freedom! Hed escaped.
With an arrogant smile, Harold Henry CynsterDemon to everyone, even
his mother in her weaker momentsdrew his curricle to a flourishing
halt in the yard behind his Newmarket stable. Tossing the reins to his
groom, Gillies, who leaped from the back of the elegant equipage to catch
them, Demon stepped down to the cobbles.
In buoyant mood, he ran a loving hand over the glossy bay hide of his
leader, and scanned the yard with a proprietorial eye.
There was not a scheming mama nor disapproving, gimlet-eyed dowager in
Bestowing a last fond pat on his horses shoulder, Demon headed for
the open rear door of the stable. Hed left London at midday, unexpectedly
content to have the breeze blow the cloying perfume of a certain lascivious
countess from his brain. More than content to leave behind the ballrooms,
the parties, and the myriad traps the matchmaking mamas laid for gentlemen
such as he. Not that he found any difficulty in evading such snares but,
these days, there was a certain scent on the breeze, a presentiment of
danger he was too experienced to ignore.
First his cousin Devil, then his own brother Vane, and now his closest
cousin, Richardwho of their select band of six, the Bar Cynster
as they were called, would fate next cause to trip into the arms of a
Whoever it was, it wouldnt be him.
Pausing before the open doors of the stable, he swung around; eyes squinting
in the slanting sunlight, he scanned the flat paddocks nearby and the
open Heath beyond. Some of his horses were ambling in the paddocks with
their lads in close attendance. On the Heath, other stables strings
were exercising under the eyes of owners and trainers.
The scene was an exclusively male onenot a female in sight. The
fact that he felt entirely at home, indeed, could feel himself relaxing,
was ironic. He could hardly claim he didnt like women, didnt
enjoy their company. Hadntdidntdevote considerable
time to their conquest.
He couldnt deny he took pleasure in, and derived considerable satisfaction
from, those conquests. He was, after all, a Cynster.
His lips kicked up at the ends. All that was true. However....
While the other members of the Bar Cynster, as wealthy, well-born gentlemen,
had accepted they would marry and establish families in the time-honored
tradition, he had vowed to be different. Hed vowed never to marry,
never to tempt the fate with which his brother and cousins had fenced
and lost. Marriage was all very well, but to marry a lady one lovedthat
had been the baneful fate of all male Cynsters to date.
A baneful fate indeed for a warrior breedto be forever at the mercy
of a woman. A woman who held ones heart, soul and future in her
small, delicate hands.
It was enough to make the strongest warrior blanch.
He was having none of it.
Casting a last glance around the neat yard, approving the swept cobbles,
the fences in good repair, Demon turned and entered the main stable housing
his racing string. Afternoon stables had already commencedhe would
view his exercising horses alongside his trainer, Carruthers. Not that
he had any doubt of Carruthers skillhe was merely indulging
himself by stopping to watch his horses.
He was on his way to his stud farm, located three miles farther south
of the racecourse in the gently undulating countryside bordering the Heath.
As he had every intention of avoiding marriage for the term of his natural
life, and the current atmosphere in London had turned fraught with the
Season about to start and his aunts, let alone his mother, fired with
the excitement of weddings, wives and the consequent babies, hed
elected to lie low and see out the Season from the safe distance of his
stud farm and the unthreatening society of Newmarket.
Fate would have no chance to sneak up on him here.
Looking down to avoid the inevitable detritus left by his favored darlings,
he strolled unhurriedly up the long central alley. Boxes loomed to his
left and right, all presently empty. At the other end of the building,
another pair of doors stood open to the Heath. The day was fine, with
a light breeze lifting manes and flicking long tailshis horses were
out, doing what they did best. Running.
After spending the last hours with the sun warming his shoulders, the
stables shadows were cool. A chill unexpectedly washed over the
back of his shoulders, then coalesced into an icy tingle and slithered
all the way down his spine.
Demon frowned and wriggled his shoulders. Reaching the point where the
alley widened into the mounting area, he stopped and looked up.
A familiar sight met his eyesa lad or work rider swinging a leg
over the sleek back of one of his champions. The horse was facing away,
wide bay rump to him; Demon recognized one of his current favorites, an
Irish gelding sure to run well in the coming season. That, however, was
not what transfixed him, rooting his boots to the floor.
He could see nothing of the rider bar his back and one leg. The lad wore
a cloth cap pulled low on his head, a shabby hacking jacket and baggy
corduroy breeches. Baggy except in one areawhere they pulled tight
over the riders rear as he swung his leg over the saddle.
