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Monday Puzzler > February 23, 2016: A Difference in Stations

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message 1: by Manda (last edited Feb 21, 2016 05:25PM) (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1885 comments Mod
This was my favorite of the trilogy it was part of. Though at the time most of the chatter was about the third. But I loved this hero--especially in a genre rife with dukes and titled gentlemen.

----
Yorkshire, England
September, 1760

After the carriage wreck and a bit before the horses ran away, HEROINE noticed that her land steward was a man. Well, that is to say, naturally she knew HERO was a man. She wasn’t under the delusion that he was a lion or an elephant or a whale, or indeed any other member of the animal kingdom—if one could call a whale an animal and not just a very big fish. What she meant was that his maleness had suddenly become very evident.

HEROINE knit her brow as she stood in the desolate high road to the East Riding in Yorkshire. Around them the gorse covered hills rolled away into the gray horizon. Darkness was rapidly falling, brought on early by the rainstorm. They could’ve been standing at the ends of the earth.

“Do you consider a whale to be an animal or a very big fish, Mr. HERO?” she shouted into the wind.

HERO's shoulders bunched. They were covered only by a wet lawn shirt that clung to him in an aesthetically pleasing way. He’d previously discarded his coat and waistcoat to help John Coachman unhitch the horses from the overturned carriage.

“An animal, my lady.” Mr. HERO’s voice was, as always, even and deep with a sort of gravelly tone towards the bottom.

HEROINE had never heard him raise his voice or show passion in any other way. Not when she’d insisted on accompanying him to her Yorkshire estate, nor when the rain had started, slowing their travel to a crawl, nor when the carriage had overturned twenty minutes ago.

How very irritating. “Do you think you will be able to right the carriage?” She pulled her soaked cloak up over her chin as she contemplated the remains of her vehicle. The door hung from one hinge, banging in the wind, two wheels were smashed, and the back axle had settled at an odd angle. It was a thoroughly idiotic question.

Mr. HERO didn’t indicate by action or word that he was aware of the silliness of her query. “No, my lady.”

HEROINE sighed.

Really, it was something of a miracle that they and the coachman hadn’t been hurt or killed. The rain had made the roads slippery with mud and as they had rounded the last curve, the carriage had started to slide. From inside, she and Mr. HERO had heard the coachman shouting as he tried to steady the vehicle. HERO had leapt from his seat to hers, rather like a large cat. He'd braced himself against her before she could even utter a word. His warmth had surrounded her, and her nose, buried intimately in his shirt, had inhaled the scent of clean linen and male skin. By that time the carriage had tilted, and it was obvious they were falling into the ditch.

Slowly, awfully, the contraption had tipped over with a grinding crash. The horses had whinnied from the front and the carriage had moaned as if protesting its fate. She'd clutched Mr. Hero's coat as her world up-ended and Mr. HERO grunted in pain. Then they were still again. The vehicle had rested on its side, and Mr. HERO rested on her like a great warm blanket. Except HERO was much firmer than any blanket she'd ever felt before.

He’d apologized most correctly, disentangled himself from her, and climbed up the seat to wrest open the door above them. He’d crawled through and then pulled her bodily out. HEROINE rubbed the wrist he’d gripped. He was disconcertingly strong--one would never know it to look at him. At one point, almost her entire weight had hung from his arm and she wasn’t a petite woman.

The coachman gave a shout, snatched away by the wind, but it was enough to bring her back to the present. The mare he’d been unhitching was free.

“Ride her to the next town, Mr. Coachman, if you will,” HERO directed. “See if there is another carriage to send back. I’ll remain here with her ladyship.”

The coachman mounted the horse and waved before disappearing into the downpour.

“How far is the next town?” HEROINE asked.

“Ten or fifteen miles.” He pulled a strap loose on one of the horses.

She studied him as he worked. Aside from the wet, HERO didn’t look any different than he had when they'd started out this morning from an inn in Lincoln. He was still a man of average height. Rather lean. His hair was brown, neither chestnut nor auburn, merely brown. He tied it back in a simple queue, not bothering to dress it with pomades or powder. And he wore brown: breeches, waistcoat, and coat, as if to camouflage himself. Only his eyes, a dark emerald green that sometimes flickered with what might be emotion, gave him any color.

“It’s just that I’m rather cold,” HEROINE muttered.

