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Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish
  • Текст добавлен: 9 октября 2016, 02:06

Текст книги "Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish"

Автор книги: Grace Burrowes

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Текущая страница: 2 (всего у книги 20 страниц)


Sophie Windham frequently described herself as a well-read, intelligent woman in an age when neither attribute was much encouraged among her peers. Coming upon the scene in the parlor, all that came out of her mouth was, “My goodness!”

And then… nothing. She frankly gaped at the tableau before her: the baby naked on a nest of rugs and blankets, cheerfully kicking and squirming at nothing in particular, and the great golden length of Mr. Charpentier, curled indolently above the child, long, elegant fingers playing with the child’s feet.

Sophie did not know how to change a diaper.

She did not know how to comfort a fussy baby.

She did not know the particulars of feeding such a small child.

But she did know that these matters were the province of women, a fact of which Mr. Charpentier was apparently ignorant.

“Is it good for him to be… unclothed like that?” she asked.

The man rose smoothly to an imposing height—he was every bit as tall as Sophie’s brothers—and cocked his head at her. “Be a little difficult to get him cleaned up otherwise, wouldn’t it?”

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Sophie felt a blush rising up her neck. “Suppose it would. So how does one…?” She gestured with the clean nappies at the baby.

“It isn’t complicated.” He took the cloths and basin from her. “I shall demonstrate. By the third one, you’ll be an expert. The trick is to be fast and calm, as if you were dealing with a nervous horse or an injured cat.”

He folded himself down to his knees, leaving Sophie no choice but to join him and the baby on the floor.

“Why does he kick and wiggle about like that?”

“Because he can. My guess is if we put him on his tummy, he’d be just about at the stage where he’s getting up on all fours and rocking but not quite crawling yet.” As he spoke, Mr. Charpentier wrung out a cloth in the warm water and started using it to tend to the child… who was quite completely and utterly naked.

Sophie’s blush threatened to become permanent. There were certain body parts not intended for exposure to the broad light of day, much less such gleeful exposure. The baby was grinning and cooing as Mr. Charpentier deftly used the rag to clean what needed to be cleaned. When he seized both of the child’s ankles in one hand and lifted the baby partly off the rug to reach a little farther back, the infant started laughing, as if being handled like that was great, good fun.

Mr. Charpentier set the nasty rag aside and tickled the baby’s tummy. The child grabbed at the man’s hand and caught one long index finger in his tiny fist.

“I’ve been taken prisoner by a fierce pirate.” He shook his finger gently, which inspired the baby to kick madly. “If you’d slide the nappy under the pirate’s bottom, we’ll see to his attire.”

Bottom. Well, what else was there to call it?

She attempted to comply, when Mr. Charpentier again half raised the child by the ankles.

“Other way, Miss Windham. We’ll use the tapes to fasten the thing on him. As much energy as he has, a snug fit is called for.”

She repositioned the diaper but had to move in close to man and baby to get it done. Kneeling side by side with Mr. Charpentier, she made the mistake of glancing over at him.

At the coaching inn, she’d been nigh distraught over the baby’s increasing discontent. Joleen had been gone long enough that Sophie had begun to worry, and thinking what to do over the baby’s crying had been impossible.

And then a quiet, calm male voice right beside her. “May I be of assistance?”

She’d wanted to snap at him something to the effect that it was the baby needing assistance—she was perfectly fine—then stomp away with the dratted child before she started yelling herself.

Except the gravity of his voice, coupled with blue eyes so full of kindness and concern, had her passing him the baby without further question.

She’d never realized babies were so heavy. It wasn’t that they were large; it was that one could never put them down for a moment—or if one did put them down, one assumed a burden of anxiety of greater weight than the actual child, which had one picking the little person up again, no matter how tired one’s arms were.

“Watch carefully, Miss Windham. This is an arcane and closely guarded Portmaine family secret.”

He picked up both the tapes on one side, but the child thwarted the adult’s attempt to secure the nappy by dodging south with one small hand and grabbing stoutly onto his own…

“My goodness!”

The baby grinned, the man smiled as well, and Sophie wished the floor would swallow her up immediately and permanently.

“He’s just a baby, Miss Windham. He knows only what feels good, and there’s no harm in it, really.” Gently, the man disentangled the child’s hand from that portion of the male anatomy for which Sophie’s brothers had endless names.

And Sophie herself had not a one she’d speak aloud.

