"I meant on a pond."

The little boy's eyes grew wide. "You've fished on the sea?"

"Of course."

Elizabeth looked at him with a bemused glance. His tone was so matter-of-fact.

"Were you on a ship?" Lucas asked.

"No, it was more of a sailboat."

A sailboat? Elizabeth shook her head as she pulled some dishes out of the cupboard. James must have well-connected friends.

"How big was the fish?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe about this big." James measured a length of about two feet with his hands.

"Hells bells!" Lucas yelled.

Elizabeth nearly dropped a saucer. "Lucas!"

"I'm sorry, Elizabeth," Lucas said without much thought, and without even turning to face her. His attention never wavered from James as he asked, “Did he put up a fight?"

James leaned down and whispered something in Lucas's ear. Elizabeth arched her neck and strained her ears, but she couldn't make out what he said.

Lucas nodded somewhat glumly, then stood up, crossed the room to Elizabeth, and gave her a little bow. Elizabeth was so surprised that this time she did drop what she was holding. Thankfully, it was just a spoon.

"I'm sorry, Elizabeth," Lucas said. "It isn't polite to use such language in front of a lady."

"Thank you, Lucas." She looked over at James, who offered her a secret smile. He tilted his head toward the boy, so she leaned down, handed Lucas a plate of biscuits, and said, "Why don't you and Jane go and find Susan? And you may eat these biscuits on the way to town."

Lucas's eyes lit up at the sight of the biscuits, and he quickly grabbed them and left the room, leaving Elizabeth openmouthed in his wake. "What did you say to him?" she asked in amazement.

James shrugged. "I can't tell you."

“But you must. Whatever it was, it was terribly effective."

He sat back, looking terribly pleased with himself. "Some things are best left between men."

Elizabeth frowned playfully, trying to decide whether she ought to press him further, when she noticed a darkening stain near his eye. "Oh, I completely forgot!" she blurted out. "Your eye! I must find something to put on that."

"It will be fine, I'm sure. I've had far worse injuries with far less attention paid to them."

But she wasn't listening, as she shuffled hurriedly through her kitchen in search of something cool.

"You needn't go to any trouble," he tried again.

She looked up, which surprised him. He'd thought she was far too involved in her search to be listening, let alone responding to him.

"I won't argue with you about this," she stated. "So you might as well save your breath."

James realized she spoke the truth. Elizabeth Hotchkiss wasn't the sort to leave projects unfinished or responsibilities unmet. And if she insisted upon tending to his bruised eye, there was very little he—a peer of the realm, a man twice her size—could do to stop her.

"If you must," he murmured, trying to sound at least a little bit put out by her ministrations.

She twisted her hands around something in the sink, then turned around and held it out to him. "Here."

“What is that?'' he asked suspiciously.

"It's just a wet cloth. What did you think—that I was going to slap Lucas's catch of the day on your face?"

"No, you're not angry enough today for that, although—"

She raised her brows as she covered his bruised eye with the cloth. "Are you intimating that you think you might someday anger me enough so that—"

"I'm not saying anything of the kind. God, I hate being fussed over. You merely— No, it's a bit to the right."

Elizabeth adjusted the cloth, leaning forward as she did so. "Is that better?"

"Yes, although it seems to have grown quite warm."

She jerked back a few inches and straightened. "I'm sorry."

"It's just the cloth," he said, not nearly noble enough to pull his gaze off of what was directly in front of him.

He wasn't sure if she realized he was staring at her breasts, but she let out a little "Oh!" and jumped away. "I can cool this off again." She did so, then held out the wet cloth. "You had better do this yourself."

He moved his gaze to her face, his expression as innocent as a puppy dog. "But I like it when you do it."

"I thought you didn't like to be fussed over."

"I didn't think I did."

That earned him a half-beleaguered, half-sarcastic, one-hand-on-hips pose. She looked rather ridiculous, and somehow at the same time amazing, standing there with a dishrag hanging from her hand. "Are you trying to convince me that I am your angel of mercy, come from heaven to—"

His mouth spread into a slow, hot smile. "Precisely."

She threw the cloth at him, leaving a wet spot in the middle of his shirt. "I don't believe you for one second."

"For an angel of mercy," he muttered, "you have a rather short temper."

She groaned. "Just put the cloth on your eye."

He did as she asked. Far be it from him to disobey her when she was in such a temper.

They stood regarding each other for a moment, and then Elizabeth said, "Take that off for one second."

He took his hand away from his eye. ' The cloth?''

She nodded once.

"Didn't you just order me to put it back on my eye?"

"Yes, but I want to get a look at the extent of the bruising."

James saw no reason not to comply, so he leaned forward, lifting his chin and tilting his face so that she could easily look at his eye.


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