Felicity leaped out of the carriage and nearly tripped over the coachman as he sawed his knife through the groom’s bonds. She caught a glimpse of white a short distance beyond and called out, “Wait! Highwayman!”
He turned, making a hasty adjustment to his mask, as if he’d been about to doff it when she spoke. Blast!
She might have seen what he looked like. She wondered if his face matched his voice. Pleasant. Charming.
As if he might be a gentleman.
“That’s all?” She stumbled up to him, her muscles still cramped. “You just close the door and leave without—without—” Blast it, without what?
“Without shooting you?”
“No, not that. Why would I come out here to complain that you didn’t shoot me?”
“Ah, so you are complaining about something. Something I didn’t do. Well, if it’s not that I didn’t shoot you, then where else could I be remiss? Perhaps you’re vexed because I left without saying farewell? I suppose that was rude of me, as if nothing else was.”
Felicity’s mouth snapped open and shut as she stared at that implacable mask that betrayed no expression.
“I’m supposed to be a highwayman,” he reminded her. “Highwaymen are not polite people who linger to bid farewell once they’re done robbing you. Surely that’s not what you expected? Or maybe you did. Your older companion seemed to think we should’ve been formally introduced first. What sticklers for formality you ladies are!”
She finally found her voice. “Why are you doing this? I mean, what drove you to become a highwayman? Surely a man as well spoken and mannered as you could do better.”
“Oh, no,” he grumbled under his breath. “Of all the people I could’ve robbed this evening, I had to waylay a do-gooding reformer. I suppose you’d like me to come home with you so you can burn my clothes and make me take a bath and don your papa’s castoffs, all so you can fool the patronesses of Almack’s into thinking I’m a gentleman.”
“You certainly sound like one. What drove you to this? You don’t seem as if you belong here. You sound educated. You could be doing something more respectable.”
“You mean like your betrothed? I’m sure he’s the portrait of respectability. Where is he, by the way? Oh wait, now I understand. You’re only trying to stall me until he arrives to play the hero. How resourceful of you.”
She sighed with relief, silently blessing him,for she still couldn’t think of a reason for leaving the safety of her carriage to confront him. But stalling for time would do. “You’re absolutely right. Surely you didn’t think I really, truly was offended because you left without saying good-bye.”
“Actually, I did. I thought you might even wanta kiss.”
She gasped and reeled back a step or two. Did he just say what she thought he’d said? The mask muffled his words. “Did you just say—?”
“Blast this mask, eh? It disguises my voice as well as my face.” He tugged a bit at the bottom of his mask and raised his voice. “Do you want a kiss?”
Then he did say what she thought he’d said. “Pray, why would I want a kiss?”
“Oh, I don’t know—so I’ll take off my mask and you can see who I am, and then you’ll be able to provide a detailed description to the authorities so they can track me down and hang me from the nearest gibbet. Or to make your fiancé jealous, if he ever deigns to show up.I wonder which would give you the greatest satisfaction?”
Felicity wondered how Lord Renton would react if he thought the highwayman had stolen not only her ring, but her kiss.
“Or maybe you’d like me to kiss you because you’ve never been kissed before?”
How could this rogue know that? That is, that she’d never been kissed before? “Oh! Be gone, you—you—”
“Highwayman,” he cheerfully sang out.
She balled her hands into fists. “Go—before I scream.”
He chuckled. “It’s a little late for that, isn’t it? Not to mention one of your companions screamed several times to no avail, unless she meant to deafen me. Besides, I was just leaving when you summoned me back. Typical female, can’t make up your—”
“I’m warning you, I’ll scream.”
“I’ve been warned.” Yet he continued to stand there. “Scream.”
Felicity took a deep breath and opened her mouth wide, wondering how in heaven’s name this came so effortlessly to Lydia.
“Well? I don’t have all night. Is this another ploy to stall me until your beloved arrives to save the day? Come, you can do it.”
What was wrong with Felicity that she couldn’t scream? She stood rooted to the ground, her fists clenched as she lifted her head, closed her eyes, and took one deep breath after another, her mouth agape, but she simply couldn’t bring herself to scream.
“Would it help if I grab you?” His voice merrily bubbled with barely suppressed mirth. “Seize you in a passionate embrace such as you’ve never known with your beloved?”
How did he know that? Frustration, and not her “beloved”, finally saved the day as Felicity let loose with a scream that echoed over the surrounding countryside, and set the clouds trembling in the sky, for when she tilted her head back, she felt a raindrop pelt her face, followed by another. It was about to start pouring.
When her scream finally dissipated, she opened her eyes, but the masked stranger was nowhere in sight. As she took a deep breath to replenish her lungs, she heard the thunder of horses’ hooves fading away.