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Authors: Cathy Maxwell

Tags: #Historical Romance, #Love Story, #Regency Romance, #Romance, #England, #London, #Scotland

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BOOK: The Groom Says Yes
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“Of course. Thank you.” Mrs. Kinnion stepped back, and Sabrina was on her way.

Dumpling was very happy to be heading home and not at all pleased when instead of taking the road to Aberfeldy, she turned him in the direction of the moors. He even dared to grumble at her, but Sabrina was accustomed to ignoring Dumpling’s grumbles. He was an opinionated pony.

Reaching the bothy, Sabrina drove the cart right up to the front door and set the brake.

Mr. Enright was leaning against the open doorway between the two rooms where she’d left him. His eyes were closed, and he appeared to be asleep, which was probably the best thing for him. She almost hated disturbing him, but she did. He needed a warm bed for the night.

Shaking his shoulder, Sabrina said, “Sir? Please wake up. I will need your help. You are too heavy for me to move you alone.”

He didn’t budge or indicate in any way that he heard her. He was completely drawn into himself, his face pale.

She considered her options.

Her mother had been fragile, especially toward the end, but she had still been difficult to move. A deadweight was a heavy weight.

However, Sabrina was no fragile flower. She might have the strength to drag him to the door, where Dumpling impatiently waited.

She hiked her skirts up, tucking them between her legs to fashion breeches of sorts so that they would be out of the way. Straddling his body, she said, “I’m going to lift you, sir.” She hooked her arms under his, feeling the pull of muscles along her back. If anyone came upon her at this moment, they would be in for a shock, but she didn’t care. This was the only practical way to move such a big man.

Her face close to his, she said, “If you could help, I would appreciate it. There now, one, two, three,
lift—

He didn’t move.

She repositioned her hold and put more of her back into it, the way she’d seen workmen try harder. Nothing. He didn’t budge an inch.

Sabrina straightened. “You could be more help,” she informed him, not even bothering to speak loud or distinctly in her “invalid” voice. “It would make this a bit easier.”

Of course, he had no answer.

So, Sabrina sucked in a deep breath and used all her might. She managed to raise one of his shoulders. She tried to turn him so that she had a straight path to drag him to the front door. Determined that success would be in her reach, she tripled her effort—

The smooth soles of her leather shoes slid. Her legs came forward and out in front of her—and she landed on top of the man with a thud.

Right on his genitalia.

If she’d received a reaction from him by holding his nose, it was nothing compared to his response to her flattening his privates.

Men were always funny about this part of their anatomy, but Mr. Enright’s response was a bit excessive. He practically jumped to the ceiling, sending her tumbling off his lap, before pulling back his fist as if ready to ward off an attacker.

For a moment, Sabrina sat in shock, her skirts in complete disarray. Her gaze froze on his hand, ready to deliver a blow.

He glared at her but then seemed to take in his surroundings from the hard, cold bothy to her stocking-covered legs. Slowly his hand lowered. “What the devil were you doing?”

Thankful she wasn’t about to be bashed, Sabrina scrambled to her feet, shaking out her skirts and reclaiming her modesty. “I’m trying to save your life.”

His scowl deepened. “By jumping on me balls?”

Heat rushed to her cheeks at the crudity. “That was very common,” she scolded.

“I’m commonly attached to them.”

“You’re Irish,” she answered, finally placing his mysterious accent.

Those strong brows of his pulled together in bewilderment. “Who are you?” he demanded before a bout of chesty coughing swallowed his last word. He had the good manners to try to cover his mouth.

“I’m someone you are lucky to have found you. You are very ill. And if you want to feel better, you’d best find yourself in that pony cart.” She pointed to the door, where an impatient Dumpling stamped and snorted his surliness.

“I’m not leaving here,” he answered.

“If you stay, you could contract pneumonia, then you could have an even graver problem. You don’t need to fear me, Mr. Enright—


How do you know who I am
?”

“You told me your name.”

