Her Secondhand Groom(5)

By: Rose Gordon

Hack! Hack! Hack! Juliet coughed violently as she used the palm of her hand to smack her chest in a fruitless effort to dispel some of the dust that was invading her lungs and taking up what she was sure would be permanent residence there.

Beside her, Lucas, Joseph, Jane, and Dara copied her actions with only minimal embellishments added. Not much really, just enough that the four of them would probably be sporting bruises on their chests for the next month and sipping heated lemonade with honey for a week before being able to talk. Peter and Samuel, however, were employing the most logical reaction, they stood with their feet shoulder-width apart one arm across their chest while the other held the top of their shirts up over their noses, scowling darkly at the three oblivious girls.

“Excuse me,” Juliet wheezed.

The three girls didn’t seem to notice her.

Swallowing convulsively, Juliet tried in vain to clear her throat enough to be able to speak in a tone they’d hear. Eyes stinging from the dirt, she jammed her fingers under her thick spectacles and rubbed her eyelids to relieve the discomfort. Feeling slightly better, Juliet put her thumb and forefinger of her right hand into her mouth and let out a whistle that only a deaf man could ignore.

All three girls came to an abrupt halt and stared at her. As the dust settled down a bit, Juliet noticed two men coming from the side of the carriage, one of them looking much worse for the wear. “Excuse me,” she croaked before clearing her throat. “Sir, is it common practice for you to let your children run in the road unattended?”

The man who looked far more dirty and worn out looked at her with eyes so dark brown they almost looked black. “That is none of your concern, madam.” His tone cold and hard, decidedly unfriendly.

Undeterred, Juliet put her hands on her hips. “You cannot just let your children run rampant, sir. A carriage could just whip around that corner and run right over them.”

The rude man snorted. “Doubtful,” he muttered. “Anyway, we’d hear them.”

Now she snorted. “No you wouldn’t have. You couldn’t possibly hear anything over all the melee they were making.”

The girls’ father crossed his arms and stared at Juliet in a way that made her feel vulnerable and naked beneath his gaze. “Is that so?”

“Yes, sir,” she said firmly.

His eyes never left hers. “Since you think you can supervise them better are you volunteering for the post?”

Juliet stared blankly at him. “No, sir.”

“Very interesting, and what if Viscount Drakley asked you, would you do it then?”

Juliet’s blood drained from her face and nearly turned to ice. She’d never actually met Viscount Drakely before, but she knew enough about him and his position over her family that if he asked her to jump over the moon, she’d better find a way to do it. “Well then, if Lord Drakely asked me to watch his children, I would.” She cautiously eyed his dirty disheveled clothes and his mussed hair. “However,” she continued, her voice returning to its regular strength, “since you are not Viscount Drakely, I have no reason to agree to watch your children, sir.”

Rocking back on his heels, he drawled, “Allow me to inform you that you are in the presence of K. Patrick Ludwig Ramsey, Viscount Drakely.”

The breath caught in Juliet’s throat. This was not a good sign. Viscount Drakely was rumored to be a very nice, but stern man. As a child she’d always wondered how he could possibly be both. But as an adult she knew. He was nice as long as your rents were paid on time and you weren’t known for causing trouble. But for those who caused trouble in the viscountcy or fell behind on their rents, he was not so friendly. Not that she’d heard of him throwing people out on their ears for missing a month or being late, but he made it known he ruled his lands with a firm hand and wasn’t afraid to confront anyone.

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