Mr. Charpentier leaned in close over the baby, so close his wheat-blond hair fell forward over his shoulders. “You are scandalizing the lady, young Kit. Desist, I say.” He shook his head from side to side, making his hair swing. The baby cooed his delight, barely missing Mr. Charpentier’s chin with a small heel.

And all the while, the man had been deftly tying the nappy closed at the sides with two neat bows that would be easy to untie when the need arose.

“How often is this necessary?” Sophie asked.

“Very often.” The man leaned forward, crouching on all fours over the child. “Because we are a very healthy, busy baby, aren’t we, Master Kit?” He shook his hair for the infant again, provoking more squealing and kicking and grinning.

It wasn’t dignified in the least, the way the grown man crouching on the floor played with the child—made a fool of himself to entertain a stranger’s abandoned baby.

Not dignified, but it was… oddly endearing.

Sophie felt an urge to get up and put some distance between herself and this tomfoolery on the floor, and yet she had to wonder too: if she brushed a lock of her hair over the child’s nose, would the baby take as much delight in it?

She sat back. “How is it you know so much about babies?”

“My half sisters are a great deal younger than my brother and I. We more or less raised them, and this is part of the drill. He’ll likely nap next, as outings tend to tire them when they’re this young.”

He crouched low over the child and used his mouth to make a rude noise on the baby’s belly. The child exploded with glee, grabbing wildly for Mr. Charpentier’s hair and managing to catch his nose.

It was quite a handsome nose in the middle of quite a handsome face. She’d noticed this at the coaching inn, in that first instant when he’d offered to help. She’d turned to find the source of the lovely, calm voice and found herself looking up into a face that put elegant masculine bones to the best possible use.

His eyes were just the start of it—a true pale blue that suggested Norse ancestry, set under arching blond brows. It was a lean face, with a strong jaw and well-defined chin—Sophie could not abide a weak chin nor the artifices of facial hair men sported to cover one up.

But none of that, not even the nose and chin and eyes combined, prepared Sophie for the visceral impact of more than six feet of Wilhelm Charpentier crouched on the floor, entertaining a baby.

He smiled at the child as if one small package of humanity merited all the grace and benevolence a human heart could express. He beamed at the child, looked straight into the baby’s eyes, and communicated bottomless approval and affection without saying a word.

It was… daunting. It was undignified, and yet Sophie sensed there was a kind of wisdom in the man’s handling of the baby she herself would lack.

“He’ll get drowsy soon.” Mr. Charpentier shifted back onto his heels. “That’s the best part, when they’re all sweet and snuggly. Little buggers wrap us around their fingers without even trying.”

“You sound pleased about this.”

He turned his head, his smile fading as he regarded her. “When a fellow is likely to end up in a foundling home through no fault of his own, or left on the church steps in the middle of winter, he’d better have a mighty lot of charm stored up if he isn’t to die before he learns to walk.”

He’d spoken quietly, but Sophie had to look away. Her gaze scanned the snowy back gardens, a sight as bleak as the prospect Mr. Charpentier described.

“I don’t know how to change a nappy, Mr. Charpentier. I don’t know what Kit likes to eat, I don’t know how to… entertain him, but I do know he won’t be going to any foundling home. Not now, not ever.”

He regarded her with an odd gravity for a man seated on the floor. “You’re sure about this?”

She nodded. “If the family didn’t turn Joleen out when her difficulty became apparent, if we didn’t turn her out when the child came along, if we provided for the child thus far, and we provided coach fare home for Joleen, we’ll not be turning our backs on Kit now.”

The decisions had been hers, the matter tacitly left to her discretion by Their Graces’ inaction, just as all the family strays eventually ended up in Sophie’s care. Sophie had decided the holidays were a fine time to let Joleen and her child make their way home, though Joleen herself had seemed reluctant to go.

“I expect Joleen’s family would not have welcomed her, much less her child,” Sophie said, the conviction growing even as she spoke.

“And she could not bring herself to consign him to a slow death by black drop, courtesy of the parish.” Mr. Charpentier’s tone was mild as he began slipping a dress over Kit’s head, but something in the angle of his jaw suggested anger. “Joleen gambled her child’s life on your kindness.”

He had Kit dressed in no time and was soon slipping wool socks over the baby’s chubby feet. “Would you like to hold him, Miss Windham?”


“You did well enough at the inn and on the way home.” He tucked the shawl around the baby and picked him up. “He’ll likely nod off to sleep if you take the rocking chair.”

