The woman opened the door and stepped back, giving the customary curtsy to Hawk as he passed the threshold and into the spacious, cavernous vestibule. It must have been a grand entrance at one time, but now it was hardly more than a large empty room. A worn settee was backed against one wall. Opposite the small sofa stood an ornately carved table with an unlit lamp sitting on one end and an unused candlestick on the other. He couldn't help but think the inside of the house looked as forsaken as the outside, but then he caught the aroma of bread baking in an oven and knew this was a lived-in home.
He handed off his cloak and hat to the short, rotund woman with a ruffle-edged mobcap covering her hair. She laid them on the table and said, "Follow me."
She preceded him down the wide corridor and into a drawing room that was furnished only a little better than the vestibule. Two floral-patterned settees faced each other in the center of the room, and a table barely large enough for a tea tray had been placed between the two. Matching armchairs upholstered in a brown-and-gold-striped fabric were arranged near the fireplace. Against the far wall by a window stood a highly polished secretary and chair. Little else filled the drafty room.
"Wait here," the woman said and left.
Hawk walked over to the fireplace. The flame was hardly more than a few sizzling embers, and while the heat immediately warmed him, it would do little to help dry out his boots or wet collar and neckcloth. Kneeling down, he grabbed the poker and stoked the fire before adding wood to the grate.
At the sound of the soft feminine voice, Hawk rose to his full height and turned. A tall, slender young lady was standing near the entrance to the room. She curtsied when their eyes met. She looked pure, sweet, and completely untouched by masculine hands. A sudden, deep rush of desire flamed through him, and the rhythm of his heartbeat changed.
She wore a modest dress of pale-blue wool, void of bows, lace, or any of the embellishments usually sewn on to enhance the common fabric. No jewelry hung around her neck or dangled from her ears. Her light-blond hair was pulled up on each side, but he couldn't see how far down her back it hung, or if there were satin ribbons or fancy combs to hold it in place. What struck him instantly about her was that he'd never seen such a beautiful young lady so unadorned by frivolous accessories meant to enhance her beauty.
"I am Loretta Quick, Your Grace. How can I help you?" Mr. Quick's younger sister. It should have dawned on Hawk that he might see her, but quite frankly it hadn't. He'd been too caught up thinking only about his own sister. He knew Miss Quick's story, of course. Everyone in Society did. As he studied her lovely face, he was certain they'd never met. He would have remembered those dark-blue eyes that seemed so steady, yet wary. He would have remembered the strong surge of sensual awareness that seared through him at the sight of her.
"Miss Quick," he said with a nod. "I'm here to see your brother."
Her slightly arched brows furrowed with an uneasy expression, and she took a tentative step toward him. "Is something wrong?"
He thought that an odd question for her to ask but answered, "With what?"
"With my brother."
"Not that I'm aware of."
Her gaze continued to search his face as if surely he must be hiding something from her. "So he's not in any trouble?"
That comment gave him cause for concern. Perhaps there was something about the man Hawk didn't know. "Does he often get into trouble?"
"Often?" she asked, clearly dismayed by his question. "No, of course not. Not at all really. Why would you ask that?"
"Because you asked me if he were."
As if taking note of the slight accusation in his tone, her spine stiffened. "It was a logical question to ask."
"How so, if you say he never gets in trouble?"
"What else am I supposed to think?" she asked innocently.
"Perhaps that I wanted to talk to your brother, which I do."