From Chapter Five
'We will be stopping soon for the night,' said Philip, looking ahead as though he recognised the road.
'Have you chosen an inn?' asked Madeline.
'Yes, The Nag's Head,' said Philip. 'It isn't far now.'
As he spoke the outriders began to pick up speed, the six horsemen riding on ahead to arrange suitable rooms for the Earl and Countess. It was one of their many useful purposes, Madeline realized: by the time she and Philip arrived at the inn everything would be ready for them.
The outriders were soon lost to view and the coach rumbled on with Madeline and Philip riding beside it. They rounded a bend . . . and saw three masked horsemen on the road ahead. Immediately Philip swung his horse round, but another three masked horsemen appeared from the woods at the side of the road and closed in behind the coach.
Madeline felt her heart leap into her throat. They were trapped.
'Do nothing,' said Philip in an undertone to Madeline, his eyes narrowing into slits as he watched the three men in front of them ride slowly towards the coach.
'Are they highwaymen?' asked Madeline in an aside, patting the neck of her nervous mare in an effort to steady the animal.
Philip's voice was grim. 'Highwaymen don't travel in packs.'
There was time for nothing more. One of the masked men had ridden forward even further than his fellows, and whilst they covered Madeline, Philip and the coachmen with their pistols, the foremost man dismounted. With his pistol at the ready he threw open the door of the coach. He swung round, pointing the pistol directly into the coach then, seeing it empty, climbed in for a more thorough search.
From her vantage point on horseback, Madeline watched him as he searched under the seats and then looked on in horror as he took out a knife and began slashing the squabs.
'What's he doing?' she whispered to Philip.
'I don't know,' he replied in an undertone. 'But I believe he's looking for something. Or someone,' he added as if to himself.
The masked man then proceeded to tap the floor, roof and sides of the coach, sticking his knife in at various points as if to satisfy himself that nothing was being hidden there.
Then, apparently convinced, he climbed out of the carriage. He cocked his gun and pointed it at Philip.
Philip did not flinch.
The two men faced each other for a fraction of a second. Then the masked man lowered his gun, turned on his heel and sprang back onto his horse.
As quickly as they had come, the masked men melted away.
'What was the meaning of that?' asked Madeline in concern.
'I don't know,' said Philip, his face grim. 'But I intend to find out.'
From Chapter Six
The horses continued to pick their way across the fragrant moor until they reached the large outbreak of rock. It was set high up, and Madeline drank in the view.
'I can see why you love it,' she said.
Philip threw one leg over the back of his horse and dismounted, tying the reins to one of the rocks on the craggy outcrop.
'We'll stop here for a while. We still have a long way to go and you will need to rest.'
Madeline, tired from the day's exercise, readily agreed.
She reined in her horse.
Philip dismounted beside her and held out his arms to help her dismount.
Madeline hesitated. To be in his arms again - who knew what feelings it would produce? But it had to be done. She certainly could not dismount without his help. Summoning her courage she sprang lightly from her mare's back and into his waiting arms, feeling his strong hands close round her waist. There was a momentary tingling sensation, and then to her relief he began to loose his grip. But as he did so a bird flew out of the heather and her mare took fright, pitching her forcefully forwards. Philip's arms tightened instinctively round her and she felt her body being crushed against his. She was suddenly so close to him that she could see every detail of his face: every line, every curve, every bristle that covered his chin. He was, with his scar, like a force of nature, rugged, indomitable, and powerful, his masculine scent harsh and exciting, at one with the unyielding landscape of rock and stone. If he kissed her now . . . her knees sagged with the thought and he caught her; held her up; and then his lips closed over her own.
It was intoxicating. His tongue traced the line of her lips and she was consumed by a rush of tingles that spread to the most intimate parts of her, arousing intense sensations the like of which she had never known. She should pull away, but she was too weak and too overcome by the feeling that she never wanted the kiss to end. Once it ended she would have to think; would have to wonder why it was she could bear him to touch her, let alone want him to caress her. She had never wanted any man near her before. Men disgusted her and made her afraid. But Philip . . . Her thoughts dissolved under the onslaught of the heady sensations that were coursing through her and she gave herself up to his kiss.
Finally he let her go. His eyes were filled with a gleam she had never seen before and it was matched by an answering fire in her own; but her mind was back in control now.
And so was his.
'You have my apologies, Madeline,' he said stiffly. 'That was unforgivable.'
It wasn't, she wanted to say, as she tried to swallow down the emotions that were still lighting her blood.
'You may rest assured it will never happen again,' he said.
Of course not, she thought as he walked away from her. He is not in love with me; he is in love with Letitia.
Extracts from The Six-Month Marriage by Amanda Grange, published by Thorpe