The door swung open and Nathan stepped into the darkening library. His eyes adjusted to the fading light, noting the shapes of the furniture, still shrouded in their dust covers. Dragging his leg, he moved farther into the room, the tap of his cane echoing against the bare marble floor. Standing in the middle, he turned in a circle, surveying the room. Either end boasted matching hearths with what he assumed were sofas, chairs and tables under the covers.
He chose the closest hearth and made his way to it. Leaning his cane against one of the shrouds, he pulled a dust cover off, revealing a side table. Removing the decanter of brandy from under his arm, he placed it on the table. The glass followed suit. Pulling off the larger dust cover beside the table, Nathan revealed an overstuffed chair that looked damn inviting.
Sniffing from the dust clouds, he sank down into the chair and stretched his left leg out in relief, the leather creaking under his weight. He rubbed his left thigh, the large knot easily found even through his trousers. He winced when he rubbed it a bit too roughly and cursed his bloody foolishness in riding from London instead of using a coach. And then that stupid romp over the damn estate without his damn cane, getting lost in that damned forest maze, hoping the exercise would work out the knot.
And maybe it would have if he hadn’t met Miss Collins.
Nathan shook his head and poured himself a brandy, using the setting sun as his light, waiting to welcome full darkness. He had barely noticed her when she had visited with the vicar, so consumed by pain he had been. It didn’t help that she hadn’t spoken a word.
But earlier this day, spying her sitting against that tree, legs tucked underneath her—he couldn’t deny he appreciated the pull of her dress over those thighs, the way the material tightened around the curve of her hips and how her bosom filled out the bodice. He wouldn’t be a man if he didn’t notice those things. He had drawn near to her before even realizing he knew her.
Looking at her, sitting like a seductive tree nymph, Nathan had felt a spark of envy for the bloody vicar. With a scowl, he took a generous swallow of his brandy, knowing full well the reason a beautiful unmarried woman helped an eligible man, even if he was a damned vicar.
Her timidity was obvious after speaking to her for just a moment. The feel of victory he felt when she finally spoke to him had been heady; he could not remember ever feeling such a thing before, not even in winning his first by-election.
He did not know why he had pushed her into walking with him; he was sure with directions he could have found his way out. Meek women did not appeal to him. But he had been attacked by an unexpected sense of vanity and wanted to prove to her that he could be cordial and sociable. He even minimized his limp as much as possible, something he had not felt compelled to do since his university days.
And what had he done? Forced her into speaking her mind only to lose control and embarrass himself. Nathan would be surprised if she ever wanted to speak to him again. With a disgusted shake of his head, he tossed back the brandy and poured another.
Not that he wanted to ingratiate himself to anyone. Not to the townspeople, his neighbors or that saintly vicar. And especially not to a timid, nearly mute redhead with curls and a generous bosom. Even if the hint of her legs had made his throat go dry and the appeal of her smile made him forget the words in his mouth.
More brandy disappeared down his throat.