Percy Radcliff has gone mad. At least that’s what his family thinks. Simply because he adores birds to distraction. If only there were someone with whom he could share his great love. Perhaps he’s found her in the woman he happened upon at the Bird Sanctuary?
Widow Georgiana Ollerton has finally met her match. In love and in admiration for everything avian. Percy, though odd, has a sensual quality Georgiana can’t quite explain but definitely wants to explore further.
The problem is Percy has once again gotten himself into a pickle. How is he to romance his lovely Georgiana when another woman believes him to be her long-lost husband? Will Percy be able to disentangle himself from the other woman before he loses Georgiana for good?
PERCY RADCLIFF’S FAMILY thought him mad. He knew that. Though they tried to hide their reactions to his love of anything avian, it came across very clearly that they didn’t share his interest. Certainly they admired birds, but none of them often wished to actually be one. If he said so himself, his imitation of a cawing crow was spot on.
As he sat on the shaded bench near the front gate of Regent’s Park Bird Sanctuary, he observed the objects of his greatest interest. Birds of various sizes, squawking, chirping, or otherwise speaking in his or her own tongue, darted around, intent on completing their daily tasks. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to join them in their airborne pursuits? To know the joy of wind through your feathers and raising your young, freshly hatched from the egg?
The majestic peregrine, however, was by far Percy’s favorite. With its blue-grey feathers, orange eyes, white throat, and black feathers on each side of its face to resemble a long moustache, it was a fascinating specimen indeed.
And quite funny.
He’d spotted one on his visit the week before. Perhaps today he’d be just as fortunate. Somehow, if he went too long of a time without seeing one, it felt as if something was lacking. Because of his love of birds, he often spoke of them at home. More often than not, he overheard whispered jokes about him belonging at Bedlam.
If only they understood the importance of a relationship with birds, that man’s feathered friends were much more than just something to view. Something to occasionally pay attention to. Alas, his family’s admiration didn’t go beyond watching and listening to them. Or the occasional exclamation of delight after seeing this bird or that doing something unusual or entertaining.
But it wasn’t the same thing. Not at all.
Percy let out a deep sigh. If one of his family or friends, just one, felt the same way he did about his feathered friends, his life would be filled with so much more fulfillment. So much joy.
Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.
A sudden crash startled him. He turned and gasped. Someone was lying in a heap a few yards away. Good heavens, it was a woman!
Percy jumped up and ran in her direction. Though he couldn’t run fast — few men of his age of one and fifty could, after all — he got there as quickly as his booted feet would allow.
The woman, who from her greying hair and slightly wrinkled skin appeared to be not a young woman yet not quite his age, blinked up at him in surprise. Her features, though, were cloaked in shadow from beneath the dipping branches of the large oak tree.
“Madam, are you well?”
She quirked one eyebrow. “Sir, if I were well, would I be sitting here in a tangled lump beneath this tree?”
He’d expected tears and wailing, as was the usual response from most women. “Uh… I suppose not.”
“Are you or are you not going to assist me to my feet?”
“Certainly. Pardon my… uh—”
The woman swiped a lock of hair from in front of her eyes. “Never mind that, just lend me your hand.”
Percy wrapped his hand around hers and gave a hefty tug. With a squeak of surprise, the woman thudded hard against his chest. He tightened his arms around her so she wouldn’t fall.
A beam of sunshine washed across the woman’s face.
Percy’s breath caught in his throat, nearly depriving him of air altogether. Could it be?
Black hair with just a touch of grey. Ivory skin on her face and throat. As a bright ray of sunlight glinted in her eyes, their light brown color appeared nearly… orange.
The woman resembled a peregrine.
Without the moustache. Thankfully.
She pushed against his chest until he released her. “What are you gawking at? Your open mouth resembles a chiff-chaff’s beak.”
He closed his beak, uh, mouth. “I… beg your pardon?”
“I don’t believe I stuttered.”
She pointed to his mouth. “Though, you just did.” Without preamble, as if he hadn’t just hauled her into his arms, she gave a moderate curtsey. “I am Lady Ollerton.”
Lady? The woman had no pretense, no formality about her. And she’d just introduced herself to a man as they stood alone beneath a tree. How odd. Yet somehow refreshing. An interesting tingle began in his toes and crawled upward.