He shook his head, not believing her.

Gently, Sabrina said, “You don’t remember because you are that ill. Please, sir, you must trust someone. You will not survive out here alone. And I didn’t mean to be so personal. It was an accident.” She held out her hand, and promised, “I will not even breathe your name to another soul if you come with me.”

He stared at her as if not believing one word she’d spoken. She wondered what or who had created such distrust in him—

His body began to spasm. He turned from her, leaning over, as dry heaves racked his body. The man had nothing in his stomach. All he could do was suffer through the convulsions.

Sabrina inched closer to him to tempt him. “You need nourishing food. A good broth will help you. Without some substance and a safe, warm place to stay, you will die.”

He didn’t answer. He couldn’t. His body collapsed as he drew in great, shuddering breaths. Sweat beaded across his brow. His eyes started to close.

Sabrina dared to place her hands under his arms. “Help me lift you,” she urged quietly. “It is only a few steps to the cart. And then you may sleep.”

She could feel the struggle within him. He didn’t want to comply, and yet he had no choice. She attempted to help him stand and after the briefest resistance, he staggered to his feet. She slid his arm around her shoulders and directed him to the cart. He didn’t try to open the narrow door into the vehicle but fell forward over the side, where he landed on the floor.

Dumpling gave a snort of surprise.

“Steady,” Sabrina cautioned both of them, but Mr. Enright was beyond caring. He curled up and appeared to fall asleep.

She fetched his jacket and neckcloth, then opened the cart door and did her best to climb in without stepping on him. He took all the room on the floor of the cart. She covered him with his jacket and had no choice but to set her feet upon him as lightly as she could. She lifted the reins, and released the brake.

“Let’s go, Dumpling.”

The pony wasn’t pleased with the idea. He knew he had no choice, but he groaned mightily to let her know he was pulling what he considered an intolerable load.

Still, once they hit the road, and Dumpling understood they were finally, truly returning home, he picked up his pace. The afternoon was growing late. Fortunately, they didn’t meet anyone on the way. Sabrina didn’t know how she could explain away the presence of a man under her feet.

Within three-quarters of an hour, she pulled into the yard of the stone house she shared with her father.

The two-story house was modest in appearance, nothing like the family estate of Annefield, where the earl lived, but it was a very nice house indeed. Besides the small stable and paddock, there was a good-sized garden, making it one of the finer homes in Aberfeldy. The location was choice as well. They had a view of General Wade’s bridge and their closest neighbor was several hundred feet from them.

Her pup Rolf, a brown-and-white hound who was busy growing into his paws, came bounding from his post beneath the back step and gave her a happy bark of greeting. She’d rescued him as a puppy from a group of cruel boys and he was devoted to her.

Sabrina climbed out of the cart, gave Rolf an absent pat and glanced at the house. A shadow moved in the ground-floor bank of windows that looked into her father’s study.

He was home, and her conversation with the Widow Bossley came roaring back.

Mr. Enright had not moved other than to cough or reposition himself as best he could in such close confines. He was a big man in a very small space. Yes, she knew a bed and nourishing food could help him, but she knew her father well enough to realize she’d have to break the news of Mr. Enright carefully. Her father could be prickly. He was not always a generous man. For example, he refused to let her pup Rolf into the house now that the dog had grown bigger and, if requests for Sabrina’s time interfered with his comfort or his plans, he could be out of sorts for days.

Even knowing him as well as she did, she sometimes did not accurately anticipate his moods or responses. His courting Mrs. Bossley was a case in point.

No, Mr. Enright was better off safely tucked away in the stables while she and her father had a very honest, and certainly difficult, discussion.

Chapter Four

S
abrina planned to leave Mr. Enright in the cart while she talked to her father.

She unhitched Dumpling and gave the pony his measure of oats. She also fed her father’s horse Rainer, a big-boned bay with a perpetually sour attitude. Several months ago, the earl had cut her father’s living to pay gambling debts. As a consequence, her father had to let his man Emory go, and the feeding of the animals had fallen on Sabrina’s shoulders.