Mr. HERO looked up swiftly. His gaze darted to her hands, trembling at her throat, and then shifted to the hills behind her.

“I’m sorry, my lady. I should have noticed your chill earlier.” He turned back to the frightened gelding he was trying to liberate. His hands must be as numb as her own, but he labored steadily. “There’s a shepherd’s cottage not far from here. We can ride this horse and that one.” He nodded at the horse next to the gelding. “The other is lame.”

“Really? How can you tell?” She hadn’t noticed the animal was hurt. All three of the remaining carriage horses shivered and rolled their eyes at the whistling of the wind. The horse he had indicated didn’t look any more ragged than the rest.

“She’s favoring her right foreleg.” Mr. Hero grunted and suddenly all three horses were free of the carriage, although they were still hitched together. “Whoa, there, sweetheart.” He caught the lead horse and stroked it, his tanned right hand moving tenderly over the animal’s neck. The last two joints on his ring finger were missing.


She turned her head away to look at the hills. Servants—and really a land steward was just a superior sort of servant—should have no gender. Of course, one knew they were people with their own lives and all that, but it made things so very much easier if one saw them as sexless. Like a chair. One wanted a chair to sit in when one was tired. No one ever thought about chairs much otherwise and that was how it should be. How uncomfortable to go about wondering if the chair had noticed that one’s nose was running, wishing to know what it was thinking, or seeing that the chair had rather beautiful eyes. Not that chairs had eyes, beautiful or otherwise, but men did.

And HERO did.

HEROINE faced him again. “What will we do with the third horse?”

“We’ll have to leave her here.”

“In the rain?”

“Yes.”

“That can’t be good for her.”

“No, my lady.” HERO’s shoulders bunched again, a reaction that HEROINE found oddly fascinating. She wished she could make him do it more often.

“Perhaps we should take her with us?”

“Impossible, my lady.”

“Are you sure?”

The shoulders tensed and Mr. HERO slowly turned his head. In the flash of lightning that lit up the road in that instant, she saw his green eyes gleam and a thrill ran up her spine. Then the following thunder crashed like the heralding of the apocalypse.

HEROINE flinched.

HERO straightened.

And the horses bolted.

“Oh, dear,” said Lady HEROINE, rain dripping from her narrow nose. “We seem to be in something of a fix.”

Something of a fix indeed. More like well and truly buggered. HERO squinted up the road where the horses had disappeared, running like the Devil himself was chasing them. There was no sign of the daft beasts. At the rate they’d been galloping, they wouldn’t stop for half a mile or more. No use going after them in this downpour. He switched his gaze to his employer of less than six months. Lady HEROINE’s aristocratic lips were blue and the fur trimming the hood of her cloak had turned into a sopping mess. She looked more like an urchin in tattered finery than the daughter of an earl.

What was she doing here?

If not for Lady HEROINE he would’ve ridden a horse from London to her estates in Yorkshire. He would’ve arrived a day ago at Woldsly Manor. Right now he would be enjoying a hot meal in front of the fire in his own cottage. Not freezing his baubles off, standing in the middle of the highroad in the rain with the light fading fast. But on his last trip to London to report on her holdings Lady HEROINE had decided to travel with him back to Woldsly Manor. Which had meant taking the carriage, now lying in a heap of broken wood in the ditch.

HERO swallowed a sigh. “Can you walk, my lady?”

Lady HEROINE widened eyes as blue as a thrush’s egg. “Oh yes. I’ve been doing it since I was eleven months old.”

“Good.” HERO shrugged on his waistcoat and coat, not bothering to button either. They were soaked through like the rest of him. He scrambled down the bank to retrieve the rugs from inside the carriage. Thankfully, they were still dry. He rolled them together and snagged the still-lit carriage lantern. Then he gripped Lady HEROINE’s elbow, just in case she was wrong and fell on her aristocratic little arse, and started trudging up the gorse-covered hill.

At first, he’d thought her urge to travel to Yorkshire a childish fancy. The lark of a woman who never worried where the meat on her table or the jewels at her throat came from. To his mind, those who didn’t labor to make their living often had flighty ideas. But the more time he spent in her company, the more he began to doubt that she was such a woman. She said gormless things, true, but he’d seen almost at once that she did it for her own amusement. She was smarter than most society ladies. He had a feeling that Lady HEROINE had a good reason for traveling with him to Yorkshire.

