Exclusive Excerpt from Heart’s Thaw
by Bru Baker
The day was hardly one made for riding, between the gray skies and the cool temperature, but Calliope had not been able to dissuade Lady Helena from her daily outing.
Not that Calliope blamed her. Their daily ride was Helena’s only time to let her hair down and be herself. Figuratively, of course. A woman of Lady Helena’s station would never be so coarse as to actually be seen in public with her hair unbound.
They were at the midpoint of their ride, the eastern forest, where they often stopped to let the horses drink their fill in the stream while they dismounted and explored. Calliope enjoyed this part most of all—Helena was freer with her language and quick to laugh and play, hidden by the trees and a good forty minute’s hard ride from her duties as Her Ladyship, daughter and only child of the Duke of Keering, Helena Alexandra Gertrude Heart.
“Shall we swim this summer?” Calliope asked, dangling her fingers in the icy stream. “It is cold now, but it would feel divine in the heat of August.”
“I think not,” Helena answered primly, but a smile twitched her lips. “What would become of us if someone stumbled upon us?”
Calliope laughed. They’d never once seen another person on their outings, and they had been riding this circuit for four years. Helena’s desire to explore the estate had been a large part of the reason Calliope had been brought on as her companion.
“Ah, the scandal if someone saw your dainty ankles,” Calliope teased. “You would be married by sundown.”
Helena swatted her. “No marriage talk. Not even in jest.”
It was a sore subject. Many suitors had bid for Helena’s hand, but Helena rebuked them all. Her doting father had yet to force her to wed, but from the way the tongues wagged in the court, Calliope thought it was only a matter of time before his indulgence ended.
But that was a problem for another time. Calliope leapt up from the mossy stone she’d been perched on and flicked water from her hand at Helena, who shrieked and ran. They chased each other through the trees, breathless with laughter, until a sight brought them both up short.
There was a man in their forest. He was draped in fine linens and dripping in jewels that highlighted his ethereal beauty, lounging against a tree. He watched them with dark eyes, and Calliope shivered with unease. She looked around wildly for companions but found none. He was far too finely dressed to be travelling alone. This had to be some sort of trap.
“How fortuitous,” he said, his voice like honey. “I find myself abandoned in the wood and in need of assistance, and two lovely maidens appear.”