Carruthers stood beside the horse, issuing instructions. The lad dropped
into the saddle, then stood in the stirrups to adjust his position. Again,
corduroy strained and shifted.
Demon sucked in a breath. Eyes narrowing, jaw firming, he strode forward.
Carruthers slapped the horses rump. Nodding, the rider trotted the
horse, The Mighty Flynn, out into the sunshine.
Carruthers swung around, squinting as Demon came up. "Oh, its
you." Despite the abrupt greeting and the dour tone, there was a
wealth of affection in Carruthers old eyes. "Come to see how
theyre shaping, have ye?"
His gaze locked on the rider atop The Mighty Flynn, Demon nodded. "Indeed."
With Carruthers, he strolled in the wake of The Flynn, the last of his
horses to go out on the Heath.
In silence, Demon watched his horses go through their paces. The Mighty
Flynn was given a light workout, walking, trotting, then walking again.
Although he noted how his other horses performed, Demons attention
never strayed far from The Flynn.
Beside him, Carruthers was watching his charges avidly. Demon glanced
his way, noting his old face, much lined, weathered like well-worn leather,
faded brown eyes wide as he weighed every stride, considered every turn.
Carruthers never took notes, never needed any reminder of which horse
had done what. When his charges came in, he would know precisely how each
was faring, and what more was needed to bring them to their best. The
most experienced trainer in Newmarket, Carruthers knew his horses better
than his children, which was why Demon had pestered and persevered until
hed agreed to train for him, to devote his time exclusively to training
His gaze fastening once more on the big bay, Demon murmured: "The
lad on The Flynnhes new, isnt he?"
"Aye." Carruthers replied, his gaze never leaving the horses.
"Lad from down Lidgate way. Ickley did a runnerleastways, I
assume he did. He didnt turn up one morning and we havent
seen him since. Bout a week later, young Flick turned up, looking
for a ride, so I had him up on one of the tetchy ones." Carruthers
nodded to where The Flynn was trotting along, pacing neatly with the rest
of the string, the small figure on his back managing him with startling
ease. "Rode the brute easily. So I put him up on The Flynn."
Carruthers paused, watching as the horses wheeled, then slowed to a walk.
"Never seen the horse give his heart so willingly. The lads
got the touch, no doubt about that. Excellent hands, and good bottom."
Demon inwardly admitted he couldnt argue. "Good" however,
was not the adjective hed have used. But he must have been mistaken.
Carruthers was a staunch member of the fraternity, quite the last man
to let a female on one of his charges, let alone trust her with The Flynn.
There was a niggle, a persistent whisper in his mind, something stronger
than suspicion flitting through his brain. And at one levelthe one
where his senses ruledhe knew he wasnt wrong.
No lad had ever had a bottom like that.
The thought reconjured the vision; Demon shifted and inwardly cursed.
Hed left the countess only a few hours ago; his lustful demons had
no business being awake, much less raising their collective head. "This
Flick..." Saying the name triggered somethinga memory? If the
lad was local, he might have stumbled across him before. "How longs
he been with us?"
Carruthers was still absorbed with the horses, now cooling before walking
in. "Be two weeks, now."
"And he pulls his full load?"
"Ive only got him on half-paydidnt really need
another hand with the stablework. Only needed him for ridingexercising
and the gallops. Turned out that suited him well enough. His mums
not well, so he rides up here, does morning stables, then rides back to
Lidgate to keep her company, then comes up again for afternoon stables."
"Hmm." The first horses were returning; Demon drew back into
the stable, standing with Carruthers to the side of the mounting area
as the stable lads walked their charges in. Most of the lads were known
to him. While exchanging greetings, and the occasional piece of news,
and running knowledgeable eyes over his string, Demon never lost sight
of The Flynn.
Flick ambled at the rear of the string. Hed exchanged no more than
brief nods and occasional words with the other lads; amid the general
camaraderie, Flick appeared a loner. But the other lads seemed to see
nothing odd in Flick; they passed him as he walked the huge bay, patting
the silky neck and, from the horses twitching ears, murmuring sweet
nothings with absolute acceptance. Demon inwardly cursed and wondered,
yet again, if he could possibly be wrong.
