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Four

Gabe submerged his body fully into the pond. Holding his breath, he hoped the water would not take away his new hair color. The old widow, Mrs. Baker, changed the color of his hair to brown and even gave him a cut. Gratefully, he had walked out of her house looking a new man. Now if he could just keep away from large crowds, all would be well in his world. At least for a few months. He prayed things would get back to normal soon after that.

During his much-needed break, he didn’t want to think about the problems in his life. He didn’t want to have to constantly look over his shoulder and wonder who is a spy—and especially who might know his true identity as the fearsome pirate, Captain Hawk. Unfortunately, he couldn’t relax now. Not since he knew the niece of Napoleon was visiting the Cramptons.

Before the air ran out of his lungs, he rose up out of the water and breathed deeply. He swiped his fingers through his hair, pushing the strands back on his head out of his eyes. Wiping the excess water from his face, he blinked and focused on his surroundings. His uncle’s country estate was the perfect place for his sanctuary, and during the next few weeks, he’d take advantage of what the property had to offer...which at the moment was peace and solitude.

Sometime while he was here, he’d also get to know Lady Sarah a little better as well. He couldn’t really blame her for what her foolish uncle had done, but he would definitely become close to her to see if she knew about her uncle’s plans. Gabe had learned the emperor was exiled to Elba Island, but that didn’t mean the emperor’s men weren’t still busy trying to take over Britain.

Taking the brick of soap, he scrubbed it over his face. Within seconds, his eyes began to sting. He cursed, tossed the soap on the grass then splashed water on his face, but his eyes still stung and blurred.

The rustle of bushes and snaps of twigs pulled his thoughts away and he swung around to face the intruder. Ready to give them a sound thrashing, he scowled when his vision didn’t quite cooperate. Through his impaired vision, it looked like someone was peeking through the bushes.

The burning sensation in his eyes only intensified. “Please, I need your help. If you will, I need you to bring me that towel over there.”

When the person didn’t move but continued to stare, irritation flowed through Gabe. “Are you going to stand and ogle my body or can you hand me that towel?” He pointed to the rock where he’d left the towel.

Finally, the person moved from out from the bushes, heading for the rock. Gabe splashed his eyes with water again and rubbed them harder.

“Actually,” the stranger said, “I thought ogling your body would help pass the time this dreary day.”

Stunned, Gabe exhaled sharply. Words vanished from his mind and he blinked, trying to focus. The blur finally formed into a person…a woman with her hair wound tight on the top of her head who appeared to be wearing a baggy dress.

Embarrassment washed over him quicker than the cool water had a few moments ago. What was a woman doing peeking on him while he bathed? Unless… He’d known the younger widow from his uncle’s neighboring property, and she’d always been a little forward. Perhaps it was Mrs. Fisher. Inwardly, he groaned. Now was not the time to try and fight off her advances.

“Thank you for your assistance,” he said, “but if you were planning on joining me, let me assure you, I’m nearly finished, so your trip here was wasted.”

A gasp came from the woman and her mouth hung open. She lifted the towel from off the rock and stepped closer.

“First off, let me say I’m appalled by your rude behavior from a man—who not more than two seconds ago—asked for my help. Lastly, I don’t know who you think I am, but I had no plans on joining your bath.”

The voice was definitely not Mrs. Fisher’s. Mortification expanded inside him, worse than the embarrassment had done. For the first time in his life, he was rendered speechless.

Quickly, he splashed his eyes with water one last time and rubbed them before focusing on his intruder once again. This time he could see the woman as clear as day. And sure enough, this was definitely not Mrs. Fisher, but a much younger woman. He didn’t know who she was, but she was in dire need of a more experienced seamstress. That ridiculous gray dress was at least two sizes too large and hung on the young woman’s petite frame.

He studied her face as she stepped closer to the edge of the pond holding the towel. Now he could see the gentle curves of her cheeks and lips. Long eyelashes framed her eyes. Although her face was pretty, her hair and dress did not fit her loveliness.

Gabe shook his head. “Forgive me for not noticing you at first. I had soap in my eyes and couldn’t see clearly. And I apologize for thinking you were someone else.”

“Oh. Well then, since you thought I was someone else, you are forgiven for being so rude.”

She was forgiving him? When she was the one spying on his bath? Obviously, she wasn’t as innocent as she appeared. “Who are you and where are you from? Did you know you are trespassing on another man’s land?”

Instead of the panic he figured to see on her expression, she arched one of her eyebrows. “I have been invited here, but you Sir, have not. I have met everyone who lives and works on this estate, and you are not one of them. Perhaps you are trespassing.”

Confusion filled his head. Was she one of his uncle’s servants? But she didn’t look like any servant he’d met before. “No, I’m not trespassing.” Still in the water, he walked toward her. Just before reaching the point to where the water lowered on his body, he stopped. Why did she continue to stare? She didn’t have that experienced expression on her face. Indeed, this woman was innocent, so then why was she still watching him? “Are you going to turn and hide your eyes, or are you used to seeing a man’s nakedness?”

