Ah… Jack paused, his level of interest going up a notch. But of course, Mr. Chapman couldn’t hire a local woman to replace Lizzie. Any suitable miss who lived near Old St. Vincentshire would have family to complicate matters.
“And you have walked all this way?” He cocked a brow.
“Not at all.” She brushed her hair back from her face. “I got off the mail coach at the wrong stop, and it was gone by the time I’d realized my mistake. I was told it was an easy walk from Half-Moon Village to Old St. Vincentshire. But the snow…” She wrinkled her nose. “It would have been easy enough in the summertime.” And then she sighed, perhaps again mourning the belongings she’d left buried in the snow.
“Your new employer is expecting you?” Jack allowed his gaze to appreciate the length of her hair. Even tangled and damp, the strands beckoned his fingers. What must it feel like dry and combed, draped across a man’s bare chest?
“At the inn.” And then she turned to him. “Is that where you are going?”
“I’ll be stopping there for the night.”
“I don’t suppose they’ll be expecting me this late.”
“They might.” Jack took a moment to contemplate what sort of arrangements the innkeeper would have made with such a woman. “Have you a good deal of experience at this sort of thing?”
“Some,” she said. “But I’ve never been paid for it before.”
Jack nodded thoughtfully.
“And now that I’ve lost my valise and reticule, I look forward to getting to work immediately.”
And then she smiled at him.
By God, she was good at this.
For whatever reason, be it the dry spell he’d had recently or the fact that she sounded almost like a lady, Jack found himself eager to be her first customer.
But he didn’t want to jump to any conclusions. She would not be traveling to Old St. Vincentshire to take over for old Mrs. Bogartis. He would have been informed if the school planned on hiring someone new.
Perhaps she was going to work as a maid at one of the local landowners’ estates. He glanced at her hair, which curled softly as it dried, half falling behind her, the other half cascading over her breasts.
No lady of the manor would hire a woman like this. But, even so, Jack could be wrong…
“What sort of duties will you be performing at your new post?” he asked.
Her plump lips stretched into a wide smile. “I shall be providing comfort, companionship— Oh!” she broke off, sliding into him when the carriage skated sideways and then tipped before Cyril righted them.
Jack smiled to himself while at the same time debating the merits of his uncanny ability to identify her sort.
And rather than allow her to slide back to the far side of the bench, he dropped one arm behind her, snuggling her up beside him. When she glanced over, he raised his brows.
“Safer this way, don’t you think?”
Delia stiffened, glancing sideways at her dark-haired hero, but then relaxed when he assured her that he only had her well-being in mind.
In all her one and twenty years, no man had ever held her like this—not even her father. Not that her parents didn’t love her, but they were not overly affectionate and had left most of her rearing to the nanny and then the governess.
As a proper lady, she ought to be embarrassed and insulted by such familiarity. But how could she be either of those things when such proximity warmed her better than any blanket? His woodsy cologne tantalized her nostrils, and with his much harder body pressed along her side she felt… protected. For the first time since beginning this journey, she wasn’t afraid.
He was being heroic—acting as any true gentleman would to guarantee her welfare.
She would have died if he hadn’t come along.
“Are we almost to the village?” Already they’d traveled farther than she’d ever anticipated walking. What had that innkeeper been thinking, leading her to believe she could walk all the way to Old St. Vincentshire with a storm moving in? If that man were here right now, she’d have a mind to—
“I don’t know your name,” Delia cut off such futile thoughts. It would be best, perhaps, if she knew what to call him. That way, he wouldn’t be a perfect stranger.