Millicent looked out the windscreen, seeing little in the pouring rain. She could just make out a large structure high on the hill above them, huge and hulking. Lights burned in the windows. “What is that?”
Michael squinted through his window. “Hawksfell Manor, I believe. Heard of it back at that inn.”
“A manor?” she asked. “Are they a titled family?”
He shrugged. “I think I heard someone talking about the Earl of Hawksfell.”
“Hawksfell?” It sounded so ancient. No doubt the earl was a doddering old nobleman with pinched lips and watery eyes. Lovely.
“It looks like he’s currently in residence, at least,” Michael said.
“Then we shall go impose upon his hospitality,” she said.
Michael blew out a breath. “I suppose we must. And get quite wet in the process.”
“We’re going to walk?”
“What, do you believe fairies will sail across the moors and carry us up to the manor?”
She found a smile. “I suppose not.”
“Come, then. This storm doesn’t seem inclined to lessen any time soon.” His tone was clipped and brooked no refusal. “We’ll prevail upon the earl for shelter and ask him to send someone for our bags.”
Millicent gazed at Michael in astonishment. Where was this forceful man last evening? He climbed out of the car, his hat pulled low, and hurried around to her side. The door opened, letting in a great gust of windswept rain. Her coat was soon soaked, but there was nothing else for it. She took Michael’s hand and stepped onto the slippery road. Michael held her tight, however.
“Easy,” he said, dropping a kiss on her brow. It was sweet and just what she needed at the moment.
“Let’s hurry,” he added.
Her pretty felt hat gave little protection as they set off on the muddy path. Her heeled boots squished and slipped, so she held on to Michael’s arm as they made their way toward the manor.
By the time they arrived, they were soaked to the skin and more than a little uncomfortable. Millicent’s hair had fallen from its pins and hung in soaking hanks from beneath her hat. Michael stomped along beside her, stoic and silent. His face showed a sort of worried determination, and apparently none of the apprehension she felt going to a complete stranger’s door in the middle of a stormy night. How could he not be worried? It was all so Gothic.
They came up to the hulking structure, stopping before a wide door of thick oak. Another blessed flash of lightning showed her a massive iron knocker, so she grabbed it and let it fall. Any sound it might have made was lost as another clap of thunder bellowed overhead.
“Bloody hell,” she heard Michael grumble.
After a shorter time than she expected, the door was pulled open. There stood a portly butler, his lined face showing surprise. “May I help you?”
“I am Michael Crowley, and this is Lady Millicent Crowley,” Michael said. “We had an accident down on the road. May we beg your master for shelter?”
The butler looked from him to Millicent then nodded. “Come into the hall. I shall speak with Lord Hawksfell.”
The place was lit electrically, and Millicent could see that the earl had wealth. From the well-kept look of the place, he also employed plenty of staff to maintain the trappings of that wealth. Fine carpet underfoot, sadly seeping with water and mud now due to her and Michael’s ruined boots. Ornately dressed walls and soaring ceilings gave the place an air of prestige. The furnishings she could see from their vantage point were quite fine.
“Who the devil are they?” she heard a deep voice question from somewhere off to the left.
She didn’t hear the butler’s answer, but a maid soon appeared and removed their coats. Millicent unpinned her sodden hat and handed it to the girl. She disappeared, and Millicent brushed her hands over her skirt, doing little to improve her appearance. “Look at us. Like two drowned urchins.”
Michael smiled. “You look lovely despite the spatters of mud on your face.”
“My face?” She ran her gloved fingers over her cheek, and they came away smeared with mud. “Wonderful.”
“Never mind. Let us meet our host and show him we can be charming guests despite our appearance.”
A few moments later, the butler returned. “Lord Hawksfell will receive you in the parlor.”
They followed the man down the hall, their footsteps squishing as they tread on the thick carpet. After pausing at a double set of paneled doors, the butler opened them and bowed.
“Lady Millicent Crowley and Mr. Michael Crowley, my lord.”
Millicent turned to thank the butler, but her breath caught as she glimpsed the tall man standing beside the crackling fireplace. She couldn’t have been more wrong in her preconceived notions of the Earl of Hawksfell.
Lord, he was beautiful. And far from old. If she had to guess, she’d put his age at just this side of thirty. He was broad shouldered and long limbed. He had dark, waving hair, deep fathomless eyes, and a face she knew she’d see in her dreams. Finely chiseled nose and cheekbones, a cleft chin and full lips. Those lips were not smiling however, and his eyes were sharp as they roamed first over her and then Michael.
“Thank you, Carstairs,” he said to the butler. “Have tea brought in for my…guests.”