“I have them dressed and ready for the outing.” When he didn’t answer, she added, “You do recall promising them an outing? I spoke to you about it the other evening, and you said yes.” Her eyes took on a saucy gleam. “Rather emphatically.”
Cheeky minx. Only the Devil knew how many times she’d heard the word “yes” from his lips on any of several recent evenings. She must have tricked him into agreeing to this when he was insensate with pleasure.
He said, “Barrow and I have a great deal of business to attend to.”
“Please. I’ve promised Rosamund and Daisy. The girls will be so disappointed.”
She’d promised them? Damn it. Broken promises were something he avoided at all costs. And the simplest way to avoid them was to not make any in the first place. Tonight he would give her a stern talking-to about making promises on his behalf.
And perhaps a light spanking just to underscore the matter.
But that would be later. As for this afternoon . . . that fetching yellow frock just begged to be out of doors. He wanted to see the breeze whip the flimsy muslin about her legs, wanted to watch her untie the ribbons of her bonnet with a gloved hand and then give him a bashful smile.
And what he didn’t want was to spend another afternoon in this study with Barrow.
“Give me an hour to make a few arrangements,” he said. “Tell the girls we’ll be going to the park.”
She smiled. “Thank you, sir.”
When she’d gone, Barrow turned to him and said dryly, “Oh, that wasn’t obvious at all.”
“Do you know, I’ve been thinking.” Chase reached for his coat and hat. “We spend entirely too much time together.”
“I can’t disagree.” Barrow tapped his quill on the edge of the inkwell and continued in a quiet, serious tone. “Be careful, Chase. She’s not the only one who stands to be hurt.”
“Don’t worry. The girls have no idea.”
“I wasn’t referring to the girls. I meant you.”
Chase snorted. “Now you’re just being absurd.”
“Yes,” Chase answered as he quit the room, sounding far more authoritative than he felt.
“Are we there yet?” Daisy dragged her feet along the well-trodden path.
Chase didn’t even break stride. “No.”
“You might slow the pace a touch,” Alex suggested in a murmur. “For the girls’ sake.”
After trotting alongside him for nearly a half hour, she and the girls were breathing hard and perspiring in the summer’s afternoon sun. They’d reached the halfway point of Hyde Park now, where the Serpentine widened into a lake.
“Are there ices in this park?” Rosamund asked.
“I’ve no idea,” Chase replied.
“We were promised a treat. Not a military march.”
Daisy halted in the path. “Millicent has dysentery.”
Chase groaned. “She does not. She was perfectly well a moment ago.”
“The grueling pace was too much for her. Now she could die at any moment.”
Alexandra decided to intervene. “Here.” She untied the ribbon knotted at her nape, removing her coral pendant and tying it about Millicent’s neck instead.
“But that was your mother’s,” Daisy said.
“Millicent may borrow it for the day. It’s especially effective against dysentery. And Mr. Reynaud promises to walk a bit more slowly.”
“Actually, we don’t have to walk much farther at all,” Chase said. “There’s your surprise, girls. It’s waiting over there, on the bank.”
When Alex saw what he’d pointed out, her stomach knotted. A neat little skiff bobbed atop the rippling water, tied to a tree branch at the side of the lake. The miniature craft had been gaily painted, and it boasted a crisp white sail and a jaunty red flag.
“You . . . you mean to take the girls sailing on the lake?”
“No, we’re going to skate on the lake. Yes, sailing—if you can even call it that, on this small scale. And I don’t mean to take only the girls. You’re coming, too.”
“Oh.” Her throat worked, but it felt like trying to swallow paper. “That’s kind of you, but I’ll wait on the bank.”
“Nonsense.” He stripped off his coat and draped it over the tree branch before turning up his cuffs. “You must be dying to get on the water again. This is hardly a voyage on the open sea, but it’s something. As close as I could give you at the moment.”
The dear man. He’d arranged this not only as an outing for the girls, but as a gift to her. Now she could understand the reason for his determined clip through Mayfair and across the park. He’d been excited.
Inside, Alex wanted to weep. Everything in her screamed for escape. But how could she disappoint him?
Use your common sense, she told herself. Be rational. As he says, this isn’t a merchant ship bobbing about a wild, stormy sea. It isn’t even a wherry on the Thames. It’s a skiff on the Serpentine, on a Tuesday in August, smack in the middle of London. There isn’t any true reason to be afraid, so stiffen up and get on with things.