The Flynn was the last in; Demon stood, hands on hips, to one side of
Carruthers in the shadows, shadows rendered even deeper by the sudden
brilliance of the westering sun. Flick let the bay have a last prance
before settling him and guiding him into the stable. As the first heavy
hoof clopped hollowly on the flags, Flick looked up.
Eyes used to the sunshine blinked wide, finding Carruthers, then quickly
passed on to fix on Demon. On his face.
Flick reined in, eyes widening even more.
For one, tense instant, rider and owner simply stared.
Flick tightened the reins and wheeled The Flynn, sending Carruthers a
startled glance. "Hes still restlessIll take him
for a quick run." With that, she and The Flynn were gone, leaving
only a rush of wind behind them.
"What the!" Carruthers started forward, then stopped as
the futility of any chase registered. Bemused, he turned to Demon. "Hes
never done anything like that before."
A curse was Demons only answer; he was already striding along the
alley. He stopped at the first open boxa lad was easing the girth
strap on one of his heavier horses.
"Leave that." Demon shouldered the startled lad aside. With
one tug and a well-placed knee, he recinched the girth. He vaulted into
the saddle, and backed the horse, fumbling with the stirrup straps.
"HereI can send one of the lads after him." Carruthers
stepped back as Demon trotted the horse past.
"Noleave it to me. Ill straighten the lad out."
Demon doubted Carruthers caught the emphasis; he wasnt about to
stop and explain. Muttering imprecations, he set out in hot pursuit.
The instant his mount cleared the stable door, he dug in his heels; the
horse lengthened his stride from trot to canter to gallop. By then, Demon
had located his prey. In the far distance, disappearing into the shadows
thrown by a stand of trees. Another minute and hed have lost her.
Jaw setting, he struggled with the stirrups as he pounded along. Curses
and oaths colored the wind of his passage. Finally, the stirrups were
lengthened enough; he settled properly into the saddle, and the chase
began in earnest.
The bobbing figure on the back of The Flynn shot a glance behind, then
looked forward. A second later, The Flynn swerved and lengthened his stride.
Demon tacked, trying to close the gap by cutting diagonally acrossonly
to find himself careening toward a stretch of rough. Forced to slow and
turn aside, he glanced upand discovered that Flick had abruptly
swung the other way and was making off in a different direction. Instead
of shortening, the distance between them had grown.
Jaw clenched, eyes narrowed, Demon forgot about swearing and concentrated
on riding. Within two minutes, hed altered his initial planto
ride Flick down and demand an explanationto simply keeping the damned
female in sight.
She rode like a demoneven better than he. It didnt seem possible,
He was a superlative rider, quite possibly the most accomplished of his
day. He could ride anything with four legs, mane and tail anywhere, over
any terrain. But Flick was leading him a merry dance. And it wasnt
simply the fact that his horse was already tired or that he rode much
heavier than she. The Flynn was tired, too, and was being ridden harder;
Flick was fleeing; he was only following. But she seemed to merge with
her mount in that way only other expert riders could understand.
He understood it, and couldnt help grudgingly admiring it, even
while acknowledging he had not a hope in hell of catching her.
Her. There was no doubt of that now. Lads did not have delicate shoulders
and collarbones, swanlike necks, and hands that, even encased in leather
gloves, looked small and fine-boned. As for her face, the little hed
glimpsed above the woollen muffler wound about her nose and chin had been
more madonnalike than manlike.
A female called Flick. In the distant recesses of his brain, a memory
stirred, too insubstantial to catch and hold. He tried to coax it further
into the light, and failed. He was sure hed never called any female
She was still a good two furlongs ahead of him, maintaining the distance
with ease. They were riding directly west, out onto the less frequented
stretches of the Heath. Theyd sped past a number of strings out
exercising; heads had come up to watch them in surprise. He saw her glance
around again; an instant later, she swerved. Grimly determined, Demon
squinted into the setting sun, and followed in her tracks.
He might not be able to ride her down, but hed be damned if hed
His resolution had, by now, communicated itself quite effectively to Flick.
Making a few choice observations on normally London-bound rakes who came
up to their stud farms with not a moments notice, and then proceeded,
as one might have guessed, to get in her way, she irritatedly, and not
a little frantically, reviewed her options.
There werent many. While she could easily ride for another hour,
The Flynn couldnt. And the horse Demon was on would fare even worse.
And there wasnt any point fleeing, anyway.
She would, one way or another, either now or only marginally later, have
to face Demon. She didnt know if hed recognized her, but in
that frozen instant in the stable when his blue gaze had raked her, shed
got the distinct impression hed seen through her disguise.
