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Eleanor Lyndon was minding her own business when Charles Wycombe, Earl of Billington, fell quite literally into her life.
She was walking along, whistling a happy tune and keeping her mind busy by trying to estimate the yearly profit of the East & West Sugar Company (of which she owned several shares) when to her great surprise, a man came crashing down from the sky and landed at, or to be more precise on her feet.
Further inspection revealed that the man in question had fallen not from the sky but from a large oak tree. Ellie, whose life had grown decidedly dull in the last year or so, would have almost preferred that he had fallen from the sky It certainly would have been more exciting than from a mere tree.
She pulled her left foot out from underneath the man's shoulder, hiked her skirts above her ankles to save them from the dirt, and crouched down. "Sir?" she inquired. "Are you all right?"
All he said was, "Ow."
"Oh, dear," she murmured. "You haven't broken any bones, have you?"
He didn't say anything, just let out a long breath. Ellie lurched back when the fumes hit her. "Sweet heavens " she muttered, "You smell as if you've imbibed a winery."
"Whishkey," he slurred in response. "A gennleman drinks whishkey."
"Not this much whiskey," she retorted. "Only a drunk drinks this much of anything."
He sat up clearly with difficulty, and shook his head as if to clear it. "Exactly it," he said, waving his hand through the air, then wincing when the action made him dizzy. "I'm a bit drunk, I'mafraid."
Effie decided to refrain from further comment on that topic. "Are you certain you're not injured?"
He scratched his reddish-brown hair and blinked. "My head pounds like the devil."
"I suspect that isn't only from the fall."
He tried to get up, weaved, and sat back down "You're a sharp-tongued lass."
"Yes, I know," she said with a wry smile. "It's why I'm a long-toothed spinster. Now then, I can't very well see to your injuries if I don't know what they are."
"Efficient, too," he murmured. "An' why are you so certain I've got an injurty, er, injury?"
Ellie looked up into the tree. The nearest branch which would have supported his weight was a good fifteen feet up. "I don't see how you could have fallen so far and not been injured."
He waved her comments aside and tried to rise again. "Yes, well, we Wycombes are a hardy lot. It'd take more than a Sweet merciful Christ!" He howled.
Ellie tried her best not to sound smug when she said, "An ache? A pain? A sprain, perhaps."
His brown eyes narrowed as he clutched the trunk of the tree for support. "You are a hard, cruel woman, Miss whatever-your-name-is, to take such pleasure in my agony."
Ellie coughed to cover a giggle. "Mr. Whosis, I must protest and point out that I tried to tend to your injuries, but you insisted you didn't have any."
He scowled in a very boyish sort of way and sat back down. "That's Lord Whosis," he muttered.
"Very well, my lord," she said, hoping that she hadn't irritated him overmuch. A peer of the realm held much more power than a vicar's daughter, and he could make her life miserable if he chose. She gave up all hope of keeping her dress clean and sat down in the dirt. "Which ankle pains you, my lord?"
He pointed to his right ankle, and then grimaced when she lifted it in her hands. After a moment's examination, she looked up and said in her most polite voice, "I am going to have to remove your boot, my lord. Would that be permissible?"
"I liked you better when you were spitting fire," he muttered.
Ellie liked herself better that way, too. She smiled. "Have you a knife?"
He snorted. "If you think I'm going to put a weapon in your hands..."
"Very well. I suppose I could just pull the boot off.
She cocked her head and pretended to ponder the matter. "It might hurt just a bit when it gets stuck on your hideously swollen ankle, but as you pointed out, you come from hardy stock, and a man should be able to take a little pain."
'What the devil are you talking about?"
Ellie stared to pull at his boot. Not hard she could never be that cruel. Tugging just enough to demonstrate that the boot wasn't coming off his foot through ordinary means, she held her breath.
He yelled, and Ellie wished she hadn't tried to teach him a lesson, because she ended up with a face full of whiskey fumes.
"How much did you drink?" she demanded, gasping for air.
"Not nearly enough," he groaned. "They haven't invented a drink strong enough"
"Oh, come now," Effie snapped. "I'm not that bad."
To her surprise, he laughed. "Sweetheart," he said in a tone that told her clear as day that his usual occupation was rake, "you're the least bad thing that has happened to me in months."
Ellie felt an odd sort of tingling on the back of her neck at his clumsy compliment. Thankful that her large bonnet hid her blush, she focused her attention back on his ankle. "Have you changed your mind about my cutting your boot?"
His answer was the knife he placed in her palm. "I always knew there was some reason I carried one of these things around. I just never knew what it was until today."
The knife was a bit dull, and soon Ellie was gritting her teeth as she sawed through his boot.