“I suppose it can’t be too difficult.”

“Easiest thing in the world.” He got to his feet, holding the baby without the least awkwardness, and even extended a hand to assist Sophie to her feet.

It was a large hand, clean and elegant—also warm. Maybe that was why Kit liked it when Mr. Charpentier played with his toes.

“Take the rocker. I’ll hand him to you.”

She complied, feeling an odd bolt of nervousness as she did. She’d held this baby—not for long, not very confidently, but she had.

“He likes to be right near you, skin to skin if possible. He likes the warmth, and he even likes to hear your heart beat.”

“He told you this, did he?” She accepted the bundle of baby from Mr. Charpentier’s grasp, a maneuver that had him leaning in close enough she could catch the scent of bergamot about his person. Bergamot and soap, maybe a little laundry starch, nothing more. No tobacco, no sweat, no horse, nothing. The baby probably liked that about him too.

“Support his head.” Mr. Charpentier slipped his hand beneath Sophie’s where she’d wrapped hers around the back of the baby’s skull. “We’ll put him on his tummy next time he’s romping on the floor and see how strong his neck is. If he’s about to crawl, he’ll have no trouble holding his head up. Ah, there. Going for the thumb. That’s a sure sign a nap is on the way.”

The child slurped on his own left thumb stoutly, while Mr. Charpentier remained kneeling beside the rocker. It should have been a prosaic, unremarkable moment, but holding the baby in her arms, the man at her side keeping watch over woman and child both, what Sophie felt was a profound and strange intimacy.

* * *

Wilhelm Charpentier had spent a substantial portion of every one of the past fifteen years sailing for purposes of trade. He’d kept mainly to the Baltic and North Seas when his siblings had been young, then branched out to the Mediterranean, until he’d eventually made his way to China, the Antipodes and a circumnavigation of the globe.

He’d heard dozens of languages, eaten unpronounceable dishes by the score, learned of all manner of exotic practices between men and women, but he’d never before seen a woman truly, visibly fall in love.

While he knelt on the carpet beside a scarred old rocking chair in a lowly servants’ parlor, he sawSophie Windham fall in love. It came over her in a matter of moments, put a soft sparkle in her eyes and a warmth in her smile, and most of all, it changed the way she touched the object of her affection.

Little Kit went from being a potentially malodorous bundle of trouble to the one person on earth she’d die to protect. She laid him in her lap, taking both of his wrists in her hands, leaving him free to kick his shawl away, grinning and cooing at her while she steadied him with her hands.

“Such a strong fellow you are.” She smiled down at him, bringing his hands together then gently spreading them wide again. “I applaud your strength, Master Kit. A sturdy young man like you will be riding to hounds by his second birthday.”

Vim had the sure conviction Sophie Windham had never voiced such nonsensical utterances in her life. He tore his gaze from the lady and child and sat back to catch a glimpse of the weather through the windows.

Ye almighty gods. He needed to be leaving. The light would soon be gone, the temperature would drop, and the snow would only get deeper as darkness fell. It seemed like a metaphor for Vim’s life, but he could at least take with him the knowledge Kit would be safe and loved and as happy as one devoted female could make him.

“I think he’s tiring,” Miss Windham said softly. She tucked the shawl around the baby and cradled him in her arms. “How long is he likely to nap?”

Vim went to the hearth to poke up the fire—just the thought of going out in the storm made his insides curdle—and considered the question.

“However long you think he should sleep, he won’t. If he’s been larking around all day, and you think he’s entitled to sleep for hours, he’ll catnap. If you think he slept late in the morning and has hardly stirred from his blankets, he’ll go down after luncheon and barely be up in time for his dinner. Babies delight in confounding us, and it’s their God-given right to do so.”

“His eyes are closing.”

Vim had to smile. She hadn’t heard a word he’d said, so fascinated was Sophie Windham with one rather ordinary baby.

Except there were no ordinary babies. Not in England, not on the Continent, not among the natives on any continent in any culture. There had never been an ordinary baby—not to the child’s mother, in any case.

“Miss Windham, I really must be going.”

That got her attention. She peered up at him, her expression disgruntled.

“Must you? Will you at least let me feed you before you go? The taverns and public houses will be full to the brim, and you have been quite kind to both Kit and me. I haven’t even offered you a decent cup of tea, so you really cannot be going just yet, Mr. Charpentier.”

