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The Unexpected Wife(8)

By:Mary Burton

More irritated than before, he met the man’s gaze. “My boys will be riding with you as far as Crickhollow.”

The man puffed out his chest and tugged his vest down.

“I paid for my seat,” the man said through tight lips. “And I’ve no intention of sharing it with a couple of dirty children.”

Matthias yearned to toss the man on the side of the road, but before he could respond, Society Miss scooted over in her seat to make more room.

“They may sit with me,” she said. “There’s plenty of room on my seat.”

Matthias lifted his gaze to the woman and for the first time looked past the yards of fabric and the netting of her hat that covered her face. Her hair was blond and it curled at the ends as if the stands strained against the pins that held it in a tight chignon.

Her face was all angles, plain by most standards, and nothing like Elise’s soft, round features. But Society Miss’s vivid green eyes brought an energy to her that made her anything but nondescript.

His gaze skimmed to her full lips. For just an instant, he wondered what they tasted like. His reaction was not only unexpected, but unwanted, as well. He chalked it up to too many lonely nights.

“I’m obliged, miss,” Matthias said.

“Abigail Smyth,” she supplied.

Suddenly, Holden coughed. “Best get a move on, I have a schedule to keep.”

Matthias’s eyes narrowed against the sun’s glare. Holden was right. Time was wasting.

He lifted Quinn and set him in the coach. The boy turned to him as if he’d bolt when Society Miss said softly, “I promise I don’t bite.”

The boy clung to his father.

“Let loose, boy,” Matthias said.

“I’ve a mirror in my reticule,” Society Miss offered. “Would you like to see it?”

Tommy never passed on a gadget. He turned and stared at her.

She reached in her purse and pulled out a small oval mirror in a mother-of-pearl case. The mirror reflected the afternoon light, creating a rainbow on the roof of the coach.

Tommy grinned, watching fascinated as the colors danced. Relaxing, he let loose of Matthias and climbed up on the seat next to the woman. Quinn, gaining strength from his brother’s bravery, leaned forward and held out his hands. Matthias lifted him into the coach.

The woman gave her mirror to Tommy and reached out and set him on the seat beside her.

“You’ll take care of my boys,” Matthias warned, his voice coated with steel.

Society Miss met his gaze. There was no hint of fear. “I shall take good care of them until you arrive in town.”

The faintest hint of her perfume teased his nose. Roses. It had been a long time since he’d smelled the scent of a woman. In the last twelve months since his wife’s death, he’d been too busy to miss the sensation of having a woman under him.

Now, he was acutely aware of how long it had been.

Matthias cleared his throat. “Their grandfather will ride on top. When they get to town, Frank will see that they get to the mercantile and a Mrs. Hilda Clements.”

“Of course,” Society Miss said.

For the first time in a good while, Matthias felt as if he was getting a lucky break. Tommy, the little one, nestled next to Society Miss, fascinated by the pearl buttons that trimmed her cuff.

Matthias turned, ready to tackle the wheel of his wagon. He’d taken only a step when he heard the retching sound. He whirled around in time to see Tommy throw up all over Society Miss.

Abby stared down at her now-wet lap as she heard Mr. Stokes shout several oaths. For a moment she thought she’d retch.

Mr. Stokes pressed a cloth to his face. He stood so quickly he bumped his head on top of the wagon. Stepping over her soiled skirt, he pushed past the stranger to get out of the carriage. “Good Lord, I’ll bet they have cholera or measles. I’ll be riding on the top.”

Abby didn’t have to look over at the boys’ father to know he was still there. His presence filled the silent carriage. The man’s fingers tightened on the coach door, and she half expected the brittle wood to crack in his powerful fist.

She looked into the watery, sad eyes of the boy beside her. A mixture of horror and fear straightened his tiny mouth into a grim line as his eyes wavered to his father and then back to her.

Despite Mr. Stokes’s declaration, she doubted the boy was ill. She’d heard children often got motion sickness when they rode in wagons. “Let’s get this cleaned up.”

Managing her best smile, she chucked the boy under the chin and faced the man. To her surprise, the man wasn’t angry. Behind his frustration she saw sadness.

Lifting her skirt, she started to climb down.

The man instantly took her elbow.