minute. “I would like to know why a man of your age and obvious ill health is allowed to roam these woods unattended. Have you escaped your nurse?”
Trevelyan blinked a few times at her words. He was used to women finding him physically attractive and he didn’t like that this pretty young thing didn’t. He decided to try again. “I take it you’re staying at Bramley. Why?”
“Could you put a little less weight on me?”
“Yes, of course.” He straightened a bit and for a moment didn’t lean on her quite so much, but within seconds he was again pressed against her as they slowly walked down the path. Trevelyan was so much enjoying the feel of her that he thought he might lead her the long way about, taking her through the Wild Wood. There was an old gardener’s cottage at the far end of the wood, and it was at least five miles away.
“Are you going to answer me?” he asked.
Claire, for all that he seemed to think she was fresh out of the schoolroom, realized he was enjoying leaning on her. Horrid old man, she thought, and wished with all her might that she had left him back there in the rain while he was lying on the ground asleep. Right now her objective in life was to get away from this man. “Perhaps you should tell me who you are. Is your house very far away?”
“Not far.” He moved his cheek down to the top of her head. She’d had on a little hat when he first saw her, but it was gone and now there was only her dark, damp hair.
“Do you mind?” she snapped, then winced when pain shot up her arm.
“You’re injured,” he said in a firm voice that was different from the helpless tone he’d been using.
“No, I’m not. I merely bruised my arm. What I am is hungry and wet and cold, so I’d very much like to get back to the house.”
“You’ll be even colder once you’re inside.”
“I thought so,” she murmured.
“You thought what?”
“That you would know about the house. You’ve lived there, haven’t you? Do you know the duke?”
He took a moment before answering. “I know the duke rather well.”
She smiled at the mere thought of Harry. “We’re to be married,” she said softly.
Trevelyan was quiet for a moment. “Ah, little Harry. Has he grown up then? The last time I saw him he was just a boy.”
“He has grown into a splendid man,” she said, then cleared her throat in embarrassment. “I mean he’s…he’s…”
“I understand. True love.”
The way the man said it, with so much cynicism in his voice, made Claire stiffen. “You don’t have to make fun of something you know nothing about.”