Today's Reading

"Quem sao voce?"

It was the woman from the graveyard demanding his identity. She made a vivid sight: garnet skirts above soft black ankle boots, a white loose shirt under a tight black waistcoat. Her hands were on her hips; her expression conveyed as little welcome as her tone.

'Good morning,' Gray said in English as he straightened up from his bags, ignoring her question as he studied her. The scrutiny brought up a flush of angry colour over her cheekbones and the wide brown eyes narrowed.

'This is the private landing stage for Quinta do Falcao.' She switched easily to unaccented English. Despite the costume and her
dark hair, this was the mistress of the place, not one of the staff, he realised.

'Excellent, then I am where I intended to be. It would have been inconvenient to be dropped off ten miles adrift.' Gray looped the strap of one bag over his shoulder and picked up the others. 'Miss Frost, I presume?'

A narrowing of her eyes was all the confirmation she offered. 'I ask again, sir, who you are.'

'I am Leybourne. You should be expecting me. You should have had a letter informing you of my arrival. Your Aunt Henrietta, Lady Orford, wrote at least a month ago.'

One lock of dark brown hair slipped from its combs and fell against her cheek. Miss Frost tucked it back behind her ear without taking her hostile gaze from his face. 'In that case it went on the fire, as do most of her communications when she is in a managing mood. You are her godson, then, and if I remember rightly, Lord Leybourne. So you know what she is like.'

'Yes.' Gray held on to his temper with the same control he had used when faced with damn-fool orders from superior officers and offered no opinion on the Dowager. She was an imperious and tactless old bat, true enough, but she was doubtless right about what should be done with her niece.

'And you expect to stay here?' Miss Frost looked at the fast disappearing stern of the boat, her lips a tight line. A rhetorical
question—unless she intended to refuse him hospitality. There were no other houses within sight and the nearest village was several miles away.

Doubtless Godmama Orford's intentions were correct, but he was beginning to wonder if marrying off this prickly female suitably was going to be as easy as she thought. Miss Frost might be lovely to look at, but her tongue had been dipped in vinegar, not honey. 'If that would not be inconvenient. I do not believe there is any other lodging nearby.'

'You can stay in the Gentlemen's House.' Miss Frost turned on her heel and walked away towards the buildings without waiting to see if he would follow. 'It is empty at this time of year,' she tossed back over her shoulder. 'We use it for visitors when buyers and officials come and there are none now, just after the harvest.'

Gray discovered that he was more amused than annoyed as he followed her. The performance was impressive, the rear view enticing and he found himself in some sympathy with anyone who consigned his godmother's missives to the flames. On the other hand, this was clearly not the life a single young woman of aristocratic family should be living.

A stocky, swarthy man in baggy breeches with a red sash around his substantial midriff hurried out of the house towards them. 'Senhora Gabrielle?'

'This gentleman is the Earl of Leybourne, Baltasar,' she said in English. 'He will spend tonight in the Casa dos Cavalheiros and take dinner with me. Please send one of the men over to make sure he has everything he needs until then. He will require the carriage in the morning to take him back to Porto.'

'Thank you.' Gray arrived at her side and deposited the bags in a heap on the front step. 'However, I fear our business will take
rather longer than one night, Miss Frost.'

'Our business?' Her eyebrows rose. Gray found himself admiring the curve of them, the length of her lashes as she gave him a very direct look. He could admire the entire effect, to be honest with himself. She had all the charm of an irritated hornet, true, but that temper brought rosy colour to her slightly olive complexion. The Frosts had married into the local gentry at some time in the past; that was clear. Then he reminded himself that he had to extract her from this place and endure the hornet stings all the way back to England, and her allure faded.

'I can assure you I have not returned to Portugal on my own account, Miss Frost.' He kept his voice pleasant, which appeared to make her more annoyed.

'You mean you travelled all this way simply as the messenger boy for my dear aunt? I had no idea that earls were so easily imposed upon. I cannot believe it will take me very long to say no to whatever it is she wants, but, please, make yourself at home, Lord Leybourne.' She made a sweeping gesture at the grounds. 'And stay for a week if that is what it takes to convince her that I want nothing whatsoever to do with her.'

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