The Dream of Love: Episode 2


Lady Remington Hartfield sat in the church pew exactly where the vicar, Adam Carstairs, had left her seemingly hours ago, but it could not have been more than a few minutes earlier that he went chasing after her father, his gamekeeper, and the fox she had been trying to protect. Her hands were tensely folded on her lap as she struggled to maintain her composure. This explained why she did not notice him returning until his shadow suddenly loomed over her. Remi looked up and sadness burst within her. “They shot Kit, didn’t they?”
She’d tried her best to save the little thing from the huntsman’s trap, but had failed. Another win for her father. All she had to show for her efforts was a bruised backside and a sprained ankle that throbbed painfully. “Did she suffer? Or was it a quick kill?”
Vicar Carstairs sank onto the pew beside her. “Kit’s safe for now. She got away. Unharmed.”
Relief washed over Remi. “But that is a good thing, is it not? Why are you looking so glum?”
He shifted uncomfortably. She hadn’t realized quite how big he was. Massive shoulders. Broad chest. A body built for battle. It was odd to see him in his vicar’s black garb, but the dark colors suited him. “He doesn’t want you coming home until you’re ready to apologize for your behavior.”
She gasped. “Me? Apologize to him? Never!”
“I thought you’d say as much.” He grunted, but did not appear put off by her response. “Now, we have to figure out what to do with you until he relents and allows you to return.”
She wanted to suggest residing here and helping out with chores, for she wasn’t afraid of working to earn her keep. But she knew it was impossible for several reasons. They were both unmarried. She wasn’t worried about her ruination so much as his. The man had a reputation to uphold. The slightest tarnish and he’d be relieved of his living.
“Would you consider returning to your mother in London?” he suggested.
“No. She sent me up here because she’d had enough of me. I irritate her.”
“Why do I irritate her?” She cast him a mirthless smile. “Because I don’t like her elegant London society. I don’t like being put in front of gentlemen who care nothing for me. I feel like cattle to be purchased at market whenever they inspect me. I’m not in her good favor just now because I am an embarrassment to her. I was sent down from finishing school.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Sent down?”
She nodded. “Yes, because I would not curtsy properly or sew a neat stitch to show off my embroidery. My stitchwork is wretchedly poor. But I did learn to laugh with condescension. And cast haughty looks.”
He laughed when she gave an example of both.
“I’ve just turned twenty and am too old to still be in that school. But my mother was not pleased to find me at her door. It was inconvenient for her to have me around, so she sent me up here. I think I irritate her most of all because I resemble my father and she cannot stand to look at me.”
“Lady Remi,” he said with an ache to his voice, reaching out to take her hand in his. Hers was cold, but his was warm and comforting. “I’m truly sorry.”
He was too handsome to resist. Ridiculously handsome, if there was such a thing. Thick, dark hair. A beautifully rugged face to complement his warrior’s body. Soulful eyes, the deep blue of a Highlands lake, calm on the surface but hiding dangerous undercurrents.
 She wasn’t the only one whose heart fluttered whenever he drew near. Every woman in Wellesford felt the same about Adam Carstairs. Had a single one of them ever missed his Sunday sermons? It wasn’t as though they had all turned pious overnight. Quite the opposite, he brought out the sinful urges in even the most saintly women.
Not that she was saintly. But she was innocent. Her sins dealt mainly with protecting helpless creatures from her father. She had no experience with men. She had never even kissed a man and had no idea why young ladies were always warned kisses were dangerous. Not that it mattered. She was an oddity, a misfit, and would end her days a spinster. Both her parents thought so and they never agreed on anything.
He sighed and released her hand. “Let me have a look at your ankle.” Without awaiting her reply, he reached down and carefully raised her leg to set it across his lap. “Och, it’s badly swollen. Why dinna ye tell me sooner?”
She had upset him. His brogue was prominent again. She particularly loved the way he rolled his r’s. Lady R-r-r-emi, he would call her, the sound of her name quite delicious as it rolled off his lips.
She smothered a sigh when he removed her boot and began to run his fingers gently along her foot and up her leg. How many women would die happy in such a position? If she weren’t in so much discomfort, she might enjoy the moment. “I unlaced the boot earlier. I didn’t think it was that bad,” she said, and yelped when he touched her ankle. “Ow! What are you doing?”
“Checking for broken bones.” Those deep blue eyes of his reflected his exasperation. “You can’t stay here, Lady Remi.”
“I know. Are you trying to convince me or yourself? And please, just call me Remi.” It seemed appropriate now that her foot was resting on his muscled thigh. “What may I call you?”
“Vicar Carstairs.”
“Ah, ever proper. But since you happen to have your fingers indelicately wrapped around my leg just now, I think I shall call you Adam. Only in private, however. I hope you know I have more sense than to refer to you by your given name in company.”
He stared at her swollen ankle. “Let me get you settled in my parlor. Would you care for some tea? You must be hungry. I can offer you a lamb stew or if you prefer something lighter, I have freshly baked bread and lemon cake. I also have an assortment of jams, mustards, root vegetables, and cheeses.”
She laughed. “You are a veritable marketplace.”
“The ladies of Wellesford believe I need looking after.” He shrugged. “I’m quite capable of taking care of myself., but I’ve given up trying to convince them.” He picked up the boot he’d taken off her injured foot and cast her the sort of look one gave when about to do something unpleasant. “Remi, put your arms around my neck.”
The request startled her, but she quickly realized he only meant to carry her into the parlor. It was either that or allow her to hop on her one good foot all the way there. She might have done it, but stairs were involved, and she doubted she could hop up those without falling on her face.
He lifted her as though she weighed no more than a feather, enveloping her in his strong, solid arms. The smart remark she was about to make simply flew out of her head, all her senses now overwhelmed by him.
Her thoughts remained scrambled as he carried her out of the church and into his private quarters. Since her head rested on his shoulder, her lips and nose precariously close to his neck and the firm cut of his jaw, she couldn’t help but inhale the scent of him. Lather from his morning shave, and musk from the cologne he’d put on after his bath.
A pleasant heat emanated from his body, but she dared not burrow into his warmth or allow her hands to roam freely along his muscles. She cleared her throat. “I believe Lord and Lady Welles are in residence at Sherbourne Manor. They’re very kind and would take me in if we asked them. Even if they are not at home, his aunt, Lavinia, will be there. We get along very well together.”
He nodded. “Let’s eat first and I’ll take you over immediately afterward.”
He settled her on the sofa, propped a cushion behind her back and another under the injured foot now positioned so that it was elevated on the sofa seat. “You have a lot of books,” she remarked, rather liking the cozy comfort of the room. There was a desk in the corner where she imagined he did most of his writing.
“I like to read.” He ran fingers through his hair as he stared down at her. “There isn’t much else for me to do once I’ve completed my round of visits to the parishioners. I can’t spend my nights drinking at the local tavern.”
“It wouldn’t look right. But you don’t strike me as the sort who particularly cares what others think of him.” She pursed her lips and frowned. “Nor do you strike me as particularly religious or pious. Yet, there is no mistaking you are a good man.”
He turned to leave, muttering an excuse about fetching food, but she took hold of his hand. “Adam, what led you to become a vicar?”
“None of your business, Remi.”
She took no offense at his curt reply. “Ah, I see you didn’t like the question. Well, you’ll like these next ones even less. Have you ever been in love?”
“Also none of your business.”
“Is that a yes or a no?” She took a deep breath and pressed him on the next. “Have you ever considered marrying?”
She expected another mind-your-own-business response as he eased out of her grasp, but he merely stared at her for the longest time. “Never mind about me, lass. Have you ever considered it?”