She rose with the child, her hold on him as confident and relaxed as if this were her fifth baby. She was perhaps old enough to have had five babies—she wasn’t a girl by any means—but her figure belied the notion entirely.

Sophie Windham was blessed with a body a courtesan would envy. Devoid of cloaks and shawls and capes, Vim could assess her womanly charms all too easily.

“I appreciate the offer, Miss Windham, but the sooner I’m on my way, the sooner I’ll be able to find lodging with friends. Your offer is much appreciated nonetheless.” He reached for his greatcoat, still draped over a chair, but she advanced toward him, determination etched on her features.

“Sir, I am virtually alone in this house with a helpless child dependent on me for his every need. I have no idea how to feed him. I know not how or when to bathe him. I haven’t the first idea when his bedtime should be or what do with him upon waking. The least you can do is impart some knowledge to me before you go wandering the streets of Mayfair.”

The angle of her chin said she’d stop him bodily. Maternal instinct, whether firsthand or vicarious, was nothing a sane man sought to thwart.

“Perhaps just a cup of tea.”

“Nonsense.” She eyed him up and down. “You’ve likely had nothing to eat since dawn, and that was probably cold, lumpy porridge with neither butter nor honey nor even a smidgen of jam. Come along.”

He once again fell in step behind her, but this time he was free to admire the twitch of her skirts. If she wasn’t the housekeeper, she was likely a personal companion to the lady of the house. She had that much self-possession, and no woman her age would have been left unchaperoned by her family were she a member of the actual household.

“Have a seat,” she said, nodding at a plant table in the middle of the big kitchen. “I’ll put us together a tea tray, and you can tell me what Kit will eat.”

She was bustling around the kitchen with the particular one-handed efficiency parents of a very small child developed. The boy would be attached to her hip in a few days, or her back…

“Give me the baby.” He held up his arms and saw she was tempted to argue. “If you’re working around boiling water and hot stoves, he’s safer with me.”

She relented, handing him the baby then tucking the shawl more closely around the child. She hovered for a moment near Vim and the baby now cradled in his arms, then straightened. “If you’ll hold him, I can put together a bit more than a cup of tea.”

She took an apron down from a hook and tied it around her waist in practiced moves, which made for another piece of the puzzle of Sophie Windham: a lady’s maid would never condescend to kitchen work, though in the absence of the cook, a housekeeper might.

“Has the family closed the house up for the holidays then?” He rubbed Kit’s back, not for the child’s comfort—the little shoat was fast asleep—but for his own.

“They went down to Kent early this year and gave most of the staff leave. Higgins and Merriweather will bide over the carriage house to keep an eye on the stock, and they’ll bring up more coal from the cellar if I ask it of them. Would you like an omelet? There’s a fine cheddar in the pantry, and the spice rack is freshly stocked.”

He needed to be going, true, but negotiating the weather on an empty stomach would be foolish. “An omelet sounds wonderful, but don’t go to any trouble.”

She smiled at him as she bustled into the pantry. “I like to cook, though this is a closely guarded secret. What should I be feeding Kit?”

“Bland foods, of course. Porridge with a bit of butter and a dash of sugar, though my nurse always said honey wasn’t good for babies. Mashed potatoes with a touch of butter. Boiled vegetables, plain oatmeal.”

“What about meat?”

He cast back over more than two decades of memory. “Not yet, and not much fruit, either. Strawberries gave my youngest sister hives when she was a baby, so I wouldn’t advise them. Pudding was always very popular in the nursery.”

“If the weather weren’t so foul, I’d send one of the grooms over to fetch Nanny Fran from Westhaven’s townhouse. Do you like onions in your omelet?”

“A few.”

The kitchen was soon full of the scent of good, simple cooking. He watched as Miss Windham cut slices from a fresh loaf of bread then slipped them onto a tray for toasting. She moved with a competence that spoke of time served in the kitchen, and yet she could not possibly be the cook: if the entire household had been given leave, there was no point in the cook remaining for just two grooms.

“Where do you hail from, Mr. Charpentier?”

“Here and there. The family seat is in Kent, though I was raised at my stepfather’s holding in Cumbria. I’m a merchant by profession, trading mostly with the Americans and the Scandinavians these days.”

“I’ve never seen Cumbria, though I’m told it’s lovely.” She spoke as she worked, the epitome of domestic tranquility.

“Cumbria’s lovely in summer. Winter can be another matter altogether.”

“Will you be with family for the holidays?”