In fact, the impression shed got was that hed seen right through
her clothesa distinctly unnerving sensation.
Yet even if he hadnt realized she was female, her impulsive reaction
had made a confrontation unavoidable. Shed runand she couldnt
possibly explain that, not without giving him, and his memories, far too
many hints as to her identify.
With a sigh, Flick glanced back; he was still there, doggedly following.
Turning forward, she noted their location. Shed led him west, then
south, skirting the stables and paddocks edging the racecourse, then heading
farther onto the open Heath. She glanced at the sunthey had at least
an hour before twilight. This part of the Heath was now deserted, with
all the others back at the stables, settling horses for the night. If
she found a spot where they were reasonably screened it would be as good
a place as any for the meeting that, it now seemed, had to be.
Honesty was her only option. In truth, she would prefer itlies and
evasion had never been her style.
A hundred yards ahead, a hedge beckoned. Her memory provided a picture
of what lay beyond. The Flynn was tiring; she leaned forward and stroked
the glossy neck, and whispered words of praise, encouragement and outright
flattery into his ear. Then she set him for the hedge.
He soared over it, landing easily. Flick absorbed the jolt and wheeled
left, into the long shadows thrown by a copse. In the space between the
hedge and the copse, screened on three sides, she reined in, and waited.
After five minutes, she started to wonder if Demon had looked away at
the crucial moment and not seen where shed gone. When another minute
passed, and she sensed no ground-shaking thuds, she frowned and straightened
in her saddle. She was about to gather her reins and move outto
search for her pursuerwhen she saw him.
He hadnt jumped the hedge. Despite his wish to catch her, wisdomcare
for his horsehad prevailed; hed gone along the hedge until
hed found a gap. Now he cantered up through the late afternoon,
broad shoulders square, long limbs relaxed, head up, the sun striking
gold from his burnished curls, his face a grim mask as he scanned the
fields ahead, trying to catch sight of her.
Flick froze. It was temptingso temptingto sit still. To look
her fill, and let him pass by. If she made no sound, it was unlikely he
would see her. But...there were too many hurdles along that road. Stiffening
her spine, she lifted her chin. "Demon!"
His head snapped around; he wheeled aggressively, then saw her. Even at
that distance, his gaze pinned her, then he scanned her surroundings.
Apparently satisfied, he set his grey trotting toward her, slowing to
a walk as he neared.
He was wearing an elegant morning coat of a blue that matched his eyes;
his long thighs, gripping the saddle skirts, were encased in tight buckskin.
Ivory shirt, ivory cravat and gleaming Hessians completed the picture.
He looked what he wasthe very epitome of a London rake.
Flick kept her gaze fixed on his face, and wished, very much, that she
was taller. The closer he came, the smaller she feltthe more childlike.
She was no longer a child, but shed known him since she had beenit
was hard to feel assured. With her cap shading her face, her muffler over
her nose and chin, she couldnt imagine how he might see heras
a brat with pigtails, as a girlstill with pigtailsor as the
young lady whod trenchantly avoided him. Shed been all three,
but she was none of them now. What she was now was on a crusade. A crusade
in which she could use his help. If he consented to give it.
Lips firming beneath her muffler, she tilted her chin and met his hard
Demons memories churned as he walked his horse into the copses
shadow. Shed called him "Demon"only someone who
knew him would do that. Images from the past jumbled and tumbled, glimpses
through the years of a child, a girl, who would without a blush call him
Demon. Of a girl who could rideoh, yes, shed always ridden,
but when had she become a maestro?of a girl he had long ago pegged
as having that quality Carruthers described as "good bottom"that
open-hearted courage that bordered on the reckless, but wasnt.
When he stopped his horse, nose to tail with The Flynn, he had her well
and truly placed. Not FlickFelicity.
Eyes like slits, he held her trapped; reaching out, he tugged the concealing
muffler from her face.
And found himself looking down at a Botticelli angel.
Found himself drowning in limpid blue eyes paler than his own. Found his
gaze irresistibly drawn to lips perfectly formed and tinged the most delicate
rose pink hed ever seen.
He was sinking. Fast. And he wasnt resisting.
Sucking in a breath, he drew back, inwardly shocked at how far under hed
gone. Shaking free of the lingering spell, he scowled at its source. "What
the damn hell do you think youre about?"
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