Even with Mr. Enright’s weight, she was able to easily maneuver the cart by its shafts, backing it into an empty stall. Checking him one last time before she left, she found his forehead hot to the touch, too hot. Worried, she grabbed a cup in the tack room and used it to attempt to give him a drink.

The water they pumped in the stables was icy cold. It would be good for him. However, it dribbled out of his mouth as if he had no strength to even swallow. Alarmed, she raced back to the tack room, grabbed a clean linen rag from a stack, wet it, and placed it on his brow.

“I’ll return for you as soon as I’ve talked to Father,” she promised.

Of course, he had no response.

Rolf had watched all of this with a solemn eye. He did not trust men, not even Sabrina’s father, and was known to growl his feelings.

However, he seemed accepting of their unconscious guest. He’d even stood on his hind legs to look over the edge of the cart and sniff the air around Mr. Enright.

Of course, that did not mean she trusted the dog alone with their guest. “Come, Rolf. We must talk to Father.”

She started for the house, but her pup didn’t follow. Instead, he sat on his haunches in front of Mr. Enright’s stall.

“Rolf, come,” she ordered.

The dog considered her a moment, then stretched out on the ground, alert, wary, and determined not to leave his post, his manner more protective than threatening.

“So you believe he is all right then?” she asked.

Rolf actually seemed to smile.

There were many times that Sabrina fancied the dog understood humans. He appeared to follow conversations around him and could anticipate her moods. Why would he not have formed an opinion of Mr. Enright’s character? If one was fanciful, and she could be, it didn’t seem a stretch of the imagination.

“Well, then, keep watch,” she said. “And wish me luck. You know how difficult Father can be.”

Rolf’s brown eyes said that he did. She left the stables.

Mrs. Patton was in the hall, throwing her shawl over her shoulders, when Sabrina entered the back door. The cook already had her wool cap on her head. Once she had the dinner made, she didn’t linger unless she was needed. She was three years older than Sabrina, the wife of the local cooper’s apprentice, and they had five hungry sons under the age of twelve waiting at home to be fed. Sabrina and her father could serve themselves, and the cook would clean the kitchen in the morning.

“There you are,” Mrs. Patton said in cheery greeting. “Your luncheon went well?”

“Fair enough,” Sabrina murmured. “How is Father?”

“In good spirits. I heard him humming.”

That was unusual although he
had
been in a pleasant mood the past week. She wondered when he’d given Mrs. Bossley the ring.

“Has he had any visitors?” Sabrina wanted to know if Mrs. Bossley had come running with news of their confrontation at the luncheon.

“No, he has been alone all day. He’s barely taken time to have a bite to eat.”

Good. Sabrina would have a chance to talk sense into him.

“Is there any broth?” she asked the cook.

“Aye, I stewed a chicken. There should be plenty. Why?”

“We have a sick parishioner,” Sabrina answered. That wasn’t truly a lie. Mr. Enright was physically in the parish at this moment, and he was not well. “I thought to take some broth to him.”


Och,
who is it?” Mrs. Patton said with a touch of alarm. “Do I know him?”

Sabrina thought fast as she removed her hat and pelisse and hung them on the hook on the wall next to her father’s. “I don’t actually know the name. Mrs. Kinnion told me of him. I’ll deliver the broth to her.”

Mrs. Patton accepted her explanation. “Well, take some fresh bread as well. I baked plenty since I won’t be in on the morrow. Did you remember that?”

“Yes, you are going to Pitlochry with your husband. Don’t worry about us. We shall be fine. I hope you enjoy the day.”

“Thank you,” Mrs. Patton said, a beaming smile of anticipation splitting her face. “I will see you then?” With a nod, she was gone.

And Sabrina was alone with her father.

She faced the study. When she used the room, she usually kept the door open, but her father liked the door closed. She didn’t hear humming.

