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Too Wicked to Tame
"I'm going to carve out his lying tongue," Lady Portia Derring bit out as she surveyed the stretch of empty road nestled among thick, spiny gorse and rocky hills, desperate to catch a glimpse of her errant driver.
An icy wind pulled at her bonnet. Her fingers, stiff and aching from the cold, clung to the frayed ribbons dangling beneath her chin. Even horribly out of fashion, the straw confection was her best bonnet and she wasn't inclined to lose it.
"Looking out that window again?" Nettie asked.
Falling back against the seat, Portia heaved a sigh and announced, "We're stranded. John's not coming back."
"He'll be back," her maid replied with a decided lack of worry as she stretched her generous curves along the threadbare squabs. "Take a nap."
Portia frowned at Nettie. "And let highwaymen take us unaware? Splendid idea, that."
Nettie yawned widely, offering Portia a view of the tonsils far back in her throat. She closed and opened her mouth several times with a vulgar smacking sound before adding, "What's got your nose out of joint?"
Portia gestured about them at the motionless carriage, a feeling of frustration sweeping over her. "In case you failed to notice, we've been abandoned by our sot of a driver." She nodded to thewindow where the sky deepened to a smoky purple. "I don't relish the idea of spending the night in this rickety carriage."
Nettie lifted a reddish brow and glanced out the window. Portia followed her gaze, eyeing the craggy limestone terrain, then the dark clouds scuttling across the sky, distracted at the sight of such raw beauty. Miles away from civilization. From family and words like duty, responsibility—marriage. Her heart lifted, her precarious situation suddenly not feeling so calamitous. The invisible band about her chest loosened, allowing her to take her first easy breath in years.
Nettie clucked her tongue. "You really did it this time for the ol' bird to send you all the way out here."
Portia flicked a piece of lint off her blue merino skirt and stifled the retort that burned on her tongue. "I don't know what you mean," she lied. "I've done nothing. Nothing at all."
"Nothin'," her cheeky maid snorted. "That's about the gist of it. Five years of nothin'. Well, your time's run out." She nodded as though pleased. "I heard what your grandmother said."
"Listening at keyholes again?" Portia accused.
"Either you choose or they will. And if you ask me, they should have put an end to your contrary ways long ago."
"No one's asking you," Portia snapped.
Shrugging, the round-cheeked maid looked out the window again, granting Portia a meager moment of peace before demanding, "Ain't there rich enough nabobs in Town? Hardly seems possible any swell lives in this godforsaken land." Shaking her coppery head, Nettie turned to glare at her in a way that left no doubt whom she held responsible for their ejection from Town. "Tell me we're at least almost there."
"John didn't say, but we must be near." Not that her driver had said much before staggering down the road, his vow to return within the hour echoing hollowly even then. Especially when issued through gin-laced breath. "I should have taken the mail coach," she muttered.
Not that Grandmother would have permitted such a thing. A Derring never resorted to public transport. No matter how desperate. There were appearances to be kept, after all. A Derring must not appear destitute. Even if they happened to be.
"Bet you wish you'd chosen one of those swells back in Town now, eh?"
Portia stifled a grimace and looked out the window again, careful not to reveal her decided lack of regret. What was one suitor to fend off when she was accustomed to the dozens foisted on her by her family?
She gazed out through parted frayed curtains. The sight of the bleak land, both majestic and deprived, wild with gorse and wind-ruffled heather, washed over her like a balm to the soul. It stirred something deep inside her—in a hidden, secret place that hadn't felt anything in years. The moor was a far cry from the drawing rooms of the ton and she was heartily glad for it.
"Not especially," she replied, inhaling clean air kissed by the lips of a vanishing winter. A chance to get away was a rare treat, a much appreciated holiday. Especially when her greatest wish was to travel, to taste the freedom and adventure her mother experienced everyday.
Being forced to entertain the attentions of a new suitor didn't matter much. Not when it meant escape from the tedium of another Season, from the auction block, from her family's nagging. From a pervading sense of isolation—of holding her breath and waiting, watching, searching every room with senseless hope filling her chest.
Even missing her mother, Portia could understand what drove her to depart for lands unknown. The hot breath of ruin didn't reach so far as Italy, Greece, Spain, or whichever country her mother currently called home.
Portia closed her eyes in one long blink and did her best to shake off the fetters of her world, to let the irons drop and pretend that this was a holiday of her own choosing and not just another foisted courtship.
"Enough of this," Portia announced, arranging her bonnet and repositioning her hatpin through the straw with a determined twist.
"Where you off to?"
"To find help." Portia grasped the latch and pushed the door open. Like an animal lying in wait, the wind attacked the door, whipping it inward again. She caught it with the palm of her hand and pushed, grunting. "Someone must. We can't rely on John." Gathering her skirts in one hand, she added, "You're welcome to come. A brisk walk might energize you."
"I'll be staying here where it's warm and dry, thank you very much." With a sniff, Nettie curled up on the squabs, heedless of arranging her skirts to cover her plump, milk-white legs. Continues...
Excerpted from Too Wicked to Tame by Sophie Jordan Copyright © 2007 by Sophie Jordan. Excerpted by permission.
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