The pony tossed its head in distress, but Liam's fingers eventually caught on the head collar, and he pulled. He thrust all of his weight backward and pulled harder, careful not to lose control over his own stance.
The pony swung its head and, in a final display of momentum, freed a foreleg. The animal then broke free, and with all the wild gracelessness of a newborn foal it stumbled up onto dryer, firmer land.
Unsettled by the pony's momentum, Liam toppled back and fell against the damp earth.
With a cry the woman scrambled from her position on the bog's outer edge and staggered toward the pony. Sodden muck coated the bottom half of her blue gown, and dirt streaked across her cheek and coated the ends of her long hair. Without so much as a look at her rescuer, she knelt to assess the pony's legs. "Oh, is she all right, do you think?"
Liam paused to catch his breath, then stepped forward and brushed past the woman to run his hand down the pony's leg. He urged it to take a step and saw that a slight limp marred the pony's stride.
"She favors that leg." A frown wrinkled the woman's brow. "See?"
"Frightened 'tis all, I should think." He gently guided the pony to higher ground. "Even so, she's fortunate. I know horses who've had their legs snapped thrashing about in deep mud like that."
Thunder cracked above them, as if to agree with Liam's statement.
"I never should have brought her out." The woman shook her head. "I must get her home before the storm worsens."
Liam looked toward the clouds rolling in like a determined wave rushing for the shore, prepared to decimate all upon impact. They needed to get to some sort of shelter before the heavens opened up full force. He wanted nothing more than to be at his new home, to see the structure he'd tried to visualize a thousand times, but this woman needed help. He could not leave her here helpless, not with this injured pony.
He'd waited twenty-two years. He could wait a bit longer. "Allow me to assist you to your home. Is it far?"
"Oh no." She stepped back suddenly, the confidence she'd displayed earlier when caring for the pony fleeing. "I couldn't ask you to do that."
"You're not asking me. I'm offering." He smiled, attempting to appear as unthreatening as possible, and raised his voice to be heard above the rustling grasses. "But we must hurry—otherwise we'll all be caught out in the tempest."
She looked up at the turbulent sky, chewing her lower lip in a manner that suggested she did not like the thought, but as the rain pummeled them, practicality gave way. "I live at Wyndcliff Cottage at the moor's edge, about half a mile from here."
"Wyndcliff Cottage?" He started. "I'm on my way to Wyndcliff Hall. Are they close?"
Her gaze narrowed, her unusually colored green eyes vibrant against the stormy backdrop, and she tilted her head to the side. "What's your business at Wyndcliff Hall?"
The boldness—and perceived authority—in her voice caught him off guard. "My name is William Twethewey. I've recently inherited the property."
"Twethewey?" she repeated, as if searching her memory, and after a few seconds her fair brows rose and pink bloomed on her cheeks. "Of course. William Twethewey. We weren't expecting you. That is, we knew you were coming eventually, but..." Her voice faded before she straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin. "My name is Evelyn Bray. My grandfather is Rupert Bray, Wyndcliff's steward."
He shouldn't be surprised to find someone associated with the place on the property, but at the moment it did not matter. The rain increased its intensity and thunder grumbled its ominous warning. The pony pranced nervously.
"Pleasure to meet you, Miss Bray, but I think further introductions can wait, don't you? You say we are not far? You are welcome to ride my horse if you like. I can lead the pony."
She eyed him, suspicion evident in the firm set of her jaw. She flicked her gaze to his horse, then stepped backward. "Thank you, but I will walk. Do you think Ada will be all right to walk the rest of the way?"
"She seems to be fine, and it will be easier to assess her out of this weather."
They fell into step with each other, each leading an animal. The wind now howled, making conversation nearly impossible. He cast a sideways glance at his unexpected traveling companion. In spite of the mud-streaked cheek and wind-tossed hair, her beauty was not lost on him.
An unconventional introduction, to be sure, but if Wyndcliff Hall came with such lovely neighbors, his new adventure could be off to a worse start.