Tremaine's True Love

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Author: Grace Burrowes
merinos in Kent, Tremaine’s commercial instincts had gone on full alert. Merinos grew soft, strong, abundant wool of a far higher grade than the Highland breeds could produce.
    To Tremaine’s highly educated eye, the specimens in Bellefonte’s pasture were of good size, possessed excellent coats of wool, and were in good health.
    In other words, Bellefonte’s sheep were nothing short of beautiful.
    * * *
     
    Tremaine St. Michael was different from Nita’s brothers, all of whom were tall, blond, and blue-eyed. They had fair complexions and came in varying degrees of too handsome. To a man, they danced well, had abundant charm, and knew beyond doubt exactly how their sisters’ lives ought to unfold.
    Even George, who had reason to be more tolerant than most, envisioned only a husband and babies for his sisters.
    Mr. St. Michael, by contrast, was dark and direct, rather than charming. Moreover, he seemed to notice what Nita’s brothers did not: that she had a brain and a few ideas of her own about how her life should go on.
    “I’d like to walk among the herd,” Mr. St. Michael said, dismounting from his bay gelding. “Shall you come with me?”
    “I’d like that.” Nita would also like a moment to slip away and check on Addy Chalmers and her baby, but that call could wait until George wasn’t underfoot.
    The rest of Nita’s current cases—Alton Horst’s persistent cough, Mary Eckhardt’s sore throat, Mr. Clackengeld’s gout—would have to content themselves with notes and medicinals conveyed by a groom, at least until Nicholas’s temper calmed.
    Mr. St. Michael assisted Nita off her horse, revealing a strength commensurate with the gentleman’s size. Atlas stood more than eighteen hands, meaning Nita rode a good six feet above the ground. Her descent was controlled by Mr. St. Michael’s guidance, which was fortunate.
    “I hate how the cold makes landing so painful,” Nita said, gripping his coat sleeves a moment for balance. “It’s worse on the foot one keeps in the stirrup.”
    If her clinging annoyed Mr. St. Michael, he didn’t show it. “Which means for us men, the landing is painful for both feet. At least we’re not getting more snow to go with the cold.”
    “Hannibal Thistlewaite says more snow is on the way.” Though what would Mr. St. Michael care for an old man’s arthritic predictions? Della claimed Mr. St. Michael would be gone soon anyway.
    Nita’s escort was tall enough that she could honestly use him to establish her balance, and even in the bitter cold, he bore a pleasant floral scent. That scent alone suggested Continental connections.
    She turned loose of him and wished she’d worn a proper cloak instead of George’s old coat.
    “Shall we find a gate, or can you manage the stile, my lady?” Mr. St. Michael asked.
    “I’ve been climbing stiles since I was half my present height, sir. What are you looking for among these sheep?”
    Mr. St. Michael was happy to talk about sheep—as happy as Nita had seen him. His gait was not the mincing indulgence of a gentleman escorting a lady, but rather, the stride of a man of the land inspecting his acres. He vaulted the stile in one graceful, powerful movement—he knew his way around a stile too, apparently—then assisted Nita, whose clambering about in a riding habit was ungainly indeed.
    “You seek clear eyes, clear nasal passages, dense wool, healthy hooves,” Nita summarized some moments later. “What else?”
    Mr. St. Michael surveyed the flock, which was regarding him as well. The more cautious sheep had retreated to the far stone wall, while the nearer ones peered at their visitors curiously.
    “I listen to their voices,” he said, “which can indicate unwellness. I watch how they move, look for the smallest and the most stout, and, about the back end, one can observe indications of ill health.”
    “Much like people.”
    Oh, drat. Oh, damn. Oh, blushes. Nita should not have said that, not when Mr. St. Michael’s
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