And then, before she could call out a warning, Max spun forward just in time to collide with a tall, narrow, but evidently perfectly sturdy, young tree.
The accident was so abrupt, so jarring, that Anna simply came to a stop and froze, mouth agape, as Max stumbled back several feet, pressed his hand to his forehead, and let loose a peculiar string of half-curses.
“Sweet holy…Son of a…Bloody…Bloody…” He produced a long and decidedly angry groan and then finally, “Damn it.”
And then all Anna heard was her own laughter. It echoed through the trees and set the puppy, now comfortably seated at her own feet, to barking.
She laughed until her sides ached and her eyes filled with tears. Because, God forgive her, she’d never witnessed anything so spectacularly hilarious as the impossibly urbane Lord Dane running headlong into a Scots pine.
“Oh…Oh, Lord…” She bent at the waist in a combined effort to put the rope around the puppy and to catch her breath. Only the first was successful on the initial try. It took two additional attempts to rein in her glee to the point where she could look at Max without risking another round of laughter.
He was still holding his forehead, but he was glowering at her, his expression one of promised retribution combined with begrudging amusement.
“I’m sorry,” she gasped out. “I am so terribly sorry. Are you all right? Is the injury severe?” She could see for herself it wasn’t, or she’d not have found it all so funny, but it seemed the thing to ask.
“Well enough,” he grumbled and lowered his hand to look at his fingers. “Considering.”
“You’re not bleeding, are you?” She’d wager his pride was seeping out by the gallon.
“Shall I run back to the stable for assistance?”
“No.” He swore again, but quieter. And this time, there was a bit of humor mixed in with the obscenities. “I’ve not done that since I was a boy.”
This wasn’t the first time? Anna couldn’t say why that made it all funnier. “Are you quite certain you’re all right?”
“Yes.” He looked at her, grimacing. “How bad is it?”
The skin above his left eye was a little red, but there was no sign of swelling. She doubted there would be. He’d not been going all that fast, really.
“The skin is scratched a bit, but not broken. I’d be surprised if it bruised.”
“Hell.” He prodded at the skin gingerly. “I will never live this down.”
“I’ll not forget it.”
“It’s not you who concerns. It’s the rest of Christendom.” His lips twitched and he gave her a pleading expression that reminded her of why she’d once thought of him as adorable. “I don’t suppose I could persuade you to tell a different story as to the origins of my bruise?”
“Depends on the story,” she returned, willing to play along.
“Could we say I was wounded saving you from an animal attack?”
“What sort of animal leaves bruises about the head?”
“Feral horse?” he offered hopefully, making her laugh.
“You want me to tell people you were beaten by a horse?”
He tossed a disgusted look at the surrounding woods. “England has an appalling lack of of dangerous animals.”