He was distracted momentarily from answering by the picture she made standing at the stove, watching the omelet cook as she occasionally peeked at the toast and also assembled the accoutrements of a tea tray.

Why wasn’t she with family? He barely knew the woman, but seeing her here, cooking for him, making him feel welcome with small talk and chatter while the snow came down in torrents outside, he felt a stab of something… poignant, sentimental.

Something lonely?

“I’ll be with my uncle and his family. I have half siblings, but my sisters have seen fit to get married recently, and one doesn’t want to impose on the newlyweds.”

“One does not. Three of my brothers have married, and it can leave a sister not knowing quite how to go on with them. Pepper?”

“A touch.”

“Is he asleep?”

“Never ask. If he is, it will wake him up. If he isn’t, it will let him know you’re fixed on that goal, and he’ll thwart you to uphold the honor of babies the world over.”

She smiled at the omelet as she neatly turned it in the skillet. “Her Grace raised ten children in this house. She would likely agree with you.”

A ducal household? No wonder even the domestics carried themselves with a certain confidence.

When he might have asked which duke’s hospitality he was imposing on—his half brother had regular truck with titles of all sorts—she brought the tea tray to the table, then cutlery and a steaming plate of eggs and bacon. She set the latter before him and stood back, hands on hips.

“If you’ll give me the baby, I can hold him while you eat.”

“And what about you? As a gentleman…” But she was already extricating the child from his arms and taking a seat on the bench along the opposite side of the table.

“Eat, Mr. Charpentier. The food will only get cold while we argue.”

He ate. He ate in part because a gentleman never argued with a lady and in part because he was starving. She’d served him a sizeable portion, and he was halfway through the omelet, bacon, and toast when he looked up to see her regarding him from across the table.

“You were hungry.”

“You are a good cook. Is that oregano in the eggs?”

“A little of this and that.”

He paused and put his fork down. “A secret family recipe, Miss Windham?”

She just smiled and pretended to tuck the shawl around the sleeping baby; then her brow knit. “Earlier today you mentioned a Portmaine family secret. Is this your wife’s family?”

It was a logical question. It could not possibly be that this brisk, prim woman was inquiring as to his marital status. “My mother remarried when my father died. Portmaine was my stepfather’s family name. It is not my good fortune to be married.”

She nodded, and Vim went back to devouring the only decent food he’d had in almost a week of traveling. Yes, he could have taken the traveling coach from Blessings, but Blessings and all its appurtenances belonged to his younger half brother, who might have need of the traveling coach himself.

So Vim hadn’t asked. He’d taken himself off, traveling as he often did among the common folk of the land.

“Did you ever want to marry, Mr. Charpentier?”

He looked across the table at Miss Windham to see she was again pretending to fuss with the baby, but a slight blush on her cheek told him he’d heard her question aright.

“I always expected to marry,” he said slowly. His uncle certainly expected him to marry—ten or twelve years ago would have suited the old man nicely. “I suppose I haven’t met the right lady. You?”

“What girl doesn’t expect to marry? There was a time when my fondest wish was to marry and have a family of my own. Not a very original wish, I’m afraid.” She shifted the baby and reached across the table to pour them each a cup of tea. As long as she’d let it steep, Vim could smell the pungent fragrance of the steam curling up from his cup.


“One of my brothers favors it. How do you take your tea, Mr. Charpentier?”

“My friends call me Vim, and I will be fixing the tea for you, Miss Windham, seeing as your friend is yet asleep in your arms.”

She frowned, but it was a thoughtful expression, not disapproving. “My friends call me Sophie, and my siblings do. You may call me that if you like.”

It wasn’t a good idea, this exchange of Christian names. Watching some subtle emotion play across Miss Windham’s—Sophie’s—face, Vim had the sense she allowed few to address her so familiarly. He wouldn’t have made the gesture if he weren’t soon to be leaving, never to see this good lady again.

“Sophie, then. Miss Sophie. Will you eat now? I can hold Kit.”

“You’re sure you’ve had enough?”

“I have eaten every crumb, so yes.” He rose and came around the table, reaching down to retrieve the baby. She didn’t hand him up, though, so when Vim reached for the child, his arm extended a little too far, to the point where his hand slid a few inches down Miss Windham’s breastbone before he could get a decent grip on the child.

Down her breastbone and along the side of one full breast.

The contact lasted not even a second and involved the back of his hand and her bodice, nothing more, but Vim had to work to keep the frisson of lust that shot through him from showing on his face—a moment of sexual awareness as surprising as it was intense.

