|A short short story by Tara Manderino|
| Christian Edward Harold Blake, fourth Earl of Chatworth, looked down at his once pristine riding boots by Hoby and frowned. Not because his boots were caked with mud and his cloak could no longer keep the rain at bay, but because he was on this accursed mission to begin with. He gave a mighty sneeze. His horse twitched his ears and Christian patted his neck. "Can't be much more, boy, then we shall both be warm and dry." He hoped. He sneezed again. This time it was strong enough that his head tilted and the water collecting in his fine beaver hat rolled off the front to what had probably been the only dry spot on his body, perhaps in all of Derbyshire.
When he caught up with Lottie he was going to wring her pretty little neck. If he lived long enough. What ever possessed his twit of a sister to run off…
"I wouldn't have forced her to marry William." He told his horse. "All she had to do was talk to me." He refused to acknowledge the niggling thought in the back of his mind that said she would have talked if he hadn't been so busy giving orders.
He sneezed again, and groaned. It was a wonder he hadn't broken a rib on that one. Or maybe he had. His side hurt. His head hurt, and Lottie's bottom was going to hurt when he caught up with her. Silly chit.
He wasn't sure how much longer he rode. He knew he couldn't get any more wet, when he saw the cottage in the distance, through the curtain of rain.
He hadn't really thought he would have to come this far. But after checking at the squire's house, and checking with the servants, he couldn’t think of anywhere else she could be. If she weren't here, he would have to return home and come up with another plan. His gut clenched at the thought she wouldn't be at Nanny's. In spite of the large gap in their ages, he cared about his sister And usually, she was level headed.
Drawing up to the cottage, he led his horse to the lean to. At least it was dry.
He banged on the door, which was pulled open before he finished.
"Christian!" Lottie flew at him. "You came!"
"Silly goose! Of course I came." He pushed her away from him to keep his sodden clothes from soaking through her gown. "I could have done without the dramatics. You just had to tell me you didn't want to marry him,"
"But he's your friend!"
"What of it? I wouldn't have to live with him."
He sneezed and felt like his chest was caving in and he staggered back. He raised his hand as if to keep his heart in place, and realized a huge feline had launched himself at his chest.
Christian reached his hands around the fur ball to move him, but the cat dug his claws in deeper. Nanny must not be here.
"Where's Nanny?" Nanny had tolerated dogs but she never liked cats in the rooms. This beast couldn't be hers.
"She's visiting her sister."
Christian looked in to clear gray eyes in an oval face. The air left his lungs in a whoosh. He felt as if the cat had just landed on him again, but he hadn't moved.
"Who are you?"
"This is Miss Honoria Ashbourne. She came here so she wouldn’t have to get married either," Lottie said.
The woman in front of him blushed, but she didn't deny his sister's charge. She did manage to get the cat off of him.
"So Nanny has opened her house to wayward girls.”"
"Nothing like that," Miss Honoria said crisply. "I came several days ago, and told Nanny I would stay until she returned. Your sister only showed up today."
"But you’re both running from marriages!" He sneezed again.
"Hardly!" She held out her hands and demanded his coat and hat.
"We've talked all about it," his sister said. "It's the gentlemen we don't like."
Christian looked at Miss Honoria. "Are there any gentlemen you do like?"
"Perhaps there is one," she said, and smiled up at him.
--The End --
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