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"The Most Delectable Man in England hunting the Most Wanted Man in England. How catching," Lady Prudence Farnsworth whispered as she peeked around the heavy drapes of the library
"Do not say that word."
Pru glanced over her shoulder at her butler. "Which word? Delectable?"
Pru laughed softly and glanced back out the window. "Clifton, dear, you do worry too much."
She could actually feel the man's scowl.
"He's come on horseback," she said as she watched the tall man in mud-spattered military dress dismount. "Impressive," she murmured.
Pru let the heavy drapes slide from her grasp.
"I meant, 'tis impressive that he came the entire way on horseback. Most of the men they send come in coaches, then spend their time here with their doors closed praying for their lives. This one comes with no outriders, a target for all on the back of a horse."
"Captain Ashley is not most men," Clifton said darkly.
"No, Captain Ashley is not most men. He's a famous military hero." Pru grinned at her mammoth butler. "We've seen them before, but we've seen their backs more often."
The military hero's knock sounded at the door.
"His pride's been pricked, this one's has. He's out for blood, and it's careful we need to be."
Pru pulled her shoulders back and smoothed her palms along the skirt of her gown. "We'll follow our plan, and all will go well." Shenodded toward the hall. "Now, go let the good captain in. I shall meet with him in the drawing room," she said to Clifton, and whisked herself across the corridor.
"I still say we should make him live in the rooms above Harker's Inn," Clifton grumbled as he stomped toward the front door.
Pru, of course, knew that it would never do to have the captain living at Harker's Inn. She had immediately offered lodging when she had found out that Captain James Ashley was on his way back to Gravesly.
It was the least she could do out of purely civic pride.
Pru heard the creak of the front-door hinges and jumped the last few steps into the drawing room. The low rumble of a very male voice echoed down the hall behind her, and it caused a strange flutter in the depths of Pru's stomach.
The captain was terribly masculine, the low timbre of his voice and strong silhouette attesting to this fact. It made her anxious.
With a quick shake of her head, Pru picked up her embroidery and settled herself on an elegantly shabby settee. Her hand shook a bit as she slipped her needle through the stretched material of a small pinafore she was working on.
Little Emily Sawyer, the baker's daughter, had grown out of the last one she had made -- it now adorned Emily's little sister -- and so Pru was making her another.
Pru jumped at Clifton's formal address and glanced up. Her butler gave her a piercing look out of his one good eye, then continued, "Captain James Ashley, my lady."
Setting her embroidery aside, Prudence rose calmly, smiled at her butler as he shifted his bulky frame so that she could welcome their visitor, then faltered.
If she had thought the man's voice and stature to be masculine, it was nothing in the face of his swarthy skin, square jaw, and deep-set eyes the color of a stormy sea. He was even taller than she had thought, standing nearly eye to eye with dearest Clifton. His red coat and white breeches were spattered with mud, his dark hair windblown, but he still cut quite a figure.
The Most Delectable Man in England, indeed.
He stepped toward her, and Prudence realized that she surely had been standing there with her mouth hanging open. "Captain Ashley," she forced herself to say, "how very good to have you."
"How very good of you to invite me to stay with you, Lady Farnsworth." He took her hand and bowed over it. He had his gloves on, of course, but she could still tell that his fingers were Iong, his hand large and strong.
She had forgotten to put on her own gloves. They didn't stand much on formality at Chesley House, and she had always hated gloves. She stared for a moment at her own small hand encompassed by the captain's much larger one.
"But, of course, Captain," she said quickly, blinking back up to meet his gaze and withdrawIng her hand. "When I heard that Gravesly would be getting such a courageous and intelligent officer to help rid us of smugglers, well..." She pressed her hand to her breast and smiled. "Of course, I offered my home for your convenience. I do try to be a boon to my community."
"That is quite admirable, Lady Farnsworth."
Her fingers, the same fingers the tall Captain Ashley had just held, were trembling. With a slight frown, Pru curled her hand into a fist and pressed it tightly against her side. Surely she was not nervous. It had been rather a long time since she had experienced an attack of nerves.
Of course she was not nervous.
"Yes, well," she said finally, her voice sounding faintly panicky to her own ears. Pru stopped and cleared her throat. The captain had a very commanding presence, she realized, and she was certainly not used to being commanded. Pru stood a little straighter and tried to look as daunting as possible.
"I am sure you would like to freshen up from your journey." She glanced at Clifton, who had one bushy eyebrow bunched in a frown, as he glared at the captain.
"Clifton!" she rebutted the man without thinking. At her sharp tone, both men jumped. Pru wanted to groan at her lack of subtlety. What on earth was the matter with her?
"Clifton," she said...
Pride and Prudence. Copyright © by Malia Martin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.