Along The Welland 5

Ethan sat in the dim shadow of the carriage window. It was a plain black closed carriage, his driver as yet unknown to the native denizens of the hamlet of Saracen’s Head. He’d brought Laughlin from Ireland with him, as much to keep Ethan on the straight and narrow path he’d set for himself as to get Laughlin out of that man’s own brand of danger.

The viscount couldn’t quite believe that he was actually contemplating the action foremost in his mind. Emma, however, was leaving him few choices. She’d diligently avoided being alone with him, despite daily morning calls at Pipwell Manor that her father often extended into a luncheon invitation. Her old nurse was serenely and dependably present at every turn. At church on Sunday, he’d slid deliberately into the pew beside her but she’d shared a hymnbook with her father after the briefest of polite greetings and politely declined his request to drive her home. He’d invited Sir James Pipwell and Miss Pipwell to dine, and while the baronet had agreed and joined him on Saturday evening, her father excused Emma from accompanying him by blithely saying that Emma was needed at Pipwell Manor because Mrs. Butterworth, the housekeeper, was ill.

Sir James might believe such rigmarole but Ethan was far too astute for such a tale.

It had been five days since he’d first appeared at Pipwell – less than a week since his arrival in Lincolnshire – and Ethan was getting desperate. He knew there was no reason for his obsession, and no societal or legal reason to rush. His anxiety grated at him, however. Temptation waved him in the face, and Emma was not there to smile prettily and distract him or to challenge his mind and occupy him.

So he was hiding in his unmarked carriage, spying on her.

With a sunny smile on her face, she exited the bakery, basket over her arm. From his vantage point, he’d watched her stop at the rectory and deliver a basket of plums she’d carried from Pipwell Manor. She’d called on Mrs. Hawthorne, who purportedly had not left her house in the last eighteen months. Emma had then proceeded to charm the milliner and apparently pay her shot, then had marched into the bakery to bargain with old Cheswick.

Ethan believed Emma had the advantage in that negotiation. From her smile, she rather thought so, too. Now, alone, she turned up Washway Road toward Pipwell Manor. From there she’d turn on Manor House Road. It wasn’t a long walk, by any means, and they’d have to time it perfectly to catch Emma far enough from Saracen’s Head to prevent anyone from interfering, and far enough from Pipwell Manor to not attract the attention of the household staff or farm workers.

He waited until Emma was some distance ahead before he reached up with his cane and tapped Laughlin’s seat lightly. Immediately the man came to attention and brought the horses up to speed. They trotted  briskly out of the village, in Emma’s wake.

Ethan opened the door just before they reached her, then held on tightly as he knelt onto the very edge. The carriage checked just as it rolled past Emma, and Ethan leaned forward and scooped her up in his arms.

Her shocked scream was quickly suppressed when she realized whose chest she was clutched against. Without comment, Ethan stood and deposited her neatly in the backward-facing seat, then closed and latched the door and took the seat across from her.

He knew better than to say a word.

Instead, he crossed his arms and calmly waited. Emma’s eyes narrowed, she crossed her arms below her breasts and glared at him. When it shortly became clear that his conveyance had wound past Pipwell Manor and was turning onto the Sluice Road, she breathed huffily as she tried in vain to control her temper.

Ethan was too fascinated by the indignant rise and fall of her breasts to notice. He knew he was staring. He knew his palms were itching and that his mouth was dry but she hadn’t looked that way three years earlier. She hadn’t worn low-cut dresses that tempted. Her skin hadn’t curved in such a bountifully feminine fashion.

He was still staring when the carriage turned into Welland Hall’s main drive, then diverted onto the smaller road that led to the pier. They weren’t going all the way to the river, of course, but halfway to the riverbank Ethan’s grandfather had built a folly. From the inside of the structure, one could watch the activity on the docks, and at the front door of the Hall. Ethan’s grandfather had used it to avoid the Hall and his wife; Ethan had another purpose in mind.

The carriage pulled to a stop. Ethan finally looked up at his bride-to-be and raised a brow at her expression. She had surpassed the indignant glare and was now so furious that Ethan felt an immediate fear that she might actually cry.

That had not been his intention.

“You don’t need to be afraid of me, poppet,” Ethan chided. “But let’s go inside before you launch those pastries at me. The dock workers and sailors do not need to see this.”

“Oh yes they do,” Emma said tightly, her hands curled tightly into fists.

Ethan waited as Laughlin put down the steps and came to open the door, then moved unexpectedly and quickly, lifting Emma up over his shoulder and carting her out of the carriage.

“Bring her basket,” he said to Laughlin, as Emma kneed him in the stomach. He wrapped an arm around her thighs and held her in place as he walked, even when she began to pummel his back with her fists.

* * *

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