Percy shrugged. Might as well respond in kind. With one hand at his waist and the other performing a slight flourish to the side, he gave a bow. “And I am Mr. Radcliff.”
“Here. Hold this.” Lady Ollerton thrust a large fabric sack into his arms.
He’d expected it to be heavy, though it was light as a feather. “What’s this?”
“You don’t say?” How odd that he’d thought—
“I believe I just did.”
The woman’s tongue was as sharp as a woodpecker’s. “May I ask why you’re carrying around a sack of feathers?”
She crossed her arms beneath her ample breasts, causing her cleavage to deepen in the most fascinating way. “You may.”
“I… uh.” Wasn’t the asking if he could ask the same as asking?
“Go on, Mr. Radcliff. I don’t have the whole of the day to spend conversing, now do I?”
With his brow furrowed, Percy forced the words from his mouth, though a part of him thought it silly. She was perplexing, yet… he somehow felt a certain kinship with her. As if he’d found someone who would pique his interest. Someone of whom he would never tire. “Why are you carrying those around?” He pointed directly at the sack so she’d not have a chance to act as if she had no notion of what he meant.
Miss Ollerton placed one hand on her chest as if preparing to utter the most profound proclamation. Percy’s gaze followed her hand. “I find birds to be the most interesting creatures God ever made. Their beaks, their impossibly tiny feet, their beady little eyes, and especially—” She gave the bag a poke with her finger. “—their feathers.” She held up her hand. “Oh, I know what you’re thinking.”
He snapped his gaze up from where it had wandered to her breasts. “I highly doubt that.”
She ignored his words. “You’re wondering how I obtain said feathers.”
He shrugged. “I assumed you gathered them from the ground.”
She smacked him on the arm. “Now see? You actually have some sense! Do you know there are people who have accused me of trapping birds simply to pluck their feathers before setting them free again?”
“How ghastly.” Percy rubbed his arm. The woman had given him a true wallop.
Percy shook his head. “People have no sense.”
“People are the worst. Some of them, even my own relations, think I’m mad simply because I happen to have such a strong affinity for birds. Can you imagine being talked about in such a way?”
He raised both eyebrows. More than you could ever know.
“Say, why were you staring at my face right after we met? Do I have something unmentionable on my skin? Dirt? Bird dung?”
Good heavens! He’d never heard a woman speak so freely about bird refuse before. “Not at all. You look very…”
“Then why the need to gawk?”
Should he tell her? Would she think him mad like the rest of his family did? What did he really have to lose? She was a stranger and he’d likely never see her again. “If you must know—”
“Oh I must.”
“You remind me very much of a—”
“Yes go on.”
He drummed the fingers of his right hand against his thigh. “I will if you’ll stop interrupting—”
“You were interrupting me.”
“My lady, do you want your question answered or not?”
“If you don’t mind.” She tapped one boot in the dirt.
“Very well.” He let out a breath. “You, my good woman, remind me of a peregrine falcon.” There. He’d said it. Would she laugh in his face or kick him in the knee?
She blinked. “Oh.”
Not quite the reaction he’d expected. Perhaps, even though she was fond of birds, the peregrine wasn’t a favorite. Too late to take back the sentiment. Though even if he could retract it, he wouldn’t. Such divine avian features deserved admiration. “By the way, how had you happened to end up in a heap?”
“I fell from the tree, of course.”
“Aren’t you going to ask me what I was doing in the tree, Mr. Radcliff?”
“Do you want me to ask?”
“It is my deepest wish.”
“Then by all means, pray tell me.”
“I was trying to climb that tree because I’d heard the call of a willow warbler and very much wanted to see it close up. Somehow, though, I must have lost my footing and well, fell. You know, pesky gravity and all.”
“Don’t you suppose someone who works at the Sanctuary might frown on a visitor climbing one of the trees? It simply isn’t done.”
Lady Ollerton stood on her toes, bringing her face quite close to his. “Don’t you suppose a person with a love for birds has a right to do as she pleases?”
Percy tilted his head to one side. The woman was sarcastic, blunt, and demanding.
She was perfect.