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Catherine reined in at the edge of a woodland area where the trees adjoined a small place owned by some well-to-do Cit. She took in the vast open meadow stretching before her. Green with spring and morning sunshine, it was lovely.

But then she saw a rider in the far distance coming down the slope at what she considered to be reckless speed. She reined in and watched, aware that she was a lone female who had perhaps unwisely gone without the groom. Perkins was a crotchety sort, busy mucking out a stall and she had not wished to bother him further after he had saddled her mare.

She remained in the shadow of the trees and bushes, observing the rider on the magnificent black beast. But surely her eyes must deceive. As he leaned over the stallion's neck, it appeared he rode without a saddle! He kicked his mount with his heels, urging it to greater speed when he reached the meadow floor.

It was a stunning display of horsemanship, man and beast seeming to be one as they streaked over the flat grassy earth. As he came closer, she could see he wore some sort of soft footwear-and was bare-chested! Like the savages she had read about in books on America. His black hair flowed back from his forehead, inky as his mount, and his skin was bronzed.

She sensed the wild rider's identity even before the boldly chiseled features were clearly visible-that red Indian, the Shawnee, whose face had haunted her dreams for days. Blast the devil! What on earth could he be doing so far from the fleshpots of the Great Wen?

Catherine had never before seen an unclothed male. His muscles stood out, lean and sinuous, rippling across broad shoulders. Leather breeches clung tightly to his legs and rode low on his narrow hips. Why he was almost naked!

And drawing closer with alarming speed.

Fox saw the rider's bright yellow riding habit and white horse from a distance, but as he came nearer, sunlight glinted off fiery red hair and he knew beyond logic or reason that it was her. What the deuce was she doing here? He had visited LaFarge to retreat from his alarming attraction to her.

Then the thought struck him. What if she had made a country visit to escape thoughts of him? That damnable spark that leapt between them ignited again and he grinned in spite of himself. She sat frozen on her mount, staring at him in dazed amazement.

He let the big black churn up the ground until he was only a few yards away before touching the hackamore lightly. The superbly trained beast slowed immediately, allowing

Fox to draw up beside her just as she regained her wits and attempted to turn the mare about and leave.

"Good morning, Cat with the cat," he said, cutting off her path of retreat with the big black.

"Please move aside. You are blocking my way," she said in an icy tone that had made many a young swain wither.

"I do not believe I shall...just yet...not until you explain why you were spying on me."

She looked down her narrow little nose at him for a second, trying to appear contemptuous without showing trepidation. She dared not continue to study where dark skin met fringed leggings...well below his narrow hips . "I have never acquired the habit of spying on anyone, much less a practically unclothed barbarian such as you."

"Have you never seen a naked man before, Cat?"

" 'Tis frowned upon in polite society, but then you would not know a whit about that."

He mock sighed. "Are we back to Brummell again? No matter what the Bow Window Set thinks, clothes do not make the man."

"I concur. Naked men have little or no influence in society," she snapped.

Amusement lit his dark eyes and that roguish white smile curved his lips. "Ah, but I have devoted my life to breaking society's rules, not abiding by them."

"Your reputation indicates the truth of that."

"Yet you choose to do much the same thing."

"I most certainly do not! How dare you suggest--"

"What a terrible clanker. By your own admission, you go to the shipyard to design ships. That is scarce abiding by the rules of society. No young lady may work."

Her damnable lie came back to her. Yes, it had been a real clanker to say she was employed as a ship designer. "I am merely unconventional, not a wastrel cavorting in gaming hells and bordellos." Using such words was shocking, but this man infuriated her beyond reason.

"Men, even gentlemen, may cavort where they please. Alas, not the female of the species, lest their reputations are tarnished."

"I am an adherent of Mary Wollstonecraft, a lady of great erudition with many followers," she replied, certain that a rude colonial would have no idea who Miss Wollstonecraft was.

"Ah, yes, author of Vindication on the Rights of Woman. She espoused the idea that women as well as men should have vocations beyond servitude in marriage. Not completely unlike the society of my mother's people. Women engage in useful labor-and they own property."

Catherine blinked. "I have never heard of such a society."

"Of course you have not. After all, you label us 'savages' and drive us from our lands."

"That is America, having nothing to do with England."

"Have you not considered how the Irish or Scots might feel about their lands or their rights? Of course, in the not too distant past they did paint their bodies blue before going into battle," he added dryly. "Perhaps they have more in common with red Indians than anyone realizes."

This man was irritatingly well read. "England prevailed over Ireland and Scotland, just as the United States prevailed over native inhabitants. I concede the point. Now, if you please," she made a shooing gesture with her hand. "I must return to my cousin's country house. Beth will worry if I do not."

"Beth Jamison, the artist, is your cousin, Cat? I have seen her work. She is most talented."

"I am certain she will be enthralled by your good opinion," she replied with asperity.

"Now I see where your familiarity with radical ideals originated. Artists are Bohemians. You should take a lesson from that. Perhaps encountering an unclothed man would not overset you so."

"I am scarce overset. And I am not an artist--even if you aspire to be a nude model."

She turned away from his hypnotic dark gaze and kicked the mare into a trot.

His laughter echoed after her.



 



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