“Your Grace, I—” she began, but in that moment Lord Banbury and Lady Katherine skated up beside them.
“Paisley, you skate like a woman,” he baited his cousin with a wicked grin. “I am certain I could make it twice around the pond before you made it halfway to the other side.”
A tiny smirk played on the corner of Baldwyn’s lips, and he turned to Anastasia. “My dear, I fear a challenge has been made. Shall I accept it?”
The special attention sent a tingle of joy through her heart.
“Most sincerely, Your Grace. You must defend your family honor.”
“Very well. Banbury, I accept.” They swung a wide graceful arc and made their way back to the bank. Anastasia fairly floated on his arm as they went.
Katherine and Anastasia settled onto the bench to watch the race.
“May I wear your colors, my lady?” Baldwyn asked with a gallant bow and a wink at her.
“Paisley, you’re stalling,” Lord Banbury taunted.
Anastasia slipped her handkerchief out of her muff and tied it around his wrist and suppressed a giggle when he kissed her hand and spun around to the starting mark.
This was the Baldwyn she remembered from long ago. The playful knight. Rescuing her from her distress, fighting for her honor, chivalrous to a fault.
Beside her on the bench, Katherine sighed faintly in disappointment. Lord Banbury hadn’t asked for her favor.
Baldwyn regarded him a moment, but when he made no move toward Lady Katherine, Baldwyn took it upon himself.
“Lady Katherine, might I wear yours as well?”
The lady’s eyes lit up. Anastasia’s heart fell to her feet.
Chivalrous to a fault. Of course he wouldn’t let Lady Katherine be disappointed. Part of Anastasia told her it was thoughtful, but another part wanted to pounce on the lady and tear out her hair in great handfuls. Still another part was fully occupied with restraining the second part from taking over the whole of her.
Lady Katherine tied her own handkerchief around Baldwyn’s other wrist, and he kissed her hand and smiled broadly into her eyes.
Lord Banbury’s face reddened as he watched the scene unfold, a mirror’s reflection of Anastasia’s own concealed rage.
At least Lady Katherine had the decency to blush when Baldwyn kissed her hand.
“Lady Katherine,” the Duke of Banbury said, his voice was a low growl. “On your word.”
She clapped her hands and stood. “Ready. Go!” she shouted.
The ice sprayed back onto Anastasia’s skirts as the two launched forward, skating furiously for the other side of the pond. The few other guests clapped and cheered as the race went on. Some called out for Paisley. Others cheered for Banbury.
Anastasia herself said nothing, but sat holding her breath, awaiting the outcome with her hands clenched together inside her warm muff.
When the two reached the far side of the pond, they were dead even. The turn was bumpy, but Baldwyn appeared to have the better move and turned on a pin. Banbury stumbled on his turn and lost several strides as he struggled to keep his feet under him.
“Trouble, Ben?” she heard Baldwyn shout back at his cousin.
Lord Banbury answered with an unrepeatable curse, but Baldwyn just laughed and slid to a stop in front of the bench a full five count before his challenger’s arrival at the finish line.
A light danced in his blue eyes as he glanced her way. His smile took her breath away, and she imagined it was for her alone.
He bent into a deep mocking bow toward Banbury. “A pleasure, as always, Your Grace-less.”
~Two Turtledoves (work in progress)