Cora walked along the path, the new bonnet in her hand. While the family was entertaining the vicar and his family, she opted to venture out here. Her face was turned up to the sky, her flushed cheeks becoming. She wanted to loosened her raven dark so that it tumbled down her back but that won’t do for a young lady. Sometimes she envied her little sister, Della who could wear her thick auburn hair down.
She hitched up her skirt and ran the rest of the way, leaning against the stone when she reached the top. What a glorious day, she thought spreading her arms wide like a bird. Up here she felt free–free from convention. She disliked sitting in the parlor, drinking tea and listening to boring conversations. Most of the time, her body was there but her mind was here.
Besides, she was tired of being asked the same insidious questions. “Are there no young men who have won your affections?” or “What about Henry Taylor? He’s a very amiable young man with a very handsome fortune. You wouldn’t want of anything, my Dear.”
No, none of the men in Yorkshire had so much as stirred any interest much less won her affections and as amiable as he may be, Henry Taylor didn’t tickle her fancy at all. Why couldn’t they be satisfied that her elder sister, Edith had formed an attachment to the very handsome and very agreeable Mr. Fairfax? It was only a matter of time before an engagement would be announced. She liked Bernard very well. He would be an excellent brother to her and Della.
She was so preoccupied with her thoughts that she didn’t notice him until he was almost upon her. It was a man riding very gallantly on a beautiful white steed. He looked stark against the animal because he was dressed completely in black. Even his hair was black and the black cloak billowing behind him, reminded her of Count Dracula.
He dug his spurs into the horse’s sides and he came to a halt. In one fluid and quick movement, he dismounted the animal and stood, over six feet tall, a few feet away from her. He was very handsome. His hair, thick and unruly, was blacker than hers. Light brown eyes framed by enviably long dark lashes met her hazel gaze.
“Good afternoon,” he greeted her. “I hope I’m not intruding.”
She shook her head. “No, Sir, you’re not.”
“I like to ride up here,” he said. “It’s very quiet and pleasant. Do you come here often?”
“No, not often.”
“From whence did you come?”
“Fairhead’s Gate?” His black brows arched. “Are you by any chance acquainted with Miss Edith Phillips?”
“She’s my older sister.”
“Then you must be Cora,” he said. “Oh, permit me to introduce myself. I’m Horatio Clarke.”
She stared blankly at him. When he’d said, Horatio, she half expected him to add the name, “Hornblower.”
He looked amused. “I see that Bernard has neglected to tell you about his roguish cousin.”
Her eyes widened. “You’re Bernard’s cousin?” she exclaimed. “But you look nothing like him. He’s fair haired and ruddy and you’re–”
“Dark and rakish looking it. I sometimes believe I have a little gypsy blood in me.” His lips parted to reveal even white teeth. He was quiet charming and disarming too.
Well, what ever he had pumping in his veins, he was unlike any man she had ever met. He got her pulse racing and her heart pounding with excitement. He was older than the men she knew too. She guessed that he was five and thirty–fifteen years her senior. Surely a man such as he could not still be unattached. Whoever she was, she was very fortunate and she envied her.
She realized she was staring and she looked away, her face turning crimson. “Perhaps, I should leave now,” she said.
“What? You want to take leave of me so soon?” he inquired.
“It looks like it shall rain,” she said.
He gazed up at the sky. “Yes, it does,” he agreed. “Very well, Miss Phillips, I shall take you home.”
She looked at him in dismay. “No, please, I don’t mind walking–”
“I insist,” he said. “It would be rather remiss of me to let a lady get caught in the rain when I could have easily borne her to her abode.”
“Very well,” she said, realizing that it was pointless to protest any further and thought it rather kind of him to offer her a ride home. She put on her bonnet and her heart lurched when he put his hands on her waist and hoisted her up onto the horse. He climbed up and off they went. This time his cloak didn’t stream behind him. She clung to him for dear life, her eyes squeezed shut. She had never ridden on a horse before. It was terrifying.
She was relieved when they reached her family’s residence. He got down and then helped her off. Her legs felt wobbly. He didn’t remove his hands from her waist until he was satisfied that she had regained her balance. “Now, Miss Phillips, I shall bid you farewell but not before I ask your permission to call upon you tomorrow evening.”
It was hard to think sensibly when he was standing so close to her. “Call upon me?” she repeated. “But what about your young lady?”
His brows arched quizzically. “My young lady?”
“Do you not have a young lady, Sir?”
He shook his head. “No, Miss Phillips, I do not have a young lady. Like you, I am unattached.”
She smiled for the first time since they met. “Then, you may call upon me tomorrow evening, Mr. Clarke.”
He smiled and bowed. “Tomorrow evening, then. Good afternoon.”
She curtsied. “Good afternoon.”
He swung up onto the horse and galloped off.
She watched him until he disappeared from view and then she walked slowly up the path to her house, just as the first drops of rain began to fall. Oh, dear, she thought. Mr. Clarke shall get soaked.