James held up a hand. "You've made your point."

"She never takes naps."

He nodded slowly, wondering what on earth he could possibly add to the conversation at that point.

She let out one final hmmphing sound, then turned back around, charging ahead at full speed. James followed, his legs moving in a long easy stride. The distance between them widened slightly, and he had just resigned himself to having to increase his speed to an easy trot when he noticed a protruding tree root up ahead.

"Mind that—"

She landed on the ground, one arm stretched out like an elegant winged bird, the other thrust forward to break her fall.

"—root," he finished. He rushed forward. "Are you injured?"

She was shaking her head and muttering, "Of course not," but she was wincing while she said it, so he wasn't inclined to believe her.

He crouched beside her and moved toward the hand she'd used to break her fall. "How is this hand?"

"I'm fine," she insisted, pulling her hand back, and picking off the bits of dirt and gravel that had embedded in her skin.

"I'm afraid I must insist upon ascertaining that fact for myself."

"Somehow," she grumbled, "this has to be your fault."

He couldn't hold back a surprised smile. "My fault?"

"I'm not sure how or why, but if there is any fairness in this world, this is your fault."

"If it is my fault," he said with what he thought was the utmost gravity, “then I really must make amends by attending to your injuries."

"I don't have—"

"I rarely take no for an answer."

With a loud sigh, she thrust her hand forward, muttering a rather ungracious, "Here."

James flexed her wrist gently. She made no reaction until he gingerly bent her hand back. "Oh!" she blurted out, clearly irritated with herself for showing her pain.

"It didn't hurt very much," she said quickly. "I'm sure it isn't sprained."

"I'm certain you're right," he agreed. There was no indication of swelling. "But you ought to favor the other one for a day or so. And you might want to go back to the house and get some ice or a cold piece of meat to put on it."

"I haven't time," she said briskly, rising to her feet. "I must check on Lady Danbury."

“If she is indeed, as you worry, taking a nap, then I tend to think your fears for her escape are somewhat exaggerated."

Elizabeth glared at him.

"In other words," he said, as gently as he could, “there is no need for you to risk your own life and limb by rushing."

He could see her weighing her words, but she finally just shook her head and said, “You are free to make your own decisions." Then she turned on her heel and dashed away.

James let out a groan, trying to remember why he was tagging along after her, anyway. Aunt Agatha, he reminded himself. This was all about Aunt Agatha. He needed to find out if Elizabeth was the blackmailer.

His gut was telling him that she was not—anyone who exhibited the sort of concern she did for an overbearing and more often than not vastly annoying old lady surely wouldn't blackmail her.

Yet James had no other suspects, and so he trotted along after her. As she rounded another corner, he lost sight of her, but his long strides soon found her standing utterly straight and perfectly still, her back to the hedge, with her head twisted so that she could look over her shoulder.

"What do you see?" he asked.

"Nothing," she admitted, "but I do seem to have developed the most awful crick in my neck."

James held down the smile he felt bubbling up within him and kept his tone serious as he said, "Would you like me to take a look?"

She turned her head back to the front and then, with an uncomfortable grimace, tilted it to the side and back up. James winced as he heard a loud cracking sound.

She rubbed her neck. "Do you think you can do it without being seen?''

Images of his past missions—in France, in Spain, and right here in England—flew through his mind. James was an expert at not being seen. "Oh," he said offhandedly, "I think I might manage it."

"Very well." She stepped back. "But if you suspect— even for a second—that she can see you, draw back."

James grinned and saluted her. "You're the general."

In that moment, Elizabeth forgot everything.

She forgot that she had no idea how she was going to support her younger siblings.

She forgot that Lady Danbury was acting very strangely and that she feared her employer might be terribly ill.

She even forgot every blasted edict in Mrs. Seeton's little book, and most of all, she forgot that this man made her stomach flip every time he raised his eyebrows.

She forgot everything but the levity of the moment and the rascally smile on James Siddons's face. With a little laugh, she reached forward and swatted him playfully on the shoulder.

"Oh, stop," she said, barely recognizing her own voice.

"Stop what?" he asked, his expression almost ludicrously innocent.

She mimicked his salute.

“You have been issuing orders with great facility and frequency," he pointed out. "It is only natural that I might compare you to—"

"Just check on Lady Danbury," she interrupted.

James smiled knowingly and crept around the corner of the hedge.

"Do you see anything?" Elizabeth whispered.

He ducked back. "I see Lady Danbury."

"That's all?"

"I didn't think you were interested in the cat."


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