On his return from the Peninsular War, grievously wounded and troubled in spirit, Alexander Quainton decides that an insouciant manner is the best way to avoid the pity he abhors. Exercising his damaged body with daily walking excursions proves an excellent way of avoiding social engagements. Carolina Finmere, shy and no more than passable in looks, has failed in three seasons to attract a suitor.
For three months, they tramp Bath and its surrounding hills together, gaining in strength and--unwittingly--in intimacy. When September comes it is time to part, unless they admit their love for each other. Carolina knows she must initiate the declarations of devotion, for Alexander is convinced that a man so damaged is no fit mate for a gently bred woman. How can Carolina love someone so scarred and deformed as he?
Plucking up her courage, Carolina declares her love for Alexander. Will he admit his for her, or will his fear of seeing revulsion in her eyes put paid to their blossoming love?
"My grandmother has lived in Bath these thirty years. My grandfather found relief of his gout in the waters apparently, and they would not countenance lodgings, so they purchased a house. When my father inherited, Lady Chersham moved to this residence rather than the dower house at Beckon Hall."
"The Hall is your home?"
"Near Salisbury, yes." As they walked New King Street and rounded a corner at Charles Street to enter Queen Square, Carolina realized how much she had revealed of herself and her family in the past hour. And she was quite suddenly aware of how far they had walked. Her feet, in their neat jean half boots, protested, as did her calves, and she was no longer easily keeping pace with her companion.
After guiding her unerringly to Lady Chersham's house, Lord Quainton handed her up the two steps before it and pulled the bell.
"Will you come in?" Carolina was suddenly loath to have the afternoon end, though clouds now clotted the blue sky and threatened rain.
"I thank you, but no. I am promised to my mother for the rest of the day." His dark, damaged face was unreadable.
She coloured, furiously deriding herself for supposing he would wish to spend further time in her uninspiring company.
"Will you walk out with me again?" he added suddenly. "Perhaps the day after tomorrow? We may go further afield. I should welcome your opinion on the Sydney Gardens."
Carolina caught her breath. It was more than she could ever have hoped. She must not have bored him utterly. She was at least deemed better than no one in terms of company. "If my grandmother has no need of me, I should be pleased to walk again," she said in a colourless voice.
"Then do sound a little happy," he teased very, very gently.
Her glance flew to his ravaged face which was alight with laughter. A genuine smile warmed her face and she wished--oh she wished--she was pretty. "I shall be delighted," she said, putting out her left hand to shake his.
He hesitated only a moment, then accepted it. "'Til Thursday then."
The door behind her opened and Lady Chersham's sedate butler greeted her. Carolina slipped within, conscious that Lord Quainton waited until the door was closed before he departed. She paused, deep in thought, in her grandmother's finely decorated entry. Dare she hope this might be the beginning of a special summer?