Her father had always been a distant parent, an aloof one. Her mother had been the person she’d turned to for guidance, and yet her father’s wishes and dictates were always considered first. Her mother had insisted. She did not like confrontation in any form, and over the years, Sabrina had followed suit.

Then again, her mother could not have imagined her father chasing the likes of the Widow Bossley.

Sabrina knocked on the door.

“Yes?” her father’s baritone voice asked, the sound abrupt.

She entered the room.

Her father sat at his desk by the window, scribbling away on a sheaf of papers, his glasses pinching his nose. He did his own copying or else gave the work to Sabrina. There was no money to pay for a secretary.

He didn’t acknowledge Sabrina’s presence. He often expected her to stand and wait. He’d explained once that it taught her patience and discipline.

In the past, Sabrina would have cooled her heels while studying the tomes on philosophy and law lined up on the shelves of the wall nearest her. Today was different.

“I enjoyed the Ladies’ Quarterly Meeting today.”

He didn’t even raise a brow. “That’s pleasant,” he murmured as he removed the top page of his stack, one covered with his small, neat handwriting, and set it aside for the ink to dry. He dipped his nib into the ink bottle and began writing on the next page.

“I sat with someone outside of my usual acquaintance. Mrs. Bossley.”

The pen stopped moving.

He began writing again. “Interesting,” he said.

Sabrina frowned. “You do not act like a man in love.”

The pen was placed aside.

He looked up, meeting her eye for the first time since she’d entered the room.

Sabrina understood what the widow would see in him. The Davidson men were a handsome lot, even the older ones. They were tall and had regal bearing. Drinking and hard living had damaged the uncle’s looks, but her father still had a clear eye, square jaw, a sense of dignity, and most of his graying hair.

“She says you have asked her to marry you.” Her tone was clipped, her feelings on the subject very apparent.

Her father’s glance shifted to the door. The corners of his mouth turned grave. For a second, Sabrina could imagine him denying Mrs. Bossley’s claim.

And then he nodded. “I have.”

That was not the answer she wanted.


Why
was I completely unaware of this?” she demanded, betrayal closing her throat. “She said you have been courting her for months. In fact, everyone in the room today acted as if they knew of your liaison as well. That is, everyone but me.”

He had the good grace to act discomforted. “Sabrina.” One word. Her name. He said it as if it were an explanation.

It wasn’t. “
Why?

He frowned at the stack of papers. “I didn’t want to upset you. I knew you would not be happy.”

“Should I be? Do you remember all of the disparaging things
you
said about her when she was carrying on madly with my uncle?” She leaned her hands on his desk. “You were so disapproving, Father, and now, I learn,
from her,
that the two of you will
marry
? Do you know what she asked me? She wanted to know if I was going to give her any difficulties. She made it quite clear that she expected to be the mistress of
this
household.”

For a second, their eyes met, then he looked away. He didn’t speak. He didn’t answer her.

“How could you, Father? How could you replace my mother with this woman? You know
what she is.

His face turned red. He came to his feet. “
You
don’t know her. If you did, you would not be so harsh in your judgment.”

“I haven’t had time to judge her. I’ve rarely even thought of her. This is all a surprise to me.”

He came around the desk. “I know this may seem sudden to you, but
I’ve
thought it out. This is what I want. I want to marry Lillian.”

Sabrina couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “If it was what you truly wanted, why did you not tell me you were courting her? Why has it been a secret?”

“I was trying to be sensitive to you,” he said. “You seemed so distraught after your mother died.”

“So did you, Father.”

“I was—” His voice broke off on the last word. His gaze dropped to the floor. He took a step away, and Sabrina pressed, believing he was listening to her, that he would reconsider what she was certain was a hasty decision.

“We both feel her loss,” she said. “It hasn’t been that long since she left us. Not quite two years. I’m surprised you think to remarry so quickly—”

“Quickly?” he echoed. He looked up. “Two years is comparable to a decade for a man my age. Furthermore, Millie was sick a long time, Sabrina. Longer than you knew. I have been without a wife for decades, and I was loyal. Most men would not have been.”

