Vanity and Humility – Excerpt

"You actually worked on the farm?"

Cady giggled at his shock. "You needn't sound so surprised. My uncle needed an extra set of hands, so I offered to help. Anyone would think you've never seen a woman work before."

"Other than applying layers of makeup to their faces, I haven't. More to the point, the layers of clothing you all wear don't allow for much of anything. Certainly not any form of physical labor."

"That's why I wore trousers."

"You did what?"

She giggled again as she went to swim past Ethan and toward the bank. He reached out, stopping her.

"I didn't mean to offend you. I just found it so hard to believe what you were saying about your lifestyle up north. You are like no woman I've ever known."

She waded in the water beside him. "There's no offense taken, nor was your reaction the reason I was leaving. I just need to return to the garden before I'm missed."

Still, he held her arm, gazing at her beauty. Focusing on the darkness of her eyes, he longed to drown in them, allowing himself to be consumed by this woman. Usually, he avoided any contact with the females he encountered, the mere thought of touching them repulsing him and reminding him of his last encounter with a woman. But here—now—he longed to pull this woman closer to him, to feel her skin against his.

"I don't want you to go." The words were being dragged from him, forcing him to make an admission he never thought to.

She pulled her arm free from his hold. "Yet I must."

He watched her swim to the bank and step out of the water, her undershorts and chemise clinging to her. She was a shapely woman, her wet garments emphasizing her every curve, making him hunger for her in a way he never had for any woman before. Confusion filled him as he watched her pull on her simply styled, blue dress, quickly hiding her revealed self from his gaze. The few women he'd spent time with in the past had never created feelings in him as she was now. Usually he couldn't wait to be separated from them, but watching as Cady finished dressing, preparing to leave him, a form of emptiness filled him. He had just met this woman. He wasn't ready to be parted from her yet.

Swimming toward the bank where she stood, he stepped out of the water and quickly pulled on his trousers before walking up behind her. Only inches separated them, and he ached to reach out and touch her, but he didn't want her to think that was all he craved from her.

"Do you really have to go?"

Turning to face him, she continued buttoning her gown. "You actually want me to stay, don't you?"

He nodded.

"Why?" she asked.

He reached out to her, shifting a wet strand of hair back from her face. "Because you've stirred emotions in me I thought were long dead." His hand dropped back to his side as he sighed deeply. "The brief past I had with women back in England taught me it was safer for me to keep my distance from them. I certainly never tolerated spending any length of time with them, listening to their gossiping. But you're nothing like those women, and I find myself craving to share so much more than these past minutes with you. Listening as you've told me about yourself has been the most interesting evening I've ever spent with anyone."

She raised an enquiring brow. "And I should believe your interest has nothing to do with you seeing me half-naked?"

"I found you fascinating long before you stepped out of the water and I saw you in your underclothing." As he watched the slight blush fill her cheeks, her gaze averted from his, pleasure shot through him. "I've yearned to know more about you since the moment I met you."

Her gaze slowly shifted back to his. "Then that's a feeling we share, but I fear we shall have to leave our mutual discovery of each other to another time. Right now, I need to return to the gardens."