“Is it much further?” The lady was panting and her normally pale face sported two spots of red.

HERO scanned the sodden hills, looking for a landmark in the gloom. Was that twisted oak growing against an outcropping familiar? “Not far.”

At least he hoped not. It had been years since he’d last ridden these hills, and he might’ve mistaken where the cottage lay. Or it might have tumbled down since he last saw it.

“I trust you are skilled at starting fires, Mr. H-HERO.” Her voice shook and his name chattered on her lips.

She needed to get warm. If they didn’t find the cottage soon, he’d have to make a shelter from the carriage robes. “Oh, yes. I’ve been doing it since I was four, my lady.”


Stacey is Sassy (staceyissassy) | 1228 comments Very interested to find out what it is as I don't think I know it.

Thanks for sharing :-) ♥


message 3: by Dls (new)

Dls | 2063 comments Mod
I liked the first one best but this is great too.
The third actually didn't do much for me. Still she is an autobuy for me...


message 4: by Leigh-Ayn (new)

Leigh-Ayn | 1137 comments Oooh!! I can't wait to see who this is. I haven't read it!


Aly is so frigging bored | 851 comments Mod
No idea


message 6: by Marita (last edited Feb 22, 2016 04:03AM) (new)

Marita (bluestockingandproud) | 43 comments LOVED this book. I don't know about the chatter surrounding the third book, but this was no doubt my favourite of the trilogy by a mile, and one of my all-time favourite HR heroes. He gave me The Princess Bride feels :) No surprise that this is also one of my all-time favourite HR authors; she's just churned out sooo many sigh-worthy stories and heroes and heroines IMO!


message 7: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Hill | 487 comments Hmmm I'm pretty sure I've never read this


message 8: by Manda (last edited Feb 22, 2016 09:53AM) (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1885 comments Mod
I'm feeling validated to know I wasn't the only one who liked this one! Not that I think anybody was meh about it, but at the time it was all about the third book. Which, to be honest, was a little too brutal for me. Still this author is a definite autobuy for me and while I like some of her books better than others, they're always a great read.

Edited to add: I think maybe it suffered from middle book syndrome. Which is something I've noticed with my own books. The middle book of a trilogy gets forgotten between the first and the third--I guess like the proverbial middle child. Which is a bummer because my middles are often my favorites!


message 9: by Charlene (new)

Charlene (charlenethestickler) | 320 comments I don't think I have a clue with this one.


message 10: by Irisheyes (new)

Irisheyes | 892 comments I know the author but not the exact book. She is also an auto buy author for me. Since I can't remember what the exact book in this series this is, it's obvious that I have no opinion on whether this one is better than the others. HAHAHA


message 11: by Daniellegn (new)

Daniellegn | 199 comments this book was the first in the trilogy and I loved it. I get most of my books from the library and I still haven't read the third one yet, but I did enjoy the first one as well.


message 12: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (nikanne) | 222 comments Don't know. The excerpt has me wanting more. It seems that will have some humor to it! Can't wait to find out.


message 13: by Phoenix77 (new)

Phoenix77 | 346 comments I know this one but prefered the first of the series over the second/third.


message 14: by Daniellegn (new)

Daniellegn | 199 comments my comment should say the first I read- I didn't mean it was the first book. oops!


message 15: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1885 comments Mod
And, as some of you have guessed, it's The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt. I still remember being blown away by her debut The Raven Prince and not long after loving her second book. And she's still one of my favorites.


message 16: by Stacey is Sassy (last edited Feb 23, 2016 07:06PM) (new)

Stacey is Sassy (staceyissassy) | 1228 comments I haven't read it. Looks like I've got another one to add to my very long TBR list :) ♥


message 17: by Charlene (new)

Charlene (charlenethestickler) | 320 comments Oh, I did read these some years ago. Time for a re-read, perhaps?


message 18: by Leigh-Ayn (new)

Leigh-Ayn | 1137 comments Ooh! I haven't read much Elizabeth Hoyt! Going to look for it now!


message 19: by Susan (new)

Susan (susaninaz) | 991 comments I thought this was familiar, but couldn't recall specifics of Author/title. I'm so glad you showed it to us this week, Manda!


message 20: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (nikanne) | 222 comments I"ve only read Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt - I liked it but it wasn't one of my favs. This one sounds good, so I'm willing to give her another try; especially with so many postive comments!


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