“I understand the sacrifices you made, Father,” she said, her words terse. “Mother’s illness was not easy for any of us.”

“Except, I’m a man, Sabrina. A man has needs.”


Needs?

He raised a hand. “You wouldn’t understand—”

“Oh, I do understand,” she answered. Years of grief and mourning held tightly in her chest were suddenly unleashed with anger. “Contrary to what Mrs. Bossley thinks, I am
not
naïve. I know what attraction she holds for you. And I know how long Mother was ill. I had been at her beck and call since she first took to her bed. I spent day and night with her. She never asked you for anything other than fifteen minutes of your time each afternoon. I tended her, I bathed her, I fed her, I gave her all that I had, and now you are telling me I don’t understand? And because of what you believe
you
want, what is due
you,
I must grovel to the notorious Widow Bossley? Really, Father, if you were going to call on someone, could you not have had higher standards?”

“She is a good woman,” he began in his paramour’s defense, but Sabrina would have none of it. His affair with Mrs. Bossley had released a simmering cauldron of resentment inside her.

“She is the
earthiest
of creatures. She flaunted her liaison with my uncle. She bragged she would be his next countess. Why you would call on such a feather-brained creature, I understand. You do have
needs—
” She had to draw out that last word, she couldn’t help herself, and she was growing more agitated and less wise as she spoke. “But you gave her Mother’s ring. Mrs. Bossley can have everything else in this house but that was mine. It belonged to
me.

“Actually, it belonged to me. It is
my
property.”

The coldness in his voice whipped around her. His manner had changed. He went from being somewhat self-conscious to the man who could hold others’ fates in his hands. “Your only purpose here,” he continued, “is to do what I expect of you.”

There had been a time when Sabrina could have been cowed into submission.

That time was past. She’d given up too much. She’d sacrificed. She’d done what had been needed.

Her hands clenched into fists at her side, she gathered all the Davidson pride in her being. “I am not chattel. I have a purpose and a right to an opinion.”

“You do not.”

If he had struck her, he could not have hurt her more deeply than with those three words.

Her mind reeled. She had believed her father felt some indebtedness toward her if not paternal acceptance. She had not considered herself an unwitting slave with no will of her own. She understood that as a daughter of the house she had no rights under the law, but she had trusted that her father saw her as a person with intelligence.

As if realizing he’d hurt her, he tempered his tone to say, “You are wrong about Lillian. She is a sensitive soul. She understands loss. She knows how I feel.”

That statement stunned Sabrina.

He continued, “I admit, I had thought the worst of her, but after listening to her story, to her concerns—”

Probably while considering her ample bosom,
Sabrina couldn’t help thinking.

“—I came to know her in a way that was not based upon gossip and innuendo. You should appreciate that, Sabrina. You are always railing about the gossips in the valley. You, yourself, would champion Lillian if you knew what I know about her.”

“You and the Widow Bossley are sharing a bed
.
You are lovers.

The blunt statement came out of Sabrina’s mouth before she could question its wisdom. And once it was out, she’d not call it back. After all, if he had no respect for her, why was she tiptoeing around him?

It also felt good to speak forthrightly to him. “You can dress it up, Father, but the understanding she offers is as old as what Circe presented to shipwrecked sailors.”

His mouth dropped open at her effrontery, but he recovered enough to say almost primly, “I am shocked by your attitude, Daughter.”

“I am shocked by your behavior,” she shot back. “So, when you told me you had business around the valley or you were traveling to Edinburgh, you were actually calling on ‘Lillian,’ correct?”

A look crossed his face, one she couldn’t read.

She pressed. “You have proudly built your reputation on honesty. And yet you were not honest with me.”

He clasped his hands behind his back, his shoulders rigid, unyielding, his jaw set. There was nothing he could say in his defense.

BOOK: The Groom Says Yes
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