The lady, for her part, took a sip of her tea, looking not the least discomposed.

“Best eat quickly,” Vim said, settling the child in his arms. “You never know when My Lord Baby will rouse, and then the needs of everyone else can go hang. It was a very good omelet.”

“Is there such a thing as a bad omelet?” She ate daintily but steadily, not even glancing up at him while she spoke.

“Yes, there is, but we won’t discuss it further while you eat.” He resumed his seat across from her, the weight of the baby a warm comfort against his middle. Avis and Alex could both be carrying already, a thought that sent another pang of that unnameable sentiment through him.

“What else can you tell me about caring for Kit, Mr. Char—” She paused and smiled slightly. “Vim. What else can you tell me, Vim?”

“I can tell you it’s fairly simple, Miss Sophie: you feed him when he’s hungry, change him when he’s wet, and cuddle him when he’s fretful.”

She set down her utensils and gazed at the baby. “But how do you tell the difference between hungry and fretful?”

Her expression was so earnest, Vim had to smile. “You cuddle him, and if his fussing subsides, then he wasn’t hungry, he was just lonely. If he keeps fussing, you offer him some nourishment, and so on. He’ll tell you what’s amiss.”

“But that other business, at the coaching inn. You knew he was uncomfortable, and to me it wasn’t in the least obvious what the trouble was.”

“And now you know he needs to be burped when he’s filled his tummy. Your tea will get cold.”

She took a sip, but he didn’t think she tasted it, so fixed was she on the mystery of communicating with a baby. She continued to pepper him with questions as she finished her meal and tended to the dishes, not untying her apron until the kitchen was once again spotless.

By that point, Vim had been making slow circuits of the kitchen with the child in his arms. He had less than an hour of light left, and it really was time to be going.

“I thank you for the meal, Miss Sophie, and I will recall your cooking with fondness as I continue my travels. If you’ll take Kit, I’ll fetch my coat from the parlor and wish you good day.”

He passed her the baby, making very sure that this time his hand came nowhere near her person.

* * *

He was leaving.

This realization provoked something close to panic in Sophie’s usually composed mind. She told herself she was merely concerned for the baby, being left in the care of a woman who had still—still!—never changed a single nappy.

But there was a little more to it than that. More she was not about to dwell on. Mature women of nearly seven-and-twenty did not need to belabor the obvious when they fell prey to unbecoming infatuations and fancies.

“I wish you’d stay.” The words were out before she could censor herself.

“I beg your pardon?” He paused in the act of rolling his cuffs down muscular forearms dusted with sandy, golden hair. How could a man have beautiful forearms?

She bent her head to kiss the baby on his soft, fuzzy little crown. “I have no notion how to go on with this child, Mr. Charpentier, and those old fellows in the carriage house likely have even less. I realize I ought not to ask it of you, but I am quite alone in this house.”

“Which is the very reason I cannot stay, madam. Surely you comprehend that?”

He spoke gently, quietly, and Sophie understood the point he was making. Gentlemen and ladies never stayed under the same roof unchaperoned.

Except with him—with Vim Charpentier—she wasn’t Lady Sophia Windham. She’d made that decision at the coaching inn, where announcing her titled status would have served no point except to get her pocket picked. Higgins was old enough to address her as Miss Sophie, and being Miss Sophie was proving oddly appealing. A housekeeper or companion could be Miss Sophie; a duke’s daughter could not.

“This weather will be making all manner of strange bedfellows, Mr. Charpentier. And if we’re alone, who is to know if propriety hasn’t been strictly observed?”

“This is not a good idea, Miss Windham.”

“Going out in that storm is a better idea?”

She let the question dangle between his gentlemanly concerns about propriety and the commonsense needs of a woman newly burdened with a small baby. When he turned to stand near the window, Sophie sent up a little prayer that common sense was going win out over gentlemanly scruples. The baby whimpered in his sleep, which had Mr. Charpentier sending her a thoughtful look.

“I can stay, but just for one night, and I’ll be off at first light. There is some urgency about the balance of my journey.”

“Thank you. Kit and I both thank you.” She had the oddest urge to kiss his cheek.

She kissed the baby instead. “Come along, and I can show you to a guest room.”

He retrieved his haversack from the back hallway and followed along behind her, a big, silent presence. She could feel him taking in the trappings of a duke’s Town residence but hoped he saw the little things that made it a home too.

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