For some reason, that question seemed to amuse him as he shifted position, turning so that his back was propped against the side window and one long leg was draped over the seat beside him. He caught her worried look and said with complete assurance, "I feel certain the position will still be yours. If you want it."
"It's such a beautiful day—" Sherry began half an hour later. She broke off and grabbed for leverage as the horses slowed suddenly and the coach began to sway hard on its frame. Then, with a loud bump, it turned sharply to the left, off the main road. "We must be getting near his home," she said, straightening the wide, tight cuffs and full sleeves of the lovely pale blue embroidered gown Nicki had brought her, then she reached up to make certain her hair was securely anchored in its neat coil.
Nicki leaned forward and looked out at the ancient stone buildings at the side of the overgrown, narrow lane, then he smiled with satisfaction. "The viscount's country seat is still some distance from here; however, he was going to be here at this hour, and he felt this was the most suitable place for you both to discuss the position he wishes to offer."
Curious, Sheridan leaned sideways and looked out the window, her delicate brows drawing together in confused surprise. "Is this a church?"
"As I understand, this is a chapel that was once part of a Scottish priory during the sixteenth century. It was later dismantled with permission and brought here. It has great significance in the viscount's ancestral history."
"What sort of significance could a chapel have in a family's history?" Sherry inquired, baffled.
"I believe the viscount's earliest known ancestor forced a friar to marry him to his unwilling bride within the chapel's walls." When she shivered, Nicki added dryly, "Now that I think about it, it seems to be something of a family custom."
"It sounds Gothic and—and not amusing or appealing in the least! I see two other coaches around the other side, but no one is in them. What sort of service could he be attending at this hour and in such an out-of-the-way place as this?"
"A private one. Very private," Nicki said, then he changed the subject. "Let me see how you look."
She faced him, and he frowned. "Your hair seems to be sliding free of your tidy coil." Puzzled because her hair had felt secure, Sherry reached up, but he was too quick.
"Here, let me. You have no looking glass."
Before she could protest or warn him, he'd pulled on the long pins instead of pushing them in and twisting, and the whole mass came tumbling down around her shoulders in hopeless disarray. "Oh, no!" she cried.
"Do you have a brush?"
"Yes, of course, but, oh, I wish you hadn't—"
"Do not fret. You will feel better able to voice your objections if you know you look more—festive," he lied lamely.
"What possible objections could I have to his offer?"
Nicki waited for the coachman to let down the steps, then he climbed out and offered her his hand, before he replied vaguely, "Oh, I think you may have an objection or two. At first."
"Is there something you haven't told me?" Sherry said, pulling back a little, then stepping aside in surprise as the coachman abruptly moved the horses forward. The breeze caught her skirt, blowing it gently and teasing her hair as they walked side by side. From the corner of her eye, Sherry searched the side yard of the picturesque little chapel for some sign of the sort of man who would have to pay a fortune to keep a governess.
She thought she saw something move off to the left, and her hand went to her heart at the same time Nicki looked sharply at her. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I thought I saw someone."
"It was probably him. He said he would be waiting for you over there."
"Over there? What is he doing out here?"
"Meditating, I imagine," Nicky said succinctly, "on his sins. Now, run along and listen to what he has to say. And, chérie?"
She turned to step across the rutted lane and stopped. "Yes?" she said over her shoulder.
"If you truly do not wish to accept the position he offers, you will leave here with me. Do not feel obliged to remain if you wish to leave. You will receive other offers, though not perhaps as—diverting in some ways—as this one would turn out to be. Remember that," he said firmly. "If you truly wish to decline, you may leave here with me under my protection."
Sherry nodded and turned back, picking her way across the road, avoiding getting her slippers dusty, then she walked up to the little white fence and pushed it open, blinking to adjust to the dimmer light of the grove. Ahead of her, a man was in the shadow of a tree, his arms crossed over his chest, feet braced slightly apart, gloves clutched in one hand, idly tapping his hip. Only dimly aware there was something familiar about that stance, she continued forward, her heart beginning to hammer in nervous anticipation and a little dread of the coming interview.
She took three steps forward. So did he. Sherry stopped cold at the sound of his solemn voice. "I was afraid you weren't coming."
For a split second, her feet felt rooted in the ground—then she whirled and ran, rage and shock propelling her with unusual speed, but she still couldn't outdistance him. Stephen caught her just as she neared the gate and pulled her back around, his hands clamped on her arms. "Let go of me!" Sherry warned, her chest heaving with each tortured breath.
Quietly, he asked, "Will you stand here and listen to what I have to say?"
She nodded, he released her, and she swung at him, but this time he had expected it and recaptured both her arms. With a pained look in his eyes, he said, "Don't make me restrain you."
"I'm not making you do anything, you loathsome—despicable—lech!" she raged, trying ineffectually to twist free. "And to think Nicki DuVille was a part of this! He brought me here—he convinced me to resign my position, he made me believe you had a position to offer me—"
"I do have a position to offer you."
"I'm not interested in any more of your offers!" she raged, giving up her futile physical struggle and facing him in a fury of helplessness. "I'm still hurting from the last one!"
He winced at the mention of his last offer, but he went on talking almost as if he hadn't heard her. "The new position comes with a house—several of them."
"I've heard all this before!"
"No you haven't!" he said. "It comes with servants to do your every bidding, all the money you can spend, jewels, furs. And it comes with me."