As Charlotte felt the soft touch of Lord Waverley’s coat and the hard muscle underneath, she shivered.
‘Cold?’ he asked, with a wolfish smile.
‘A little,’ said Charlotte, knowing quite well that it was not the cold that had set her quivering.
‘Then I had better keep you warm,’ he said, drawing her arm more closely through his.
The brilliant candlelight beckoned them, but before they could reach the house an elderly woman ran round the corner, waving her arms in alarm.
‘Miss Brady!’ cried Charlotte in astonishment.
‘Oh, Charlotte my dear, it is too dreadful. Oh, Lord Waverley, thank goodness you are here. And Lord Winchester, too. We have been invaded.’
‘What?’ exclaimed Lord Waverley, loosing his hold on Charlotte’s arm.
‘What?’ echoed Ryder.
‘Yes, I have seen them just now, in the yard,’ gabbled Miss Brady.
‘Show me. Where?’ said Lord Winchester.
‘Through here . . . oh my! . . . ‘ said Miss Brady, leading the way into the farmyard. ‘Whatever shall we do?’
Charlotte looked around the yard in surprise.
‘I see nothing but three hens,’ she said.
‘French hens,’ Miss Brady hissed. ‘And where there are French hens, can French soldiers be far behind?’
‘Assuredly not,’ said Ryder coolly. ‘But never fear. Waverley is just the man to flush them out. He is not known as The Panther for nothing. Miss Kingston, you must not remain here any longer, it is far too dangerous. Allow me to escort you indoors,’ he said, offering her his arm.
Miss Brady pushed her pince-nez further up her nose.
‘Oh, yes, thank you, Lord Winchester, what a good idea. Charlotte, my dear, go with him.’ She turned to Lord Waverley. ‘If you will be so good, my lord, will you just check behind that tree? I am sure I saw a Frenchman lurking there.’
‘We will leave you to it, Waverley,’ said Ryder.
Then, pulling Charlotte’s arm through his, he led her across the frost-bedecked grass. But just as he was about to tell her that her eyes were brighter than the starlit rime . . .
To be continued . . .