Scandalous Summer Nights
behind James. “But, as you’ve no doubt surmised, not particularly happy. One of the coach’s wheels dropped into a large pit in the road. It bounced out—thankfully—but the rear axle is cracked. If we keep going, we risk having it snap clean through. We’ll have to leave the coach here and get help.” He used a tone that brooked no argument.
    Olivia ignored it. “We cannot leave the coach on the side of this road. Anyone could ride by and make off with it.”
    “Not unless they had a couple of extra horses.”
    Just a day ago, Olivia would have swooned over James’s good sense. Now his superior attitude grated on her nerves.“I’ll admit that’s unlikely. But the coach is laden with our bags. A thief could make off with all our possessions.”
    “Not if we carry them,” he said.
    Olivia wished she’d packed a little lighter. “How far is the nearest village?”
    “Terrence thinks we’re only two or three miles from Sutterside. Not a bad walk.”
    Perhaps not—if one had two properly working ankles. “Could we ride the horses?”
    James shook his head regretfully. “We don’t have saddles.”
    “We’ll be drenched.”
    “At least
you
have a change of clothes.”
    Olivia grunted. “I gave you the chance to pack a bag.”
    A sardonic smile split James’s face. “Indeed. And if I’d gone to get it, you’d be the one standing in the rain inspecting the axle instead of me.”
    She leaned forward and looked out at the gray sky behind James.
    “And here I thought you were the adventurous sort,” he teased. “Do you have an extra cloak you can throw on? We only have an hour or so of daylight left, so the sooner we’re off the better.”
    Hildy was already collecting items from inside the coach and tying her bonnet more tightly beneath her chin. Olivia hated to admit the truth about her ankle—especially since she’d lied about it on their way to the inn at Haven Bridge—but she had no choice.
    “I don’t think I can walk to Sutterside,” Olivia said casually. “I turned my ankle earlier, during our walk.”
    Her maid gasped. “My lady, you should have said something!”
    “It’s nothing too frightful, Hildy, just a tad sore. Still, I believe I shall be better off staying here with the carriage and keeping watch over our bags.”
    “I see,” James said. “And if a highway robber appears, will you fight him off?”
    “If I must.” But she certainly hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
    “With what? A parasol?”
    “Perhaps Terrence would be so good as to lend me his pistol.”
    James closed his eyes momentarily, as though praying for patience. Then he lumbered into the cab and sat on the seat across from her. “How bad is it?” he asked. “Really.”
    Olivia tucked her right foot a little farther beneath the bench. “It will probably be fine by tomorrow, but right now it’s… tender.”
    “Tender,” he repeated—rather unnecessarily, in her opinion.
    “Yes.”
    “Let me see it.”
    Prideful, vain creature that she was, she’d been dreading this moment.
    Only because if James was to spend the next few years in Egypt, she’d prefer that he
not
remember her as the girl with the elephant foot. “No.”
    He leaned forward, elbows propped casually on his knees. “I just want to look at it. I won’t touch it if it hurts.”
    She shook her head emphatically and looked to Hildy. No help came from that quarter, as the maid looked nearly as curious as James.
    “Why won’t you show me?” he asked.
    “Modesty.”
    James burst into laughter. Hildy even chuckled a little. Olivia’s excuse may have been a little far-fetched. Still, she longed to take the slipper off her good foot and hurl it at him.
    “Fine,” she said. “Gawk to your heart’s content.” Olivia stuck out her right foot and hauled her hem up to her knee.
    James and Hildy went dead silent, and for a moment, Olivia wondered if her foot had gotten even worse. Hard to imagine, but maybe it had turned black or was

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