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Visitors never came to west Hampshire during the Season. Not on purpose, anyway.
Thus the three massive coaches bumping down the rutted lane that ran from Westminster to the main road had to be lost. Very lost.
Hiking her brown muslin skirt up a little because of the mud, Emma Grenville hurried into the field at the edge of the road. Expensive-looking vehicles like that weren't liable to turn aside for the headmistress of a girls' school. And they were a magnificent sight. Elizabeth and Jane would wish they'd gone walking with her this morning, as she'd encouraged. Three grand coaches gracing west Hampshire in the summertime—who would have thought?
The first vehicle rocked by her without pause, a red dragon and sword emblazoned on the door and the flimsy curtains drawn. Nobility, she thought, her curiosity deepening. As the second coach neared, the small, balding driver tipped his hat at her and grinned.
For heaven's sake—she was staring like a milkmaid on her first trip to market. One of the most basic lessons she taught her students was not to stare; she needed to practice following her own teachings. Flushing, Emma continued toward the Academy at a faster pace.
A thunderous crack made her jump and turn around. The second coach lurched with a crooked twist into the air, careening off one of the numerous boulders that had risen after the spring rains. It slammed back onto the road again with an even louder crunch. The near wheel snapped off the axle, hitting the ground a foot from Emma and rolling past her into the tall grass. The vehicle pitched forward and came to a grinding halt in the mud.
"My goodness!" Emma gasped, putting her hand to her heart.
The horses were stomping and snorting, and the driver cursing, as she hurried back to the coach. The flimsy door swung open just as she reached it.
"Damnation, Wycliffe! You and your stupid expeditions!" The well-dressed young man tottered in the doorway, then slipped and fell face first into the muddyroad. He very nearly landed on her foot, and Emma hastily stepped backward—and collided with a brick wall.
Not a brick wall, she amended as it grabbed her elbow when she stumbled. "Steady," it said in a deep voice that resonated down her spine, and lifted her upright again.
Emma's surprised shriek caught in her throat as she whipped around. The brick wall was a giant of a man, tall and broad-shouldered and solid. The giant had light green eyes, and they gazed at her from beneath curved aristocratic eyebrows. One of them arched in obvious jaded amusement.
"Perhaps you could move aside."
"Oh." She stumbled sideways, her words catching as her feet slipped again. "Beg pardon." She couldn't recall ever seeing anyone, much less a nobleman, put together in quite so...magnificent a fashion.
The devilish handsome giant brushed past her and with one arm heaved the fallen fellow back to his feet. "Injured, Blumton?" he asked.
"No, I'm not injured, but look at me! I'm a bloody mess!"
"So you are. Get away before you fling mud on me." The giant gestured at the edge of the road.
A woman appeared in the coach's doorway and collapsed artfully into her rescuer's arms. Long blond tresses, several shades lighter than giant's wind-ruffled, honey-colored hair, had come loose from their clips. Her curls spilled over his arm in a golden cascade as he held her close against his chest.
"Excellent aim, Alice." Apparently unmoved by her unconscious state, he made as though to drop his burden in the muddy road.
Emma stepped forward. "Sir, you cannot mean to*212"
Alice recovered instantly and flung her arms around his neck. "Don't you dare, Wycliffe! It's filthy!"
A Matter of ScandalBy: Suzanne Enoch