Her cheeks flared a bright red color mere seconds before she spun around. “Forgive me. I hadn’t realized... I mean, I had forgotten...”

Chuckling, he walked out of the water and stood behind her, taking the towel from her hand. “Nonetheless, I thank you for retrieving the towel for me,” he whispered in her ear.

A shiver shook her body, but she stayed rigid and faced the other way. “Sir, you still haven’t told me who you are.”

He wrapped the towel around his waist and tucked in the edges. “And you, my little confused woman, haven’t introduced yourself either, so I assume we are at a standstill.”

“Confused?” she shrieked.

Huffing, she spun around and faced him. Fire nearly shot out from her heated gaze as she lifted her eyes and met his. Being a head and a half taller, he hadn’t realized until now how tiny she was. Another thing he hadn’t noticed until now was her astonishing lovely brown eyes—a much darker shade than he’d ever seen before.

A small gasp came from her as her eyes widened. “Actually, I believe we have met after all. You are Mr. Lawrence, the man who rescued Lady Sarah and me from the overturned coach.”

It was Gabe’s turn to inhale a surprised breath. This was Lady Sarah’s companion? Good Heavens! “Forgive me for not recognizing you, then. You looked different without all that mud covering you.”

She shrugged. “It’s surprising what a little bath will do.” She motioned her hand toward the pond. “As I’m sure you have already guessed.”

He chuckled. “Indeed, I have. But now I’m curious to know why you are still standing here talking to a mostly naked man? Most women I know would have ran like the devil was on their heels from seeing a man take a bath. Yet, here you are, still in front of me.”

Although her cheeks continued to glow with embarrassment, she squared her shoulders and lifted her chin as if to challenge him.

“I hate to disillusion you, Mr. Lawrence, but I’m not like most women.”

“Do ladies’ companions usually act this way in France?”

“Not many.” She shook her head. “But Lady Sarah understands me well and allows it.”

He nodded. “Then forgive me for scolding you. It was not my place.”

“So Mr. Lawrence, you still haven’t told me why you are here on Mr. and Mrs. Crampton’s property.”

He couldn’t believe how surprised he was at this whole situation—almost speechless, which wasn’t like him. Strange to think he was still mostly naked and yet the young lady continued to make polite conversation as if they were at a dinner social.

Shaking his head, he tried not to laugh at her. “I’m visiting my uncle for a spell. Henry Crampton is my mother’s brother.”

She smiled. “How nice, Mr. Lawrence.” She scrunched her forehead. “By chance, do I need to address you differently? Are you a lord?”

Not unless his noble relatives had all died… Gabe laughed. “Miss Emmie, I’m not a lord. You can call me Gabe, or Mr. Lawrence, either one. Most of my friends call me Gabe.”

She smiled. “It is very nice to see you again, Mr. Lawrence.”

He grinned at her stubbornness, and a thought struck him. “Pray, what is a lady’s companion doing traipsing throughout the countryside by herself instead of tending to the governor’s daughter?”

Smugly, she arched an eyebrow again. “As I had mentioned previously, Lady Sarah understands me and treats me different than most servants. Besides that, a lady’s companion doesn’t need a chaperone to ride the countryside, and a lady’s companion doesn’t need to be constantly by her mistress’ side since she’s with your aunt and uncle right now.”

“You are correct, of course.”

An uncomfortable silence hung between them and she shifted her feet as her gaze moved around the secluded area. Remarkable, but he didn’t want to talk. Looking at her was fulfilling enough. It was hard to believe that even wearing such plain clothes, she was far from being plain. She was quite lovely, in fact.

“Oh, Mr. Lawrence, I must ask…did you discover what happened to my—er, Lady Sarah’s driver?”

He shook his head. “Unfortunately, I haven’t heard. I summoned the authorities as promised, but I haven’t heard what happened. I told them Lady Sarah was staying with my aunt and uncle, so I suspect if the authorities find anything out about your driver, they will let Lady Sarah know.”

“Well I thank you again for your help in the matter.” She offered a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “As much as I would like to stay and chat, my personal time is about up. I should return to the house. Lady Sarah might need me soon.”

“As you wish. I trust we shall see each other later.”

She nodded. “I’m certain you will.”

“Good day, Miss Emmie.”

“And good day to you, Mr. Lawrence.”

As she walked away, he grinned. Although he hated to admit it, he quite enjoyed their little interlude, even if he was half naked. Now he wondered if she even realized it at all. Yet her blush from time to time proved that she did indeed know.

Shaking his head, he retrieved his clothes. Miss Emmie was certainly different, and he looked forward to visiting with her again.

What was he thinking! It should be Lady Sarah he needed to get to know—not her companion. Then again, that particular lady’s companion showed promise of fun-filled days ahead.

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