Ever since Adam successfully passed the buck to Eve, mankind thinks the moral of the story is to get good at inventing excuses. All history proves is when you abdicate the responsibility to think and take decisions to another; you are a short step away from getting kicked out of heaven.
Lady Mercedes Burton
Poona, India 1803
Water was gushing down the thatched roof of the gazebo making the Indian monsoon an effective curtain. Lord and Lady Standish were sticklers of propriety and their daughter an only child Lady Maude or Maddie as she was endearingly called knew better than to show up for the afternoon reception soaking wet and dressed in Indian clothes to add insult to injury.
“Drat these officious receptions,” Maddie muttered undoing her plaits, finger combing them. She glanced dismally at her brightly patterned lehenga dripping rivulets of water on the dusty floor. It was not that the upkeep of the gazebo was neglected. Lady Standish took her responsibilities as lady of the manor seriously. The floor was a tribute to the Indian monsoon.
Maddie could clearly see footprints that mocked the cleaning crew of grounds men Lord Standish employed.
It took a few minutes for the boot prints to register and by that time she was naked. A sudden prickling of awareness trailed cold fingers down her spine.
A man! He was standing behind her silent, watchful. She knew it with an infallible though belated female instinct. Her eyes were transfixed with horror at the colorful pool of wet clothes at her feet. Nerveless fingers flexed in a desperate attempt to grab the threads of the choli but the blouse slipped out of her reach and undulating fell on the floor.
Maddie stared at the froth of petticoats on the daybed and the gown she had discarded earlier in favor of Indian ethnic wear. Her mother was speaking inside her head dire warnings of how appealing dark native men found fair skinned women… but, no the boot prints had to belong to an Englishman…why was he so quiet? What was he thinking…what was she thinking?
Hastily she grabbed the gown and promptly entangled herself arms and head.
“Allow me.” The husky male command whispered in her ear halted her skittish motion. His voice sounded strained and he breathed heavily.
She froze. Goosebumps of awareness crawled up her spine.
Two male hands firmed at her waist. Maddie almost jumped out of her skin in shock electrocuted. He tugged the gown and her head popped out. Lightly resting on her back his fingers trailed upwards. It was a slow tortuous process as he adjusted the lace ties of her dress.
Maddie could hear the harsh sound of her breathing and his against the distant rhythm of pitter pattering rain outside the gazebo.
He was standing close. So close that his warm breath lifted the fine hair at the back of her neck. She gasped when he lifted the heavy coil of her hair free and buried his face in it. Goosebumps skittered on her arms. He pressed his cool lips to her hot, flushed exposed nape and she shuddered. Then she was released.
Maddie spun around. The stranger was striding away. Before the rain and the gathering gloom swallowed him she had a hazy impression of a tall man with powerful shoulders under the dark material of his raincoat and long legs encased in Hessians. He wore a hat so she could not determine the color of his hair.
She sighed dreamily. Whoever he was, evidently he was a gentleman.